Category Archives: Indigo

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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Week 9: Grand conversation on Napoleon, Plains of Waterloo

Week 9 has been a long time coming – sorry about that. Hopefully normal service will be resumed for week 10. (The 52fs week runs Thursday to Wednesday, so it won’t take long to find out!)

This week and the next couple of weeks I’m going to be dipping into the repertoire of songs on Napoleon, perhaps with a couple on Nelson for balance.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon is an odd song, as wordy as the title implies but with a distinctive (and fiddly) tune spanning two octaves. After the song – backed with a Bontempi drone – I play through the tune on flute, then run it into a version of the dance tune “The cuckoo’s nest”; they’re closer than might appear.

Plains of Waterloo looks, indirectly, at the human cost of the events described in the previous song. (It’s also one of the songs that the Grand Conversation tends to spark off in singarounds.) It’s unaccompanied, and very much in the footsteps of June Tabor.

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Week 8: Hughie the Graeme, Sam Hall, Serenity

Two gallows songs this week, following on from Lord Allenwater last week, plus a third song which is… connected.

Hughie the Graeme is a Child ballad commemorating the execution of a border outlaw and his defiance on the gallows. My arrangement derives ultimately from MacColl’s, but it’s heavily influenced by Tony Capstick – a really great folksinger in his day.

Sam Hall is from the other end of the country and the other end of the social scale; it’s an eighteenth-century broadside ballad in an odd sort of mock-heroic style. The old songs don’t wear their emotions on their sleeve; there’s horror and ridicule in this song, but they’re not spelt out.

As for Serenity… ah, Serenity. Check it out.

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Week 7: Derwentwater’s farewell, Lord Allenwater and Danny Deever

Week 7, and the first week of the Indigo album (a theme may be emerging). The plan for this album is to release the tracks week by week, and release the album as a whole – complete with extras and hidden tracks – at the end of the seventh week.

FS07 is Derwentwater’s Farewell: a poem written in 1807, to a pre-existing tune, in the style of the real Lord D’s last words before his execution as a Jacobite. You can hear more about the execution in Lord Allenwater, a heroic account of Lord D’s last ride and his defiance on the scaffold. Danny Deever, finally, is a poem by Rudyard Kipling set to the tune of Derwentwater’s Farewell by Peter Bellamy; the setting works remarkably well, as Bellamy’s settings often do.

The second and third of these are unaccompanied as per usual, but Derwentwater’s Farewell features whistle, reed organ and a great deal of messing about with Audacity. I think it works rather well, particularly the beginning and end (the middle is mostly just me singing, which is less interesting on a technical level). See what you think.

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