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.