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.