Fifty-two Folk Songs: the white album

52 Folk Songs: the white album is now available to download.

This is an album of seasonal songs, mostly recorded between Advent Sunday and Twelfth Night. They’re not all religious, though: some are songs for the long nights and the turning of the year, and a couple are just there because they wanted to be.

The full track listing is:

1.   A maiden that is matchless (2:07)
2.  The holly and the ivy (1:49)
3.  Shepherds arise (3:22)
4.  A virgin most pure (4:08)
5.  In Dessexshire as it befell (3:34)
6.  Poor old horse (5:08)
7.  On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At (4:43)
8.  Come, love, carolling (2:08)
9.  The boar’s head carol (1:49)
10. Gaudete (2:49)
11. The King (1:26)
12. In the month of January (4:22)
13. The Moving On song (2:44)
14. The January Man (2:33)

Mostly traditional (the seasonal repertoire gave me a lot to work with) but not exclusively so; songs 8, 13 and 14 are modern (by Sydney Carter, Seeger/MacColl and Dave Goulder, respectively).

Tracks 7 and 13 are ‘hidden’ tracks, as you’ll see (or rather won’t see) if you visit the album page; they can only be downloaded by downloading the whole album (for the standard extortionate fee). However, I’ve decided I’d like to give the album-only tracks a bit more visibility, so you can play (but not download) them at the new 52fs: Extras page.

As well as hidden tracks, the white album comes with full lyrics, notes on the songs and even the odd picture. A few brief comments on the songs:

A maiden that is matchless is sung simultaneously in modern English and Middle English, with a flute part slavishly copied from Dolly Collins’s arrangement.
The holly and the ivy is not a pagan song. First attempt at four-part harmony. Took ages.
Shepherds arise More harmonies. Sing! Sing all earth!
A virgin most pure More Dolly, I think, this time on C whistle. Two-part harmony, partly my own.
In Dessexshire as it befell Yet more multi-part singing, plus a multi-part melodica break. A weird and nasty song set on Christmas Day(!), which ended up sounding seriously creepy.
Poor old horse Indebted to Rapunzel and Sedayne. Doesn’t sound much like them, but it doesn’t sound much like the John Kirkpatrick version that I learned it from either, and that’s largely thanks to R&S’s Old Grye.
On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At Not actually strictly a seasonal song as such; scientists have established that it can get pretty parky on Ilkley Moor at any time of year. Four-part harmonies, sung as written with a few modifications for singability (I broke it up into five or six separate lines). Also features simultaneous translation for the hard-of-Yorkshire.
Come, love, carolling A contemporary religious song by the wonderful Sydney Carter. Drums, melodica and anything else that seemed appropriate; based on Bob and Carole Pegg’s version on the album And now it is so early.
The boar’s head carol is not a pagan song either. Second attempt at four-part harmony. Took a bit less time.
Gaudete Would it make sense if I mentioned “Louie, Louie” at this point? As in, never mind Bellamy’s obscurities and Nic Jones’s rediscovered broadsides, this is where it starts – the simple, earthy, direct sound of a Latin carol from a medieval Finnish manuscript arranged in five-part harmony… no, it wouldn’t make much sense, would it? Anyway, the point is, this was more or less Folk Song #1 for me, thanks to Steeleye Span’s appearance singing it on Top of the Pops, so it’s always had a special place for me.
The King More Steeleye, sort of. I haven’t got the album and couldn’t work out the harmonies from the clip on the Amazon page, so I wrote my own. (Of course it’s on Youtube. Now they tell me.)
In the month of January After all of this part-singing it was a bit of a shock to the system to do a big unaccompanied number. This was fun, but harder than it looked – I’ll look forward to grappling with it again next year.
The Moving On song Not a massive arrangement – just drums, melodica and a couple of brief harmony vocal lines – but the texture of the (heavily-processed) melodica, the slightly over-fiddly drum pattern and the irregularity of the time signature make for an appropriately edgy, claustrophobic atmosphere. I like the way the melodica’s come out, but I’ll probably never be able to do it again – I was trying for something much simpler.
The January Man he walks abroad in woollen coat and boots of leather… What a song. With a big, plain song like this, you just need to practise till you’ve got it – you’re in trouble if the January man wears a leather coat, for example, or if the February man brushes snow from off his hands – and then resist the urge to do anything more to it at all.

Next stop, the Blue album: allmostly big ballads, alllargely unaccompanied, nolimited amounts of messing.

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