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.