Category Archives: 26 Fortnights

The eighteenth day of June (26F 10-12)

Now the eighteenth day of June it has ended the battle… True enough; however, the last battle in the Battle of Waterloo took place the next morning, the 19th of June (Napoleon wasn’t involved). So today is in fact the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, sort of.

And what better time to revisit some songs about Napoleon? Here (for week 12) is the Grand Conversation on Napoleon, closely followed by the (very similar) tune The Cuckoo’s Nest:

And here’s the Bonny Bunch of Roses. For a long time this was my ‘calling card’ song, the one I’d always do the first time I was in front of a new audience. (These days it’s more likely to be The Trees They Do Grow High.) I’m still very fond of this one, though.

At the time I was recording these, I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to revisit the recordings; although these were both assembled from three different tracks, I only kept a final mixed-down WAV file. Although I thought the vocal (and flute) performances were strong enough to keep, I would have liked to do something about the Bontempi drone – which sounded pretty good when it was the only drone I was capable of producing, but sounds rather whiny now. I’ve done what I could in terms of equalisation, but I’m afraid you can still hear it!

I have re-recorded this, however: Boney’s Lamentation, a small masterpiece of folk history and mondegreenery (We marched them forth in inveterate streams…)

Saving the best till, well, fourth… I’ve also re-recorded this:

A song you could spend years with. I must have sung it a hundred times, and it’s still different every time.

Going back a fortnight, Plains of Waterloo and the Bonny Bunch of Roses are unusual among folk songs in mentioning the month of June. The previous month is far more widely referenced. It’s May she comes and May she goes (poor girl)….

Another pre-concertina recording, with Tony Rose’s arrangement shadowed on melodica and flute. I actually think it works rather well. Remixed – or at least re-equalised – for this outing.

Where you’ve got the Bonny Hind, you’ve got to have Sheath and Knife. This is another new recording, using a vocal drone that I recorded ages ago (I think it was for Master Kilby). The thing with Sheath and Knife is to maintain a contrast between the verse and the blankly repeating refrain, and to keep the song sounding at once sweetly pretty and grimly ominous (“The broom blooms bonny”… how nice). And, of course, to avoid singing “the bloom brooms bonny” or “the boom bloons brommy”.

And who else roved out one May morning, when may was all in bloom? George Collins, come on down:

Another re-recording from scratch, and one I’m rather pleased with. I got the tune from Shirley & Dolly Collins (no relations) and worked out the accompaniment on paper; both the concertina chords and the recorder parts are actually scored.

Moving back to fortnight 10, we go back to the very last day of May, and a re-recording of the first song I recorded with concertina: The Valiant Sailor. This time round I’m playing it a bit more briskly, and (more importantly) I’m actually playing the accompaniment while I sing:

And, finally for this round-up, another re-recording. Searching for Lambs: one of the great English folk songs. Compared to the original recording, I’ve lost the zither and the melodica drone – and the slightly unearthly atmosphere they created – but gained concertina chords and recorder; I think it’s a pretty good swap.

Searching for Lambs (the embedded Bandcamp player is refusing to link to this one for some reason)

The Valiant Sailor is from the 52 Folk Songs – Yellow album.
Searching for Lambs is from 52 Folk Songs – Green.
The Bonny Hind, Sheath and Knife and George Collins are from 52 Folk Songs – Blue.
The Bonny Bunch of Roses, The Grand Conversation on Napoleon, Boney’s Lamentation and Plains of Waterloo are from 52 Folk Songs – Indigo.

All new recordings and remixes are free to download, should you so wish.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Blue, folk song, Green, Indigo, the deeds of great Napoleon, traditional, Yellow

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 9

For the first of the two ‘May’ posts, here’s a re-recording and a remix. Both date back to the earliest days of 52fs, when I was mostly singing unaccompanied and in a cardboard box (or that’s how it often sounded).

The London Waterman is that rarity, a bona fide urban folk song. It can be traced back to a stage ballad – as a lot of folk songs can – but the smoothings, erasures and reworkings of the folk process had turned it into something quite different by the time it was collected. I learned it from Peter Bellamy’s rendition and tried not to sound too much as if I was trying not to sound like him. I thought (and still think) that it goes well with the Morris tune “Constant Billy”, so I stuck that on the end. The end result was a bit boxy and quiet, so I’ve remixed it for this release.

Lemany, for me, is a song that inspires nothing but awe. (I think it’s that extraordinary melody.) When I originally recorded it for 52fs I took fright at the slow, stately pace which it seemed to be asking for, and morphed it into 3/4 to make it move along a bit more. I regretted that decision almost immediately; I’ve been looking forward to putting it right. This re-recording is a first take, with one small pause edited out. I was planning to sing the song through twice or three times and pick the best version, but when I finished this I realised there was only one syllable in there that I’d want to improve – so here it is. I don’t know how good it is in absolute terms, but it’s as good as I can get it.

Both The London Waterman and Lemany are from 52 Folk Songs – Violet; these versions are free to download.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Peter Bellamy, Violet

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 4

Two unaccompanied numbers for the fourth fortnight of the year.

When I heard The Lowlands of Holland for the first time… I can’t have been listening very closely. But when I heard it for the second time, I was spellbound; I played it three or four times in a row (and I was listening to an LP, so that took dedication – not to mention a fair degree of dexterity) and started learning it on the spot.

I recorded it for the Yellow album. I liked the way it came out; the delivery is plain and unassertive without being meek or mumbly. That’s what I think, anyway – see what you make of it.

The Lowlands of Holland is from the 52 Folk Songs – Yellow album.

Banks of Yarrow, a.k.a. The Banks of Green Willow, is a song I’ve always found fascinating and frustrating in equal measure – frustrating because the story is so bafflingly fragmented and because the usual tune is so inappropriately jolly. I decided to learn it myself when I came across Debra Cowan‘s recording, which is terrific – she’d used a fuller text than usual (pieced together from different variants) and set it to an appropriately downbeat tune. This is my main source here, although I’ve gone back to the texts and fleshed the song out a bit more.

I’ve re-recorded the song for this project. Originally I recorded it for the final, Red album; in fact this was the 52nd of my 52 weekly folk songs. Listening to it back I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way I’d sung it; I hadn’t let myself trust the pace of the melody (in other words, I’d speeded it up as I went on). This is a fine tune, which can stand a bit of tugging about, but it doesn’t want to be brisk. The re-recording takes it a bit steadier; I think it works better. (As always, the price to download of the re-recorded version has been adjusted down to zero.)

Banks of Yarrow is from the 52 Folk Songs: Red album.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Red, Yellow

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 3 (slightly delayed)

Sorry this is late – it’s day 43 of the year today, so the first day of fortnight four. In my defence I was struck down by a cold last week & I’m still waiting for it to get its nasty phlegmy paws off my voice.

So no new recordings this time round. I’ve taken the opportunity to pick out two of my favourite recordings from the 52, one unaccompanied and one not.

Geordie was a song I heard for the first time in a singaround, and I only started going to singarounds a couple of years ago. This one is based on Peter Bellamy’s version, which is of a variant called “Georgie”. The occupational hazard with learning songs from Bellamy’s recordings is that you assimilate everything about his inimitable delivery and sound like a poor man’s Bellamy forever after. I haven’t always managed to avoid doing this; I think I did all right here, though.

Geordie is from the 52 Folk Songs – Red album.

Blackwaterside is a song I haven’t known for very much longer than Geordie, although it feels as if I’d known it forever. Here it is in quite an elaborate arrangement, indebted to Jon Hopkins and recorded using a really inordinate amount of virtual scissors and tape. Features zither and part-improvised whistle.

Blackwaterside is from the 52 Folk Songs – Green album.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Green, Red

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 2

Three tracks this fortnight, two of which are new recordings.

In the month of January was collected from the singing of Sarah Makem. My original recording of this one baulked at the poly-modal weirdness of the tune and backed it with a simple drone. This time round I’ve fitted concertina chords to it, although the singing was recorded separately.

In the month of January is from 52 Folk Songs – white

The second song this week is True Thomas, a Child ballad which I recorded last February. Not all my experiments with drones came off, but this one I still think works rather well – the contrast between the drone and the drumming is particularly strong.

True Thomas is from 52 Folk Songs – Blue

Lastly, this week I’ve re-recorded another song. The Lady Gay wasn’t one of the core 52 folk songs, but another of the traditional songs I put up along the way. This one does have live concertina accompaniment of a rather loud and insistent kind, plus some overdubbed recorder.

The Lady Gay is from 52 Folk Songs – Red

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Blue, Red, white

Twenty-Six Fortnights

Throughout 2013 I’m going to be revisiting the 52 folk songs I uploaded in the twelve months to September 2012, one a week. Or rather, two a fortnight.

Each fortnight of the year, I’ll put up a post linking to two of the fifty-two songs. There will be an emphasis on marking significant dates and the passage of the seasons; I’ll aim to have songs about Waterloo appear in June, for example.

Some tracks will be the ones I originally recorded, others will be re-recorded for the occasion. All tracks on 52fs have now been given individual prices, but re-recorded tracks will be available for download free of charge, out of fairness to those people who have already paid for an album download.

Here are the first two tracks, for the first fortnight of the year.

About the Yule when the wind blows cool, Young Waters met his fate; “keep your head down” would seem to be the moral. The inexorable petty brutality of this story is enduringly shocking; it’s like something out of the Sopranos. But I’m picking this recording this week because it was a bit of a leap forward for me: my first use of recorder and drums, my first harmonies, my first ‘band’ arrangement. I could probably do a better job now, but this isn’t so shabby.

Re-recording of the fortnight is Lord Bateman. The 4:45 version of this was the song with which I launched 52 Folk Songs, and has had by far the most plays (although not downloads) of any of my songs. Fifteen and a half months later, stand by for… the 8:337:47 version. The original recording was based almost entirely on version L of Child’s text. For this one I consulted the other versions (there are fourteen in all) and imported some verses that make for more vivid scenes or make the story work better. My original version of the song had 18 verses; this one has 35. Go on, give it a go, it’ll fly by.

Update I’ve re-recorded it since first putting up the revised version; I’ve got the rhythm off better now, particularly between verses, with the result that I’ve shaved 46 seconds off the total running time. I’ve also pitched it up a bit, which I think also works better.

Young Waters is taken from the 52 Folk Songs: Indigo album.

Lord Bateman is taken from the 52 Folk Songs: Violet album.

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