Tom The Drover

For some reason barley is traditionally associated with ‘sport and play’ in folk song. The mother in this tale won’t hear of her daughter taking a walk over the fields with a local lad, but something changes her mind. That’s traditional too.

The song (which was incomplete) was from my teaching days in a village school.

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Sir Patrick Spens

In a story dating as far back as the 13th century an enemy tells the king that Sir Patrick Spens is the best man to sail to Norway in the depths of winter…

Court Richards took the photograph of the tall ship Astrid sunk off the coast of Kinsale.

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Captain Coulston

Captain Coulston is one of several excellent songs I collected at a village school where I taught, and such a fine gem that I’m surprised not to have seen it elsewhere.

P A Jobson drew the four-masted barque Sally Ann for K M Gadd’s 1953 school reading book of that name.

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Squire & The Gypsy

The words are from a broadside in the Bodleian Library, the tune a variation of one sung by Sarah Gulliver, Combe Florey, Somerset in 1905.

The painting is by Charles Sillem Lidderdale (1831-1895).

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We Are Three Brethren

It seems perfectly reasonable for a mother to reject a trio of ruffians who turn up to court her daughter. She lost the chance of riches (if they really had any) but as so often, mother was right.

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The Blackbird & The Thrush

I like the free and easy way of this traditional Irish song & tune.

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The Green Wedding

The Green Wedding is a fine and ancient ballad. The beautiful and much courted bride, when she is named at all in the various versions, was Katherine Jaffrey. Her love is sometimes named Lochinvar. Whatever the identities and details of this story, from the early 13th century onwards, there were many known abductions of the bride on her wedding day – not always with her consent –  and our tale is likely to be true.

Photograph

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Billy Is A Jolly Sailor

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I was a teacher at a village school and the children in my class brought me songs, rhymes and games from their parents and grandparents as part of a project – and because they knew I’d appreciate them. Billy Is A Jolly Sailor is one of several real gems which I’ve not found anywhere else.

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A Soldier Boy For Me

Collected by Cecil Sharp in the Appalachian Mountains sometime around 1916. There are several English children’s rhymes and games like this song.

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Rainy Days

From my collection of vintage verse about bicycles, to which I added tunes.

The easiest way to mend a bicycle is to have someone else do it for you as did Gene Smith from Upstate New York before our big cycling tour in the ’80s. I wonder where he is now?
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The Bold Benjamin

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When I asked my father if he’d learned any songs during his thirteen years in the Royal Navy he said, ‘Nothing I want you to hear.’ 

A version of the ill-fated Bold Benjamin was first printed in about 1670. I have no reason to suppose it was one of the songs my father wished to suppress.

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The Crystal Spring

This week two members of the present day King family posted comments about my recording of It’s A Rosebud In June which Farmer William King sang to Cecil Sharp at Castle of Comfort on 15th April 1904. William must have impressed the song collector because he came back on 25 August 1904 to note The Crystal Spring at East Harptree, Somerset.

The East Harptree photo dates from c.1910

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It’s A Rosebud In June

The photos were taken on a bridleway above Andover, Hampshire, on a sultry day that made me think of this beautiful song which Farmer William King sang to Cecil Sharp in 1904.

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The Tailor In The Chest

Unlike Beatrix Potter tales, in English folk song tailors rarely come off best.

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Susan and the Sailor

True love and a brace of pistols change the mind of Susan’s oppressive father. From the album ‘Harbour Of Days’.

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Gosport

A lady fallen on hard times, a kindly sailor and Rowlandson’s illustration of the time and place.

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The Whistling Thief

An Irish song rather different from English and Scots night visiting songs.

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Glenlivet Beer House

A medley of Irish tunes which a listener said should be called Beer Hall Of The Mountain King. Wish I’d thought of that.

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Jackie Munro

There are many traditional songs on the theme of a woman dressing as a man and enlisting as a sailor, and it certainly did happen. Jackie not only follows her sweetheart, but saves his life too. Now that’s what I call love.

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Jimmy Sailing

To complete the story I attached all I have of a different song, which suits the time of celebration.

The photo of Eye Of The Wind at anchor is from the excellent Classic Sailing which is well worth a visit and a sailing adventure…

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On A Tuesday Morning

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.

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Cold Winter's Morning

Singer, musician, and old friend Lorna Blythe (as was) wrote this lovely song half a lifetime ago.

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Carolan's Welcome

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.

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Banish Misfortune

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.

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The Shores Of Amerikay

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.

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The Barn Dance

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!

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Hugh The Graeme

A Border ballad.

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Queen's Fancy, Jack I'll Tickle Thee and The Slopes

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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.

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Cold Hail & A Rainy Night

The lying soldier spoke truer than he realised.

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The Furze field

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.

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The Dashing Young Fellow From Buckinghamshire

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.)

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Waterman's Steps

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. This is the only recording.

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Buy Broom Besoms

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.

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The Jolly Young Waterman

The Thames Wherries were illustrated by E W Cooke 1829.

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The Stoutest Man In The Forty-Twa

I first heard this sung by Robin Hall & Jimmie MacGregor in the late 1950s.

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The Christmas Child

Written by Graham Kendrick for Make Way for Christmas.

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Oh Dreedle Me

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.

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Liberty For The Sailors

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.

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Dol-li-a

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.

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The Rolling Sailor

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.

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Willie O' Winsbury

An ancient tale, no. 100 in Francis Child’s huge collection, ‘English & Scottish Popular Ballads’.

Eilean Donan Castle is from George Johnson Photography.

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William Taylor

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.”

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Dabbling In The Dew

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.

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The Fair Maid On The Shore

Several versions of this song have been collected in Newfoundland.

On The Seashore (1879) is by George Elgar Hicks (1824-1914).

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Boston

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.

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The Dundee Ghost

This Matt McGinn song is also known as The Haunted Single End (a tiny apartment in Glasgow.) The remarkable Glasgow mural is St Mungo.

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The Keeper

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.

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The Turtle Dove

Collected by Cecil Sharp.

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Henry Martin

A very old ballad with countless variants. The ship is Eye Of The Wind from Classic Sailing.

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The Half Hitch

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.

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