In The Month Of January


With this one Jon has confused me somewhat, he says “It’s an unusual melody this with a sharpened fourth that I learnt from Anne Briggs.”

I can add that I haven’t been able to track down an Anne Briggs version of this at all, even under a couple of other possible title variants. Reinhard at Mainly Norfolk is also doubtful, so if anyone knows different please enlighten us. I’ve asked Jon and he’s now unsure himself. Anyway, June Tabor has certainly recorded it and Mainly Norfolk has that covered. It comes from Sarah Mackem and it’s interesting to see this described at MN as her “greatest contribution to the annals of folk song.” I say that because there’s a suggestion on this Mudcat thread that she composed this. There are possibly similar songs or simple variations of this called The Forsaken Mother And Child, The Cruel Father, It Was On A Winter’s Morning and The Snowstorm. The theme of the women left literally holding the baby is fairly common and the inference is that there is a gulf in class, probably between a family heir and a servant girl. The former takes the money or is despatched off by the wealthy parents rather than doing his duty, so hence the warning to others at the end that is once again a fairly common folk-lesson device. I think a similar plotline was used in an episode of  Lark Rise… or some such BBC costme drama. Still, wherever Jon got it from (and let’s face I can hardly remember what day it is so no criticism is implied), it’s a haunting little number, sharply economical in the telling of a tragedy.
You can buy the January digital album now from all good download stores.


35 Responses to “In The Month Of January”

  1. Simon says:

    A little early as I’m turning in. Something is very wrong in the back end of this site at the moment, it’s taken me three attempts to publish this and I can’t see any settings that are out, so it’s definitely one for tech admin Ben tomorrow. Good night folks and hope you enjoy this one.

  2. Michael says:

    Perhaps Jon meant that he learnt the sharpened fourth from AB, rather than the melody? Whatever, it sounds great.

    (Are the back-end problems also stopping the audio player appearing on the last three items, Simon?)

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

    Nice performance……….sad little song.
    Odd that the “truelove” seems to have gone over the hills and met the young girl.
    (Is that a mis-hearing down the line?) (compare with another version)
    It was in the month of January, the hills all clad with snow,.
    It was over hills and valleys I a-wandering did go.
    It was there I met a pretty young girl with a salt tear in her eye,
    She had a baby in her arms and bitter she did cry.

    The exotic Palm tree seems out of place in such a song and I am completely flumoxed by the mention of the sharpened 4th! (Jon/Simon….we plebs are out here)

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

    Simon, Teach Gran suck eggs….because of early have 2 x song No9.

  5. Phil says:

    This is wonderful stuff – great singing and a lovely harmonium-like accompaniment.

    Muzza – look at it this way. The scale in G goes G,A,B,C,D,E,Fsharp; the scale in D goes D,E,Fsharp,G,A,B,Csharp. So if you’re in G and you sharpen the fourth note of the scale, you get with something like the next key along. Similarly, if you’re in D and you flatten the seventh note, you get something like the previous key.

    These are devices you see quite a lot in folk music. Flattening the seventh (or else starting with a flattened seventh and then re-sharping it) drops you into the ‘previous’ key (e.g. from D to G), and gives the melody a slightly gloomy, ominous sound. And sharpening the fourth (or starting with a sharpened fourth & then re-flatting it) pushes you into the ‘next’ key (e.g. from G to D) and makes the melody sound vaguely hopeful & yearning.

  6. Simon says:

    I’ve edited it now Muzza, it didn’t want to do it, but has in the end.

  7. Jon Boden says:

    It’s just that 2nd note of the main melody “in THE month of”. Just a passing note which, as Phil says, is not uncommon particularly in music hall influenced melodies. Very unusual to hear it in a modal (mixolydian) melody though. Probably just a variation that someone extemporised that took root.

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

    Thanks Phil/Jon for the explanations……you have my respect…. but all Greek to me. However, having played devil’s advocate, I’m sure somebody will think”Oh yes,Isee it now”

  9. Simon says:

    Further to the technical problems… Ben has installed something that should fix it, although only once the schedule is missed, so a bit of patience may still be required. We’ll monitor it and see how efficiantly it works. Fingers crossed, as the alternatives look far from straightforward.

  10. Dave Eyre says:

    I have two recorded versions the one I would have thought is by Paddy Tunney on Voice of the People 6 is probably the source for most people who sing this.

    Certainly as far as I am aware that Anne never recorded this – but I have known the song since the mid-sixties and I saw a lot of Anne at that time because she was often at the Waterson’s club in Hull. Maybe it was part of her repertoire.

    I think “palm” is really a mis-hearing of “far”.

  11. Dave Eyre says:

    Sorry gobbledy group there. Cut out “I would have thought” and put in “one” to make sense.

  12. Dave Eyre says:

    This is what comes of typing with a broken arm. “Gobbledy Gook” of course.

  13. Nick Passmore says:

    There’s also a great version of this song by Dolores Keane on “Broken Hearted I’ll Wander” by Dolores Keane and John Faulkner (Mulligan LUN033). Dolores says in the sleeve notes that she learned it during a session with Cathal McConnell, Len Graham and Joe Holmes, which (along with the Paddy Tunney version) would suggest a link to Northern Ireland.

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

    Dave…sympathy for your broken arm…..happens to all boudrhan players eventually!

  15. Shakira says:

    I wonder if the palm-tree thing is deliberate – a bit of a biblical ref – maybe calling to mind changeability/betrayal? All the throwing palm leaves down in front of Jesus and baying for the crucifixion within the week? Dunno – that’s what sprung to mind, and I’m not even a religious sort, particularly. Also, a hot/tropical image to throw against the cold winter and make it seem the colder. Late night musings!

    Gorgeous song… Going to have to learn it now. 🙂 So glad I discovered this website this afternoon! 🙂 Thanks!

  16. Shakira says:

    PS – Going to have to google symbolism of palm trees now…

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    Welcome Shakira! Woman after my own heart with the googling!

    Know this song! Love this song! Think it was a theme in Lark Rise – love that too!

    I’m with Muzza on the musical models. Clear explanation by Phil still goes over Ted’s head! I can go with Jon’s “Probably just a variation that someone extemporised that took root.” So someone just decided to go off on a frolic of their own, vocally speaking, like a sort of yodel model – hahahaha! Adds interest, depth and a tadge more emotion.

    But I am definitely not anorak-googling ‘modal (mixolydian) melody’ though! Too much catching up to do!

  18. Diana says:

    Liked this one immensely – so poignant! I really regret that I have only come to appreciate folk music fairly recently, but I am learning here, and with Norfolk Music and Mudcat, and quite a lot from peoples’ comments.

    Obviously a lot of time and effort has been invested in this site – well worth it.

  19. Phil says:

    For anyone who’s interested – including Jon if he’s still reading these comments! – the Grand Conversation on Napoleon is another mixolydian tune with a sharpened fourth. To be precise, only half of it is in the mixolydian mode, so you could say it’s a major tune with some flattened sevenths (“where LAST OUR NOBLE HERO did his weary eyelids close”) as well as that odd sharped fourth (which is at the end of the second line, “lofty rocks of Saint He-LE-na’s shore’). Temporarily going one sharper or one flatter doesn’t seem to have bothered the composer of these tunes (a Mr Trad, apparently).

  20. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    So hear I am ‘In The Month of January’ , back at the starting point, after my years voyage with A.F.S.A.D.(Yes, I joined ship six months late) and what an inspirational year it has been. My sincere thanks to Jon and ALL the crew.
    I am just recovering, having been laid low by this awful Flu bug that seems to be doing the rounds, so I hope I am not too late to wish you all A Very Happy New Year, and, of course all the correspondents who make this site what it is.
    So what now, do I disembark ? I think not, much better to stay on board and renew ‘Auld Acquaintances’.

  21. Diana says:

    Stay aboard John – glad you have recovered, it has been a long time since we heard from you, way back well before christmas. I am still a novice – only three months here.

    Muzza, have you missed something? Carefully read all notes above.

  22. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Thank you Diana, It is good to be back. This is such a sad and beautiful song. I have it sung by June Tabor (excellent of course) and also a lovely version by Bob Fox on his c.d.,’Dreams Never Leave You’. He credits first hearing it sung by Fiona Simpson of Therapy, but he also refers to the singing of Sarah Maken (?). In Bob’s version he is out walking with his true love, when they meet this unfortunate girl. Oh, and the palm tree has become a pine tree ! The Folk Process is alive and well.

  23. Diana says:

    John would you believe it was Christmas Eve, and you wrote a deliberately garbled message to which I replied that it was the wrong time to catch the mis-spelling bug again. Still I certainly didn’t expect you to go and catch the flu bug instead. Nasty!

  24. Simon says:

    Hi John, I’ll join Diana in welcoming you back. It’s Sarah Makem that Bob refers to and you’ll see she’s in my original notes above. She’s one of the great Irish source singers and although the entry isn’t particulaly detailed you can Wiki her here. You also might want to follow my Mudcat link above if you’re interested.

  25. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    @Dainer…………talk about needle in Haystack…
    why do I still fall for womens’ devious ways…….
    I give up…….after unsuccessfully re-reading 21 comments three times until my brain broke on Phil’s “Flattened sevenths!”

  26. Dainer says:

    Muzza go back to my comment, it is the 8th above if I count correctly and read the last line. Please believe me it was not deliberate (really).

  27. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    @Dainer……….my poor old eyes missed that one……touche!……

  28. Dainer says:

    Sorry Muzza I put you to all that extra work. I felt sure that you would spot it right away. I was waiting for some snappy response from you especially as that is one of your favourite words, and I got ted in as well.

  29. john says:

    This song was recorded by Anne Sands on The Sands Family album “You’ll be well looked after” (1975) published by EMI.

    Anne attributed the song to the singing of Sarah Makem of Keady, the mother of Tommy Makem.

    The Sands Family, five siblings from Mayobridge, Co. Down won an all- Ireland talent show in in 1972 and the prize was a residency in The Old Sheiling,, New York, with Tommy Makem.

  30. Phil says:

    ‘Twas also recorded by yours truly, accompanied by a melodica drone, just under a year ago:

    In the month of January

    Funny reading my learned comments above about the sharped fourth – I was trying to work out the melody on concertina earlier on & gave up muttering sharps all over the place, what godforsaken key is this? I might try it again now.

  31. Diana says:

    Sentimental and sad.

  32. john says:

    Anne Sands’s 1975 version, produced by Donal Lunny, is available to download at

  33. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ohhhhhhhhhh…….. Ref John Biggs comment January 10th 2012…….what we would all give to have a good old fashioned ‘flu epidemic back again!!!!!!!!!

  34. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Ha….reading again the banter from Dainer…today, it took me another three goes before I twigged that she had used the word inVESTed

  35. […] Jon Boden (part of his ‘Folksong a Day’ blog; scroll down for a really interesting discussion in the comments): read the blog and hear the song here […]

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