On A Tuesday Morning (The Sign Of The Bonny Blue Bell) came from sisters Mrs Louie Hooper and Mrs Lucy White in Hambridge, Somerset, September 1903. Collected by Cecil Sharp.
Louie with the concertina given to her by Cecil Sharp.
Singer, musician, and old friend Lorna Blythe (as was) wrote this lovely song half a lifetime ago.
Turlough Carolan was a blind Irish harper and prolific composer celebrated in his lifetime (1670 – 1738) and even more widely today.
The music copy is from my notebook.
I have a large collection of songs and an even larger one of music, both are expanding almost daily. I can’t hope to record everything that takes my fancy, but here’s a favourite Irish tune on concertina, bodhran and guitar. May it set your toes tapping and banish the blues.
Fifty years ago two Irish friends, about to marry, were slimming down possessions ready for their new life. They gave me what they thought were blank reel-to-reel tapes. I checked them over at home and discovered their beautiful voices. Later I thanked them and said how much I loved their singing. They hadn’t realised they were recorded and were acutely embarrassed so I gave the tapes back. The Shores Of Amerikay is the only song I had memorised.
The illustration is Cathedral Harbour, St John’s, Newfoundland.
I don’t remember the names of the tunes but the dancers swagger along with a 1-2-3-hop at the end. Great fun!
A Border ballad.
Here’s the hand-written music from my bandbook of three not unknown country dance tunes, played on concertina, guitar, bodhran and saucepan. I hope you think it worth the effort.
The lying soldier spoke truer than he realised.
I really like this gentle traditional song, which James Reeves describes as ‘a comprehensive invitation…’. Furze is another name for gorse. Clare Leighton made the woodcut.
The Dashing Young Fellow From Buckinghamshire is a ridiculous adventure usually published incomplete. I don’t remember where I found this version.
You may like to know: A wager is a bet. Watchmen were officials keeping a night lookout for villains or anything out of order. Newgate was a London prison. Beak is a slang word meaning judge or magistrate. A fortnight is two weeks. (Fourteen nights.)
There were once hundreds of steps or stairs on the Thames now there are few and are mostly in a poor state of repair. As taxi drivers on the roads learn the Knowledge of every road in London so the watermen knew all the stairs and their adjoining streets. They gave access to the river for the watermen to load and unload goods and passengers.
I wrote the tune for tin whistle in about 2011 when I was at the height of my skill on the instrument. Unfortunately I never mastered the art of singing and playing tin whistle at the same time so this remains the only recording.
First printed in John Stokoe’s ‘Songs Of Northern England’ 1893, we used to sing it at school music ‘lessons’ – or the first three verses at any rate!
The superb illustration of street sellers is by Paul Sandby in 1759. The fine painting of him as he sketched street characters from his window is by Francis Cotes.
The Thames Wherries were illustrated by E W Cooke 1829.
I first heard this sung by Robin Hall & Jimmie MacGregor in the late 1950s.
Written by Graham Kendrick for Make Way for Christmas.
At the height of a party someone decides they’ll sing a folksong. Unfortunately it’s the gloomiest of dismal ballads, accompanied by bagpipes.
From Sue Ashby’s book, Through the Knot-Hole, with my tune and running commentary. Sue is a musician, singer, artist, old friend and enthusiastic knitter.
In the old days the wife or mother of a man sent to sea would never know when their son or husband might return. In the meantime the family would have no income to live on. When he did return he’d bring a measure of security once more, perhaps in ‘prize money’, and the whole community would celebrate.
What a long way we’ve come in looking after our Naval personnel and their families since our song first appeared in John Stokoe’s 1893 collection, Songs Of Northern England.
Dol-li-a is from John Stokoe’s 1893 collection, Songs Of Northern England. In case you miss the song’s story line the Black Cuffs and Green Cuffs (a description, not their official name) were Foreign Troops in British Service 1793–1802. The lasses are sorry the Back Cuffs are leaving so Dolly pawns her shirt to pay her expenses when she goes after them.
The image of Sandgate Street, Newcastle upon Tyne c.1900, is from Les Masterson.
This rather saucy song is from Songs Of Northern England by John Stokoe 1893. I sing a different tune first then play the one in the book. The charming sketch is by C E Brock.
An ancient tale, no. 100 in Francis Child’s huge collection, ‘English & Scottish Popular Ballads’.
Eilean Donan Castle is from George Johnson Photography.
The rather arresting portrait is of Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1778-1841), later Queen of Hanover. A strong character, like the lady in our song.
Notwithstanding the violence this almost burlesque song collected by Cecil Sharp was printed in Folk Songs for Schools in 1910.
“If young folks from Wells to London, Were served the same as she served he, Then young girls would all be undone, And very scarce young men would be.”
Collected many times in the southern counties of England, Stephen Sedley wrote: ‘This innocuous song has suffered severely at the hands of expurgators in the past.’ The painting is by Alexander Averin.
Several versions of this song have been collected in Newfoundland.
On The Seashore (1879) is by George Elgar Hicks (1824-1914).
W B Whall, Master Mariner, published this song in Sea Songs & Shanties, 1910, noting that it was very popular 1860-1870. It’s uncertain whether the ‘original’ song refers to Boston Massachusetts or Boston Lincolnshire. The painting is the Clippership Alert Leaving Boston c. 1835 by Christopher Blossom.
This Matt McGinn song is also known as The Haunted Single End (a tiny apartment in Glasgow.) The remarkable Glasgow mural is St Mungo.
Robert Kinchin (63) at Wilmington, Warwickshire, sang this to Cecil Sharp on 23 August 1909. It was considered too ‘near the mark’ to be printed as it stood so was edited for schools. I’m singing that original unexpurgated version here and I’m blowed if I can see anything naughty in it.
Collected by Cecil Sharp.
The song first appeared in print in the USA in 1900 and was later polished and recast a good deal, I don’t know by whom.
The happy couple were at the Little Downham scarecrow festival.
Probably the oldest song in my collection, and one I’ve sung since 1967, it is so rich in symbolism that much of it is impenetrable, yet somehow conveys a story of deep love and constancy.
The photo is from ClassicSailing.com
Collected by Heywood Sumner and published in The Besom Maker 1888.
Photographs: Colonial Williamsburg & Peter Evans
Cecil Sharp collected this version of a familiar tale, popular with 19th century broadside printers. The 1762 subject of the painting by Nathaniel Hone is not a robber but Sir John Fielding, magistrate and social reformer, who with his half-brother, Sir Henry Fielding, founded the Bow Street Runners, the first police force, which the robber in our song called ‘Fielding’s Gang’. The black band was worn to show that he was blind (from an accident in the Navy).
Henry Hammond collected this song from Mrs Jane Gulliver of Combe Florey, Somerset, in 1906.
The painting is by Henry Singleton 1790
A ballad that has been in print since the 1600s, Cecil Sharp included a version in English Folk Songs For Schools 1907. I remember seeing it in our school song book in the late 1950s and hoping, in vain, that we’d sing it one day. My recording is a version current in the 1960s folk clubs. The painting is of HMS Royal George 1756.
A traditional Scottish song appropriate to every nation throughout history.
Collected by Anne Gilchrist from W Bolton, a sailor and shantyman, of Southport, Lancashire, May 1907. The ship is Garthsnaid in 1920.
I love this song. George Butterworth collected it from Mr W Smith (no other details) and the superb tune is the main theme of Butterworth’s English Idylls No.1, published in 1911. Horace Knowles’ illustration of the Seasons seems to tell a similar story.
Another version of this song was collected in Newfoundland by Maud Karpeles in 1929. Edmund Blair Leighton painted Where There’s A Will, in 1892.
Ships and their crews have always been essential for an island’s trade and defence. One of the most popular themes in British traditional song, and a staple product of the broadside presses, was the sailor’s return. Cecil Sharp collected this song from William Pittaway (66) of Burford, Oxon, 19th May 1923 and the 3rd verse from Ellen Powell. North America too relied on trade and the 19th century illustrations above were printed in the USA.
The ill-fated expedition of 1845 to find the North West Passage took the public’s imagination. This song appeared quite soon after it was clear that the ships, Erebus and Terror, and all the crew were lost. It was many years before Lady Jane finally gave up hope of finding her husband John or any survivors. Discoveries are gradually coming to light now, such as the remains of one of the ships and two sailors, perfectly preserved, buried in the snow. Wikipedia is well worth a read.
In this version of a widespread and ancient song, broom and a suitable spell, ensure the maiden’s safety and makes her richer by a considerable sum.
There are many traditional songs on this theme, some amusing, some not. Such marriages might be arranged for financial gain, some for status or in hope of an easier life, some in the hope that the old man might die and leave the young woman free to wed the man she loves. George Gardiner collected the song from Frank Philips of Stoney Cross, Hampshire in October 1907.
The painting is The Unequal Marriage, 1862 by Vasili Pukirev.
By the time I was fourteen I’d begun to think the folk songs we sang at school were somewhat insubstantial. I didn’t realise that verses and subjects deemed unsuitable were either altered or omitted, leaving only good tunes with weak stories. Here’s the last song in our trio on the nightingale theme, one frequently heard in the 60s and 70s folk clubs in all its naughtiness.
An Irish song with many tune variants widely found in the south of England, this version is similar to one collected by James Joyce. The photograph is Lough Ree.
This Cornish song first appeared in Ancient Poems of the Peasantry of England, 1857, by Robert Bell, who describe it as ‘a curious ditty’. In 1907 Sabine Baring-Gould & Cecil Sharp published it in English Folk-songs For Schools, which is where, in the 1950s, I sang it along with millions of other children, for it was reprinted scores of times in various books and remains well-known and frequently sung. You may notice that unlike our previous song on the same subject, there is no reference to anything saucy, such as playing a merrily on a well-tuned fiddle; it hasn’t been edited out, it was never in the song, despite the obvious gap between the lady saying no and the couple agreeing to marry.
Mentioned in scores of traditional English folksongs, for some reason the nightingale – not much bigger than a sparrow – is a symbol of love. This song was collected by Henry Hammond from William Bartlett in Wimborne Union (a workhouse) in Dorset, 1905.