The Old Songs


Jon says, “Bellamy was always a bit disappointed that this setting of a Bob Copper poem didn’t become more of an anthem for the folk club circuit. I suspect the problem is it’s a bit too wordy, but it’s a shame because it just sums up very well the enduring appeal of folk songs and folk singing.” We’re back to Songs An’ Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks for Peter’s version of this and wordy or not, it’s another welcome addition here, although of course this is another that isn’t Trad. Arr.  You’ll find the lyrics and more at Mudcat here. For those short on time, this is the most interesting entry on the thread.

Bob Copper originally wrote this as a poem around 1945; the above is his revised version of 1984, which Peter Bellamy set to music.  Bob had this to say about it, in an interview with Peter for Sing Out! magazine conducted in 1970: “I felt as if I was the only man in the country who thought the old songs were worth saving…we had no idea of the existence of the English Folk Song Society, even though [in 1887] Granddad had been instrumental in its formation…I was frantically trying to find someone who was interested in these things and who shared my feelings for them.  I even became a member of the Sussex Archaeological Society, and I wrote to them saying that I was in possession of a large number of songs which I considered to be as important as a part of Sussex history as any bit of flint, or old tomb or piece of old furniture (though I was interested in those too), and much more vulnerable, but that didn’t come to anything.  Anyway, this reflects what I was feeling at the time.”

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33 Responses to “The Old Songs”

  1. Mark says:

    Hello there. I just skimmed the Guardian’s article on your project and I wanted to wish you good luck. I recorded/released a song a day in 2008 and plan to return to the process in 2012. Of course, I’m not as skilled as you are, but it’s nice to see a shared affection for repetitive creativity. Anyway, good luck and best wishes.

  2. Mari says:

    I’ve just discovered this project through the Guardian too, and wanted to add my best wishes.

    I tried to sing along with something the other day and found my singing voice (never great at any time) had almost completely seized up! I persevered, and definitely felt better for it. So I shall be singing along with you, for my health’s sake if nothing else.

    It’s also a great way to share some traditional British music with my friends here in Spain, who like to exchange information about our disparate cultures.

    More power to your accordion, sir!

  3. John says:

    A wonderful song and a very nice version from Jon. I first heard this song about ten years ago on Peter Bellamy’s ‘Wake the Vaulted Echoes’ 3 CD set. Way back in the 1960s, when I was still a teenager living in Norwich, I was walking down the street with a couple of friends one day when one of them nudged me and pointed out the flamboyantly dressed chap with the long yellow hair walking in front of us. It was Peter Bellamy of course. “He’s a folk singer”, they said. To my great regret I never followed this up and it was only several decades later – after moving to Japan – that I finally discovered him and caught up with what I’d been missing. Any chance of Jon singing ‘Yarmouth Town’ during this series?

  4. Peter Little says:

    What a great combination, Bob Copper, Peter Bellamy and Jon’s fine voice. One to learn methinks 🙂

    Lifts the spirit on this rather grey and overcast morning, thanks

  5. Fran says:

    Full of admiration for the project, Jon, which I’ve been following since getting back from Trowbridge. Love the variety as well as the principle.

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jos Deuling, Jon Boden. Jon Boden said: Latest Post: The Old Songs […]

  7. muzza says:

    Thank goodness for the tenacity of the Copper family. This song gets straight to the point…there are some good old songs out there to collect and sing! I was privileged to join Bob Copper’s funeral procession. Very poignant as his ashes were enclosed in a little, red velvet bag on a girt -big, daffodil be-decked, farm wagon , drawn by two lovely horses. Great song and well sung.

  8. Rod & Cory says:

    Great idea Jon – good luck for the year

  9. Piers Cawley says:

    Bob sang this at the Peter Bellamy Memorial Day at the Conway Hall. I was in a singaround elsewhere in the building, but Gill still gets a lump in her throat at the memory.

  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    This one doesn’t do it for me! But I totally agree with the well-made point that this song “sums up very well the enduring appeal of folk songs and folk singing.” I’d give it a thumbs up for that alone….but I won’t be voting for it! Hahahahaha!

  11. This is the first one that really does do it for me in that I’ve started learning it. Most of the others are fine versions but I either know the songs already or I don’t feel the urge to add them to my repertoire. How I have not heard a song this good is a mystery to me!

  12. Piers Cawley says:

    I finally learned this when I got the Bellamy boxed set, and really started singing it out shortly after Bob Copper died. It’s a devil of a song to pitch – I’ve lost count of the times I found myself singing “… and songs that Nelson’s sailors s… not in that key” when I started singing it out, but it’s worth sticking with.

    Bob really thought that he and Ron were the last people in the world singing the ‘old songs’ when he wrote the lyric and that’s the thought I keep in my head as I sing it. Yes, the lyrics don’t have the polish that generations of the folk process give to a song, but you can’t beat that opening verse, nor the sentiment of “… they will echo onwards down the years and never, never fade // while fifty thousand singing men shall never be afraid // to raise their lusty voices, their spirits to revive // and tell to all eternity, we’re glad that we’re alive!”

    Gives me the goosebumps just typing out, that does. Pete Bellamy and Bob Copper – two very fine men indeed – the world is a poorer place without them in it.

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    I appreciated this one better second time around, and after reading through all the comments. This shows me I have moved on a pace in my folk ‘edukashun’ than when AFSAD started out! I’d prefer the line Piers quotes to read ‘while fifty thousand singers shall never be afraid’ than just ‘singing men,’ but one can always improvise!

  14. Linda says:

    First time round for me with this one,[a later starter with AFSAD ] really liked this one .

  15. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @Jane…….perhaps…..‘while fifty thousand singers THEN, shall never be afraid’

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: You might also need to modify the word ‘lusty’ too… but I appreciate switching the ‘l’ for a ‘b’ would create a bias the other way… HAHAHAHAHAHA!

  17. Diana says:

    Liked this one very much. The modern pop song does nothing for me – just a cacophony of noise in most instances. The good old songs are best.

  18. Simon says:

    Diana with reference to all the murder over the last few days (and indeed throughout), I was most smitten by the last verse of William Taylor, where for once the boot was on the other foot and the lady does the deed…

    Sword and pistol she then order’d
    To be brought at her command;
    And she shot her true love William
    With the bride on his right arm.
    If young folks in Wells or London
    Were served the same as she served he,
    Then young girls would all be undone
    Very scarce would young men be.

    You can certainly say that the female population has been decimated of late, but I guess these are songs of warning. As Jane so eloquently put it, it’s being ‘up the duff’ that’s to blame, so it’s more a warning not to engage in any ‘sport and play’ with men as they are cruel and prone to wickedness and the consequences may be severe!!

    I did wonder whether there was any historical data on murder rates, which got me somewhat sidetracked by this. As usual nothing is straightforward and cation is required, when googling as the headlines can be as untrustworthy as us menfolk.

  19. Diana says:

    Well Simon I read the article on Quodlibeta and found it most entertaning. Where it calls the Middle Ages people gross and gives a stream of what men should not do (mostly in the presence of ladies) really does beggar belief. Especially as the article continues which suggests that nothing has really changed. My goodness the mind boggles as such a list of “what not to do”. When you look at places like Oxford and Norwich, it is hard to relate the number of murders which took place there in relation to the rest of country.

    However Simon, it is only (I believe) In the folk songs that men are so untrustworthy – at least I hope so. One has to chuckle at Jane’s descriptions of a lot things – I do enjoy “my conversations” with her and others.

    I do like the poetry – it is nice to see the boot on the other foot but it only us women who can be as Jane puts it so delicately “up the duff” – you men can get away without any consequences.

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    @Skyman: Just had a quick peruse of Quodlibeta and can’t wait to read it properly later!

    I can see I shall have to moderate my descriptions. (The lack of value in any elocution lessons I might have been given in life has been commented on many times!) But, in my defence, I would just like to add the following edification from Phrasefinder:

    Up the duff, meaning of – euphemism for pregnant. Used most commonly, although not exclusively, to describe unplanned pregnancy.

    Origin: The phrase doesn’t appear in print until 1941, in Sydney John Baker’s Dictionary of Australian Slang:

    “Duff, up the (of a woman), pregnant.”

    ‘Duff ‘isn’t a common word and seems an odd choice for a colloquial phrase. (However, I found missen thinking of plum duff!) It took a rather roundabout route…

    As the phrase means pregnant, it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that for the origin we need look no further than the penis. (No indeedy! As if I would ever look anywhere else! Hahahahahahaha!) As with many English phrases that refer to sexual activity, we dive straight into a world of euphemism and there are several obscuring layers here between penis and pregnancy.

    One of the numerous slang terms for the sexual organs, or more commonly specifically the penis, is pudding. This has a long history, going back to at least the 18th century, as here from Thomas D’Urfey’s, ‘Wit and mirth: or pills to purge melancholy,’ being a collection of ballads and songs, 1719:

    “I made a request to prepare again, That I might continue in Love with the strain Of his Pudding”.

    A slang term for male masturbation, which leaves little to the imagination – ‘pull one’s pudding’, has been known since at least the 19th century.

    There is a related phrase for pregnancy – ‘in the pudding club’, and it turns out that this and ‘up the duff’ are essentially the same phrase. By 1890, Barrère & Leland, in their Dictionary of Slang, defined the term pudding club:

    “A woman in the family way is said to be in the pudding club.”

    Note that in those Victorian times the definition of a euphemistic term for pregnancy relied on another euphemism.

    ‘Dough’ is another word for pudding and duff is an alternative form and pronunciation of dough. That was in use by 1840, as here from R. H. Dana in ‘Before the Mast:’

    “To enhance the value of the Sabbath to the crew, they are allowed on that day a pudding, or, as it is called, a ‘duff’.”

    So, we travel this route – (up the) duff -> dough -> pudding -> penis -> pregnant.

    The more recent ‘bun in the oven’, another slang phrase for pregnant, may originate this way too.

    But now how does that relate to the expression ‘duffing over,’ or ‘duffing someone up’ as in giving them a good drubbing or beating? The mind positively boggles! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  21. Jane Ramsden says:

    Ahem… From the same source:

    ‘To duff something, or duff it over,’ normally means to give it a new air, a new appearance, or otherwise manipulate it to make it seem better (or at least different) than it might otherwise seem.

    Yes, ‘doing someone over’ might well lead to a new or at least different appearance….

    Don’t get me started on all this! I ended up looking up phrases like ‘batsh1t bonkers’ – (Another one often applied to me, like the failed elocution lessons, and I can’t think why!) – and what about “now’s the time to chase that squirrel?!”

    However, ref the latter, it is actually a square dance from American folklore, one of ‘them there’ catch-the-girl-and-kiss-her games, like ‘Oats and Beans and Barley Grow.’ It may even go back to a morris dance, and is aka ‘The Maid That Dare Not Tell.’ Not sure what she dare not tell (save, perhaps, NOT kiss and tell) but, being a maid, we can be sure she’s not ‘up the duff!’

    The song itself can be found with music in ‘Waltz The Hall: The American Play Party’ by Alan L. Spurgeon, but this is a better, more informative link with the words:

    It really is an old song!

  22. Diana says:

    My God Jane, you have been doing some digging – most enjoyable reading too. I do hope Simon gets around to reading all that was written today – it is an education. Some of the phrases are familiar but not their origins. There could be an endless discussion on this subject and one expression always seems to lead to another ad infinitum. I don’t know what is wrong with yout elocution it sounds perfectly fine to me.

  23. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Ref my elocution… I think it is when I start speaking a lot of ‘French…’ Hahahahaha!

  24. Diana says:

    @Jane@ Je regret that I did not realise you were referring to your French. Your command of the English language assures me that you elocute perfectly there.

  25. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Admin Simon…… it’s all your fault…look what started with your comment on the 30th! ……….talk about ‘Who let the dogs out!”
    @Jane above:- ‘The Epistle of Jane the Apostle to the plebs’..she sayeth….

    ‘So, we travel this route – (up the) duff -> dough -> pudding -> penis -> pregnant’

    Mrs Miggins cookery book says…..”Replace ‘pregnant’ with ‘make hole in doughnuts’

  26. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Ref Admin Simon’s link above 30th Jul..i.e. (sidetracked by this.)
    The Latin word Quodlibeta means “whatever you like” ……….
    cor blimey Guv…more like “WHAT ARE YOU LIKE!”…me nerves are shredded!…
    and I must stop doing all the things listed…no wonder I have few friends..nobody told me!

  27. John Bryson says:

    I think this is a great song – first heard it sung live early this year by Damien Darber and Mike Wilson. Apprpropriate as Peter Bellamy grew up in Norfolk (correct me if I’m wrong) and Nelson was born there – Damien is also born and bred in Norfolk

  28. Diana says:

    @Muzza: I thought Mrs Miggins only made pies for Mr. Blackadder. Never doughnuts.

  29. Pewter says:

    @John Bryson: It’s good to hear that this brilliant song is not lost to live performance!

  30. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Good to hear again

  31. John Bryson says:

    How true Muzza

  32. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Great Song………..That Jane……comments above……she don’t arf get down to the nitty gritty…….I’ve given up eating pudding now!

  33. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Ha….ref the comments above from Our Jane (the cat botherer)….
    she has made me realise why I am considered an ‘Old Duffer’

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