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.