Archive for November, 2014

My Johnny Was A Shoe Maker


Jon attributes his source as Steeleye Span saying, “This was brilliantly and timelessly performed by Maddy Prior and Gay Woods on Hark The Village Wait. It’s worth listening to on headphones for the rather neat stereo trickery.” I can only agree with Jon’s headphone instruction, having just followed it myself. There’s an extensive Mudcat thread on this, with much debate about the tune and also the origin on account of the authorship being claimed by a W.J. Florence, which may or may not be true. You’ll also find lots of detail attached to the Steeleye entry on Mainly Norfolk here, including their acknowledged source. Somewhere down that Mudcat thread is the suggestion that many stage or show songs have made their way into what is now regarded as the folk tradition. I guess if enough people sing them then they make their own way into the later collections, which in the light of the excellent Barry Dransfield song yesterday (and other modern compositions we’ve already had here) is an interesting point. Every song must have a point when it somehow enters the tradition, perhaps for some songs that will have been here, a session in some pub over the last 10 years and so forth. (Kick! …. Run!)



I Once Was A Fisherman


One of those terrible stories put into song with an even more terrible dilemma at its heart, as Jon says, “These are slightly spurious sentiment in terms of environmental policy but I’m sure a very accurate representation of the sense of powerlessness and despair felt by anyone whose way of life is swept away by ‘the ghosts of the law’. I was meaning to pair this with The Last Leviathan but haven’t got around to learning it yet.” At the risk of kicking a wasps’ nest I’ll add that probably humanity’s greatest failing is to manage our resources or even to assign them proper value. Add to that our failure to assign work and due reward with any equanimity and the unholy mess we find ourselves in results. The arbitrary nature of can and can’t and have and have not is beautifully contained in these brief verses. Another song that falls outside of the tradition being from the pen of Barry Dransfield, but is very worthy of its place here in my humble opinion and you can Mudcat a little here.



Cholera Camp


A curious one all round this and keeping us in diseased territory with Bellamy’s setting of Kipling’s words. It’s also on Matachin of course and Jon says, “The original chorus is ‘O Lord for it’s the killing of us so’. It’s tricky with Kipling’s archaisms because one doesn’t want to second guess a genius. On the other hand I can never really enjoy singing something like that so I’ve changed it to ‘killing of us all’. This can lead to rival chorusing factions at a singing session mind.” Mainly Norfolk covers Bellamy here and I’ll note it’s from where his title Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks is derived. There’s a certain gallows humour at work, perhaps it’s just resignation, as this pernicious infection generally only had one outcome in Kipling’s day. The reality of this must have been every bit as horrific, if not more so, than any battle. At least in the latter case you could generally see your enemy. I’ve read a fascinating book called The Ghost Map about the major London outbreak of the disease in 1854 and how two men made unconnected, but similar discoveries about the cause that would eventually lead to treatment and cure. Reverend Henry Whitehead and Dr. John Snow battled the pervading scientific opinion and theories of miasma to point to the water borne source of the infection that killed many thousands. Unfortunately it took years for their work to be recognised and action taken. Even more regrettably the disease is currently back in the news in Haiti. I’d add that I think the understated fiddle here adds a suitably mournful tone to Bellamy’s paradoxically jaunty melody. What I’ve read, however, make this somewhat uncomfortable listening.


Unfortunate Lass


Jon says, “Another one taught to me by Eliza Carthy for the Rough Music album. The choice of verses is by Eliza, as is choice of tune (there are hundreds of versions of this song).” A fair comment and Mainly Norfolk has further thoughts on the matter from Bert Lloyd and some links to follow through to other songs with a similar theme. It’s one of those that doesn’t quite make sense in retaining what seems like a ceremonial funeral procession with it’s military overtones, but is a sad tale none the less. Unsurprisingly Jon follows Eliza’s version that by her own admission is a hybrid of several different strands and songs from different traditions. I guess that’s the folk process in action.


Bellowhead’s ‘A Bus Song A Day’


As I’m sure you’re already aware, Bellowhead are currently on an 18 date UK tour (with support from labelmates ahab). While on the tour they’ve started ‘A Bus Song A Day’ where they write and release a new video each day filmed while on the tour bus.

In Bellowhead’s own words:
A little bit of an insight in to life as a band on the road for 3 weeks. Every day Bellowhead members are aiming to write, perform and shoot/edit a video in the time it takes to get to the next gig. It beats I-Spy anyway!

You can watch the latest video below and keep updated on each new episode over on Bellowhead’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Click the links below to watch previous episode’s:
Day 5: Gateshead
Day 4: Birkenhead
Day 3: Bilston
Day 2: Brighton
Day 1: Ipswich