Sorry for the temporary blockage, but we are back on track again…
This site was originally conceived by Jon Boden and launched in June of 2010 to deliver at least one new song a day for a year. It’s about encouraging social singing and intended as a resource for the audience to gather their own inspiration, perhaps learn new repertoire and wherever possible take that out into the wider world. Each new song was set to appear at the very start of the day as the midnight hour ticked by. The process was reset each subsequent year, finding a new audience each time around, as well as keeping many devotees happy and has just been started again.
All of the songs were recorded by Jon, sometimes with instrumental accompaniment, sometimes without and occasionally with a helping hand or voice or two. As well as the songs themselves, each day featured a post that tried to unravel the origins and mysteries behind the songs, Jon’s inspirations and some general history wherever it seemed of interest. Those posts were all written in 2010 as a journey of discovery, with links to other resources where appropriate. Some of those resources may not have had the staying power of AFSAD, but we will be trying to fix any broken links that we can as we go.
You will also find that some of Jon’s choices and performances provoked praise comment, criticism and in some cases a good degree of extra ferreting around the net to add to the story, so the comments are well worth your attention. Anyone is welcome to join in, subject to moderation of course, although pretty much all opinions are accepted as long as they are reasonably and politely expressed. Anyone is welcome and no special knowledge is required, so feel free to add to the threads, but more than anything, enjoy the music.
Jon reveals “I’ve learnt this recently and am a bit torn whether to use the ’sinking’ verse or not although I’ve left it in for now though. I quite like the ‘what hills’ verses being more abstract – more like he’s an actual demon taking her directly to Hell.”
Another in the Child collection (#243) also known as The Demon Lover and James Harris (Herries) this is one of those ballads that seems to have it all and was widely known in C17th, although is probably based on a much older story. Despite that it was printed as a broadside with the very specific detail of “A Warning for Married Women, being an example of Mrs. Jane Reynolds (a West-country woman), born near Plymouth, who, having plighted her troth to a Seaman, was afterwards married to a Carpenter, and at last carried away by a Spirit, the manner how shall be presently recited.” If you follow that story line then the first example from Child that you’ll see here seems to be absolutely on the mark. Whether it relates to an actual historical scandal (possibly the talk of the town) of a woman leaving her family behind and sailing off into the sunset is questionable. The appearance of her former fiancé as a spirit seems somewhat fanciful to be a report of a real event. More likely it’s another moralising tale or fable. It certainly makes sense of why in some versions the lady, once led astray, pays the ultimate price and is damned to Hell. That to me feels like an old folk tale or myth being retold, but also where, not for the first time, an empty shelf in the knowledge bank does for my extemporizing. Perhaps someone can help me out and link it to Greek or Norse myth or something even more exotic. Besides like Jon I’m rather fond of the verses that he’s included relating to hills of Heaven and Hell, which provide a poetic lift. You probably want to have a quick look at Mainly Norfolk for Bert’s notes from whence the above quote is lifted, plus some other bits. Mudcat here seems to have the lyric set that Jon follows. A quick Wiki here will also reveal the astonishing number of recorded versions of this. I think through all of that I’d have to agree with Bert’s comments that the Scottish versions seem to play up the supernatural element and thus have the greater drama and “better texts”.
Jon admits “We had this as a bonus track from my brother a while back but I think it works pretty well unaccompanied so here it is again.”
I’ll agree that it suits a solo voice and it’s a winning little tune, which somewhat unaccountably seems to have spawned a number of parodies. As you’ll see from Mainly Norfolk, Les Barker added a nice twist and it’s interesting to see June Tabor thought his version worth her attention. Then I stumbled on this Mudcat thread, which added another couple of reworkings. I can only think that the prolific Bill Staines seems good humoured enough to take all such things in his stride as Mainly Norfolk indicates. I’ll also confess that despite what seems a substantial career his name is new to me and 26 albums make a late discovery a rather daunting (impossible) prospect, so I’m all the more grateful for this brief insight.
Jon recalls “This is always a favourite on FSC with its child friendly melody but with some quite adult sentiments! I’ve always thought Tom Waits would do a good version of it, and I’ve just discovered that he has (of sorts) as you’ll see on YouTube.”
A song Harry McClintock claimed to have written in 1895 (or 1898) based on his own misspent youth. Whilst that may be true, the song certainly has an older root as you’ll see if you Wiki here, with a broadside called An Invitation To Lubberland printed in 1685, some 200 years earlier, having much the same ideas of some mythical paradise flowing through it. You may also want to Wiki Harry here. But then this link is even more illuminating, showing that the song had a major clean up even before Burl Ives turned it into a children’s song. The original was very hard hitting with elements of male prostitution and predatory paedophiles and you’ll note in particular the details of a final verse that appeared in a court case, which tips the whole lot right over the edge. There’s also the Apple Knockers Lament, which Mudcat carries here as another possible feeder for the song. It makes you wonder quite why anyone think, “I know we’ll work this up and turn it into a kid’s sing-a-long favourite”!?! Sorry folks… I can almost hear the shattering of illusions and howls from here, but Crikey..! I suspect Tom Waits rather sinister take above is closer to the heart of this song than Burl Ives. As a final twist the Wiki entry for the song covers some of the same ground as above, but also the naming of the Big Rock Candy Mountains in America.
Jon accredits this as “From Barry Dransfield. The tune is very old but this is the best use of it I’ve come across.”
Mainly Norfolk seems to indicate that there are several different ‘nonsense’ chorus variants and this one seems to be Dransfield’s. I’m also intrigued by Bert’s notes about the age and origins of the story. Although I’m wary of accepting it as the actual root, it at least shows a common and widespread tale that crosses different cultures. You’ll note it’s in the Child collection as well and has several alternate title including The Cursed (or Curst) Wife. Mudcat away here as well as there’s plenty more information including a Rabbie Burns version. Is it just coincidence that along with yesterdays, there was a whistling part to this? OK! So, the one yesterday is a modern addition by the Highwaymen and today’s is a much older part based on the idea that whistling summoned the Devil, but spooky none the less. As for the tune – William Of Orange’s marching tune? Flutes, whistles? OOooer!
Jon reveals “I’ve only ever heard this sung on forest School Camps but I dare say it was sung a lot in the sixties. I’m guessing it’s an American version. Interesting that the subtext here is ‘you might as well run off with a gypsy because he might be a lord in disguise’, unlike Seven Yellow Gypsies where the subtext is more ‘keep an eye on your wife or she may run off with the gypsies.’ ”
This has stirred some sort of ‘folk-memory’ for me and frustratingly I can’t place it – is it recent, or a throwback to my youth? There’s something about the conjunction of tune and the lines “He whistled and he sang ‘til the greenwoods rang and he won the heart of a lady.” The more I try to peer through the mental fog, the more remote the setting seems, apart from some vague idea of having learned it as a child! On first glance this and Seven Yellow Gypsies both seem to fall under the same Child Ballad #200 along with Gypsy Davy, Black Jack Davy and Gypsy Laddie. All have the Lady running away with a Gypsy or Gypsies and the Lord setting off in pursuit, but this is different in that it has a happy ending with the Gypsy really being a Lord in disguise. But… This is also known as The Whistling Gypsy and was copyrighted by a Leo Maguire from Dublin in around 1950. His claim seems opportunistic at best, as numerous versions with almost identical words, including the “Aaah-di-do” chorus, were already known and widely performed. Still, Wiki here and you’ll note that The Highwaymen had a Top 40 hit with it, which may explain my stirrings, although I also note The Seekers name on the list and my Radio 2/BBC TV upbringing might also put them in the frame. It seems Mr. Maguire’s song-grab may have paid off handsomely, although by Child’s estimations there are versions as far back as the late C17th and C18th that carry the same story. You may want to Wiki again for more here, but I’d caution that Nick Tosche’s attempts to link this to historical fact are probably as dubious as Leo Maguire’s claims. Anyway, as usual I digress and maybe it’s simply that memory dredged up from somewhere that has me really enjoying this, despite now knowing that the darker versions of the tale are far superior.