Category Archives: Green

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 – 5

I heard some bad news this week; Bob van Gaalen – Northumberland piper extraordinaire, stalwart of the Beech sessions and a really nice man – has died after a heart attack. My thoughts are with Sue and his family.

It was from Bob that I first heard what’s now one of my favourite tunes, Sir John Fenwick’s. He used to make it sound beautifully ornate and impossibly fluid at the same time. It’s not really a very difficult tune, but I felt enormously proud when I first learned to play it – and again when I got the hang of it on the concertina.

When I came to record “I live not where I love” – inspired by Dave Bishop’s rendition of it at the Beech – it occurred to me that it might go quite well with Sir John Fenwick’s. Here’s what I came up with:

For the second song of this fortnight, here’s something completely different: an unaccompanied song which I learned from Bob’s wife Sue (which also gave me a sense of achievement). I love this song and hope you like it, but you really ought to hear Sue’s version.

When a man’s in love and I live not where I love are from 52 Folk Songs – Green.

And here’s another song/tune pairing, “Poor old horse” with “The man in the moon”.

Poor old horse is from 52 Folk Songs – white.

(All old recordings this time round; I’ll see about some re-recordings for next time.)

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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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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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Week 32: Blackwaterside, The outlandish dream, On board the ‘Kangaroo’

A mixed bag for week 32 (but still no deaths): a sad song about a young woman being seduced and abandoned, a funny song about a middle-aged man getting dumped and a song with a happy ending and a misleading beginning.

Blackwaterside: what is there to say about Blackwaterside? Here’s my version of Blackwaterside.

The outlandish dream
is a broadside curiosity, with no apparent connection to the more famous ballad about the quasi-eponymous main character.

On board the ‘Kangaroo’ is a daft little number which originated as a music-hall song. Tom Lehrer said that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote songs “full of words and music and signifying nothing”; this one certainly doesn’t signify very much, but it’s none the worse for it.

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Week 31: Once I had a sweetheart, When I was in my prime, Let no man steal your thyme

Three more love-related songs for week 31, with a fairly heavy stress on loss and heartbreak. (But no death.)

Once I had a sweetheart is an old favourite of mine; I’m fairly pleased with what I’ve done to it here. Features a surprisingly loud zither, multiple melodicas and more than one drum track.

When I was in my prime and Let no man steal your thyme are both members of the “Seeds of love” extended song family. “Prime” features a melismatic pileup of flute and recorder; “Thyme” features the enormous pigeon that sits in next door’s tree.

Happy Easter!

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Week 30: I live not where I love, My bonny boy

A slightly less Stakhanovite level of effort for week 30, with only two songs. Both love songs, both traditional (and still no deaths). Also two of the most beautiful songs I know; the Green album is good for those.

I live not where I love was learnt from a version sung at my local singaround, although it doesn’t sound much like it – not least because it’s accompanied (melodica, recorder and zither).

My bonny boy was learnt from Anne Briggs’s recording, and again doesn’t sound much like it – not only because it’s accompanied (melodica and flute).

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Week 29: One night as I lay on my bed, When a man’s in love, Out of the window

Two night-visiting songs this week, plus a curious Irish song in which the singer seems to have gone to visit his love one night but been sadly disappointed when he got there.

One night as I lay on my bed is a song of requited love and unrealised lust; a good combination, which this song powerfully conveys.

When a man’s in love is a similar scenario, perhaps handled slightly less romantically, but with a really beautiful tune.

Out of the window is one of the names applied to this song, which sounds like a much more famous song with a different name again. This one, unlike the others, is accompanied (zither, in thirds and octaves).

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Week 28: The streams of lovely Nancy, Come all you little streamers, The banks of the Mossom

All three of this week’s songs have lost a certain something over the years, to put it as kindly as possible; it’s not always clear what’s going on, or even whether the ubiquitous Nancy is a person or a place. But they’re great songs.

The streams of lovely Nancy was learnt from John Kelly’s recording, although I went back to broadside versions to get a set of words I was happy with; I was particularly keen to disentangle it from

Come all you little streamers, which I think is a completely separate song that just happens to have one identical verse. It’s a bit of a mystery all round, not least because neither of them makes any sense at all.

The banks of the Mossom, finally, is a more conventional song, or at least the remains of one. Nancy appears in this one as both a person and a place.

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Week 27: Searching for lambs, Master Kilby, Cupid’s Garden

This week we leave the Child ballads behind for the time being, as we begin the Green album. The Green album is going to consist mainly of love songs; there may be heartbreak and abandonment, there may very well be unplanned pregnancies, but there won’t be any deaths. For the next six weeks, nobody dies.

The song of the week is Searching for lambs. This is a wonderful song; if you don’t know it yet, I’m quite jealous. Melodica, zither, whistle.

Also this week, Master Kilby. There probably never was a Master Kilby, and this probably isn’t a complete song, but it’s survived as a kind of hymn to the dazzling power of love. Or possibly lust. Melodica and vocals, lots of vocals.

And Cupid’s Garden, which was probably not originally named after Cupid (whereas Master Kilby probably was). Boy meets girl, girl says that she’s guarding her virginity, boy goes off with someone else instead. A slice of eighteenth-century life. Unaccompanied.

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