Archive for May, 2015

Claudy Banks


2015
05.31

Jon simply introduces this with “Farewell to May with a favourite from the Coppers. Not long to go now!”

We’ll return to the latter point soon enough!! But have you enjoyed May? I know I have. I thought April was great and was a little concerned when checking we had the correct recordings in place for this month that everything was starting with “As I walked out one May morning…” My concerns proved ill founded as I think there have been a majority of great songs. And here’s another. We’ll ignore the young lass’ myopia as this is another common plot motif and give credit to the Coppers, who seem to be the main source of this. You can see at Mainly Norfolk that both The Young Tradition and Shirley Collins are quick to sing their praises. I’ll also refer you here where there is a list of the many broadside versions. Should you fancy it, there’s a world of Mudcat distraction to finish off the month, with a raging debate about the location of Claudy Banks. Ireland seems most likely, although there’s quite a convincing argument towards the end that it’s Caldy on the banks of the River Dee in Cheshire. The chronology of the broadsides seems to fit the argument and it’s always possible that it started life in England and moved to Ireland, or indeed the other way round. I don’t suppose it’s much to the detriment of the enjoyment, either way, but I do love chasing these songs around to see what we can learn.

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Little Musgrave And Lady Barnard


2015
05.30

One of the epics and even Jon admits “I hadn’t quite realised how long this was until I tried to record it – which is some testament to Martin Carthy’s delivery from whence I came by it. I love the fact that she claims to have loved him for ‘long and many’s the day’ rather than year – no pretence that this isn’t just simple infatuation and I think all the more believable because of it.”

Many will know this as Matty Groves, but Jon follows Carthy’s version as titled above here. This is #81 in the Child collection and it’s interesting to note from this Wiki entry that the first recording are all American. Indeed the first is on John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs with Jean Ritchie following up with the perhaps more accurate British Traditional Ballads In The Southern Mountains. It seems to have been in broadside print in the early C17th and the version that Child collected can be dated to the middle of that century. There is every chance of course that it’s somewhat older, but with all the variations of the names, I suspect  trying to nail this to any real event will prove impossible. Still, check Mainly Norfolk for the words to Martin Carthy and Jon’s versions with all 29 verses. You may also want to compare it to the somewhat shorter Matty Groves as well. If that hasn’t satisfied you I’d recommend this thorough investigation of the ballad and all of its variations. It’s a little hard on the eyes after a while, but it’s still fairly entertaining and worth the effort. There are one or two variations of the ending, which may well appeal to the singers amongst you, perhaps for getting one-up on the audience.

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Icarus


2015
05.29

Jon recalls this one as “Sung by James Davidson at the Talking Heads in Southampton. Listening to James sing this with a beautiful, delicate guitar accompaniment on a boozy Sunday afternoon must rank as one of my most profound musical experiences. Icarus is often taken as a metaphor for over ambition, but I think it’s more a metaphor for the human condition.”

Written by Anne Lister, London born, Cardiff raised and French resident at the time the song surfaced into the wider folk world via Maggie Holland. According to her bio, which you can read here, Anne had been a regular on the folk club scene from her teens and was teaching English in France when she wrote this song. It permeated its way back to the UK, where Maggie, Martin Simpson and Nic Jones picked it up. This is another of the very worthy songs not of the tradition that Jon handles particularly well for me, as the drama and sentiments are brought to life. As for the fable element, I think there are various ways of looking at it, but Anne’s take seems infused with noble calling. It’s a lovely piece of writing and in what has been an exceptional month, yet another highlight.

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Babylon / The Bonnie Banks Of Fordie


2015
05.28

Jon attributes this “As sung by Ian Giles at the Half Moon. I’m not sure where he got it from but I’m using a mixture of words remembered from him and words from Dick Gaughan, which seem pretty close to Ian’s version. As to the story, good riddance I say (to him, not the sisters.)”

Some of you may be familiar with Nic Jones’ version which you’ll find at Mainly Norfolk. This is another of the Child Ballads #14 in this case and very much of the senseless murder variety although not realising it’s your own sisters you’re slaying, as some of the versions including Jon’s have it, is very careless indeed. In the some of the variants the third sister is saved by a brother. It’s interesting to note that this is another of the epics that seem to be widespread across Europe, although I wonder which is the more common storyline. It’s also appeared across the Atlantic and it’s interesting to see Nic’s version transcribed at Mainly Norfolk concluding with the baddy being fed to the rattlesnakes, which immediately identifies that as from the USA. I ran across a Mudcat thread that debated the ‘wee pen knife’ that seems to be a common enough weapon of choice for the murderously minded. I must admit it seems a curious description for the fatal implement, but realistically appears too often to be any sort of mis-translation. Wiki here to see the variations as collected by Child.

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Birds Upon The Tree


2015
05.27

Jon brings up another interesting that we haven’t linked to often saying  “This is from the excellent CDR producing label Musical Traditions who specialise in making various recordings of ‘source singers’ available, despite there being no commercial impetus for doing so! You can check them out at here – well worth looking in to. This is a sweet little song from Charlie Bridger.”

Mainly Norfolk names the author of this as W.C. Robey with the suggestion that it was written in America at the end of C19th. Unfortunately efforts to turn up any more information on either the song or its author have hit dead ends. There’s a tantalising glimpse of another song from his pen called He Never Laughed Again and also this link, but there it seems to end as  unless I’m doing something daft even Mudcat draws a blank with this one. Still it’s a jolly little song with something of the Music Hall about it. Given my recent ornothological lessons, I’m just slightly nervous of taking it at face value.

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