Archive for June, 2015

Fortune Turns The Wheel


Jon says “So here we are. Song 365. It’s possibly not the most appropriate farewell song given the sting in the tale. Over the years there were a fair few regulars who got themselves barred from the Half Moon – I always think of them when I sing this! But it is goodbye from me. It’s been a real pleasure singing to you all this last year. I’d like to thank a few people who have been doing the really hard work – Andy Bell who has done the bulk of the recording and mixing, Ben Bowdler at Proper who has done all the technical web stuff, including manually uploading each individual podcast. A particular thanks to Simon Holland who has been your host on this site – writing introductions to all the songs and keeping an eye on all your comments. It’s been great for me to read Simon’s intros every day and then read all the various ensuing postings. I’d like to thank Steve Kersley at Proper who encouraged me to make what was a fairly mad idea, into a reality. I’d like to thank EFDSS for all their support and encouragement. Lastly but most importantly I’d like to thank you all for listening and commenting on the site. I’m hoping that A Folk Song A Day may continue in some form so I look forward to joining in the conversation with someone else doing the singing! See you around. All the best, Jon.”

I’ll add my thanks to Jon for an inspiring and extraordinary journey into the world of folk song. This is a massive achievement that I feel privileged and proud to have been a part of. I’ve certainly learnt a lot, but there’s so much more to discover. Thanks to everyone for your contributions, opinions, comments and for putting me right where needed. For once I genuinely feel at a loss for words, although this bittersweet song seems a perfect end. I must just give you a final link to Mainly Norfolk and offer special thanks to Reinhard in particular, for his outstanding resource that has more often than not been my first call in researching these songs. I’ll see some of you at Cecil Sharp House and promise to enjoy the evening on behalf of those that can’t make it. Thank you all, Simon.


YouTube – When Fortune Turns The Wheel


Banks Of Sweet Primroses


Jon recalls “This I learnt for a tribute concert to Fred Jordan at Cecil Sharp House shortly after his death. I missed out on hearing him sing sadly, but love his voice. This narrowly lost out to Larks They Sang Melodious for Midsummer’s day last year and then I thought about putting it last, but figured a farewell song might be more appropriate…”

One from the Coppers, although widely collected across Southern England. It strikes me as mildly curious in and I find it hard to follow the sense of it. I was pleased therefore to find I’m not alone in that and there is some debate about the last verse being a bolt on. It seems to be remarkably robust in all other ways, however, with very few lyrical variations. It seems to start off jolly enough with the spying of a pretty young maid, but then she seems to be unhappy and less than chuffed with the attention. But quite why she blames him for her unhappiness isn’t clear and despite her intention to wallow in her misery it ends up being a “bright sunshiney day.”  Am I missing something, or is the suggestion that this is an incomplete broken-token ballad, as you’ll see at Mainly Norfolk, on the mark.


The Way Through The Woods


Jon reveals “I learnt this to sing at Rudyard Kipling’s house Batemans last year – we recorded a couple of songs on to wax cylinder in Kipling’s living room. Visitors can now play the wax cylinders back as part of the exhibition, which is nice. It’s a lovely song this, despite the odd dodgy line (‘badgers roll at ease’ is pushing it a bit I think)”

Unsurprisingly form the Bellamy settings of Kipling’s poems and as Jon say’s a lovely song with a  supernatural undercurrent, although really about nature reclaiming mankind’s abandoned endeavours. I thought it had a fit with Songs From The Floodplain possibly. You can see Bellamy’s original notes on this at Mainly Norfolk, with the amusing notion that he was somewhat caught out on the tune of this.


Bold Archer


Jon admits “I think this is the only song I’ve learnt from Harrry Cox – off The Bonny Labouring Boy double CD. Much as I enjoyed listening to it, this was the only one that demanded to be learnt. Evidently John Kirkpatrick thought the same as he recorded it with Brass Monkey shortly after I learnt it. It feels like it’s a very old song – makes me think of Border Reivers.”

One from the Child collection #188 in fact and a very near relative of #187 Jock O The Side, which shares the same plot line with different protagonists and location. There are also distinct similarities to #186 Kinmont Willie. This one does indeed seem to be about the Border Raiders or Reivers and there are numerous title and name variants, which suggests the singers changing the details to suit their circumstances. I found this…

This ballad was communicated to Bishop Percy in 1780 and appeared in Scot’s Minstrelsy in 1791.

According to one tradition Archie was Archibald Armstrong. Child relates the tune to Jock o the Side. In some of the variants the brothers are referred to as Halls, sometimes Jock, Archie and Dick. The Halls of Scotland were often complained of for stealing oxen and appear in the records of 1579. They occupied the area of Cafield, just west of Langholm in Wauchopedale.

The History of Dumfries tells of the feud between the Halls or Armstrongs and the Maxwells. There is a Dumfries ballad which relates a battle between the Maxwells and Johnstones. It began when the Maxwells took Johnstone’s chief and confined him in jail. At night a band of Johnstones marched into Dumfries, surprised the jailers and rescued their manacled leader. Maxwells, hearing the alarm overtook them near the banks of the Locher. The river was flooded but they managed to cross in pursuit. However, the Johnstones doubled back and surprised them by appearing on the bank of the river the Maxwells had just left! So the “bloodthirsty warriors raged and shook their weapons at each other across the stream; but the flood rolled on as if in mockery of their threatenings, and the one part at length galloped off in triumph while the other was compelled to return in disgrace.”

You may also like a look at this link that has more on the lawless border region. Quite why the borders so anarchic isn’t made clear, although I suppose the most obvious explanation may well be their remoteness form the English throne and a reluctance to throw the resources that Hadrian had at the region. Add simmering racial tensions between Scots and English and a bit of cross-border-plunder was probably par for the course.



Roll Alabama


Jon recalls “I used to sing this a lot when I got started with fiddle-singing. It always used to go down well at the Talking Heads in Southampton. One of the great shanty choruses I think, although I’m not sure it’s actually a work shanty?”

According to Mudcat it’s a halyard shanty and today marks the anniversary of the sinking of the CSS Alabama. There’s a fascinating story about the British built raider that you can Wiki here. It’s interesting to see that the British sympathies seemed to be with the Confederacy because of the cotton trade, despite our outward stance of neutrality. If the story is to be believed, The CSS Alabama seems to be quite heroic, causing great damage with no loss of life. It’s interesting to note, however, that the Captain Semmes was painfully aware that the raiders were simply legitimised pirates, although I guess the war footing put a different perspective on it. Those with time on their hand might like to follow this link to the memoirs of Captain Semmes.