Saturday, May 24, 2008

Martin Carthy

"Sweet Wivelsfield" 1974

Shepherd O Shepherd
Also from Dorset is Shepherd O Shepherd, collected by Henry Hammond of Dorchester. Although the song crops up in Scotland many times, this is the only English version. The tune is a modal version of the morris jig Greensleeves. You can find this in the ever-popular Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Billy Boy
The words of Billy Boy come from James Reeves' The Everlasting Circle and the tune from the magnificent Mrs Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset whose predilection for tunes in the Dorian mode, whilst being a delight to people like me, is probably a source of some annoyance to those academics who like to say the English, as a race, like this or that kind of a tune (and make charts to prove it). She was one of Sharp's more extraordinary 'finds' in his hunt for traditional song, music and dance, being by all accounts an incredibly gifted and inventive singer (and person). From her also, comes Mary Neal of which she had three verses, so I took the liberty of filling it out from other printed sources.

Three Jolly Sneaksmen
There seem to be quite a number of songs (like Sam Hall) which treat very dramatic or tragic subjects in a quite lighthearted way, and usually by doing so they manage to be doubly effective. Three Jolly Sneaksmen, about three unnamed highwaymen, comes from Frank Purslow's excellent book The Wanton Seed. Rhino means money if you don't already know.

Trimdon Grange
On 16 February 1882 there was an explosion of either firedamp or coaldust at the Trimdon Grange colliery in South County Durham (which is still remembered to this day) in which seventy-four were killed. The usual fund-raising procedures - all unofficial of course - went into action, and one of them was the writing and selling on the streets of this song. The tune is the Victorian parlour ballad Go and Leave Me If You Wish It to which Tommy Armstrong wrote these words. The tune was also used by Evangelists as a hymn tune both here and in America where it is also known in the guise of Columbus Stockade. I thank Bob Davenport for teaching me the song.

All in a Row
See track notes for All in a Row

Skewbald
In 1847 a New England racehorse owner came to Ireland with his Skewbald horse to face the might of Irish distance racers, and the result astounded racegoers there because the American horse won. American horses were nicknamed circus horses or quarter horses meaning that they were good for a quarter of a mile but no more, and Skewbald horses were just not worth bothering about. The idea of a combination of the two incarnate left Irish sages helpless with laughter, but the prospect of a Gold cup and two hundred guineas to the winner helped them contain their mirth and sent them scurrying for their savings. To their cost.

Mary Neal
The words of Billy Boy come from James Reeves The Everlasting Circle and the tune from the magnificent Mrs Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset whose predilection for tunes in the Dorian mode, whilst being a delight to people like me, is probably a source of some annoyance to those academics who like to say the English, as a race, like this or that kind of a tune (and make charts to prove it). She was one of Sharp's more extraordinary 'finds' in his hunt for traditional song, music and dance, being by all accounts an incredibly gifted and inventive singer (and person). From her also, comes Mary Neal of which she had three verses, so I took the liberty of filling it out from other printed sources.

King Henry
King Henry is a heavily anglicised Scottish way of telling the Beauty and the Beast story, the only difference being that the sexes are reversed. It is a song that I very much wanted to do for a very long time and tried several tunes, none of which seemed to work satisfactorily The American tune Bonaparte's Retreat seemed in the end to carry the song best so with respectful nods towards Mike Seeger, Doc Watson and many others, I swiped it.

John Barleycorn
Both John Barleycorn and All of a Row are, in their separate and different ways, songs about the cycle of seasons. One has the idea that the corn spirit is indestructible no matter what, and alive in all things remotely touched by it, and the other the idea that the cycle of planting and reaping is of necessity never ending. In a way one idea cannot survive without the other.

The Cottage in the Wood
I have always thought of The Cottage in the Wood as being a fragment which, if taken one way was The Laird of the Windy Wa (Cold Haily Windy Night [which is on Martin Carthy's Landfall]) but if looked at another way is a totally different kettle of fish. What I did was to take it and combine it with another fragment collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from one Billy Waggs called The Lady Looked Out or The Proud Pedlar and with the song part of a cante-fable collected from Kate Thompson by Kidson called One Moonlight Night (which incidentally was versified by Kidson's wife and called he Robber Groom). I added a couple of verses, and this is the result.

5 Comments:

Blogger GeoX said...

Hey, I have this! It's fairly middle-of-the-pack as Carthy albums go. I can't decide if his version of "King Henry" is really as unspeakably terrible as I think it is, or if it's just that the Span version is so definitive that anything else sounds anemic by comparison.

24 May, 2008 00:33  
Anonymous caoimghin said...

Thanks a million for this, any Martin Carthy is always welcome but this one in particular I have been looking for.

24 May, 2008 02:26  
Anonymous Manila said...

Can't agree with Geox - in my book Carthy is incapable of anything 'unspeakably terrible.' But then I know he's really a fan so I'll bite my tongue...

...um...except to say that Steeleye littered many an album with godawful tracks - 'Now We Are Six' being the worst (?) example.

Yah-boo!

(Loved your 'Random Thought' post, by the way)

24 May, 2008 22:09  
Blogger GeoX said...

I have fans! Thank you!

Far be it from me to claim that teh Span was/is perfect. I actually kind of like "Now We Are Six" (I'll admit it!) but both that album and Commoner's Crown are kind of blighted by irritating joke songs at the end. And maybe it's unfair to pick up latter-day albums, but They Called Her Babylon is pretty much the worst thing ever that hasn't actually been implicated in a genocide, ethnic cleansing, or other crime against humanity.

That said, "King Henry" was the first Span song I ever heard and still among my favorites, so it's not surprising that other things should seem to suffer in comparison. As for Carthy in general, a lot of his stuff is fantastic, and his daughter ain't half bad either, but for my money, at least, he's also had some moments of what I would call aimless tunelessness. As perhaps have we all.

25 May, 2008 16:36  
Anonymous manila said...

lol. Agreed.

26 May, 2008 22:42  

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