Category Archives: Indigo

Lord Allenwater

I’m still re-recording the odd number from the 52 Folk Songs roster, and here’s the latest. Have a listen to this; I think it’s rather good.

My original Lord Allenwater was unaccompanied; I always felt it didn’t really do justice to a song that I’m particularly fond of. Hopefully I’ve set things straight now. This version features concertina (chords and a heavily processed drone) as well as flute and recorder. The accompaniment is based on Shirley and Dolly Collins’s arrangement – or rather, on my memory of it; I’ve deliberately not listened to it while I was working on this. Folk process innit. Thanks also to the late Malcolm Douglas for persuading me not to change the tune, and to Sean for turning me on to drone.

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

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 8

Next fortnight we’ll be into May, otherwise known as the month when stuff happens in folk songs, and I’ll have some new/reinterpreted/re-recorded stuff for you. And since I’ve let fortnight #8 drag on for the best part of three weeks, there won’t be long to wait.

For now, here are two songs I sang out recently, at the latest of Alice Bester’s “Folk Threads” events. On these recordings I’m accompanied by (a) assorted drones and (b) several other versions of me. On the night I was accompanied by (a) nothing and (b) a roomful of folkies giving it rice (the redoubtable Rapunzel and Sedayne not least); I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine that.

The first song is Earl Richard – Child 68, a.k.a. Young Hunting – and what a fine song this is. (There’s more information about my version and where I got it from here.) I had fun with this when I recorded it last summer, although listening to it back now the pacing sounds fairly deliberate – I tend to go at it a bit more aggressively when I sing it out. The drones – and the recorder that pops up a couple of times – work well, though.

Earl Richard is from 52 Folk Songs – Orange.

Phew. Shall we bring it down a bit?

The Two Sisters – Child 10 – is a song that’s been found in many different forms, some of them rather severely mangled or truncated. The full story – one sister’s jealous murder of the other, the body floating downstream, the fiddle being made from the body by an unknowing (if rather ghoulish) third party, the fiddle revealing the murder – doesn’t feature in all versions, and this version is no exception; the final verse is quite a nice jolt to the audience’s expectations.

This was recorded fairly early on in the 52 Folk Songs year – for the difficult second album – when I’d started wanting to jazz things up a bit but hadn’t yet got the hang of harmonising. So what you get here is me in octaves and unisons. Also, I hadn’t yet realised that my vocals come out best if I sing slap up against the microphone, in a Chet Baker-ish sort of way, so I was still getting an awful lot of boxy ‘room tone’ on recordings; plus I was still discarding my working files as I went along, out of some vague feeling that I shouldn’t waste disk space – which isn’t really a consideration when you’re working on a 250 GB hard drive, but old habits die hard. So I haven’t been able to tweak this recording as much as I would have liked. I’ve equalised the finished version, though, making it a bit less boxy and giving it a bit more oomph generally.

Two Sisters is from 52 Folk Songs – Indigo; the remixed version is free to download.

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Filed under Child ballad, Indigo, Orange

Shifting the gear

(Based on comments posted at fRoots.)

The Indigo album marks the first quarter of the 52fs year: 13 songs down, 39 to go. With that in mind, here’s a quick retrospective post on the project.

Songs posted so far: 34
Traditional songs: 22
Contemporary songs: 12 (authors: Peter Bellamy, Bellamy/Kipling, Peter Blegvad, Noel Coward, Bob Dylan, Green Gartside, Richard Thompson, Lal Waterson, Joss Whedon)
Whistle tunes: 3
Songs with backing: 11 (including all the last eight)
Backing instruments: 4 woodwind, 3 free reed (including a melodica I didn’t own two months ago), drums (not played for 30 years), voices, some programming

I had no idea there was going to be all this playing involved when I started! The next frontier is harmony; the ‘white’ album (over Christmas and New Year) is going to feature a fair amount of singing in parts, something I’ve never done before. It’ll be great, probably.

So, what have I learned so far?

1. My voice sounds very different when recorded. Very very very different. Obviously I knew this already, but spending a lot of time with my recorded voice has really brought it home to me. Lots of takes, lots of close listening, and you start hearing a voice that’s very different from what you thought you were producing…
1a. …and start thinking “maybe I need to work on that”. In my head I’m always giving a peak performance – that hypnotic Musgrave I did that time, that back-wall-nailing Trees They Do Grow High… Listening back, this turns out not to be the case; a lot of the time, particularly on first takes, what I hear is just this bloke singing…
1b. …and sometimes not in a terribly distinctive voice – although sometimes I do listen to a take and think “that’s me – I’ll do more like that”. I’ve been singing all my life, and singing in public on a fairly regular basis since 2004; it seems weird to be thinking about ‘finding a voice’ now, but there it is.

2. Although I’ve always seen myself as an unaccompanied singer, it turns out that accompanied singing is a lot of fun…
2a. …especially drones (which I never thought I’d get into)…
2b. …but also harmonies, rhythm tracks, chords (I love my melodica)…
2c. …although doing them all multi-tracked is an incredible time-sink…
2d. …which imposes definite limits on how close to perfection I can afford to get…
2e. …and layering separate tracks recorded without a click is an absolute no-no, unless you really enjoy wielding the virtual razor-blade in Audacity. There’s timing that sounds absolutely regular, and then there’s timing that is absolutely regular, down to the tenth of a second – and that’s a lot harder.

3. Uploading home recordings to a Web site is not going to enable me to give up the day job. (Fortunately I like the day job.) Obviously I knew this already too, but it’s really been brought home to me…
3a. …that there aren’t millions of people who like listening to this stuff, at least not online, not all the way through (why don’t people just leave the thing playing?) and…
3b. …there definitely aren’t millions of people who like downloading it; and, more generally…
3c. …the Web is no place to build a profile, unless you’re very talented, very photogenic, very lucky or gifted with a herd of football-playing pigs; it’s a great shop-front, but I think you still need to build awareness in the real world. There is just too much music out there for a single project like this to make much of a splash. (Or maybe it’s a slow-burning splash; there have definitely been more plays per day per track of the songs on the Indigo album than the ones on its Violet predecessor. We shall see.)

4. Bandcamp’s statistics distinguish between ‘complete’ (>90%) plays, ‘skips’ (stopped before 10%) and ‘partial’ (>10% but <90%). The number of partials and skips is extraordinary, not to say slightly alarming. (On the other hand, the songs with the most partial plays generally have the most full plays as well, so I suppose it all works out.) Aggregating all three, my top five tracks are:
1 Lord Bateman
2 There are bad times just around the corner (Noel Coward)
3 Derwentwater's farewell
4= Us poor fellows (Peter Bellamy)
4= The unfortunate lass

On full plays alone, the top five (or seven) are:
1 Lord Bateman
2 The unfortunate lass
3 There are bad times just around the corner
4 The cruel mother
5= Derwentwater's farewell
5= Us poor fellows
5= The death of Bill Brown

Propping up the table (sorted on all plays together) are

28. Hughie the Graeme
29. St Helena lullaby (Rudyard Kipling)
30. Serenity (Joss Whedon)
31. Percy's song (Bob Dylan)
32. The unborn Byron (Peter Blegvad)

(I'm excluding the album-only House[s] of the Rising Sun from the list; hence the last place is number 32, not 34.)

Things look slightly different if we sort on full plays, as there are six songs for which the 'complete play' count is stuck at zero – these songs haven't been played all the way through at all. What are you like, world? There's some great stuff here:

The unborn Byron
The death of Nelson
Percy's song
Boney's lamentation
Dayspring mishandled (Rudyard Kipling)
Danny Deever (Rudyard Kipling)

Generally the newer stuff seems to have gone down less well than the traditional songs – which are, after all, what this site is all about, so I can't really complain.

5. Even if I were the only audience – which I'm not, although (as we see) for a couple of tracks it's a close thing – it's an incredibly enjoyable and absorbing project; I'm learning all the things about music I've always vaguely thought I ought to know, as well as some unexpected but useful things about my voice.

Here's the link to the album again: 52 Folk Songs – Indigo. Roll up! Roll up! And here are links to a couple of personal favourites, plus a couple which may have had less attention than they deserve.

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52fs: Indigo

Indigo, the second virtual album documenting the 52fs project, is now available.

On this album, unlike its predecessor, I haven’t limited myself to unaccompanied singing; about half of the songs are accompanied, on flute, melodica, bongoes and computer, among other things.

The Indigo album contains the following songs:

1. Dayspring mishandled (Kipling / Bellamy)
2. Lord Allenwater
3. Derwentwater’s farewell
4. Danny Deever (Kipling / Bellamy)
5. Hughie the Graeme
6. Serenity (Joss Whedon)
7. Grand conversation on Napoleon
8. Plains of Waterloo
9. The bonny bunch of roses
10. Boney’s lamentation
11. St Helena lullaby (Kipling / Bellamy)
12. The death of Nelson
13. The unborn Byron (Peter Blegvad)
14. Two sisters
15. The wind and the rain
16. Percy’s song (Bob Dylan)
17. Sam Hall
18. Young Waters
19. The House of the Rising Sun (part 1)
20. The House of the Rising Sun (part 2)

The last two tracks are album exclusives, which can be heard nowhere else except as part of this album. When you’ve heard them, you’ll know why.

This ‘album’ can be downloaded from Bandcamp for a token payment of 52p (you see what I did there). This gets you 70 minutes of singing (most of which is in tune) and musical accompaniment (some of which is played quite competently). You also get a PDF file containing full lyrics plus assorted pictures, comments, musings and afterthoughts. (And album exclusives, don’t forget.)

Alternatively you can download the tracks individually and pay nothing at all, or just listen online (but remember the album exclusives). Or you could listen to something else instead. But you might as well give this a go.

52 Folk Songs: Indigo is here.

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Indigo extras: The House of the Rising Sun (parts 1 and 2)

Two versions of this well-known song appear as hidden ‘bonus tracks’ on the 52 Folk Songs – Indigo virtual album.

The House of the Rising Sun (part 1) takes off from Dave Van Ronk’s uniquely chilling version of the song. It’s interesting to check out older recordings of this song; they often seem positively cheerful, jaunty even. Not Dave Van Ronk’s rendition, which vividly evokes the dying girl’s last gasps over an ominous descending bassline. It’s really quite good. This version started as a straightish take on that version of the song, but then grew: it features quite a lot of melodica and some double-tracked vocals, and begins with a drum solo (I like to think of this track as my “Moving away from the pulsebeat”). Augustus Pablo and the Burundi drummers jamming with Faust would probably sound nothing like this.

As for The House of the Rising Sun (part 2), this is my take on a version of the song that John Otway did when I saw him live some years ago. The great man had spotted that the leisurely pace of the song (in its post-Animals form) left large gaps between successive lines – gaps that seemed designed to permit feeds from the audience:

There is a house in New Orleans
What’s it called?
It’s called the Rising Sun…

I don’t think I’ve seen anything funnier in my life. (Perhaps you had to be there.)

On this version, I played no instruments and didn’t sing all the vocals.

These two tracks are not now available for listening online; they can only be heard as part of a download of the 52 Folk Songs – Indigo album.

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Filed under Dave Van Ronk, folk song, Indigo, John Otway, traditional

Week 13: Young Waters, Dayspring Mishandled

We end the Indigo album (almost) with two thoroughly nasty stories.

Child 94, Young Waters, is a chilling tale of the danger of excessive frankness in long-term relationships, particularly in cases where one’s partner has the power of life and death. I went to town a bit on the accompaniment, and I think the results are quite good (listen out for the recorder).

Dayspring Mishandled is another Bellamy/Kipling production, and not the last; perhaps the most unusual, though, as it’s written in fake Middle English. The message is horribly bleak (appropriately enough for the horribly bleak story in which it features): miss or abuse your first chance – mishandle your one and only dayspring (i.e. dawn) – and you can forget about anything going well for you ever again. Vocal harmony here, and a third part on recorder.

And there are extras – but more on that tomorrow.

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Week 12: Two sisters, The wind and the rain, Percy’s song

Child 10, the Two Sisters, survived in a number of different variants. Here are two of them, which have nothing in common except their origins; in effect, they tell the first and second halves of the story.

Two sisters is an unusually brief and laconic telling of the story, or part of it; it ends quite suddenly. The recording features nothing but voices.

The wind and the rain is a highly untypical variant of an American version of the ballad; it has the end of the story, combined with a different first half. The recording features melodeon – a new instrument for me.

Percy’s Song, lastly, is the work of a 22-year-old Bob Dylan: clearly a man who knew his folksongs, including The wind and the rain. The recording features quite a variety of stuff.

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Week 10: The death of Nelson, St Helena lullaby

We’re in the early 19th century for another week, with another Napoleon song (although not a traditional one) and one about Nelson. We’re also sitting at the feet of the great Peter Bellamy, not for the first time or the last.

The death of Nelson is either the whole of a traditional song or three-fifths of it – depending who you listen to – plus one verse from another song. (It all fits, anyway.) I learned it from Bellamy’s wonderful Maritime England Suite; I defy anyone to listen to Bellamy’s rendition of this song and not learn it.

St Helena Lullaby revisits Napoleon for the last time (at least for now); it seems fitting that we leave the Emperor with an overview of his entire life. By Kipling, arranged by Bellamy, recorded on Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye (which has recently been re-released). Doesn’t feature Nic Jones (or anyone else) on fiddle, although you can hear me on a cheap high G whistle.

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Week 10: The bonny bunch of roses, Boney’s lamentation, The unborn Byron

Two more Napoleonics this week, plus a song by the dreadfully underrated Peter Blegvad.

The bonny bunch of roses has been one of my favourite songs since I first heard it played by Nic Jones (it’s the second track on his second album). I don’t promise this is that good, but did Nic Jones use a D whistle and an ambient drone in A? I think not.

Boney’s lamentation, oddly enough, is the third track on Nic Jones’s second album. Unaccompanied, straight through, no messing. (The tune is also known as the Princess Royal, among other things.)

As for The Unborn Byron, this is a sort of surrealist companion piece to the last verse of The bonny bunch of roses. It’s a tender, beautiful song in which an unborn baby tells his mother that he’ll be remembered when he’s dead – as, of course, he is. One voice (recorded in two rooms), one flute.

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