This song is taken straight from June Tabor’s rendition on Airs and graces, which she learned from the singing of Belle Stewart.
Well, I say it’s straight from June Tabor. I learned the tune and the words from her version, but my version’s a lot plainer; I can’t match her decoration for decoration. Also, I’ve gone back to Belle Stewart’s words in a couple of places where I thought they were better.
Lovely song, anyway. It does give a slightly romanticised picture of the life of the shepherdess, but there’s a definite class dynamic in there.
This version is based quite closely on June Tabor’s version (retitled “Waly Waly”) on the album Airs and Graces. She did quite a lot of work on Child’s original, piecing together a version that works well from four or five of Child’s variants. I’ve made a couple more changes, pulling in two “Farewell” verses and dropping one of the floating “heartbreak and regret” verses, but by and large this is June Tabor’s Jamie Douglas.
I’m eternally wary of claimed factual origins for ballads, but it does appear that there was a historical Jamie Douglas who did send his wife back to her father as damaged goods. Beyond that, who knows?
Not a folk song, but oh my.
This is the song that Peter Bellamy gave June Tabor – at the time, an up-and-coming singer with one solo album to her name – for The Transports. I don’t know, but I like to think that (a) he wrote it for her and (b) he wrote it for her after hearing her take on Jamie Douglas; the melody seems designed to showcase the kind of effortless vocal artistry that she displayed on that song. (Mine is strictly effortful.)
Peter Bellamy was, among other things, an extraordinarily accomplished writer in traditional styles; if, instead of giving this song to June Tabor, he’d faked up a nineteenth-century broadside and sneaked it into the Bodleian, I’m not sure it would have been discovered to this day. Perhaps the only element that’s out of keeping with the style is the unrelieved bleakness of the song, culminating in the numb despair of the last verse – it’s not easy listening, particularly for anyone who’s lost a loved one. Bellamy himself knew that feeling only too well.
An Irish song from the singing of Sarah Makem.
Learning this, I went to the length of notating the rolls, trills, swoops and other decorations applied to this song by different singers: Sarah Makem, of course, but also June Tabor and Jon Boden. On close listening, it turned out that Jon Boden hardly did anything to it, and Sarah Makem herself was quite restrained. What was even more interesting was that the words (and syllables) where Sarah Makem ornamented the tune were, as often as not, words that June Tabor left alone. I began by trying to copy June Tabor’s reading of the song, then tried to follow Sarah Makem, and finally gave up and did something that isn’t quite like either of them.
The other thing I was planning to emulate was Jon Boden’s strikingly plain & sparing concertina accompaniment. As it turned out, working out the chords wasn’t so simple (I suspect the playing isn’t as plain as it sounds), and I ended up with just voice and drone. Maybe another time.
As folk songs go, this is the real thing; a glorious song, up there with Lemady and Searching for lambs.
Child 94. One of the more laconic of the big ballads, and beautifully constructed. In the very first verse
The queen looked over the castle wall and beheld both dale and down
And then she saw Young Waters come riding into town
and from that moment everybody’s doomed, more or less. I particularly like the way that Young Waters’s marital status – a fairly crucial variable, in the circumstances – is withheld almost until the last line of the last verse: poor old Lady Waters only comes in when she’s being haled off to the heading hill.
This version is, of course, heavily indebted to June Tabor’s version on her first album, complete with the eldritch drone of the Rocksichord. I have no Rocksichord (does anyone?) but I managed quite a decent chordal accompaniment on the melodica (which was played straight through, without any looping). Plus drumming (a pair of bongoes bought in my teens and never played in public), and recorder – when you play the track, do hang on for the recorder. First percussion in 52fs; also the first use of harmony. There were six tracks in all, and it took bloody ages to fit them all together; I think it was worth it, though.
One of the many Napoleonic folksongs which are namechecked in the previous song!
Probably needs no introduction; anyone who’s heard June Tabor’s rendition on Airs and Graces will (a) love the song and (b) be able to tell where I got it from. Other interpretations are available (Shirley and Dolly Collins’s is quite something) – but I think June T. put a stamp on the song that’s pretty much indelible. This is certainly a post-Tabor interpretation, perhaps with the time signature laid down a bit more firmly.
Practising this, I came to the firm conclusion that Willie Smith’s handling of the reunion leaves a lot to be desired. If this weren’t such a great song it would be crying out for a joke ending –
And when she saw the token she fell into my arms, crying
“You utter bastard! What do you think you’re playing at? I thought you were dead!”
Maybe not. I do think the narrator’s a bit of a creep, though; I don’t know if this comes across!