Fifty-Two Folk Songs: the Green Album

After some delay, Fifty-Two Folk Songs: the Green Album is now available to download. Here’s what you get:

1 Searching for lambs (3:24)
2 Master Kilby (2:54)
3 The banks of the Mossom (3:01)
4 The streams of lovely Nancy (2:04)
5 Come all you little streamers (2:15)
6 One night as I lay on my bed (2:35)
7 When a man’s in love (4:16)
8 Out of the window (3:02)
9 Cupid’s Garden (2:45)
10 On board the ‘Kangaroo’ (3:38)
11 The outlandish dream (2:18)
12 I live not where I love (4:35)
13 As I was a-wandering (3:27)
14 Once I had a sweetheart (3:28)
15 My bonny boy (4:36)
16 When I was in my prime (3:48)
17 Let no man steal your thyme (1:55)
18 Blackwaterside (3:46)
19 Rosemary Lane (3:20)
20 Box 25/4 Lid (Ratledge/Hopper) (0:51)

Six songs sung unaccompanied – after Tony Rose and John Kelly, among others – plus thirteen with accompaniment and one contemporary jazz piece(!). They’re all love songs – or, at worst, heartbreak and unwanted pregnancy songs – and nobody dies. There’s flute (My bonny boy) and recorder (I live not where I love), as well as melodica (On board the ‘Kangaroo’) and a surprisingly loud zither (Once I had a sweetheart). Then there are melodica drones (all over the place) as well as a flute drone (The banks of the Mossom), a recorder drone (When I was in my prime) and a vocal drone (Master Kilby). There’s an arrangement that’s heavily indebted to Jon Hopkins (Blackwaterside), another arrangement which I liked so much that I used it twice, and another that features the sound of a zither being simultaneously plucked and dropped onto a hard surface. (It survived.) And there’s an old Soft Machine number arranged for melodica, whistle and zither. There’s even a bit of concertina (Rosemary Lane).

Searching for lambs is one of the great English folk songs. Shirley Collins’s version of this song has a curious atmosphere, at once airy and trance-like; like a hot summer’s day on the downs. I tried for something similar.
Master Kilby is a puzzle, or rather a fragment; what’s left of it effectively conveys a dazed sense of smitten infatuation. Again, ‘trance-like’ was the area I was going for.
The banks of the Mossom continues the developing theme of “I love her so much I can’t think straight”, although to be fair this is, again, very largely an artefact of imperfect preservation. At least, we assume there was more to this song once – there certainly can’t have been any less. Partly recorded outdoors, in that nice weather we had for a couple of weeks back there.
The streams of lovely Nancy and Come all you little streamers are not the same song. Turning them back into two separate songs is probably a lost cause, though, if only because there’s so little of any interest in “Nancy” which isn’t in “Streamers”. But here they are, for what it’s worth, with different tunes and (mostly) different words. I’ve also arranged them quite differently, giving “Streamers” the drone/zither/flute treatment and accompanying “Nancy” with drums.
One night as I lay on my bed is another song of overpowering lust, although in this case it actually was written that way. Sung unaccompanied, following Tony Rose.
When a man’s in love, also sung unaccompanied, is superficially another song about the joys and miseries of all-consuming love. If you ignore that beautiful, yearning tune and listen to the words, it turns out that it’s a bit less romantic; it’s more a case of “When a man wants to move things along a bit”. Still, it’s a great song.
Out of the window is a little-known song, taken – like the previous song – from Sam Henry’s Songs of the People; it’s also the forerunner of a much better-known song, “She moved through the fair”, although for my money this tune is better. Accompanied on zither.
Cupid’s Garden is an eighteenth-century song about going to an eighteenth-century pickup joint, getting brushed off and then hooking up (with “lovely Nancy”, no less). It can be dated fairly precisely, as the gardens in question closed in 1753.
On board the ‘Kangaroo’ was originally a comical cockney music-hall song. Time and oral transmission have effectively de-cockneyfied it, leaving a pleasantly daft piece of pseudo-nautical nonsense.
The outlandish dream I owe to Andy Turner. It’s an odd little song, but indubitably romantic – and a beautiful tune.
I live not where I love is one of my favourite folk songs, although until very recently I’d never heard a recorded version. It’s intercut with a pipe tune called “Sir John Fenwick’s”, and punctuated with what’s best described as some musical noise. I had fun recording this.
As I was a-wandering, as sung by John Kelly, is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard, in folk song or any other genre. I’m no John Kelly, but this is a great song. The words may (or may not) be by Robert Burns.
Once I had a sweetheart is another one where I had some fun with the recording. I had Pentangle’s version of this song in the back of my mind; you could even say I was working towards it as I layered on the tracks. I didn’t get very close, though!
My bonny boy comes from Anne Briggs, although I went back to an earlier version of the words. Possibly sung in the person of a young girl, and possibly not.
When I was in my prime definitely is sung in the person of a young girl. As a song it’s less simple than it looks.
Let no man steal your thyme is another member of the extended “Seeds of Love” family, although in this version it’s got no overlap with the previous song at all. Sung in the open air.
Blackwaterside probably needs no introduction. Another fairly big production job; I’m still fairly proud of what happens to the endlessly-circling zither part towards the end (ripped off from Jon Hopkins though it is).
Rosemary Lane includes a lot of the same elements that were in “Once I had a sweetheart” – but they are arranged differently. Plus, concertina!
Box 25/4 Lid closes the album – as it did the album where it first appeared – with a bit of angular bass clank (supplied here by my trusty zither). I wanted to know how far I could take the digital processing of the sounds of a few innocuous acoustic instruments. And now, I know.

20 tracks (count ’em) for the price of a second-class stamp (or more if you feel so moved). Needless to say, for the money you also get lyrics, comments and the odd illustration. Share and enjoy!

The Yellow album, featuring a turn back towards senseless violence and a bit of basic concertina, is… basically complete. Watch this space. On the Orange album (starting soon), there will be more Bellamy and more Kipling (and more concertina).

PS Three of the above songs – As I was a-wandering, Rosemary Lane and Box 25/4 Lid – are album-only extras: they can only be downloaded as part of this album. If you just want to hear them, on the other hand, feel free. Here they are.

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