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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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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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

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 3 (slightly delayed)

Sorry this is late – it’s day 43 of the year today, so the first day of fortnight four. In my defence I was struck down by a cold last week & I’m still waiting for it to get its nasty phlegmy paws off my voice.

So no new recordings this time round. I’ve taken the opportunity to pick out two of my favourite recordings from the 52, one unaccompanied and one not.

Geordie was a song I heard for the first time in a singaround, and I only started going to singarounds a couple of years ago. This one is based on Peter Bellamy’s version, which is of a variant called “Georgie”. The occupational hazard with learning songs from Bellamy’s recordings is that you assimilate everything about his inimitable delivery and sound like a poor man’s Bellamy forever after. I haven’t always managed to avoid doing this; I think I did all right here, though.

Geordie is from the 52 Folk Songs – Red album.

Blackwaterside is a song I haven’t known for very much longer than Geordie, although it feels as if I’d known it forever. Here it is in quite an elaborate arrangement, indebted to Jon Hopkins and recorded using a really inordinate amount of virtual scissors and tape. Features zither and part-improvised whistle.

Blackwaterside is from the 52 Folk Songs – Green album.

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Green, Red

Twenty-Six Fortnights – 2

Three tracks this fortnight, two of which are new recordings.

In the month of January was collected from the singing of Sarah Makem. My original recording of this one baulked at the poly-modal weirdness of the tune and backed it with a simple drone. This time round I’ve fitted concertina chords to it, although the singing was recorded separately.

In the month of January is from 52 Folk Songs – white

The second song this week is True Thomas, a Child ballad which I recorded last February. Not all my experiments with drones came off, but this one I still think works rather well – the contrast between the drone and the drumming is particularly strong.

True Thomas is from 52 Folk Songs – Blue

Lastly, this week I’ve re-recorded another song. The Lady Gay wasn’t one of the core 52 folk songs, but another of the traditional songs I put up along the way. This one does have live concertina accompaniment of a rather loud and insistent kind, plus some overdubbed recorder.

The Lady Gay is from 52 Folk Songs – Red

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Filed under 26 Fortnights, Blue, Red, white

Twenty-Six Fortnights

Throughout 2013 I’m going to be revisiting the 52 folk songs I uploaded in the twelve months to September 2012, one a week. Or rather, two a fortnight.

Each fortnight of the year, I’ll put up a post linking to two of the fifty-two songs. There will be an emphasis on marking significant dates and the passage of the seasons; I’ll aim to have songs about Waterloo appear in June, for example.

Some tracks will be the ones I originally recorded, others will be re-recorded for the occasion. All tracks on 52fs have now been given individual prices, but re-recorded tracks will be available for download free of charge, out of fairness to those people who have already paid for an album download.

Here are the first two tracks, for the first fortnight of the year.

About the Yule when the wind blows cool, Young Waters met his fate; “keep your head down” would seem to be the moral. The inexorable petty brutality of this story is enduringly shocking; it’s like something out of the Sopranos. But I’m picking this recording this week because it was a bit of a leap forward for me: my first use of recorder and drums, my first harmonies, my first ‘band’ arrangement. I could probably do a better job now, but this isn’t so shabby.

Re-recording of the fortnight is Lord Bateman. The 4:45 version of this was the song with which I launched 52 Folk Songs, and has had by far the most plays (although not downloads) of any of my songs. Fifteen and a half months later, stand by for… the 8:337:47 version. The original recording was based almost entirely on version L of Child’s text. For this one I consulted the other versions (there are fourteen in all) and imported some verses that make for more vivid scenes or make the story work better. My original version of the song had 18 verses; this one has 35. Go on, give it a go, it’ll fly by.

Update I’ve re-recorded it since first putting up the revised version; I’ve got the rhythm off better now, particularly between verses, with the result that I’ve shaved 46 seconds off the total running time. I’ve also pitched it up a bit, which I think also works better.

Young Waters is taken from the 52 Folk Songs: Indigo album.

Lord Bateman is taken from the 52 Folk Songs: Violet album.

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Fifty-Two Folk Songs

Here they are, in order of appearance: folk songs 1-52.

From the Violet album:
Lord Bateman Child 53L (mostly), sung unaccompanied; still my biggest hit in terms of plays.
The death of Bill Brown Unaccompanied, after Peter Bellamy
The unfortunate lass Unaccompanied, after Jon Boden; one of my favourite songs
The cruel mother Unaccompanied
Lemany Unaccompanied and in 3/4 (possibly a mistake); another of my favourites
The London waterman Unaccompanied, after Bellamy; followed by a whistle tune which I thought went well with it.

From the Indigo album:
Derwentwater’s Farewell With reed organ drone and D whistle
Hughie the Graeme Unaccompanied, after Tony Capstick
Grand conversation on Napoleon With reed organ drone and flute; dedicated to showing that this is the same tune as The Bedmaking
The bonny bunch of roses Another favourite song, with D whistle and reed organ (drone)
The death of Nelson Unaccompanied, after Bellamy
Two sisters A multiple-vocal overdub, using the short-ish version of the song sung by Jim Moray
Young Waters First use of melodica, bongoes and recorder, and my first ‘band’ arrangement. I was very pleased with this one at the time, and a year later I think it’s stood up OK.

From the white album:
A maid that is matchless With reed organ, melodica and flute, and simultaneous translation from the original Middle English.
The holly and the ivy A first venture into three-part harmony.
Shepherds arise More vocal harmonies, after the Coppers.
In Dessexshire as it befell Three-part harmonies, melodica drone, three-part melodica harmonies and more vocal tracks than is entirely comfortable.
The King Vocal harmonies: model’s own.
In the month of January Melodica drone and no harmonies. Fairly heavily ornamented by my standards, although it’s dialled down a bit from the originals (Sarah Makem and June Tabor)

From the Blue album:
Sir Patrick Spens After Nic Jones, unaccompanied.
True Thomas Drums, melodica and stuff. A nice, weird, insistent arrangement of one of the classics.
The outlandish knight A quiet, late-night Outlandish Knight, with zither.
Little Musgrave Straight through, no messing, no accompaniment.
The bonny hind At the time of recording I couldn’t hack Tony Rose’s concertina accompaniment, so I did my best with flute and melodica. I think it works.
George Collins A weird, supernatural song, with melodica and a rather squeaky G whistle.
Mary Hamilton A very sad song, unaccompanied (and with a tune more often used for Willie O Winsbury).

From the Green album:
Searching for lambs Another of my very favourite songs. Whistle, melodica, zither.
The streams of lovely Nancy Not to be confused with “Come all you little streamers”. Vocal and drums.
When a man’s in love A classic from Sam Henry’s collecting.
I live not where I love Another favourite, here spliced with “Sir John Fenwick’s” and some odd audio effects.
Once I had a sweetheart A ‘band’ arrangement with melodica, zither and drums.
Blackwaterside My first and so far only attempt to play a finger-picked chordal accompaniment on zither. Also features recorder.

From the Yellow album:
The valiant sailor Concertina, after John Kelly but slowed down.
The lofty tall ship With melodica, drums and concertina drone.
William Taylor Just drums and zither. I worked from a frustratingly incomplete text – I’d use a fuller version if I was doing it now.
Two pretty boys Unaccompanied, after Bellamy.
The lowlands of Holland Unaccompanied, after Martin Carthy.
I would that the wars were all done Recorder and concertina.
The dark-eyed sailor Concertina, C whistle, zither and drums.

From the Orange album:
Queen Jane Just flute and recorder; after Martin Graebe.
Earl Richard Mostly but not exclusively unaccompanied. After Tony Rose and Alan Grace, but with some modifications.
Rounding the Horn Another ‘band’ arrangement (recorder, concertina and drums), after Jo Freya.
Come down you bunch of roses Vocals and improvised percussion; after Gibb Schreffler.
The trees they do grow high Another of my very favourite songs, sung here in the open air (and with some recorder).
Dogger Bank A vigorous burst of unaccompanied nonsense, after Bellamy.

From the Red album:
The holland handkerchief Another Desert Island Folk Song, with concertina.
The poor murdered woman With concertina and zither.
Brigg Fair With recorder, concertina and mixed emotions.
Queen among the heather Unaccompanied, after June Tabor.
Grey goose and gander Harmonised nonsense.
Geordie Unaccompanied, and my most recent new acquisition.
Banks of Yarrow Unaccompanied, heavily modified, after Debra Cowan.

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