Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Unquiet Grave

Child #78

This song is one of the Child Ballads. Although many have claimed that the origins of the ballad are ancient, no evidence of the existence of the song before 1800. 

The main theme of the song, that over long mourning by the living will disturb the rest of the dead, is widespread in European Folklore and this has been taken as pointing to the song being of great antiquity - possibly pre-Christian. However as Steve Roud and Julia Bishop point out in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Song
"...the problem with 'ancient' motifs which have remain current in society, as this one had, is that they are available for incorporation into a song at any time in their history, not just at the beginning of it and their presence is no proof of antiquity"
Leaving all this aside, this is a great song and the theme of warning against excessive grief which is how I see the song is a timeless one.

Spencer the Rover

According to The New Penguin Book of English Folks Song, the earliest collected version of this song was from Derbyshire in the 1870s but it appeared in Broadsides dating back to the 1820s and 1830s.

The song was popular with singers in Yorkshire and a number of collectors thought it must have been composed in Yorkshire as most versions make reference to Yorkshire as a location within the song.

This was clearly a popular song with country singers but when I first heard it I felt it had something of the sentimental Victorian parlour ballad about it.

In my version I accompany myself on ukulele as I do on most subsequent songs that will appear in this blog as I have become involved in producing entries for the Ukulele Underground Seasons of the Ukulele series of contests.


Bonny Light Horseman

I first heard this song sung by Eliza Carthy but this version came from Roy Palmer's book The Rambling Soldier which documents the life of the soldiers of the British Army from 1750 to 1900 through their writings and their songs. 

This song comes from the Napoleonic wars and according to the description in Roy Palmer's book was popular at the time of Waterloo and remained in oral circulation for a century afterwards.

The first verse describes Napoleon's basic tactics, particularly his use of cannon in his major battles. 

There are a variety of versions of this song in circulation with a number of different verses and with other tunes.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On the Banks of the Leven

Another Graeme Miles song, once again featuring the river Leven. This and "She Walks Alone" were both taken from his book "Forgotten Songs Remembered" and were both written in 1966.

I was particularly struck by the poetry of the words of this song. When I first looked at it, I felt it stood alone as a poem without the melody but a song needs a melody and Graeme, as usual, has provided a good one that complements the song beautifully.

My version is accompanied on a Kala soprano ukulele in D-tuning.

She Walks Alone

It's a while since I posted an entry to the blog so I've got a bit of catching up to do which I hope to do over the next week or so.

She Walks Alone is a song by Teesside Songwriter Graeme Miles. 

Graeme's songs celebrate the part of Yorkshire just south of the River Tees both the industrial world along the river's banks and the beautiful North Yorks Moors. His songs are known and sung around the country, but are special to the area in which I live and in one folk club I go to, the White Hart at Mickleby you are almost guaranteed to hear at least one Graeme Miles song every week

This song features the river Leven which is a tributary of the Tees rising on the Moors above Kildale and flowing into the Tees near Yarm. The song is clearly a sad one and I like the way he leaves the ending uncertain. 

My version as with most of the next few songs was recorded for Ukulele Underground Forum's weekly competition, "The seasons of the ukulele" so the songs are accompanied on ukulele. In this case on a Flea soprano ukulele.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cruel Ship's Carpenter

A murder ballad in which a man murders his girlfriend. He then takes ship, the ship runs into trouble and the girl's spirit returns to deal with the murderer.

According to the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs; "This song was widely collected in Britain and Ireland with a huge number of versions found in North America where it was one of several songs called Pretty Polly."

The song originated in much longer form in the 18th century but was published in shorter form in the early and mid 19th century in shorter form by several broadside printers. There are a number of broadsides of this ballad in the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballad Collection. In them,  a sailor's suspicion that a ship with a murderer on board is unable to sail on further is invoked. In this case the murderer, having denied his crime is confronted by his ghost of his victim who tears him limb from limb.

The version I sing here, I found in Cecil Sharpe's and Maud Karpeles's book of songs they collected in the Appalachians in 1916/17. In this version the ship carrying the murderer sinks and his victim's soul comes to escort the murderer's soul to hell. I find this somehow more satisfying, I don't know why but it somehow feels more convincing.

I accompany myself on a soprano ukulele and have added a shruti box drone which added to the almost constant Gm chord, I think helps to convey something of the darkness of this song. 

I recently heard another version of this song sung by Bob Conroy of Long Island, USA on a visit here to the UK. His version was interesting because it lacked the ghostly element.

Freeborn Man

This song was written by Ewan MacColl for the radio ballad Travelling People which was originally broadcast in 1964 and was the last of eight radio ballads broadcast between 1959 and 1964.

The radio ballads were the original creation of Charles Parker, a BBC radio producer together with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger who between them created a form of documentary which mixed the voices of the actual participants involved with sounds recorded in the field and songs written by Ewan MacColl and arranged by Peggy Seeger.

The radio ballads were groundbreaking in using the actual voices of participants involved in the events which the radio ballad was based on. Previously, in documentaries about ordinary working people, participants were interviewed and then the topic of the interview would be scripted and actors would then be used on the actual programme. The format devised by Parker was very successful and the BBC had to repeat them as a result of requests from listeners after they were first broadcast.

I first came across them in the late 1960s when I found the first one, The Ballad of John Axon, on an LP in the local library. I was captivated and went back looking for more. The local library had two more, Singing the Fishing and The Travelling People and there was reference to a fourth, The Big Hewer. I found the mixture of dialogue and song compelling and there were some wonderful songs.

The Travelling People is concerned with the gypsy and tinker population who were, and are, a people who live on the margins of our society and are still treated with suspicion to this day by the rest of the population.

You can find out more about the radio ballads on the BBC website or Google "radio ballads" and follow the links.

In my own version of Freeborn Man, I simply accompany myself on a soprano ukulele.

Monday, June 11, 2012

All Things are Quite Silent

I first heard this song some years ago sung by Jo Freya. The story it tells of a man taken from his marriage bed by the press gang is a sad one, but the tune is truly lovely.

It is the first song in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and was collected by Vaughan Williams in Sussex in 1904 from a Ted Baines. It is the only time this song has been collected in the oral tradition.

Impressment as a means of "recruiting" men to serve in the Royal Navy seems to date back to the time of Edward I but the first act legalising impressment was in 1563. Over the next 250 years a number of acts of parliament governing impressment were passed and the practice was at its most active during the wars of the eighteenth century and particularly during the Napoleonic wars. The practice died out after 1815 though the various acts have never been formally repealed. 

The press gangs were both feared and hated as they could take people at any time, though their main targets were men with either seagoing or river boat experience and landsmen were less likely to be taken and taking someone from their home in the manner described was probably extremely rare, though undoubtedly very distressing. 

The notes on the song suggest it probably dates from before 1835, the date of the last act regulating impressment.

I recorded the song as an entry for a competition for the Ukulele Underground Forum. The condition was a single take and no post processing so the video is simply what I recorded using my camcorder with the sound being from the camcorder's internal mic. I did remove the bits at each end of me switching the camera on and off as it annoys me when I see that on You Tube videos. I accompanied myself on a soprano ukulele tuned ADF#B

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs

The Old Man From Lee

I found this song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (original edition). I've never heard a recording of it so the arrangement is purely my own uninfluenced by any other.

The Penguin book is slightly contradictory about the origins as the song is credited to an unnamed singer from Coggeshall, Essex but the notes at the back say it their version was amplified from a Wiltshire version. Who knows? The notes have this to say about the song:
The old man's courtship is an ancient joke of which country folk never seemed to tire. In a form similar to the song we publish [sic] the song appeared in the Musical Miscellany (London) in 1730. It seems widespread in Scotland and Sharp found it common in the West Country. Versions have been reported from Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire.
There is a Mudcat thread on the song here which has a number of versions, including some from North America.

In the version in the Penguin book, the old man gets as far as asking the girl to marry him at the end of the song, but in other versions the wedding takes place with unfortunate consequences for both parties. I like it left as it is here not knowing whether the girl will accept.

I sing the song accompanied on a concert ukulele to which I added a shruti box drone which I thought suited the modal melody.

Occasional Folk Songs 

The Jovial Beggarman

This song is from the 17th century. It was originally part of a play called “The Jovial Crew” or “The Merry Beggars” by Richard Brome. It was first staged in 1641 or 1642 and was revived soon after the restoration and Pepys records seeing it in 1661. The play seems to have remained in the repertoire until about 1708 and it is thought to have influenced John Gay when he created the “Beggars' Opera” in 1728. The song occurs in the play under the title of “The Beggars Chorus”. It also appears in broadsides between the 17th and 19th century and there are several versions in the Bodleian Library broadside collection. There is also a Mudcat thread on the song here.

Maddy Prior has recorded this song with the Broadside Band, though she updated some of the references in it. I have sung a selection of verses from the original, though I have also made some slight alterations.

I sing it accompanied using a concert ukulele.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

In a Far Place

This is a lament I wrote after a relative of a friend was killed in Afghanistan. The person concerned was working for a charity, not the military but was being transported in a military helicopter when it was shot down. 

I play the tune in three parts on a wooden flute and tenor and bass recorders, first with all three instruments in unison, though the bass recorder has to make octave jumps from time to time. I then play it through again with the flute on the melody and the recorders adding harmony.

Occasional Folk Songs

Green Bushes

I first heard this song on a Magpie Lane CD and decided I wanted to learn it which I did from their CD. I later came across other versions and learnt and extra verse (The second verse in the version here). According to Roy Palmer in An English Country Songbook: "The song dates back to the 1760s though it remained popular until the early years of this [the 20th] century. The tune derives from a version collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Essex in 1904. A number of people have recorded versions of this song over the years. June Tabor did a particularly fine version with a different tune at the Folk Prom in August 2011 which can be found on You Tube.

I sing it here unaccompanied.

Searching for Lambs

This song was collected in Somerset by Cecil Sharp in 1905. I came across the tune first in a recorder or tin whistle tune book and only found the words later. The version I actually first heard on a recording was by Mary Humphreys who uses a different tune which she says was one collected by Cecil Sharp in 1904. I found an excellent version using the more familiar tune on a compilation CD I bought in Past Times. In that case it was sung by Ian Giles. A number of other people have recorded it over the years. A comment by Tony Rose that I found on this site, I think sums up this song;

Searching for Lambs is for me as near as one can get to the perfect folk song. When I say that it has a timeless quality about it, I mean that I cannot imagine a time when it would not give me pleasure to sing it.

Again, I sing it here unaccompanied

Friday, May 4, 2012

Scarborough Fair

Scarborough Fair is a variant of the Child Ballad no. 2, "The Elfin Knight". 

The oldest known version of The Elfin Knight is in a Ballad Sheet from 1673. Many variants of the song have been collected both in the British Isles and North America. The "Parsley Sage..." refrain seems to be particular to the North East of England and the version commonly sung was collected from a retired Lead Miner from Teessdale called Mark Anderson. Similar versions have been collected in and around Whitby and the Northumbrian Minstrelsy carries a similar version titled "Whittingham Fair", Whittingham being a village in Northumberland on the River Alne. 

There are a number of discussions on Mudcat on this song with much interesting information including a number of variants of the song. This thread is probably as good a starting point as any as it goes back some time. This thread, though more recent is quite lengthy and has links to other threads on the subject.

The song is probably most widely known from the version recorded by Simon and Garfunkel on their album "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme". It led to something of a spat between Paul Simon and Martin Carthy because of Paul Simon's failure to acknowledge the song as Traditional and to acknowledge Martin Carthy's Guitar riff which Paul Simon used, though the two of them did in fact make peace over the affair. 

My version uses the tune as sung by Martin Carthy and Simon and Garfunkel but the words were taken from the Northumbrian Minstrelsy (though those from Mark Anderson are more or less the same). The song describes a lovers tiff with each setting the other a series of impossible tasks. In today's terms, it sounds like a couple going through a particularly bitter divorce. That's the way I see it, at least.

I kept my recording simple with an accompaniment on a soprano ukulele tuned to A, D, F#, B (a tone higher than normal).

 After recording it, I felt I had pitched a little low, so I have since rearranged it a third higher and accompany myself on  a concert ukulele tuned to the normal G, C, E, A.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs

Johnny Todd

This traditional song was collected by Frank Kidson and published in 1891 in a collection called Traditional Tunes: A Collection of Ballad AirsKidson's notes for this song say: "Johnny Todd is a child's rhyme and game, heard and seen played by Liverpool children. The air is somewhat pleasing, and the words appear old, though some blanks caused by the reciter's memory have had to be filled up."

A Wikipedia article on the song also states that: "There is also what appears to be a version of the same song, mentioned in the first of the Para Handy stories, written in Scotland in 1905, which claims that the tune was popular around 30 years earlier. The song also appears in the book Songs of Belfast edited by David Hammond (Cork: The Mercier Press, 1986), who heard it from a Mrs Walker of Salisbury Avenue, Belfast, who claimed it dates from around 1900.

The tune for this song was used by the BBC police drama series Z Cars in the 1960s and a recording of the tune arranged by Fritz Spiegl and played by Johnny Keating and his orchestra was a top ten hit in 1962.

In my recording I simply accompanied myself on a soprano ukulele tuned A, D, F#, B which was the most common tuning for the soprano ukulele until the late 1940s. 

The ship in the video isn't going anywhere. It sits in the River Tees in Stockton and I couldn't resist putting in the Photo of the statue of Capt. Cook in Whitby with a seagull crapping on its head.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs

Sir John Fenwick's the Flower Amang them All

Sir John Fenwick's the Flower Amang them All is considered one of the classics of the Northumbrian Repertoire. It is often considered a beginners tune which is a pity because it is an excellent tune. It's one I like very much and find satisfying to play.

There is an excellent article on the Farne Website (Farne: Folk Archive Resource North East) which traces the known origins of the tune and also looks at some of the variants that have appeared over the years. The tune dates back at least to the late 17th Century and the earliest known version appeared in the 1690 edition of Playford's “Apollo's Banquet” with the title Long Cold Nights. A near contemporary version under the title “Flower of Yarraw” appeared in a manuscript book compiled by a Northumbrian Fiddler, Henry Atkinson about 1694/5.

The version usually played today is one which is in the first Northumbrian Pipers' Tune Book and is very similar to one which appears in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882. There have been a number of other variants of the tune that have appeared over the years and the Farne Article examines some of these.

The title by which the tune is now known is thought to refer to a leader of the Jacobite supporters in Northumberland who was executed in 1697 for his involvement in a plot to overthrow William of Orange and restore James II (and VII) to the throne. Alistair Anderson tells that the singing of this tune caused a riot in Newcastle and the Northumbrian Minstrelsy has a similar story saying that “... this song, carelessly sung cost two gentlemen of the county [of Northumberland] their lives”.

For my own version, I have taken the modern version and added a set of variations mostly based on the version in the Henry Atkinson manuscript (which is available in digital form on the Farne website). I play it on an alto recorder. The accompaniment is played from a midi file through my Yamaha MU15 midi module using a harpsichord patch.

Occasional Folk Songs

A Caveat for Cutpurses &

Packington's Pound

Several years ago I was browsing a bookstall at the Society of Recorder Players (UK) national festival when I came across a book of Broadside Ballads. It had a wonderful selection of songs from the 17th Century complete with tunes and the song “A Caveat for Cutpurses” was taken from that book.

Broadside ballads were songs printed on a single sheet of paper, usually two to four songs on a sheet sometimes with music but mostly without. The more usual practice being to specify a popular tune of the day for the song to be sung to. The Broadsides were sold round the country at local fairs and markets usually for one penny. Broadside sellers were often in league with cutpurses who frequented the fairs relieving people of their money. A common practice was for the seller to gather a crowd round him and before starting his patter would warn the members of the crowd to beware of cutpurses. The natural reaction was for people to check that they still had their purses which would be suspended by a string from their belts, often out of sight under their outer garment so as to prevent the cutpurses taking them. The cutpurses would note which side the people had tapped and move in to take them. A bit of seemingly accidental jostling and an apology and you don't notice your money has gone till it's too late.

The song says something of that as well as pointing out the penalties if you get caught, usually hanging. The original in the book is much longer but most of the verses were simply reiteration of the way they worked so I just kept enough verses to tell the basic story.

The original song, in shorter form, came from a comedy by Ben Jonson called “Bartholomew Fair” which dates from 1614. The tune is called “Packington's Pound” and dates from the late sixteenth century. It is thought to have been named after a courtier of Elizabeth I, Sir John Packington. It was a very popular tune of the period and was often specified for ballads, especially for ones relating to crime and punishment.

My recording, I have kept very simple just using a shruti box to provide a drone accompaniment. At the end, I play the tune at a quicker tempo on an alto recorder. I was originally going to use a soprano recorder for this, but I realised that if I played it on an alto with the same fingering I could keep the shruti box drone at the same pitch.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs

Never Weather Beaten Sail

This song was written by Thomas Campion, a poet and musician who lived during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. He published a number of poems and several books of songs. Never Weather Beaten Sail came from his "First Booke of Ayres" which was published about 1613 in which he wrote both words and music. Campion also wrote a number of masques, a book criticising the use of rhyme in poetry, though he did not always follow his own advice and a book on counterpoint in music.

After his death in 1620, his work fell into oblivion and was eventually resurrected in the late 19th Century. A number of 19th century composers have arranged his songs including Thomas Parry. In more recent times his work is popular with Early Music practitioners and choral groups and there are several recordings on You Tube of Never Weather Beaten Sail both by solo singers with lute accompaniment and by vocal ensembles. Maddy Prior recorded the song on the album "Hang up Sorrow and Care", an album of 17th century popular song which she made with the Broadside band.

My version here is my own arrangement. I have used a Tenor Recorder to provide a harmony line as well as to play an instrumental verse. The accompaniment was created using midi through a Yamaha midi synthesiser module.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs

Nightingale Sing


The Bold Grenadier

I don't know where I first heard this song, but I think it was during my childhood. I came across it again in my early twenties when I first got seriously involved with folk music. I have always enjoyed it but it was only later that I realised the sexual significance.

It seems to have been collected many times both here in the UK and in America and has also been recorded many times. It was used for a scene the film of Thomas Hardy's novel "Far From the Madding Crowd".

In this recording I have added a flute part between the verses and as an instrumental verse and also used a midi backing track.

The photographs are of The North Yorks Moors taken in the summer of 2010.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs
The Dancing Master

The dancing master was something of a 17th century publishing sensation. First published in 1651 as "The English Dancing Master" it eventually ran to 18 editions over the next 80 years with the eighteenth edition being published about 1728. The title was changed to "The Dancing Master" with the second edition in 1652. The Dancing Master was a book of country dances with instructions for dancing the dances together with a tune for each dance. Although the dances possibly originated in the dances of the country folk, these were dances for the upper and middle classes and possibly originated as light relief to the complex dances danced at the court.

"The Dancing Master" is important as a source of dances as danced by the upper and middle classes during the period of its publication - and possibly for some time after. Playford dances have often been used in costume dramas in film and on TV, including adaptations of Jane Austen Novels which were written almost 100 years after the last publication of The Dancing Master.

It is also important as a source of popular instrumental tunes from the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are over 500 tunes in The Dancing Master and many of the tunes in the first edition were current during the last years of Elizabeth I.

Playford's work was rediscovered by Cecil Sharp in the late nineteenth century and he set about trying to recreate some of the dances. Many have disagreed with his interpretations but he was working in the dark with an unfamiliar form of notation. In addition, The Dancing Master, especially the early editions, was notorious for the number of errors it contains. Successive editions would correct errors only to introduce new ones. Others have since worked on recreating the dances.

My own interest is in the tunes and there are some wonderful tunes. I include two  here that I have arranged, Childgrove from the 11th Edition of 1701 and Lady Catherine Ogle which first appeared in a supplement to the 7th Edition in 1687 as "Lady Catherine Ogle, a new dance". Lady Catherine Ogle is normally considered a traditional Scots tune, but it has been suggested that it was actually composed by Irish Harper Rory dall O'Cahan who spent much of his adult life in Scotland.

I play Childgrove on a Mollenhauer dream alto recorder and Lady Catherine Ogle on a Mollenhauer dream tenor recorder.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs
Rydale Waltz/Anna's Jig

Two tunes of my own composition. Rydale waltz is named after Rydale a valley at the South Western end of the North Yorkshire Moors. The River Rye passes through Helmesley and eventually joins the River Derwent. The Derwent itself rises at the South Eastern end of the North Yorkshire Moors and then flows in a Westerly direction to the south of the Moors  eventually flowing into the Humber. The pictures in the video are of Rievaulx Abbey, a former Cistercian Monastery which is in Rydale. The Cistercian Monks changed the course of the River Rye several times in order to ensure an adequate water supply for various activities carried out by the Monastery.

Anna's Jig is named after my younger daughter and originated in a tune a wrote for a poem about Christmas she wrote for me when she was about 10 or 11. I was taking a music course at the time and had been set the task of setting some words to music. The tune as originally written only had the A and part of the B music so I slightly modified and extended the B music to created two eight bar sections of a conventional jig.

The tunes are played on a Mollenhauer "Dream" tenor recorder. 

Occasional Folk Songs
The Lyke Wake Dirge

The Lyke Wake Dirge relates the journey of the soul after death through a series of trials the outcome of which are dependant on actions in life. The imagery is very much that of medieval Christianity though much of it is thought to be of heathen origin.

In times past, the body of the dead had to be taken to consecrated ground for burial and parishes were much larger in area than they are now so there were recognised routes to the parish church along which coffins were carried to the church. Such routes were often known as "coffin trods". The term "Lyke" means a dead body and survives in "Lych Gate" which is a roofed over gate at the entrance to the church ground. It is here that the coffin would rest until the time came for it to enter the church for the burial service. The opening verse refers to "Fire and fleet and candle light", namely to the essential comforts of hearth and home. The soul then met trials at Whinny Moor where if they had given a gift of shoes and stockings they could avoid being prickled by the whinnies, namely gorse, as the passed across the moor, then to the "Brig o' Dread" where if they had given alms (silver or gold) they could pass over the bridge (Brig = bridge) and finally they came to the flames of hell. If they had given food and drink in life they would not be touched by the flames and would pass to heaven. If they had failed to give alms (at Brig o' Dread) or food and drink, then the sould would burn in hell.

The song is in North Yorkshire dialect and is of considerable age. The earliest known version was collected by a 17th Century antiquarian, John Aubrey in 1686 and he records that it was known at least as far back as 1616 though it is likely much older. It seems the song continued to be sung over dead bodies in the Cleveland Area of North Yorkshire until the early years of the 19th century. More recently the song has become associated with the Lyke Wake Walk, a 40 mile treck across the North Yorkshire Moors from just above Osmotherley to near Ravenscar on the east coast. The words I sing are essentially those on the Lyke Wake Walk website.

There are a number of recordings of the song. Best known are probably those by The Young Tradition, Pentangle and Steeleye Span. Unlike the words, the tune used now is thought to be fairly modern - of late 19th or early 20th century origin.
There are number of references and descriptions of this song on the internet, including different sets of words. There is some useful background material on Wikipedia and on the Yorkshire Garland websites. There are a few Mudcat discussions on the song including here and here.