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 calls this “Probably the best known hunting song in revival circles thanks to the Watersons’ stirring version.”
I don’t have much to add to this one despite putting my sensitivities on hold after all the whaling debacle. I can offer this Mudcat thread, not that it’s especially illuminating as one of the links to Paul Graney (the Watersons’ source) doesn’t work at all and the other seems not to have been updated. There’s also a suggestion that this comes from the Holme Valley Tradition, but I can’t find anything to verify that, so if you know more please chip in below. As to the association with John Peel (who seems to be our most famous hunt master and hound owner), again I can’t confirm this and he and his dogs surely can’t be the only source of hunting songs.
Jon recalls “Jake Thackray was a revered personage at the Colpitts hotel sessions in Durham. This was sung regularly by a gentleman called Winston (I think) who also had a great self-penned number about taking up jogging at the age of 75 (his age) in order to meet girls. Quite a character.”
I can’t speak for Winston, nor really for Jake Thackray although the latter is at least someone I’ve heard and his voice is instantly memorable and recognisable. I guess my exposure would probably have been limited to the odd TV appearance or Radio 2 play during my youth, as I’ve never owned anything by him. I can’t help but feel that’s probably a mistake on my part, however, as this one certainly raised a smile and there is sufficient stuff on YouTube, several I note that Jake himself introduces as “offensive”, to suggest it’s something to rectify. Perhaps I’m too easily swayed, but I love his lugubrious, deadpan delivery with a facial expression that seems to perpetually hover between quizzical and distaste. Another English one-off, in this case, however, modelled on the French chansonnier tradition. I’ll give you this link for all things Thackray, although we may need to be patient with the navigation as it’s a bit prone to error messages. Keep trying and the pages generally load OK. Of course Wiki gives the overview and is also reasonably interesting.
Once again Jon confesses “This is one of those tunes you assume you know, until you try to sing it. It took a bit of learning this, but it’s a great song though.”
I should have known… This all starts so well with the woods, the flowers, the birds and the sense of spring in the air, but finishes with a lovelorn wish for death. You may like a look at this Mudcat thread as there seem to be a number of different versions of this. There seems to be some speculation about the age of this song too and you’ll pick that up at Mainly Norfolk in Bert Lloyd’s notes. As far as I’ve been able to see, the 1670s/80s seems to be the earliest acknowledged record of this. It’s also in The Copper Family collection and a fine tune it is too.
Jon admits that this is “Another of the big ballads that I’ve only just got around to learning. I’m not sure about the verse where she sounds like she’s regretting it – sort of takes some of the power away. On the other hand it maybe makes her a more rounded character?”
Another in the Child collection, this one is #200. I do find it interesting that the various recorded versions transcribed at Mainly Norfolk of this all seem to have notes alluding to this being based in fact, before dismissing that as entirely unlikely. As far as I can see this may stem from a myth propagated by Child himself that names a Lady Cassilis as having been abducted in the early C17th, but this is almost certainly dubious to say the least. The song has many alternative titles and variants, including The Gypsy Laddie, The Raggle Taggle Gypsies and Black Jack Davy amongst them. Have a look at Wiki here for the wealth of title variants and recordings. The song is also very common and widespread, which probably says more about its popularity as a fantasy amongst the travelling and Gypsy communities than anything else. I can’t help but feel that the rejection of wealthy trappings for the basic life will have sat well with the alternative lifestyle ethos of the 60s, which may explain its popularity today. While we’re at it, I was also curious as to why the Gypsies are yellow. Any thoughts?
You’ll probably recognise this as Jon says, “I’ve recorded this with S&B and with Bellowhead,” but he also confesses, “Having performed it a couple of times with Maddy Prior I now realise that there are a good few mondegreens in my recorded versions, particularly ballad singer = balancer !! Still it’s a great song that really brings out the excitement and drama of the annual fair.”
You might be intrigued by this Mudcat thread that seems to nail the location to the Scottish Borders and Castleton, now Newcastleton a town that grew out of the original village in response to the burgeoning flax industry on the late C18th. In many ways I’m indebted to this gentleman for pointing me in the direction and for some interesting notes about the Border Reivers. But that leads to Mainly Norfolk and the notes to Tim and Maddy’s notes that suggest the hiring or ‘mop’ fairs continued in the area until after WW1. If anyone from that way knows more please share it below.