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!
Continuing the cheery, life-affirming mood so characteristic of folk songs, here are two songs about dead bodies.
The poor murdered woman is a straightforward account of a true story, bizarrely characterised by Martin Carthy as a ‘non-event’. It’s true that there isn’t much in the way of plot, but I’d still call it an event.
The scarecrow is one of Lal Waterson’s strangest and darkest songs, which is saying something. Lal and Mike, I should say – Mike (who sang it on Bright Phoebus) added the third verse to Lal’s first two, turning a painfully morbid near-hallucination into a song.
Week 46 and we’re into the home stretch: the Red album which will bring 52fs to a close.
After the Violet album (starting up) and Indigo (getting going), we’ve had Blue (Child ballads), white (winter songs), Green (love songs – nobody dies), Yellow (war songs – everyone dies) and Orange (Kipling/Bellamy). The theme for this set of songs is simpler: these are songs I like too much to leave out.
We begin with two songs about ghostly – but curiously substantial – apparitions. The holland handkerchief is a strange and wonderful song with a heartbreaking story. It may be the only Child ballad with a punchline.
The lady gay is an American variant of The wife of Usher’s Well; this text comes from a performance by Peter Blegvad.
Both songs are sung with English concertina, recorded separately (and later). Ukulele next week, with any luck.