Archive for February, 2015

Oor Hamlet


2015
02.28

Jon recalls “The Half Moon in Oxford is, as well as being the pub of choice for folkies, the regular haunt of the summer Shakespeare cast and crew gang. We had some pretty wild nights as a result (one with a stripper which is probably best glossed over) and, in honour of the thespian attendants, Ian Giles would occasionally attempt this one. That’s not always a wise move after 10 pints of Guinness, but he generally got through it. I haven’t attempted to sing this out yet as it’s a bit of a pig, but a fantastic piece of lyric writing though.”

Superbly chucklesome. Mainly Norfolk has Martin Cathy’s notes that rightly credit Adam Mc Naughtan, a school teacher from Glasgow, with this stunning bit of wit. It’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet in three minutes (or four for Jon and Martin) and is worth a quick YouTube of the original take on it, as the dialect sort of helps in cramming the words in. Great stuff. This reminds me of walking past the Globe Theatre a few years back. Their cafe had a board out advertising the fact that they did breakfast, which made me wonder whether Hamlet and eggs was on the menu!!
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Captain Wedderburn


2015
02.27

Jon rightly claims,” I’m really proud of the Bellowhead version of this strange little riddle song. I wonder whether ‘worse than a woman’s voice’ may be a mondegreen (woman’s scorn maybe?), but it makes me chuckle so I’ve left it.. this one is learnt from Tim and Maddy’s lovely version.”

Another Child ballad (#46), which Wiki has dating back to at least 1785. But the interesting part of this is the riddle element, which Bellowhead have somewhat abridged, doubtless to keep their excellent arrangement within a sensible time frame. It seems these basic riddles are very old indeed. Greek mythology, Norse legend and even The Bible all use riddles in some form. The questions asked here easily date back to songs from the C15th if not before and have been brought into this courtship song. They also appear in the very first of the Child ballads known as Riddles Wisely Expounded and in the second Child ballad, The Elfin Knight, the riddles are replaced with impossible tasks.  It’s worth persevering with this Mudcat thread as it doesn’t get off to the most promising start, but gradually develops to expand on what I’ve said above and much more. Mainly Norfolk covers Ewan Maccoll as well as Tim & Maddy and Bellowhead.

 
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Fiddlers Green


2015
02.26

Correcting a popular misconception Jon says of this one, “One of those songs that conveniently became traditional only a few years after being written! I understand John Connolly is gradually recouping some of his lost royalties. Quite right too – a fabulous song.”

Mainly Norfolk carries the notes from the songs appearance on the Fellside Records compilation Flash Company, as recorded by John Connolly himself. It seems this was a very popular number around the folk clubs, a veritable folk hit and a good thing in most ways, except where those royalties are due. It seems only fair, therefore, to link to John’s myspace. The term Fiddlers Green seems to be an old concept and Wiki dates it back to at least the 1830s as a sort of nautical equivalent of the Elysian Fields. It also appears in a soldiers’ poem or song that may have a similar date. Not surprisingly others have used the title and the concept in song and story. There are also several places called or known as Fiddler’s Green, which makes any further Goggling a bit of a waste of time. Best leave this to Jon and John, with the thought that it’s easy to see why this song became a popular one around the folk scene.
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Sir Patrick Spens


2015
02.25

Jon calls this “One of the finest ballad melodies going, as discovered by Nic Jones. I heard this first from a brilliant version on Martin Carthy’s Signs Of Life album, and have had the great privilege of playing on Martin Simpson’s equally brilliant version. No surprise then that I didn’t opt for a guitar accompaniment on this one…”

Mainly Norfolk has Nic’s original LP notes and you’ll see from that the suggestion that he has adapted the tune from Christie’s Traditional Ballad Airs, although the use of the word “basically” suggests a tweak. This is another of the Child collection (#58) and a good epic tale of Scottish origin. Wiki here suggests a basis in historical fact, although Sir Patrick Spens has no historical record. It suggests two voyages shipping Scottish royalty across the sea and I’ve read elsewhere that this ballad is an amalgam of both. If they both ended so badly then that would seem an exceptional tragedy. I was intrigued by the lines about

“Last night I saw the new moon
With the old moon in her arm,

and have read that this is caused when light from the sun is reflected off the earth creating a crescent shaped halo effect. Wiki also offers a good list of the various recorded versions of this. Martin’s version that Jon refers to is from the excellent True Stories, on which Jon plays fiddle. It’s easy to see the appeal of this great ballad and I think it works really well unaccompanied, as it has such a strong narrative to it and it gains the sense of the epic tale handed down. This link will give you all manner of Child collection variations that the singers amongst you may find useful for your own variations.

 
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Maid And The Palmer


2015
02.24

Jon describes this as “Another truly horrible song, but with a very cheerful tune courtesy of Martin Carthy – in fact the traditional tune From Night ‘Til Morn with a bit missing.”

This is Child ballad #21 and a rather odd tale that once again involves a curse. It seems in part to be based on the meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, at least according to the notes on Mainly Norfolk. It’s worth a delve into this Mudcat thread too, as it adds something to the story of the song, making links with blues and all sorts. Although it’s a little oblique, there is the suggestion of dark deeds on the part of the maid and either incest or murder or both, hence her fate. Wiki here notes that there are some versions that cross with The Cruel Mother (Child #20) and a palmer in this case is a pilgrim.

 
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