More adventures with accompaniment. The holland handkerchief is another song where I originally recorded the concertina accompaniment first and fitted the vocal on top of it. I’ve re-recorded it with the concertina played live, which greatly improves the timing.
The holland handkerchief is from 52 Folk Songs – Red; this new version is a free download.
Plus, for the first time in this run-through, a remix! The Unfortunate Lass – one of the Streets of Laredo/St James Infirmary Blues family – was my main song for week 3 of 52 Folk Songs. At that time I hadn’t really got the hang of things like microphone placement; the singing was OK, but it came out rather quiet and with an excessive dose of ‘room tone’. Here it is again, with an overall volume increase and selective frequency boosting.
The Unfortunate Lass is from 52 Folk Songs – Violet; again, the revised version is free to download.
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.
Two unaccompanied numbers for the fourth fortnight of the year.
When I heard The Lowlands of Holland for the first time… I can’t have been listening very closely. But when I heard it for the second time, I was spellbound; I played it three or four times in a row (and I was listening to an LP, so that took dedication – not to mention a fair degree of dexterity) and started learning it on the spot.
I recorded it for the Yellow album. I liked the way it came out; the delivery is plain and unassertive without being meek or mumbly. That’s what I think, anyway – see what you make of it.
The Lowlands of Holland is from the 52 Folk Songs – Yellow album.
Banks of Yarrow, a.k.a. The Banks of Green Willow, is a song I’ve always found fascinating and frustrating in equal measure – frustrating because the story is so bafflingly fragmented and because the usual tune is so inappropriately jolly. I decided to learn it myself when I came across Debra Cowan‘s recording, which is terrific – she’d used a fuller text than usual (pieced together from different variants) and set it to an appropriately downbeat tune. This is my main source here, although I’ve gone back to the texts and fleshed the song out a bit more.
I’ve re-recorded the song for this project. Originally I recorded it for the final, Red album; in fact this was the 52nd of my 52 weekly folk songs. Listening to it back I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way I’d sung it; I hadn’t let myself trust the pace of the melody (in other words, I’d speeded it up as I went on). This is a fine tune, which can stand a bit of tugging about, but it doesn’t want to be brisk. The re-recording takes it a bit steadier; I think it works better. (As always, the price to download of the re-recorded version has been adjusted down to zero.)
Banks of Yarrow is from the 52 Folk Songs: Red album.
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.
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
Week 52! We’ve made it to the end of the year.
The 52nd and final (weekly) folk song is Banks of Yarrow; you probably know it as The Banks of Green Willow. Unaccompanied, after Debra Cowan.
Also this week: Ballad of accounting, a stark and rather Brechtian song by Ewan MacColl. Unaccompanied but for multi-tracking, after Tony Capstick.
And finally: Who’s the fool now? Thereby hangs a tale. Unaccompanied but for the massed ranks of the Beech singers.
Two last thoughts for anyone who’s made it this far. Firstly, don’t go away! There’s more to come, albeit probably not at the same workrate I’ve kept up for most of the last year. Secondly and more importantly, thankyou – many thanks for reading, listening and downloading.
Be seeing you!
Week 51 has turned out to be two weeks long. Sorry about that – we went away for a week, and my best efforts to build up a backlog were defeated by various factors (choosing new songs with fiddly tunes, taking up new instruments, etc).
Here, anyway, are three songs for week 51; the songs for week 52 – the very last weekly songs – will follow some time in the next seven days.
What all these songs have in common is that the singers whose recordings I learned them from are among the real giants of the 60s/70s revival. Geordie is learnt from Peter Bellamy, who recorded it – or a very similar song called Georgie – in 1968. Gilderoy – which may be related to Geordie – was recorded by Shirley and Dolly Collins in 1978. Maid on the Shore, finally, was recorded by Martin Carthy (and Swarb) on Carthy’s Second Album back in 1966. Having (just about) learnt to play the tune on concertina, my respect for Swarb’s fiddle-playing is if anything even higher than it was already.
This week’s songs are a load of nonsense. I think nonsense is a great neglected tradition in English poetry, and nonsense songs like the first two of these are a big part of it. Also, they’re fun.
The grey goose and gander (sung here with vocal harmonies) is a silly song from nineteenth-century Yorkshire. It’s a lot of fun, particularly when sung (in the words of the man who collected it) “in the kitchens of quiet publichouses”, or indeed in the side rooms of busy ones.
When I set off for Turkey (sung here with drums, concertina, recorder, some more concertina, flute, G whistle, zither and ukulele) is an exorbitant song of lies and boasts, each line sillier and more unbelievable than the one before. Which you could also say about the arrangement.
A hard rain’s a-gonna fall, lastly, is a long song (presented here in a short form) which takes the “and another thing” form of songs like the previous one and infuses it with the visionary urgency and rage of a lot of Dylan’s earlier work. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with nuclear war, and I still think it’s a hard rain that’s gonna fall.
Three unaccompanied songs this week, just for a change, all of them on a moorland theme.
Queen among the heather is a slightly romanticised account of a socially awkward encounter on the Scottish moors; a popular theme, to judge from the number of variants that exist.
Now westlin winds is one of Robert Burns’s most beautiful poems (a.k.a. “Song composed in August”); all about love and nature and bloodsports (he’s in favour of two of these).
Jake Thackray’s Old Molly Metcalfe is about someone else you might meet on the moors; her story doesn’t end well.
I completed this week’s recordings on the 5th of August; the lead song could only be Brigg Fair. It’s sung here with a bit of contemporary ambient sound and a brief excerpt from an everyday story of country folk.
General Wolfe is a song I already knew, but fell in love all over again on hearing Jo Freya’s Traditional Songs of England (reviewed here). Accompaniment is mainly concertina drones.
The green cockade is a Cornish version of a widespread enlistment song (other colours of cockade are available). Concertina chords this time, and more thanks to Jo Freya.
As well as concertina, all three of these songs feature recorder: specifically, a maple Moeck recorder which I acquired recently. It’s a ‘school’ model, so not a high-end instrument, but it’s got a lovely tone; it’s entirely displaced my old Aulos and is well on the way to supplanting my Tony Dixon D whistle. My “concertina and recorder” period begins!