I sing all my songs from the heart, but this one makes me tingle. The tune is from the 1960s folk clubs, the words are from a different version in a University collection in the United States. (I can’t be more precise as we are moving house and my notebooks are hundreds of miles away.)
By chance I once had a long and enjoyable conversation with a Polish priest who, like me, collected children’s street songs, rhymes and games. Unlike me he spoke several languages and had travelled extensively throughout Europe. I sang him some songs and showed him some clapping games and he contributed some comments and versions he’d gathered.
Portum Quartum, far from containing a meaningless jumble of words was, he said, an old folk memory of some Latin, which he’d encountered in several countries. ‘do-men-we’, for example, was a corruption of Domine (Lord). Now you know!
The traditional argument about who does the most work in a marriage continues to this day, so I’ve heard, but the old couple in our song settled the matter to their own satisfaction.
The hen in the photo looks like a speckled Sussex and the pig probably a Piétrain. The ploughing illustration is from the Stapleton Collection. I don’t know the artist.
The final verse of this rather gentle toast to the fairer sex was written on the back page of my 1969 notebook, and may not belong to that song at all, but it fits, so I included it on this recording, just in case.
The photo is of the excellent Milltown Cloggies.
One of my favourite traditional songs.
Millers don’t usually fare very well in British folklore, and this one was foolish enough to overplay his hand with Miss Kitty and her formidable father on The Grey Mare.
Thankyou to SeansHorseFarm.com for the photo of Pepsi.
An unusually business-like approach to courting and married life but it works.
I remember swapping one of my songs for A Sailor Courted at a late night sing-around at my host’s house after my booking at their folk club in the 1970s, but I’m sorry to say I don’t recall the club or the singer.
The pic, by Patricia Jacobs Photography, is of The Seven Dials Rapscallions an arresting, realistic and sometimes rather alarming street theatre company! They fit rather well with our traditional song about a worldly lady of the town and a kindly innocent young man.
A traditional endless tale.
Some of the older traditional ballads involve the central character answering difficult or seemingly impossible questions. Naturally, as in this song, the pure heart and motives of the rescuer are stronger than the evil enchantment. In the 1960s there were several versions of this song going round the folk clubs in Hertfordshire.
The oldest mulberry tree in Britain is in Spitalfields, London. The Gentle Author will tell you more at http://spitalfieldslife.com/2015/05/05/the-oldest-mulberry-in-britain/
Liza is a London song which may have originated in the music halls or the streets.
As I’m out for a longish hilly ride this morning I think a song about cycling is called for. It’s from my unique album of veteran verse of the wheeling life I compiled from early publications and folk tradition. The tune’s mine.
Haymaking was a really important time in the country calendar at which everyone who was able might help, especially before mechanisation. It meant feed for the livestock for the year to come. Continuing wet weather could ruin the hay, the farmer and all the workers and their families. A good long summer might yield two crops of hay bringing a degree of prosperity and great celebration.
Many of the old photos show the labourers with their bottles of cider, ale or small beer to help see them through the long hard day from dawn to dusk. The three women were probably land girls in the second world war. There are numerous traditional songs about harvest time and they’re always on the hopeful, celebratory side!
The month of May is the traditional time, if one were to believe English folksong, for lovers to be meeting, or in this case meeting happily again.James Thomas Linnell (1820 – 1905) painted The Haymakers and Springtime in Surrey, where I first drew breath.
A pleasant change from the usual songs of encounters in the fields. Thank you to Steve Wright for the Appletreewick photo.
I heard the song in the original Stevenage Folk Club at Bowes Lyon House in 1965 or 6, but the story’s a bit older than that, first appearing in 1525, so I understand.
The photos are of Avebury in Wiltshire because I don’t have any good ones of Stanton Drew. Most stone circles in Britain are linked to ancient legends, some similar to The Dancers of Stanton Drew. The song was written by Muriel Holland and Jim Parker and published by the English Folk Dance & Song Society in 1971.
Many a folk song sailor learns that he’s only welcome if his pockets are full. The Green Bed is a typical tale with a suitably just conclusion.
The photo is from tumblr.
Not the Diamond in our photos but the magnificent bark Europa (with thanks to Classic Sailing.co.uk). Not the Arctic either, but the Antarctic. Whales are sighted on the voyages, but none harmed. Naturally.
Words by Alfred H Boddy, tune traditional, the song was broadcast and printed more than once for BBC Schools’ music programmes. Ship’s cats were, and perhaps still are, a feature of navy life. My father’s ship, HMS Cumberland, once had a dog as mascot.
Irving Gordon 1951
This song, a product of the early music halls, was sung by my paternal grandmother, with much chuckling, in the 1950’s. A ‘nark’ is a disagreeable surprise, and ‘glifted’ means frightened.
One of the favourite themes of traditional song in the British Isles was that of roving free. A journeyman was a skilled craftsman and the man in our song is particularly happy with his lot.
This beautiful song, the epitome of English traditional song from the southern counties, was sung by Mrs Sweet to Cecil Sharp at Somerton, Somerset, on the 16th August 1907.
In the 1960s Miles Wootton up-dated one of the best-known traditional British folk songs, though it seems rather less modern and amusing now. The photo is of a Woodcraft Folk camp in Scotland, an organisation which our family was closely involved with for many years and which thrives to this day. There are folk camps in every civilised country, and one way or another all are about harmony, which we could certainly do with these days.
Apart from an extra verse this is more or less the same as the version sung by Isla Cameron, whose voice captivated and inspired me from the first hearing.
Frequently published by 19th century presses, this version was collected and sung by Bert Lloyd in the 1950s.
A great many English traditional songs are set in May. It’s a time of hope and new life after a bleak and barren winter.
L Stands For London, a cheery song with a poignant ending, is a rarity I met with only once. Two nine-year old girls I taught used it in their complex clapping game. The amusing and anonymous print ‘Harmony in Leicester Square’ (London 1848) is courtesy of the British Museum.
This is the month so many of our traditional songs rejoice in. Happy May Day!
Reynardine is a curious traditional song that was often printed by the Victorian ballad presses. Pomeroy is a village in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
I Once Was A Ploughboy is a song of the kind frequently printed in the 19th century, in which the innocent youth, often a worker on the land, is tricked, forced or goes to be a soldier out of duty.
The hard life of a farm hand may have seemed not so bad compared to the perils of war, and our ploughboy clearly looks forward to coming home to Sarah and never venturing away again. Such thoughts must have sustained countless young men.
Colour photos from the excellent and informative https://gressenhallfw.wordpress.com. Among the other pictures are Land girls, who took the place of the men and boys who were called up for the armed forces during the Second World War. Nothing changes.
Whilst sorting out some old guitar class demo recordings I came across Matt Hyland, a song about which I know little, except that Martin Carthy said he heard it sung by a man whose name he didn’t recall in a northern Ireland folk club in the late 1960s.
The painting of The Recruiting Sergeant (The King’s Shilling) is attributed to Henry Nelson O’Neil (1817-1880). The song was popular in Victorian times in two versions – sailor and soldier – and frequently reprinted by the song and ballad presses all over the country. This version was recorded when I had an unexpectedly useful sore throat.
My favourite version, newly recorded, of one of the finest of our ancient ballads. The photograph is from the justly famous Landshuter Hochzeit.
Ages ago in my boyhood we sang The North Country Maid at school, the version well-known in folk clubs today. I forget quite where I found Home Dearest Home, but I like it best; it has a story and a reason for the maid wanting to return, besides a love of trees.
The second is a Shetland version of a traditional tune. Around 1970, if I remember rightly, Stefan Sobel told the story to a folk club audience of seeing, late one evening, a small faintly illuminated procession making its way through the dark woods to this tune.
The People Next Door? It’s said that you should never name the Good Neighbours.
Louise Antell, a young teenager, wrote Harbour Of Days Gone By in 1967 or 8. It was her only song and she sang it only once. By 2008 she had become a successful author named Louise Cooper and had forgotten all about her song, but I hadn’t, and asked if I might record it. She was pleased with the result, and the album she suggested became the start of my putting all the songs I had gathered over more than fifty years, into a 400 song collection and setting up SongShepherd.com to share them. There’s more about Louise on http://www.louisecooper.com.
The Banks Of Sweet Primroses was a favourite song of Southern England, collected many times from the late 1800s right through to the 1950s.
I saw my first black kite not long ago. By the time I’d got off my bike to take a photo it had disappeared. The photo of a black kite over a field of primroses is from © Simon Barnes.
Today’s sailor lads and lasses have the best of living conditions. Our song dates from perhaps the mid 19th century and similar versions have been collected in the USA, where I found these words, as well as England, which provided the tune.
The painting is by the Swedish artist August Hagbord, 1852 -1921. The glass rolling pins with their sailor theme were very popular keepsakes in Victorian times. The song, with its familiar story and peerless tune, will be haunting me all day, and you too perhaps.
I found the song written on a slip of paper in a book I bought at a charity shop. After copying it out I put it back in the book and gave it to another shop for someone else to find.
Mary, a friend in the USA, mentioned the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection at Missouri State University, one of several important audio and written collections in America. Locks & Bolts is from Max Hunter’s 1960 field recording of Harrison Burnett of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I was much taken with his singing of this song which is by far the best version I know, though it suits me to take it at a somewhat faster pace.
The photo was taken by Judith, an old friend who spotted the door whilst on holiday in France. She sent it to me saying I might find a use for it one day. In the fullness of time it became the perfect illustration for one of my most satisfying albums.
Collected by Cecil Sharp and included in Folk Songs From Somerset, 1910, and Novello’s Songs For Schools, though I’m sorry to say we never sang it at mine. (Much too jolly!)
All the ballad-mongers of Seven Dials had versions of this song and all give the youth’s hometown as Newry, not far from Carlingford. Stephen’s Green is a village near Mallow, County Cork. The photo was taken just outside Newry, on a handsome cycle route.
English folk song is full of gentle shepherds of both sexes and shows the lowly station of the characters. Flora has the chance to ‘better herself’ but finds the ‘high-ups’ base and selfish. Her brave move in church from a slightly high place to sit with her shepherd would have been noticed by the congregation and set tongues a-wagging.
This particularly lovely version of the song is from an 1877 Scottish songbook of mine with a lost cover. Based upon a true story, The Broom Of The Cowdenknowes was first published in 1651. The shepherdess, banished from home by her parents, did marry her wealthy lover whose baby she carried, but was never truly happy away from Cowdenknowes, her home in Berwickshire.
Walter Baxter’s photograph is of the farmhouse at Cowdenknowes Mains, not far from where I live.
If you read the ‘original’ version of Sweet Polly Oliver you will not be surprised that the poet A P Graves almost entirely re-wrote the words. However this is a third version that has lost its unseemly bits but kept the story and superb tune.
As a ten-year-old schoolboy I greatly enjoyed Alfred Noyes poem ‘Old Grey Squirrel’ without understanding any of the implications. Reading it again as an adult I was reminded of my father’s boyhood love of the sea which led him into the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen. A year later World War 2 began and he learned enough about the sea to last his lifetime.
I don’t know if it’s any better to achieve one’s ambition as he did or live unfulfilled, like Squirrel. The tune is mine. The ship is the Royal Clipper at sunset, off Martinique.