13 May 2012 · 8:30 pm
Child 13. Also – and more commonly – known as ‘Edward’, although the only source in which it has that (distinctly un-Scottish) name is a thoroughly literary version, rewritten in fake medieval Scots (Your haukis bluid was nevir sae reid) by an unknown hand.
The tune and most of the words are after Nic Jones, although I went back to Child & made some modifications myself. I first learned the song from a recording by James Yorkston; he and Kieran Hebden (no less) slowed it down and gave it an eerie, sepulchral production, the better to get the point across that someone has been murdered!!1!! I don’t know; it seems to me now that this (i.e. Nic Jones’s) arrangement, with its jaunty tune and cheerily un-emotive delivery, frames the song just as well if not better. There’s a certain bluntness about a lot of traditional songs: they don’t ease you in or give you many signposts. You won’t necessarily know what you’re getting just from the tune or even from the first couple of lines – so you’d better be prepared for what you might get if you keep listening.
Accompaniment: D whistle, drums, concertina.
10 March 2012 · 11:24 pm
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.
4 February 2012 · 11:06 pm
This reading of the song is heavily indebted to the version on Nic Jones’s first album; the tune is his and the repeated zither pattern is a cut-down version of his guitar figure.
If I’ve added anything to it, it’s the sheer quiet of the zither, which I think lends a stillness to the song. The vocal was recorded late at night, close up to the mike, adding to the sense that you’re eavesdropping on a strange and mysterious story. And this is a mysterious song. (Apart from anything else, look at the time she made getting back from the northern shore!)
The text is Child 4E with a couple of modifications, mostly following Nic Jones. In this version she’s a queen‘s daughter; this isn’t an obscure variant, it just came out that way when I sang it and I decided to keep it. Folk process innit.
20 January 2012 · 8:48 pm
This is the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens.
…and as such, really needs no introduction. A Child ballad, and one of the most famous of them.
I learned this not from Nic Jones’s version (which it resembles) but James Yorkston’s, on the 2005 mini-album Hoopoe; when I first sang it in public I hadn’t yet got hold of any of Nic Jones’s recordings. (Nor when I wrote this; the last line was an educated guess.) Seems like a while ago now.
There are many other versions (here’s one); one of these days I’ll work up the one where they try to save the ship by tying it up with string. (If you don’t want to know the result, look away now.) For now, let me tell you about where the King was, what he was drinking and what happened next.
4 November 2011 · 4:15 pm
Into double figures with my favourite Napoleon song, and one of my favourite traditional songs on any subject.
I learned it from Nic Jones’s recording, although it took a while to work out what the time signature was supposed to be. I tend to be quite tight in terms of timekeeping, which isn’t always a good thing; the more free-floating approach Nic Jones took to this song showed me how effective it could be to mess with the rhythm a bit, as in the extra beat I throw in to the last line of the first verse (“Conversing with young Napoleon…”)
“Young Napoleon” was Napoleon II, although he was never really Napoleon II of anywhere; in theory he was the King of Rome, among other things, but I don’t think Rome knew much about it. He died of TB at the age of 21. You can see his portrait at the Bandcamp page for this song. There’s something childlike about the way the singer tells the terrible story of Napoleon’s Russian campaign, and promises to succeed where he failed “in spite of all the universe”. And then that awful last verse – there can’t be many situations more heartbreaking than a young man talking to his mother from his deathbed (she was only 40 when he died). I’m particularly fond of a line that was probably only put in for the sake of the rhyme:
Had I lived I might have been clever
I find this incredibly poignant – the idea that Napoleon II died thinking that he’d been a bit of an idiot, and if only he’d had a few more years he could have sorted himself out. Not everyone agrees; Tony Capstick changed the line to “I could have been brave”. It seems in character – I don’t get the feeling Capstick had much admiration for clever people. (His version is also very good, and uses a completely different tune. Maybe later in the year.)
4 November 2011 · 4:14 pm
Another one from Nic Jones’s second album, done pretty much as he did it but with more metrical regularity (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). I do like to be able to hear the tune, which in this case is the Princess Royal (also known as Nelson’s Praise, among other names).
If there was a broadside original to this, it’s been worn pretty smooth by the folk process: I don’t suppose the singer this was collected from had any idea who Bellew (Beaulieu?) and Wurmer were, or for that matter if it was Wurmer’s will that was subdued or Wurmer’s Hill where they were subdued. The history is correspondingly sketchy – the last verse alone ranges from Leipzig to Mount Mark (Montmartre?) without pausing for breath. It doesn’t matter – the images are amazing. The use of language reminds me of nothing so much as a reggae MC using as many polysyllables as possible and ending every line with “-ation”; words like “confiscated” and “capitulation” are thwacked down like a trump card. “We marched them forth in inveterate streams” – find me a better line than that.
I checked a couple of different versions when I learned this, and discovered that Nic Jones had (for whatever reason) used a slightly sanitised version, where Napoleon bids farewell to his “royal spouse”. An earlier text uses a different word, and it rhymes with “adore” in the next line. But that’s the only sign of the hostility you would have thought English writers would feel towards Napoleon and the French; in fact, the Emperor himself is presented as a heroic figure, whose lamentation we can sympathise with. Odd.
7 September 2011 · 7:25 am
The second or third time I heard this song, I completely lost track of time. When silence fell, Bateman having finally married his Sophia and vowed never again to range the ocean, I shook my head like a dog waking up; I’d heard every note, but it felt as if I’d been sitting there for hours. (It was Nic Jones’s version, which comes in at a little under seven minutes, but even so.) Something about the steady forward motion of the story coupled with the swinging repetitions and returns of the melody… I’m drifting off now just thinking about it. Using repetition is something folk music teaches you, I think. James Yorkston once said the two bands he’d most like to play in were Planxty and Can, and in many ways they’re not that far apart.
The song is my version of Nic Jones’s version of one of the many versions of Child 52 (most of which aren’t about anyone called Bateman), with the tune borrowed from Joseph Taylor’s version, some lyrics borrowed from Jim Moray’s version and the musical influence of Dave Bishop. (I think that’s everyone.) It’s unusual among the old ballads in having a happy ending; really, the narrative doesn’t have much drama in it at all, or not by modern standards – I guess at the time it was composed the idea of Sophia packing up all of her gay gay clothing and making it all the way from Turkey to Northumberland was a marvel in itself.
Anyway, here it is; see what you think. (I can’t promise to induce a trance state.)