Category Archives: O my name is

NS32: Old Molly Metcalfe

Jake Thackray was a writer, singer and guitarist. I’ll start that again – Jake Thackray was a remarkable writer, singer and guitarist; far more remarkable, I think, than most of his audience realised. Few people can write with the grace and wit he displayed, and hardly any of them are half the guitarist he was. Respect didn’t translate into financial security – does it ever? – and his career didn’t end well; he was declared bankrupt at the age of 61 and died two years later.

Most of his material was funny, but this isn’t; it’s a story about another woman herding of her ewes together, told from a very different perspective. (I got it from a recording by Tony Capstick, who knew a good song when he heard one.) The facility – and often the superficiality – of Jake Thackray’s work can lead him to be lumped together with the likes of Miles Kington and Richard Stilgoe, instead of more substantial writers like his hero Georges Brassens. Certainly there wasn’t any radicalism or anger in his songs – except when there was.

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Filed under Jake Thackray, not a folk song, O my name is, Tony Capstick

AS37: General Wolfe

This is a song I already knew (courtesy of Dave Bishop), but fell in love all over again on hearing Jo Freya’s Traditional Songs of England.

I don’t know the history of this song, beyond the obvious point that it post-dates the Battle of Quebec. There are some oddities in the lyrics – particularly the time-shift in the first verse – which made me want to find an earlier version, but I didn’t have much luck; I managed to trace it back as far as the Watersons (which isn’t very far) but couldn’t find any broadside copies.

The accompaniment is mostly concertina – with a bit of recorder – although the chords eluded me, so I went for drones instead.

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Filed under Dave Bishop, folk song, Jo Freya, O my name is, traditional

FS41: Earl Richard

Child 68. This one took me slightly by surprise. “Sir Richard” came first this week; having decided on that one, I looked around for a folk song with some sort of thematic or titular connection, and mostly drew a blank. I settled on “Bold Sir Rylas”, before deciding that I really wanted something slightly less tasteless. But what? I looked for “Sir _____” songs (and “Lord _____” songs and even “Lady _____” songs) in the usual places, but didn’t find anything.

Then I had the bright idea of looking for “Richard” songs, and what should come up but… Young Hunting. “Earl Richard” is, it turns out, one of the alternative titles of Child 68, or Young Hunting as it’s generally known. This is a song I’ve been very fond of ever since hearing it on Tony Rose’s eponymous album. I’ve never sung it live, and only ever heard it sung out once (courtesy of the redoubtable Alan Grace); the length makes it a bit daunting. So I was glad to have a chance of doing it here. It’s one of those “boy meets girl, everybody dies” plots, but with some really bizarre elements; for birds to talk isn’t unknown in traditional songs, but it’s rather unusual for them to convey essential plot information. The plot’s thoroughly pervaded with supernatural elements – witness the methods used to discover the body and then to identify the murderer.

Textually this is, basically, the version of Young Hunting recorded by Tony Rose, who credited it to Pete Nalder. When I looked at Child I discovered that Nalder (of whom I know nothing) had done an extraordinary job on the song – there are nine variants of Child 68, all covering slightly different portions of the story and emphasising different aspects of it, and Nalder’s Young Hunting takes something from almost all of them. (And, in my defence, four of the nine call the main character “Earl Richard”, as against only two “Young Hunting”s.)

I tweaked the text a bit more, with Child open in front of me (virtually). The main change I made was to drop the nine-month delay in the story, which only features in version E. This meant losing the “heavy smell” which prompted the lady to dispose of the body, but it turns out that that wasn’t in Child at all – in 68E “word began to spread”, rather less bathetically. Nalder also has “ladies” (in general) making the suggestion that the body’s in the river, rather than the (guilty) “lady” as in the original. In some versions she points the search party towards the river after swearing that she’s innocent by the sun and the moon; I liked that, so it went back in. Another detail that got a bit lost in Nalder’s version was the fact that the young man was (or had been) the lady’s lover; again, I put it back in. Here’s a blog post tracing where my text came from, verse by verse.

Anyway, by the time I’d finished I’d cut one verse from Nalder’s version and added three, taking the song from 31 verses to 33. (You weren’t going anywhere, were you?) Despite this added length, my version is actually a full minute shorter than Tony Rose’s, representing an increase in the average verse delivery rate from 4.3 per minute to 5.4. You don’t get efficiency like that everywhere.

Apart from a bit of recorder, the accompaniment is some drones that I had lying around; there’s melodica and flute, and there may be a bit of the old Bontempi reed organ in there too. I was thinking of adding some concertina, but in the end the sound palette seemed quite full enough as it was.

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Filed under Child ballad, folk song, O my name is, Pete Nalder, Tony Rose

AS35: Sweet Jenny of the moor

This is another “broken token” ballad. Stylistically it’s very much a written piece of work (“one morn for recreation”, indeed); the repeated rhymes on “moor” seem particularly literary. (Where was this ‘moor’, anyway? Jenny of the Beach would have been more accurate; rhymes might have been a problem, though.) The briskness with which the writer gets through the key points of the plot is also striking – the audience could obviously be assumed to know what was going on.

Accompanied on English concertina, with a quick burst of C whistle towards the end. I learned it from Tony Rose’s version, which is well worth tracking down – he could really play that box.

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Filed under folk song, O my name is, Tony Rose, traditional

FS35: William Taylor

This is a revenge ballad, and quite a satisfying one; you can’t help feeling William Taylor gets what’s coming to him, although it is a bit rough on the new girlfriend. The “woman cross-dressing to go on board ship” trope sits rather oddly in this song; apart from anything else, the captain doesn’t turn a hair when our heroine asks after her “true love”, so either he’s quite extraordinarily broad-minded for the period or she’s changed back into women‘s apparel by this point. We also have to presume that the ship hasn’t actually left port when all this is happening – and what is William doing out walking with his “lady gay” at the crack of dawn anyway? (Coming home from a club?) Perhaps it doesn’t bear too much analysis.

My source for this was John Kelly; this is the fourth 52fs song which also appears on John’s album For honour and promotion, and may well not be the last. I considered doing the (more usual?) brisker version of the tune, but decided to try taking it at John’s pace. Instrumentation: bongoes, double-tracked zither.

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Filed under folk song, John Kelly, O my name is, traditional

FS26: Mary Hamilton

The lead song for this week is Mary Hamilton, also known (in fragmentary form) as The Four Maries.

I only came across this song relatively recently, on John Kelly’s excellent second album For Honour and Promotion, but I was immediately taken with it. Like a number of my favourite folksongs, it ends with several verses of defiant gallows rhetoric, but in this case it’s wrapped up with an hauntingly childlike little rhyme:

Yest’reen the Queen had four Maries
Tonight she’ll have but three.
There was Mary Seaton and Mary Beaton,
And Mary Carmichael and me.

The real Mary Hamilton evades identification, along with the real Patrick Spens and the real Hughie the Graeme. Mary Queen of Scots did in fact have four maids named Marie, two of whom were Marie Seaton and Marie Beaton; the names obviously lodged in people’s minds. (The other two were Marie Fleming and Marie Livingston.)

Singing this unaccompanied, I had trouble getting John’s tune to work; I ended up using the tune that’s generally used for Willie o’ Winsbury (see how all this fits together?), only in 4/4 rather than 6/8. Properly speaking, this is the tune to False Foodrage rather than Willie o’ Winsbury; one of these days I’ll dig out the original tune to Wo’W and set False Foodrage to it.

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Filed under Child ballad, folk song, John Kelly, O my name is, traditional

AS16: John from the Isle of Man

This is a variant of Willie o’ Winsbury, and one which departs from the usual storyline further than most. In this one the daughter isn’t pregnant and the father objects to “young John” on the general principle of protecting his daughter from excessive male attention. (There’s also the unusual detail of the boyfriend being called John and coming from the Isle of Man.) When they meet, of course, the King is so impressed by young John’s good looks that he drops his objections.

Both the tune and the phrasing are from a recording made by Robert Cinnamond (1884-1968), who had a large repertoire of songs learned from his father and grandmother. His delivery of this song – particularly the heavily dotted 4/4 rhythm and the emphatic swoops on unstressed syllables – was too distinctive not to imitate; I expect it’ll seep into the way I sing other songs.

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Filed under Child ballad, folk song, O my name is, traditional