“It was on the fifth of August, the weather clear and mild…” What else?
This is an odd, fragmentary song, which for me inspires very mixed emotions. It’s pure English traditional – it’s one of those beautiful sets of words, with one of those beautiful tunes, making you feel for a moment as if it’s midsummer in the heart of England and time has just stopped. At the same time, the song itself is a bit of a fake – Joseph Taylor, from whom it was collected in 1905, could only remember the first two verses, so Percy Grainger added a couple more from Low Down in the Broom and a fifth from a song called A Merry King of Old England. Anyone singing Percy Grainger’s version now is singing something that never was sung as a folk song.
This recording – made on the fifth of August – expresses some of this ambivalence with a backing track which is thoroughly modern, and – as you’ll hear – thoroughly artificial. The singing and the playing are real, though.