Saturday, December 31, 2011

Occasional Folk Songs
Some Tunes
Johnny Cope
Johnny Cope was originally a song, written in 1745 by an Adam Skirving just after the Battle of Prestonpans when Charles Stuart's (Bonnie Prince Charlie) army defeated the government forces under Gen. Sir John Cope. The song mocks Cope and insinuates that he ran away and that he brought the news of his own defeat to Newcastle. A myth, but then who ever let the truth get in the way of a good story?

The tune, however acquired a life of its own and became the subject of sets of fiddle variations and various versions exist in manuscripts on both sides of the Anglo Scottish Border. The tune also made its way to Ireland where it became a six strain hornpipe. Although I had previously heard the song, I first heard a set of Johnny Cope variations played on fiddle by Kathryn Tickell on her album "On Kielder Side". I was bowled over by them and I promised myself I would track down and learn to play a set. Kathryn Tickell based her six strain version on several manuscripts in North East England and in Edinburgh. I eventually found a four strain set on the Farne website in the Lister Manuscript which had been compiled in County Durham some time between 1840 and 1860. It was a four strain set so I added two variations that I had composed myself sometime ago. I play it in C on a Mollenhauer "Dream" Alto recorder with a shruti box drone in the background.

Cleveland Hills/Down Along the Tees.
These two tunes are my own compositions. I was inspired to write Cleveland Hills after hearing a tune on another Kathryn Tickell Album. Rothbury Hills was written by Northumbrian Piper and Accordionist, Jack Armstrong and was the first track on the Kathryn Tickell album "Northumbrian Collection". The inspiration was to write an air celebrating the area where I live. The Cleveland Hills are almost on my back doorstep, and are part of the North York Moors National Park. I couple it with another tune of mine which I called "Down Along the Tees". It came out of my "noodling" on the recorder one day and the tune just seemed to flow so I named it after the river on which Middlesbrough is situated - and where I live. The Tees is one of only two major Yorkshire rivers not to flow into the Humber. The other is the Esk which flows into the sea at Whitby. I play the tunes on wooden flute and I am accompanied by my friend Nick on guitar who I met when I used to go to a singaround in Thirsk. This was done courtesy of the internet. I left the tune on a website, he picked it up, added the guitar and sent it back to me.

Cleveland Hills/Down along the Tees is featured on the six CD set put together by members of Mudcat.  They can be purchased through Mudcat. Information Here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Occasional Folk Songs
I Sing of a Maiden
Fifteenth Century Carol

I had a copy of this in a poetry anthology I own together with about three other early anonymous poems (Sumer is icumen in, Adam lay ybounden and Westron winde). When my wife bought a poetry anthology recently it was also included in it with the heading "Carol" which made me think about adding a tune. When I suggested it her comment was "don't make it one of your usual dirgy ones". I think she was referring to the minor mode tunes often found in folk song. It gave me pause for thought and I realised that a jig I had written some years ago might work so I gave it a try. I found that the 15th century English did not quite fit the tune and also one verse only used half the the melody. As a result, I rewrote the poem in modern English, combining two verses into one so that it used a complete tune. By repeating the original first verse I was able to create a three verse song.

Here is the original poem

I sing of a maiden
That is makëless
King of alle kingës
To here sone she ches

He cam also stillë
There his moder was,
As the dew in Aprillë
That falleth on the grass

He cam also stillë
To his modres bowr,
As the dew in Aprillë
That falleth on the flowr

He cam also stillë
There his moder lay,
As the dew in Aprillë
That falleth on the spray

Moder and maiden
Was never non but she
Well may swich a lady
Godës moder be.

And my version (complete with the chords I used on the ukulele)

I [G] sing of a maiden that was matchless
King of all kings for her son she [D] chose
He [C] came so [G] softly where his mother [D] was
As the [C] dew in [G] April falls [D7] on the [G] grass

I sing of a maiden that was matchless
King of all kings for her son she chose
He came so softly to his mother's bower
As the dew in April falls on the flowers

He came so softly where his mother lay
As the dew in April falls on the Spray
Mother and maiden was ne'er one but she
Well may such a lady God's mother be.

Since doing this I found that the original had survived in the oral tradition and that it had been recorded by Shirley Collins but I have not heard her version.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Occasional Folk Songs
Carols are very much part of Christmas and most people know the common ones and will join in even if they are not particularly religious.

Most carols we sing nowadays date from the 19th Century and later though there are a significant number that are much older. Here is one, the Seven Joys of Mary. This carol dates from the 15th Century and exists in a number of variants. The number of "joys" vary from five to nine, though there are actually more verses than nine known and so the "joys" themselves will vary in different versions.

the word "Carol" comes from the French "caroler" which in turn came from the Latin 'choraula', and from the Greek 'choraules', meaning a flute player for chorus dancing and finally derived from the Greek word 'choros' which was originally a circling dance.

Early carols were not specific to Christmas nor sung in Church but did have religious/semi mythical themes.

Carol singing was banned by the Puritans who felt Christmas should be a solemn day.

Although no longer sung in public it seems likely that carols went "underground" and were still sung in private gatherings. Some carols in fact survived in the oral tradition and were rediscovered by late 19th. Century folk song collectors.

The revival of carols and the writing of new carols began in the mid 18th. Century but the revival really "took off" in the mid 19th. Century. However the singing of carols in church only started in 1881 when the Bishop of Truro initiated the first service of nine lessons and carols.

A number of the Carols collected by folk song collectors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have found their way into the popular repertoire and others have remained less well known. Here is a carol that was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Castleton, Derbyshire in 1908. The carol originally dates back to the 16th Century and an earlier form called the "Corpus Chrisit Carol" was included in a manuscript compiled by a Richard Hill, an apprentice grocer sometime about 1504.

The pictures in the two videos were all taken by me. In the Seven Joys of Mary they feature a Holiday in Switzerland in January 2010 and Down in Yon Forest the pictures are of the North York Moors with the buildings being from the Rydale Folk Museum at Hutton-le-Hole.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Occasional Folk Songs
Van Dieman's Land

I've not posted for a while. Here's a song about poaching and transportation.

I first came across this song in 1965 in a little red book called “101 Scottish Songs”.  In there, the song was titled “The Poachers” and the source was given as “From Ord's Bothy Ballads”. Some 20 years later, I bought a copy of Roy Palmer's “English Country Song Book” and in it found the same song with one extra verse and a different final verse and with a different tune. I later came across several other versions in the Bodleian Library's Broadside Ballad collection.

An article in Mustrad discusses ballads relating to transportation to Van Diemen's* land in general and refers to this ballad in particular. Van Diemen's land was not normally a first destination for those transported but was used as a transfer destination from other places for convicts who had transgressed further. Transporation for poaching was not common – figures given in the Mustrad article suggest that only about 300 out of about 162 000 males transported. (It seems female poachers were unknown). Roy Palmer suggested that the ballad was written in response to an act of 1828 which provided that if three men were found in a wood after dark and one of them carried a gun or bludgeon all three were liable to transportation for 14 years. Roy Palmer uses this to suggest that the ballad dates from about 1829 or 1830. The ballad gives a pretty graphic description of the conditions in Van Diemen's land and ends with an admonition to give up poaching. The song circulated widely throughout the British Isles and has been found in Ireland and Scotland as well as England. The tune I use is the one I found in 101 Scottish Songs and is a variant of “Dives and Lazarus” but in 6/8 time.

* Note: Van Diemen's land is the correct spelling for the name of the colony (later Tasmania) but the ballads nearly all spell it Van Dieman's land.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Occasional Folk Songs

The Unquiet Grave

(Child 78, Roud 51)

The unquiet grave recounts a tale of someone who mourns too long for their dead lover. The ballad has been collected many times in the oral tradition and the Roud Index contains 108 entries mainly from Southern England, the North Eastern USA and Canada.
The ballad contains two pieces of folk mythology; that mourning for too long will prevent the spirit of the departed from being at piece and a kiss from the shade of a dead lover hastens your own death.
To me this ballad contains a reminder that life carries on after a loved one has departed and that, while mourning is part of saying farewell, in the end you must get on with your own life and put what has formerly been behind you.
The version I sing here is more or less a version I heard sung on a recording by Ian Campbell and is also very close to the first version in Child. I accompanied myself on a shruti box.
There have been many recordings of this song. The song seems to tap into something deep in our psyche. One I liked was by Gryphon. They sang a different version to me using the tune "Dives & Lazarus".

Occasional Folk Songs

To accompany or not?

It's a matter of personal taste. Some songs work well unaccompanied and others seem to need accompaniment. It depends on the song and how you as an individual feel. I use concertina, ukulele and shruti box to accompany songs. The simplest accompaniment is with the shruti box which simply provides a drone. The tunes of many traditional songs are modal and a drone will often work very well with such melodies.

The shruti box is a simplified version of the Indian harmonium. You may have seen an Indian harmonium. It is a keyboard instrument with a hand worked bellows at the rear to blow air over the reeds. The shruti box dispenses with the keyboard and has a system of stops or flaps to open the reeds as needed. Mine is tuned to the western equal temperament scale and has a one octave range from G to G'. It is fully chromatic and has flaps to uncover the reeds and can be set in any key. I put a short video on You Tube demonstrating the shruti box.

Shruti box demonstration video.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Occasional Folk Songs

This blog was inspired by Jon Boden's "Folk Song a Day" project and other similar projects that followed it. I am not going to post songs at regular intervals but rather when the mood takes me or when I have time from my other activities - hence "Occasional Folk Songs".

I want to share my enjoyment of Folk music generally so I shan't be confining myself to just songs. As well as singing I also play various instruments - tolerably I hope. It's the old adage "Jack of all trades, master of none" but I enjoy playing all my instruments so I shall carry on that way. Anyway back to the blog's theme, as well as songs I shall also post tunes.

Both the songs and tunes will be a mixture of traditional material and more recently written material by writers/composers whose origins were in folk music. Sometimes maybe even sometimes the occasional pop song or jazz number.

For a start here is a tune which is a favourite of mine: Westmoreland

Westmoreland was originally published in Playford's "Dancing Master" in 1686. The Dancing Master was a dance manual and contained instructions for dancing "country dances". Along with each dance was a tune for the dance. The original edition was published in 1651 by John Playford, a London publisher, as "The English Dancing Master". It was an immediate success and eventually ran to 18 editions over the next 80 years. After the first edition it was simply known as the "Dancing Master". John Playford published the first seven editions up to 1686 after which his son, Henry took over publishing the eighth to the twelfth editions. After his death in about 1707/8 a John Young took over publishing the thirteenth to the eighteenth editions, the eighteenth edition appearing somewhere between 1725 and John Young's death in 1732, probably in about 1728.

The original, 1651 edition contained 105 tunes and over the 80+ years the Dancing Master was in print, a further 430 tunes were included at one time or another.

Westmoreland first appeared in the seventh, 1686 edition in 6/4 time. It was published by Walsh in the eighteenth century as an untitled dance in 6/8 time. It was included in the English Folk Dance and Song Society's (EFDSS) recent tune book "Hardcore English" as a waltz.

I play it on wooden flute and I added an accompaniment using my Yamaha electronic keyboard.