Category Archives: Blue

Little Musgrave

Been a bit quiet round here recently. Here’s a re-recording to keep things ticking over:

The sounds on this one are rather heavily processed – nothing is as it was originally recorded. (The E/D bass line, for example, was originally a repeated C, on ukulele.) Nothing, that is, apart from the vocal, which was sung straight through in one take and has not been edited in any way.

Influences on the arrangement include Jo Freya’s work with loops, Cornelius, the Earlies (“The Enemy Chorus”), the Chemical Brothers (“The Private Psychedelic Reel”), Barry Black (“Staticus Von Carrborrus”), probably others. See what you think.

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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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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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Fifty-Two Folk Songs: the Blue Album

Fifty-Two Folk Songs: the Blue Album is now available to download, and a bit of a beast it is too.

The album contains nineteen songs; fourteen of them are traditional, and almost all of those are Child ballads. Ten songs are sung unaccompanied and without overdubs; singers who inspired my interpretations of these songs include Peter Bellamy (Sir Patrick Spens), the Irish source singer Robert Cinnamond (John from the Isle of Man) and June Tabor (Jamie Douglas, The leaves in the woodland). Accompaniment on the others ranges from the discreet flute and melodica ‘sting’ of the Bonny Hind to the full band effect of Shady Grove, via the late-night zither of The outlandish knight and the drum-and-drone True Thomas. And there’s more, but you’ll have to listen to the album to find out.

Here’s the full track listing:

1 Sir Patrick Spens (version 1) (3:26)
2 The outlandish knight (version 1) (4:05)
3 True Thomas (3:53)
4 La belle dame sans merci (4:00)
5 The keys to the forest / When a man dies (7:18)
6 Little Musgrave (5:00)
7 Shady Grove (2:06)
8 The bonny hind (5:01)
9 George Collins (3:56)
10 Sir Patrick Spens (version 2) (3:06)
11 The outlandish knight (version 2) (5:03)
12 Sheath and knife (5:13)
13 Tom the Barber (2:59)
14 John from the Isle of Man (3:32)
15 Mary Hamilton (6:05)
16 Jamie Douglas (3:24)
17 The leaves in the woodland (3:54)
18 This is the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens (5:41)

Track 4 is a hidden track, which you won’t see listed on the album’s Web page. (If you’re really curious you can hear it on the Extras page.)

As for the credits, the first song in track 5 – track 5a? – is by Jackie Leven; track 17 is by Peter Bellamy; and track 18 is by me. Track 4 is a poem by John Keats, set to music by copland smith. Track 5b is also a poem set to music; the author is Anna Akhmatova, the arranger Jackie Leven. The rest are traditional.

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

Sir Patrick Spens (Child 58) is the celebrated song about an inexperienced sailor who is shipwrecked in the North Sea; it’s sung to the tune used by Nic Jones, briskly and without accompaniment.
The outlandish knight (Child 4) is also taken fairly briskly, to a mixolydian tune that I found online and modified a bit. No accompaniment, but I’ve dubbed on a few harmonies.
True Thomas (Child 37) was going to be unaccompanied, and then it wasn’t. Once I’d worked out a drum part the rest seemed to follow. I’m particularly pleased with the drones.
La belle dame sans merci is Keats’s poem – clearly indebted to the story of True Thomas – in an arrangement by the poet and performer copland smith. My performance gets a bit overwrought towards the end, albeit not intentionally (does that make it better or worse?). My thanks to copland for permission to record this one.
The keys to the forest is a song from 2000 by the late Jackie Leven; I’ve described it before as “‘La belle dame sans merci’ meets Trainspotting“.
When a man dies was recorded by Jackie Leven in 1979. I don’t think the theory holds up.
Little Musgrave (Child 81) is one of my favourite folksongs, and one of my favourite songs full stop. 25 verses or thereabouts.
Shady Grove is an American song, learned from the singing of Jean Ritchie. Probably the most ‘full band’-sounding arrangement I’ve done: drums, zither and melodica (featuring no less than three chords).
The bonny hind (Child 50) is one of my favourite traditional songs and also one of the saddest. The arrangement and performance are inspired by Tony Rose’s version on the album Bare Bones, although for ineptitude-related reasons I replaced his continuous concertina accompaniment with an austere drone.
George Collins I learned from Bare Bones, although I decided to use a different tune for it; mine is based on the one in Classic English Folk Songs. More love and death, but with much less explanation of what’s going on; a strange, creepy song. Related to Child 42 and 85, probably.
Sir Patrick Spens (version 2) is based on Bellamy’s version in The Maritime English Suite, which in turn was based on MacColl’s version, which may not have been entirely traditional (a detail which Bellamy discovered later and with some displeasure). The variant I sing here is significantly different from the first one; given another century or so the two could have developed into two totally separate songs, or even three (cf. George Collins). Damn that pianola!
The outlandish knight (version 2) uses more or less the same words as the first one, but sung to the tune Nic Jones used on his first album. I also attempt some of Nic Jones’s guitar fills on the zither. It’s a quiet instrument, the zither, and this is a quiet track.
Sheath and knife (Child 16) is related to the Bonny Hind, possibly as a precursor. An extraordinary song about unbearable misery and the indifference of the world. No instrumental accompaniment.
Tom the Barber (Child 100) is and isn’t Willie o’ Winsbury, and this version of it is and isn’t Tony Rose’s. The words are those he sang (on Bare Bones, again), but the tune is different; it’s actually a squared-up 4/4 version of the tune to which John Kelly sings Mary Hamilton (on his album For honour and promotion).
John from the Isle of Man (also Child 100) is a Willie o’ Winsbury variant that’s fallen a bit further from the tree. The basic plot is the same, but the daughter isn’t pregnant and the father wants to expel her boyfriend on general paternal principle. Words, tune and phrasing are after the Irish source singer Robert Cinnamond.
Mary Hamilton (Child 173) is one of the stand-out tracks on John Kelly’s excellent second album. I’d never heard the song before but fell in love with it on hearing John’s version. However, singing the song unaccompanied I found his tune didn’t work for me, even after I’d speeded it up by a third by recasting it in 4/4. My solution was to borrow the tune usually used for Willie o’ Winsbury, similarly cranked up to 4/4.
Jamie Douglas (Child 204), under the title of Waly Waly, is a highlight of June Tabor’s first solo album. (I wonder if she’s made any others?) The text is a heavily-edited selection from different variants of Child 204; with a couple of minor exceptions the editing is June Tabor’s too. (The voice is all mine, though.)
The leaves in the woodland is another achingly sad song, this time by Peter Bellamy, and another “after June Tabor” rendering. It’s a song from The Transports, in which it’s sung unaccompanied and sounding not entirely unlike this (in a ‘better’ kind of way).
This is the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens is one of my own (a first for 52fs). I wrote it after sitting through an inordinately extended performance of one of the longer variants of the ballad, sung by a performer who was rather accomplished on the twelve-string guitar and wanted us all to know. That was the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens; this isn’t.

Nineteen songs for the price of a bag of crisps. Share and enjoy!

Meanwhile, the Green album is already underway: some love songs for early Spring. I thought it was time for some happy endings – time for a few more non-lethal endings, come to that. On the Green album, nobody dies!

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Week 26: Mary Hamilton, John from the Isle of Man, Tom the Barber

Week 26: the last week of the Blue album, and the halfway point of the project as a whole.

Counting this week’s (of which more in a moment), so far I’ve uploaded 66 tracks, including 44 traditional songs and 21 contemporary. (The totals don’t add up because two of the traditional songs appear twice (same words, different tunes), and one of the contemporary songs is actually two songs.) Can’t believe it’s that many, but then I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for six months.

I’ve sung songs learned from Peter Bellamy, Jon Boden, Tony Rose, Nic Jones, John Kelly, Shirley Collins, June Tabor and others, and one that I wrote myself. I’ve sung songs I’d already sung in public (34 of them), songs I learned in order to record them (21) and a few others.

The people’s choice, or at least the songs with most complete plays, are Lord Bateman, The unfortunate lass, and Come, love, carolling. My own favourites: The bonny hind, Dayspring mishandled, Poor old horse, The unborn Byron.

I’ve taught myself to write harmonies, bought and learned to play two different instruments and got some use out of a pair of bongoes that hadn’t been played for longer than I care to think. (I was planning to have learnt to play the concertina by now, but all in good time.)

It’s been a great project so far; I’d recommend it to anyone.

This week’s three songs are two Child ballads. I learned Mary Hamilton (Child 173) from John Kelly’s second album, which I strongly recommend. (This isn’t the tune John uses, though.)

John from the Isle of Man is one of the many variants of the song more commonly known as Willie o’ Winsbury (Child 100). This is a faithful, nay, slavish copy of a recording made by the Irish singer Robert Cinnamond.

Tom the Barber is another Willie o’ Winsbury variant, picked up from Tony Rose, who liked it so much he recorded it twice. This isn’t the tune he used, though.

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Week 25: George Collins, Jamie Douglas, The leaves in the woodland

Week 25; we’re approaching the end of the ‘big ballad’-oriented Blue album, as well as the halfway mark for the project.

George Collins
isn’t a Child ballad; it was collected in England by George Gardiner and, separately, by Bob Copper. It’s one of the more mysterious old songs; the plot could be summed up as ‘boy meets girl, everybody dies’. Accompanied here on melodica, some more melodica and a chirpy G whistle.

Jamie Douglas is Child 204; this version of it is based quite closely on June Tabor’s Waly Waly.

And some more Bellamy. The leaves in the woodland is the song Peter Bellamy gave June Tabor for the Transports. After last week I thought the competition was closed, but this is a late challenger for the title of Saddest Song In The World Ever. (The last verse means exactly what it sounds like.) Happy February, everyone!

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Week 24: The bonny hind, Sheath and knife

Two closely-related Child ballads for week 24.

The bonny hind isn’t about a deer. Despite describing a situation that most of us have never been in and never will, the story is horribly involving; the dreadful emotional bind of the central surviving character at the end of the song is stunningly vivid. Sung with melodica and flute; arrangement after Tony Rose.

Sheath and knife isn’t about hunting equipment. Although all the details are different, the narrative line of the song – and especially the awful final scene – are closely related to The bonny hind. Sung with double-tracking.

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