For the first of the two ‘May’ posts, here’s a re-recording and a remix. Both date back to the earliest days of 52fs, when I was mostly singing unaccompanied and in a cardboard box (or that’s how it often sounded).
The London Waterman is that rarity, a bona fide urban folk song. It can be traced back to a stage ballad – as a lot of folk songs can – but the smoothings, erasures and reworkings of the folk process had turned it into something quite different by the time it was collected. I learned it from Peter Bellamy’s rendition and tried not to sound too much as if I was trying not to sound like him. I thought (and still think) that it goes well with the Morris tune “Constant Billy”, so I stuck that on the end. The end result was a bit boxy and quiet, so I’ve remixed it for this release.
Lemany, for me, is a song that inspires nothing but awe. (I think it’s that extraordinary melody.) When I originally recorded it for 52fs I took fright at the slow, stately pace which it seemed to be asking for, and morphed it into 3/4 to make it move along a bit more. I regretted that decision almost immediately; I’ve been looking forward to putting it right. This re-recording is a first take, with one small pause edited out. I was planning to sing the song through twice or three times and pick the best version, but when I finished this I realised there was only one syllable in there that I’d want to improve – so here it is. I don’t know how good it is in absolute terms, but it’s as good as I can get it.
Both The London Waterman and Lemany are from 52 Folk Songs – Violet; these versions are free to download.
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.
Announcing 52fs – the Violet Album.
So far on 52 Folk Songs I’ve recorded and uploaded 14 songs and two tunes, mostly but not exclusively traditional:
1 Lord Bateman (FS01)
2 The Death of Bill Brown (FS02)
3 The Unfortunate Lass (FS03)
4 The Cruel Mother (FS04)
5 Over the hills and far away
6 There are bad times just around the corner
7 My boy Jack
8 Us poor fellows
9 Down where the drunkards roll
10 Lemany (FS05)
11 Child among the weeds
13 The London Waterman (FS06) + Constant Billy
14 Spencer the Rover + Three Rusty Swords / The Dusty Miller
All of these tracks, together with a PDF file containing full lyrics plus assorted pictures, comments, musings and afterthoughts, can now be downloaded in the form of 52 Folk Songs – Violet.
52 Folk Songs – Violet is the first in a series of eight virtual ‘albums’ that will be appearing over the year. It’s yours for a token payment of 52p (you see what I did there).
Alternatively you can download the tracks individually and pay nothing at all, or just listen online.
Share and enjoy!
FS06 is the London Waterman; it’s joined by another folk song, Spencer the Rover. I used sometimes to apologise for singing songs in the person of a heartbroken young maiden, saying that there weren’t many traditional songs about happily married middle-aged men. Well, there aren’t many, but there are some – and here are two of them. This week I’ve also added on a couple of whistle tunes which I thought went together well with the songs.
FS05 is Lemany: my take on a strange, beautiful song that was preserved by the Coppers.
Also this week: Lal Waterson’s amazing song Child Among the Weeds, which I’ve only recently been able to get through without choking up. Plus Scritti Politti’s Hegemony. What’s the connection? Read on!
Nearly a year ago the redoubtable Sedayne announced the Landfill project, a 40th anniversary collective re-recording of Martin Carthy’s Landfall. For a variety of reasons the project never really took off, but I thought & still think it was a fine idea. This week’s songs are both Landfall songs; if the project does ever happen, I’d be very happy for them to be Landfill songs.
FS04 is The Cruel Mother: one of many variants of a very old song, listed by Francis Child as ballad 20. Over the hills is probably a bit younger, but it does date back – in its original, more cheerful form – to the reign of Queen Anne; it’s 300 years old, in other words. It still sounds relevant.
FS03 is The unfortunate lass: one of many variants of a song about premature death: messy, painful, unheroic premature death. Also this week: Richard Thompson’s Down where the drunkards roll. Not a drinking song.
I’m uploading these songs on 9th of September; what would have been Peter Bellamy’s 67th birthday. I’m marking the day by publishing three songs today, all with a Bellamy connection.
FS02 is The death of Bill Brown, a topical eighteenth-century song about the shootings of a poacher and of the gamekeeper who shot him. Also: Us poor fellows and My boy Jack, respectively a Bellamy original (from the Transports) and one of his settings of Kipling.
Happy birthday, Peter.
FS01 is Lord Bateman, which should need no introduction. I only know a few of the big narrative ballads, but this is my favourite, despite (or because of) its relatively uneventful story.
Also: There are bad times just around the corner, by Noël Coward, because I felt like it.