I’m on a mission this week: I’m hoping to disentangle this song from Come all you little streamers for once and for all. It hasn’t been easy – the temptation to go into “So come all you little streamers” at the end of this one was intense, but I resisted.
This song is clearly a relic of some earlier and more coherent song, but what that one was is a mystery. It shares one verse with CAYLS and nowadays is usually padded out with two more, but that seems to be a post-Revival practice; I’ve looked at several broadside versions and not seen any sign of the ship from the Indies, etc. But the broadsides weren’t much more use in terms of getting back to the original song, as they padded it out with verses from the Manchester Angel insead. At most there only seem to be three verses definitely associated with this song, plus one shared with CAYLS. So I’ve sung them, and tweaked the wording of the shared verse (following a broadside copy) to make it as different as possible.
The tune is the one used by John Kelly on For honour and promotion; it’s a belter. He doesn’t play drums, but then I don’t play harmonium.
A wonderful song which I know from Shirley Collins’s version. It’s another song where it’s not entirely clear whether it’s a woman that we’re singing about or a place (“down by some shady Nancy”?) The overall effect, as with Master Kilby, is of somebody so deeply in love that they can’t even think straight – everything reminds him of lovely Nancy, from the lark to the birds in the trees and even the trees themselves. Of course, it wasn’t written like that or with that effect in mind; as with Master Kilby, what we’re looking at is a song pieced together from half-forgotten memories, with frequent use of repetition in this case to fill the gaps. But at least it means we’ve got half (a quarter?) of the words of a song, and a terrific tune to go with it.
The original plan with this one was to sing it unaccompanied, recorded in the open air. I tried it once, with slightly disappointing results; although I heard quite a bit of bird song while I was singing, including the scolding of a pair of great tits who came to see what I was doing, nothing got picked up. Also, by the time I listened to it back I’d decided I would dub on a bit of accompaniment after all, and it turned out I’d spontaneously pitched it in the interesting key of Db. So I went back out in the garden and sang it in D. By this time there wasn’t a bird in sight, although in the first few seconds you can faintly hear the sound of my next door neighbour using an angle grinder. Hey ho.
Having learnt it from Shirley Collins I’ve automatically pitched this song high before, and decided to go to the other end of my range for this recording. As for the accompaniment, it just grew.
In the heat of the day when the sun shines so freely
I met Master Kilby so fine and so gay.
What’s that about? Well, probably not all that much. Cecil Sharp, who collected this the only time it was collected, suggested that it was a fragment of a music-hall song (it certainly ends rather abruptly) and that the titular character was originally Master Cupid. That would work.
Like most people, I got this from Nic Jones’s recording, which is almost completely unlike this one. (I’ve gone back to the original lyrics, though.) Both the tune – which may be a fragment – and the lyrics – which definitely are – give this song an unresolved, yearning quality. At the end of the song the lovely Nancy (it’s her again) is asking for more and so are we – it evokes the insatiable, besotted quality of first love (or lust) very effectively.
Accompaniment is mostly melodica, but I would like to draw attention to the vocal drone employed on this track. I think it works rather well.
I was baffled by this one the first time I heard it – we seem to go from classical mythology to a sailor parting with his true love in a matter of seconds – but it’s actually not that mysterious. In the eighteenth century there was a popular London pleasure garden called Cuper’s Gardens; its merits as a place where young men and maidens do meet their sweethearts (to quote another song entirely) gave it the nickname of “Cupid’s Garden”. So this song is describing nothing more or less than an attempted pickup followed by a successful ditto. (Interesting that the more compliant girl is named as “lovely Nancy”; she got around, if the songs are anything to go by.)
The penultimate verse is taken from a version of the song collected on the Isle of Wight; it makes more sense than the more usual version, taken from the version preserved by the Coppers. I like the wordplay of the last couple of lines, too.
I’ve been on an accompaniment binge this week, but inspiration failed for this one; straight through, unaccompanied, no messing.