The eighteenth day of June (26F 10-12)

Now the eighteenth day of June it has ended the battle… True enough; however, the last battle in the Battle of Waterloo took place the next morning, the 19th of June (Napoleon wasn’t involved). So today is in fact the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, sort of.

And what better time to revisit some songs about Napoleon? Here (for week 12) is the Grand Conversation on Napoleon, closely followed by the (very similar) tune The Cuckoo’s Nest:

And here’s the Bonny Bunch of Roses. For a long time this was my ‘calling card’ song, the one I’d always do the first time I was in front of a new audience. (These days it’s more likely to be The Trees They Do Grow High.) I’m still very fond of this one, though.

At the time I was recording these, I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to revisit the recordings; although these were both assembled from three different tracks, I only kept a final mixed-down WAV file. Although I thought the vocal (and flute) performances were strong enough to keep, I would have liked to do something about the Bontempi drone – which sounded pretty good when it was the only drone I was capable of producing, but sounds rather whiny now. I’ve done what I could in terms of equalisation, but I’m afraid you can still hear it!

I have re-recorded this, however: Boney’s Lamentation, a small masterpiece of folk history and mondegreenery (We marched them forth in inveterate streams…)

Saving the best till, well, fourth… I’ve also re-recorded this:

A song you could spend years with. I must have sung it a hundred times, and it’s still different every time.

Going back a fortnight, Plains of Waterloo and the Bonny Bunch of Roses are unusual among folk songs in mentioning the month of June. The previous month is far more widely referenced. It’s May she comes and May she goes (poor girl)….

Another pre-concertina recording, with Tony Rose’s arrangement shadowed on melodica and flute. I actually think it works rather well. Remixed – or at least re-equalised – for this outing.

Where you’ve got the Bonny Hind, you’ve got to have Sheath and Knife. This is another new recording, using a vocal drone that I recorded ages ago (I think it was for Master Kilby). The thing with Sheath and Knife is to maintain a contrast between the verse and the blankly repeating refrain, and to keep the song sounding at once sweetly pretty and grimly ominous (“The broom blooms bonny”… how nice). And, of course, to avoid singing “the bloom brooms bonny” or “the boom bloons brommy”.

And who else roved out one May morning, when may was all in bloom? George Collins, come on down:

Another re-recording from scratch, and one I’m rather pleased with. I got the tune from Shirley & Dolly Collins (no relations) and worked out the accompaniment on paper; both the concertina chords and the recorder parts are actually scored.

Moving back to fortnight 10, we go back to the very last day of May, and a re-recording of the first song I recorded with concertina: The Valiant Sailor. This time round I’m playing it a bit more briskly, and (more importantly) I’m actually playing the accompaniment while I sing:

And, finally for this round-up, another re-recording. Searching for Lambs: one of the great English folk songs. Compared to the original recording, I’ve lost the zither and the melodica drone – and the slightly unearthly atmosphere they created – but gained concertina chords and recorder; I think it’s a pretty good swap.

Searching for Lambs (the embedded Bandcamp player is refusing to link to this one for some reason)

The Valiant Sailor is from the 52 Folk Songs – Yellow album.
Searching for Lambs is from 52 Folk Songs – Green.
The Bonny Hind, Sheath and Knife and George Collins are from 52 Folk Songs – Blue.
The Bonny Bunch of Roses, The Grand Conversation on Napoleon, Boney’s Lamentation and Plains of Waterloo are from 52 Folk Songs – Indigo.

All new recordings and remixes are free to download, should you so wish.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Blue, folk song, Green, Indigo, the deeds of great Napoleon, traditional, Yellow

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 9

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.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Peter Bellamy, Violet

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 8

Next fortnight we’ll be into May, otherwise known as the month when stuff happens in folk songs, and I’ll have some new/reinterpreted/re-recorded stuff for you. And since I’ve let fortnight #8 drag on for the best part of three weeks, there won’t be long to wait.

For now, here are two songs I sang out recently, at the latest of Alice Bester’s “Folk Threads” events. On these recordings I’m accompanied by (a) assorted drones and (b) several other versions of me. On the night I was accompanied by (a) nothing and (b) a roomful of folkies giving it rice (the redoubtable Rapunzel and Sedayne not least); I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine that.

The first song is Earl Richard – Child 68, a.k.a. Young Hunting – and what a fine song this is. (There’s more information about my version and where I got it from here.) I had fun with this when I recorded it last summer, although listening to it back now the pacing sounds fairly deliberate – I tend to go at it a bit more aggressively when I sing it out. The drones – and the recorder that pops up a couple of times – work well, though.

Earl Richard is from 52 Folk Songs – Orange.

Phew. Shall we bring it down a bit?

The Two Sisters – Child 10 – is a song that’s been found in many different forms, some of them rather severely mangled or truncated. The full story – one sister’s jealous murder of the other, the body floating downstream, the fiddle being made from the body by an unknowing (if rather ghoulish) third party, the fiddle revealing the murder – doesn’t feature in all versions, and this version is no exception; the final verse is quite a nice jolt to the audience’s expectations.

This was recorded fairly early on in the 52 Folk Songs year – for the difficult second album – when I’d started wanting to jazz things up a bit but hadn’t yet got the hang of harmonising. So what you get here is me in octaves and unisons. Also, I hadn’t yet realised that my vocals come out best if I sing slap up against the microphone, in a Chet Baker-ish sort of way, so I was still getting an awful lot of boxy ‘room tone’ on recordings; plus I was still discarding my working files as I went along, out of some vague feeling that I shouldn’t waste disk space – which isn’t really a consideration when you’re working on a 250 GB hard drive, but old habits die hard. So I haven’t been able to tweak this recording as much as I would have liked. I’ve equalised the finished version, though, making it a bit less boxy and giving it a bit more oomph generally.

Two Sisters is from 52 Folk Songs – Indigo; the remixed version is free to download.

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Filed under Child ballad, Indigo, Orange

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 7

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.

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Filed under Red, Violet

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 6

A couple of sad songs this week, both based on real events.

When I recorded The poor murdered woman I’d worked out a concertina accompaniment, but I wasn’t up to playing it in real time. What you got on the original recording was a concertina backing with a vocal fitted on top of it. I’ve re-recorded it with the concertina played live; I think it sounds a lot better. (All I need to do now is work out where to position the microphone.)

The poor murdered woman is from 52 Folk Songs – Red; this new version is a free download.

The second song of this fortnight is an old recording of one of my favourite songs: The trees they do grow high. I wondered about re-recording this, but I don’t think I’ve ever sung it much better than I did last year.

The trees they do grow high is from 52 Folk Songs – Orange.

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Filed under Orange, Red

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 5

I heard some bad news this week; Bob van Gaalen – Northumberland piper extraordinaire, stalwart of the Beech sessions and a really nice man – has died after a heart attack. My thoughts are with Sue and his family.

It was from Bob that I first heard what’s now one of my favourite tunes, Sir John Fenwick’s. He used to make it sound beautifully ornate and impossibly fluid at the same time. It’s not really a very difficult tune, but I felt enormously proud when I first learned to play it – and again when I got the hang of it on the concertina.

When I came to record “I live not where I love” – inspired by Dave Bishop’s rendition of it at the Beech – it occurred to me that it might go quite well with Sir John Fenwick’s. Here’s what I came up with:

For the second song of this fortnight, here’s something completely different: an unaccompanied song which I learned from Bob’s wife Sue (which also gave me a sense of achievement). I love this song and hope you like it, but you really ought to hear Sue’s version.

When a man’s in love and I live not where I love are from 52 Folk Songs – Green.

And here’s another song/tune pairing, “Poor old horse” with “The man in the moon”.

Poor old horse is from 52 Folk Songs – white.

(All old recordings this time round; I’ll see about some re-recordings for next time.)

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Filed under Dave Bishop, Green, Sue van Gaalen, white

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 4

Two unaccompanied numbers for the fourth fortnight of the year.

When I heard The Lowlands of Holland for the first time… I can’t have been listening very closely. But when I heard it for the second time, I was spellbound; I played it three or four times in a row (and I was listening to an LP, so that took dedication – not to mention a fair degree of dexterity) and started learning it on the spot.

I recorded it for the Yellow album. I liked the way it came out; the delivery is plain and unassertive without being meek or mumbly. That’s what I think, anyway – see what you make of it.

The Lowlands of Holland is from the 52 Folk Songs – Yellow album.

Banks of Yarrow, a.k.a. The Banks of Green Willow, is a song I’ve always found fascinating and frustrating in equal measure – frustrating because the story is so bafflingly fragmented and because the usual tune is so inappropriately jolly. I decided to learn it myself when I came across Debra Cowan‘s recording, which is terrific – she’d used a fuller text than usual (pieced together from different variants) and set it to an appropriately downbeat tune. This is my main source here, although I’ve gone back to the texts and fleshed the song out a bit more.

I’ve re-recorded the song for this project. Originally I recorded it for the final, Red album; in fact this was the 52nd of my 52 weekly folk songs. Listening to it back I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way I’d sung it; I hadn’t let myself trust the pace of the melody (in other words, I’d speeded it up as I went on). This is a fine tune, which can stand a bit of tugging about, but it doesn’t want to be brisk. The re-recording takes it a bit steadier; I think it works better. (As always, the price to download of the re-recorded version has been adjusted down to zero.)

Banks of Yarrow is from the 52 Folk Songs: Red album.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Red, Yellow