Jon recalls, “Sung a lot on FSC (and everywhere else of course.) Recently heard a wonderful version by the McPeakes on the Topic re-release – a fair bit more bite than the Rod Stewart version that’s for sure.”
The song is actually credited to Francis McPeake and is a re-working of The Braes Of Balquhidder by Robert Tannahill. You can Wiki the basics here and you’ll find the parent song on Mudcat here in all its will-she-won’t-she glory. There is also a Mudcat thread about the non-rhyming first verse, which I won’t trouble you with but mention because it raises the question of whether that was what was intended, or whether the chorus has somehow been mixed in and that’s just how the oral tradition has carried it. It is a lovely song none the less, although it possibly lends itself towards the overwrought treatment that thankfully Jon has avoided – in fact I really like the way this is played.
Jon Says “This goes quite well as a pair with The Lock Keeper – summing up the sadness of having to work away from home. Ewan MacColl has perhaps been somewhat underrepresented in this project. What a great song writer he was.”
I did make the point the other day that Ewan didn’t seem to provide much commentary on the songs he recorded and in that respect, as a voice he’s rarely if ever quoted throughout this project. I wonder if any of you out there saw him perform and whether he was similarly disinclined, as I get the sense of a man who let the songs do the talking. He was, as Jon points out, a considerable song-smith in his own right and this was written for his Radio Ballad series and included in the Song Of A Road, broadcast in 1959. I love the way that the opening line seems to dictate the length of the song and can imagine this working very well in context. Both those late 50’s/early 60’s broadcasts and the more recent set from 2006 are available on CD. Last year’s ballad about the miners is also about to be made available to buy as a download in the near future, although not on CD. I don’t know whether any of you caught it, but it’s incredibly powerful stuff and the mix of song and interview remains faithful to Ewan’s original concept. I found myself quite overcome when listening to it. Anyway, you might like to link here at the Beeb for some more info on the ballad – invaluable little time capsules all of them.
Jon says “Of all the girl-friend murdering songs this must be the one with the most inappropriate tune. Somehow that makes it all the more horrific, particularly with the unusual denoument. Don’t know of any other versions where she gets her own back. Nice.”
This one seems to be from the same root and essentially the same story as The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter and they all seem to spring from a song called The Gosport Tragedy. The earliest printed version of that dates from 1767 and apparently it’s a bit of an epic with over 30 verses. The song combines the fairly common murder of the pregnant girl with the Jonah tradition. The latter is of course very old, but is essentially the simple idea that a becalmed or storm tossed ship is being punished on account of the wrong doing of one or more of the crew. I was going to add a link in here, but came across so much tripe trying to work out how Jonah could have survived I gave up. So, (ahem!) anyway There are numerous versions of this on both sides of the Atlantic and it seems to have been particularly popular in the US with lots of comparatively recent recordings. You can Wiki here where the song is called Pretty Polly and apparently feeds directly into Dylan’s The Ballad Of Hollis Brown and Nirvana’s Polly.
Jon identifies his source as “Written by Stan Rogers – a beautiful anthem for the virtues of a more domestic existence. Sung often by Ian Giles at the Half Moon – Ian actually came and sang this recently at the Spiers & Boden 10th Birthday Bash at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. He sang it unaccompanied. Magic.”
Yes it was magic, but then the whole gig was something special. And so is this song. If like me you don’t know Stan Rogers, then start with Wiki. You can then move onto the website maintained in his honour and thirdly I’ll recommend playing the version of this that you’ll find at Mainly Norfolk. Absolutely lovely!
Jon identifies that “Bellamy was asked to re-write this for a revival of The Transports and I for one prefer this version. I think Bellamy always stuck by the Bert Lloyd version, although he did perform this one live. The “Carmen / alarming” is pushing it a bit, but the rest of the song makes up for it I think.”
Mainly Norfolk covers the rewrite with Bellamy’s note that the original version with Bert Lloyd cast as Abe Carman, but simply called The Robbers Song, was “deemed too lighthearted by the producers” for a production of The Transports at the Queen Elizabeth Hall In 83. He therefore rewrote it to give it more edge, which is the version that Jon performs here. Having listened to the original, Bert seems to inject Abe with a certain roughish jollity, which acts as a counterpoint to the solemn outcome of his crime and capture. But then Abe is undoubtedly a desperate man and a bully bragging about both his exploits and the weapons that are the tools of his trade. I think the rewrite is actually fairly subtle, it’s the performance that is so very different. As the sleeve notes on the expanded version or ‘silver edition’ suggest, “In the new version he’s transformed from a rogue with a twinkle in his eye to a really mean bastard with a chip on his shoulder.” If you are unfamiliar with The Transports, then you should have a look at this, there’s plenty of information to work through including contemporary newspaper reports of the real events that inspired Bellamy’s ballad opera, but there is no substitute for hearing it. I’ll confess that at the start of this project I’d have struggled with The Transports, but with the benefit of Jon’s guidance through the world of folk songs and singers, I now find it an absolute delight.