Category Archives: Orange

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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Twenty-Six Fortnights – 6

A couple of sad songs this week, both based on real events.

When I recorded The poor murdered woman I’d worked out a concertina accompaniment, but I wasn’t up to playing it in real time. What you got on the original recording was a concertina backing with a vocal fitted on top of it. I’ve re-recorded it with the concertina played live; I think it sounds a lot better. (All I need to do now is work out where to position the microphone.)

The poor murdered woman is from 52 Folk Songs – Red; this new version is a free download.

The second song of this fortnight is an old recording of one of my favourite songs: The trees they do grow high. I wondered about re-recording this, but I don’t think I’ve ever sung it much better than I did last year.

The trees they do grow high is from 52 Folk Songs – Orange.

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52 Folk Songs: Orange

Just in time for Christmas, the entirely non-festive Orange album is now complete and available for download. Here’s the link, and here’s what you get.

1 Puck’s song (Kipling / Bellamy) (2:38)
2 Sir Richard’s song (Kipling / Bellamy) (5:13)
3 Frankie’s Trade (Kipling / Bellamy) (2:51)
4 Anchor song (Kipling / Bellamy) (1:59)
5 Follow me ’ome (Kipling / Bellamy) (4:42)
6 Ford o’ Kabul River (Kipling / Bellamy) (5:59)
7 Poor honest men (Kipling / Bellamy) (3:09)
8 Big steamers (Kipling / Bellamy) (1:48)
9 Roll down to Rio (Kipling / Bellamy) (2:14)
10 Jusqu’à la ceinture (Seeger / Allwright) (album-only download) (3:59)
11 Queen Jane (Child 170) (3:26)
12 Earl Richard (Child 68) (6:07)
13 Rounding the Horn (3:13)
14 Roll down (Peter Bellamy) (3:38)
15 Dogger Bank (2:11)
16 Come down you bunch of roses (2:45)
17 The trees they do grow high (3:16)
18 Four Angels (Kipling / Simpson) (album-only download) (4:19)

All songs traditional except where stated (which is to say, mostly not traditional at all). Accompanied on English concertina, flute, recorder, C whistle, zither, drums, improvised percussion and miscellaneous drones.

This is the album where I gave free rein to my interest in the Kipling / Bellamy oeuvre; it’s not traditional (apart from some of the tunes) but it’s good stuff.

Puck’s song is Kipling’s hymn to deep history; deep English history specifically. Features C whistle, English concertina and bees.
Sir Richard’s song tells the story of a Norman nobleman falling in love with an English woman and hence with England. Zither and flute.
Frankie’s Trade is an unaccompanied belter. Guaranteed to arouse strong feelings on the subject of Francis Drake.
Anchor song, also unaccompanied, is two minutes of rapid-fire nautical arcana.
Follow me ’ome and Ford o’ Kabul River are two songs about a man losing another man in wartime; a friendship “passing the love of women”, as one of them quotes. Accompanied with concertina and with splashy trudges.
Poor honest men is an exercise in pushing irony until it snaps, accompanied on concertina.
Big steamers both is and isn’t a children’s song (listen to the last verse).
Roll down to Rio, the last of this album’s Kipling / Bellamys, definitely is a children’s song, but it’s rather lovely with it. Concertina again.
Jusqu’à la ceinture (an album-only extra) is Graeme Allwright’s translation (and adaptation) of a song by Pete Seeger, accompanied on concertina and drums. There’s a thematic connection with Ford o’ Kabul River.
Queen Jane (Child 170) is a very old and very sad song, accompanied on flute and recorder.
Earl Richard (Child 68) is one of my favourite songs, pieced together from multiple versions and accompanied sporadically. More information here.
Rounding the Horn, also known as the Gallant Frigate Amphitrite, is a fairly uneventful maritime song. Sung here in an ‘ensemble’ arrangement (featuring concertina and drums), after Jo Freya.
Roll down, by Peter Bellamy, is a shanty but not a traditional shanty.
Dogger Bank isn’t a shanty, just a lot of nautical nonsense.
Come down you bunch of roses is a traditional shanty, although it’s not the shanty most of us think it is (involving blood-red roses). More on this here.
The trees they do grow high is one of my favourite songs in the world; I hope I did it justice.
Four Angels, another album-only track, is a Kipling poem set to music by Martin Simpson. Sung here with live concertina accompaniment – my first song recorded like this.

Like the other downloads in the series, the Orange album comes with a PDF file containing full lyrics, notes and artwork. And, like the other downloads, it has a minimum price set at a symbolic 52p – although you’re very welcome to pay more!

Download 52 Folk Songs – Orange.

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Week 45: Dogger Bank, Poor honest men, Big steamers

Three more maritime songs to round off the penultimate album.

Dogger Bank is a traditional song that escaped from the music-hall and went native. It’s rapid-fire nautical nonsense, with no real artistic merits except that it sounds good and it’s fun to sing. Which isn’t nothing.

And two more Kiplings. Poor honest men is a kind of rhetorical exercise in pushing irony until it snaps. It’s accompanied here on concertina and drums.

Big steamers is a Young Person’s Guide to British Imperialism, starting from the question of where your bread and butter come from; you could write something similar these days and call it Food Miles.

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Week 44: The trees they do grow high, Follow me ‘ome, Ford o’ Kabul River

The original idea for this selection of songs was to do Ford o’ Kabul River together with a traditional song about somebody drowning in mid-stream. But I couldn’t find a traditional song I liked, so I decided to do Follow me ‘ome together with a traditional song about somebody lamenting the loss of a close friend. Then I couldn’t find one of those either – apart from the ‘poacher’ songs of which Bill Brown is an example – so I decided to group these two together as songs of bereavement, with “Trees” as the obvious traditional candidate. And here we are.

The trees they do grow high is one of my favourite songs, traditional or otherwise. There are at least four distinct versions that I know of; I think this is the best.

Follow me ‘ome, a Kipling poem with a Bellamy setting, is about bereavement within a male – and presumptively non-sexual – friendship. It’s still bereavement, though. Accompanied here on English concertina.

Ford o’ Kabul River is another Kipling/Bellamy and has similar subject matter. It’s set during the Second Afghan War (1878-80); I wonder what number we’re up to now. Accompanied on vocals and squelchy percussion.

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Week 43: Come down you bunch of roses, Anchor song, Roll down

We’re staying nautical this week, and featuring an original composition by Peter Bellamy as well as one of his settings of Kipling.

Come down you bunch of roses is the shanty which is now much better known as “Blood red roses”. Thanks to Gibb Schreffler for some excellent textual archaeology on this one. Sung in two-part harmony, accompanied by percussive domestic noise.

Anchor song is a two-minute barrage of sailor-speak from Kipling, very ably set to music by Bellamy. Not easy to understand – and not at all easy to learn – but surprisingly exhilarating.

Roll down is one of Bellamy’s chameleon-like impressions of traditional song from the Transports, this one in the form of a shanty. Voices only, but lots of them.

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Week 42: Rounding the Horn, Frankie’s Trade, Roll down to Rio

Week 42’s songs were delayed owing to football; watching a nil-nil draw settled on penalties after two full hours of play somehow seemed like a much better idea than putting the finishing touches to this week’s songs. I don’t know what I was thinking of; it won’t happen again.

There are three thematically-linked songs this week, one traditional and two by Kipling and Bellamy; they’re all sea songs, and they all focus on South America in particular.

Rounding the Horn – a.k.a. The gallant frigate Amphitrite – makes rounding the Horn sound like a thoroughly good idea, as long as you don’t get lost on the way. Accompaniment: drums, recorder, English concertina.

Frankie’s trade is Bellamy’s take on Kipling in praise of Francis Drake, and by extension in praise of English seamanship and England in general. The idea seems to be that Drake could never have been the seaman he was if he hadn’t cut his teeth as a marauder across the cold North Sea. I defy anyone not to get a bit patriotic towards the end.

Roll down to Rio, lastly, is a jokey, dreamy little poem from the Just-So Stories, accompanied here on English concertina.

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Week 41: Earl Richard, Sir Richard’s song

We continue the Kipling-and-others theme with two songs about Richards.

Earl Richard is more widely known as Young Hunting, although the eponymous character has several different names in the source (Child 68). The plot is both familiar (love and death) and very strange. The accompaniment is mostly drones of various origins.

Sir Richard’s song is another of Kipling’s hymns to England, this one spoken by a Norman knight who had fallen in love with the country after falling in love with an English woman. (Sexual love first, then love of country.) The tune, the arrangement and the delivery are very largely taken from Peter Bellamy, who liked this song enough to record it twice; it’s on both Oak, Ash and Thorn and Keep on Kipling. As far as I’m aware he never played zither, though.

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Week 40: Queen Jane, Puck’s song

The Orange album is going to be devoted to the work of Peter Bellamy, his settings of Kipling in particular. Traditional songs will also feature!

Queen Jane: a strange and moving piece of folk history, with flute drone.

Puck’s song: Kipling lays out his map of the deep history of England. This one gets a bit “weird” as it develops; see what you think.

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