Circle games and dances are found all over the world, not least because everyone is an equal part of the whole and everyone can see what’s happening. One version of Green Gravel was collected from Mrs Harley, Bewdley, Shropshire by Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland and published in English County Songs, 1893.
Lucy Broadwood described the game that was played: A circle of girls stand hand in hand, one child in the middle; they sing and at the words “turn round your head,” the child named by the one in the middle has to turn face outwards and join hands again. The game goes on till all the children are turned face outwards.
It’s long been the custom in many parts of Britain to cover a grave with green gravel, as one of the pictures shows. The music among the photos is from four other versions of the song, which seems to have been widespread.
This curious song is another little-known one which a pupil in one of my primary school classes brought in to add to my collection. Some time after making this recording in 2014 I discovered that a similar version was collected in Devon by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould and published in A Book Of Nursery Songs and Rhymes in 1895.
Click on the link for a treat from the Angel Canal Festival in London!
I found this song especially useful as it was fun for children as well as adults, particularly at the close of a convivial folk club evening when the ale had flowed freely. Like all accumulative songs it isn’t meant for just listening to but singing along with, so do your best please.
Somehow I forgot all about Poor Old Man until yesterday when I realised that although I wrote the words into a book years ago, I’d never recorded the song. It came from Derek Hewitson in about 1966 (he’s still thriving). Dave Totterdell (no longer with us) got it from me in the 1970s. Now it’s your turn.
It’s possible that one or two people outside the UK may not have the benefit of long held traditions such as the Annual Wheelbarrow Race in Ponteland in Northumberland. (And you thought Morris dancing was the last word in British eccentricity.)
Thanks to Chronicle Live for the photos. There are more on flickr and a whole website about Ponteland. Click a pic to see the fun larger if it doesn’t spoil your concentration while you’re singing along.