A children’s song but we sometimes need reminding when we grow up.
Children delight in nonsense rhymes (me too) and my collection of street rhymes and games has plenty of them. Alison McMorland’s book and album ‘The Funny Family’ has this song which includes words and phrases found in many skipping, clapping and ball games. When I first heard her version of The Funny Family in the 1970s I thought it was the best and longest and had a good tune to go with it. The words were slightly different to versions I already knew so I spent some time learning Alison’s and sang it around the schools. When I returned to some schools a year or more later I found that the children had adapted the song. If I was teaching in a school for any length of time it meant I had to sing what they sang, including variations in the tune and word order, because I was outnumbered! That’s the folk process. It’s also the reason why I had to write the chorus down for this morning’s recording.
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.
For two pleasant years I taught at an infants school and wrote several songs for the classes and assemblies. One-Eye, Lefty And Ginger was a great favourite, because of the book by Janosch (Horst Eckert). It was some time before I realised I had the robber’s names in the wrong order. Like the children I spent most time looking at the pictures.
From the double album Guitar – see Retro in the menu.