NS19: Shirt and comb

Peter Blegvad – or, to give him his full title, The Woefully Underrated Peter Blegvad – has pursued two musical careers concurrently, as an intransigent seeker after avant-garde obsessions and as a witty and intelligent singer-songwriter; his work covers the spectrum from unforgettable to unlistenable. (Where his career as a cartoonist fits in with all of this is anybody’s guess.)

He also appears to know a bit of folk music, although to my knowledge he’s only ever recorded one folk song (an American variant of the Wife of Usher’s Well, after Buell Kazee). Folk-as-in-traditional songs are actually quite far removed from the usual styles and approaches of folk-as-in-singer-songwriter. The most obvious difference is that stuff happens in traditional songs, without much explicit attention to how everybody feels. (A traditional singer might retort, I’m singing about someone who’s been ambushed by thieves/caught in flagrante/sentenced to hang – how do you think he feels?) Nothing much tends to happen in your average singer-songwriter song, whereas there’s a lot of attention to the singer’s feelings. Which means that the two genres, which are apparently so close (not least because they’re both called ‘folk’), are actually quite hard to bring together.

What Peter Blegvad’s done here is interesting: he’s taken a classic folksong scenario, complete with tropes from the Lowlands of Holland, and rewritten it from the inside. Our man has been conscripted, he’s having to leave his wife – and dissuade her from dragging up and tagging along, as women are traditionally wont to do – and this is how it feels. I also think it’s a great song.

You can find the original on Peter Blegvad’s album King Strut and other stories; Eddi Reader has also covered it, although she changed the lyrics around a bit so as not to tell it in the first person. I recorded it without listening to the original again, and discovered too late that I’d changed the tune without realising – so apologies to Peter, as well as thanks. Instrumentation: drums, C whistle (I’m playing the song in F), English concertina.

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Filed under not a folk song, Peter Blegvad

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