OUT OF THE MOUTHS……….(2019)
A little while ago I was asked to go and sing ‘pirate’ songs with a primary School class. I thought “No problem; I know lots of pirate and sea songs” but when I started to put them together, I realised that most contained ribald references and needed some serious editing, so I ended up augmenting the programme with other songs ‘suitable’ for children (or, in particular, suitable for the head teacher!) That started me thinking some more and remembering songs that I hadn’t sung for years, so here they are. The death toll is horrendous; in excess of 23 humans (plus two entire ships crews) or animals have died in the making of this CD, but I have sung all of them to and with children and no-one has complained. I’m very grateful to ‘Singing Together’ with William Appleby on the BBC (produced by AL Lloyd) which was a highlight of every Monday morning when I was at prep school back in the early 1950’s Several others, mainly the American ones, were learned when I was in my early teens and into American folk music and skiffle and the remainder have been gradually accumulated over the years.
Old Daddy Fox - trad English I'll begin with some songs about animals. A common theme is that something dies in all of them! Many versions found on both sides of the Atlantic – my version contains Americanisms, but I cannot remember from whom I learned it— may well have been ‘Singing Together’
Go Tell Aunt Rhody - Trad American A song from colonial America – lots of recordings by such luminaries as Woody Guthrie and Burl Ives. Traditionally used as a dance song.
Froggie went a courtin' Trad.American version of a Scottish song. Noted in Scotland in 1548 but very widely known in America - and recorded by Elvis! (I guess that he liked the ‘Uh’Huh’)
Sly Reynard - Trad English A song learned when I was very young from the BBC ‘Singing Together’ programmes, broadcast on Monday mornings. Cecil Sharp included it in his “English folk songs for schools” collection. What a shame that the songs of our tradition are no longer taught in school.
The Carrion Crow Trad English The Carrion Crow came from ‘Singing Together’ but is much more than a childen’s song…it dates from the mid 17th century. The ‘crow’ was Charles II and ‘the Tailor’ (Taylor) was probably a well known Puritan preacher persecuted by the crown.
Blue Tail Fly - Trad American An American song which I learned from the Burl Ives songbook – a ‘blackface minstrel’ song that my Dad used to sing when such shows were not considered offensive. This is the cross-over song - it's about an animal, but the human dies!
Oats Peas Beans and Barley grows A skipping song from Lincolnshire – I learned it from ‘Singing Together’ on the BBC in the early 50’s. I reckon this must have been written by farm workers - the farmer himself doesn't appear to make any contribution to the crop at all!
The Frozen Logger - (James Stephens, 1928) The next few songs are all about humans and their disasters. This tall story was made famous by both the Weavers and Cisco Houston.
Don't jump off the roof, Dad. Tommy Cooper (1961) A grouchy politically correct woman in a folk club once told me that it trivialised suicide, but kids love it!
Mother’s Lament – English This was the first solo song recorded solo by Martin Carthy in 1963 and I have known it from before then as my Dad used to sing it…. And I left home in 1962! It obviously derives from the London (Cockney) Music hall.
Football Crazy (James Curran (d 1900) Football Crazy was a minor hit for the Scottish duo Robin Hall and Jimmy Macgregor who, in their ten years on the Tonight programme, widened my knowledge of British songs and were definitely Scotland’s first folk music ‘stars’.
Sick Note - Pat Cooksey Written by Irish folk singer Pat Cooksey as ‘Paddy and the Barrel’ in 1969 and owes a lot to an old story from the English musichalls in the 1920’s, and probably also to Gerald Hoffnung’s Oxfod Union address in 1958
Good King Arthur's Days - Trad English Another song from schooldays – known to Thomas Hardy as ‘Three Jolly Rogues of Lynn’ and in America as ‘Good old colony times’.
Midnight Marauder - Lou Gottleib Written by Lou Gottlieb of the Limeliters in 1960 - who claimed it was based on a true story he read in a New York paper. I believe him.
The Wicked old woman Trad - English/Irish. Steeleye Span recorded this song as ‘Marrowbones’ in 1971 My version derives from the Clancys in the mid-60s when it was called ‘The old woman of Wexford’.
I wish I was Single again Written in 1871 by James Cox Beckel a Philadelphia church organist but I first heard it in Lowestoft and it is well known in Suffolk.
Nine Feet Tall The Old testament story of David and Goliath – 3,000 years old! Biddy Baxter, who was the producer of BBC Playschool gave me the words and tune, but I have no idea who wrote it or sung it!
Captain William Kidd - English Broadside Ballad William Kidd was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean in 1701.To serve as a warning against other pirates, his body was hung in a cage and left to rot for all to see along the River Thames. (An aspect of the story which children love!) I feel some sympathy for Kidd…. He was commissioned as a pirate by William III in 1695 but by the time he returned to England the law had been changed and piracy was now a capital offence. To add insult to injury, the rope broke at the first attempt, so he was actually hanged twice.
Grace Darling - Trad English street ballad Walter Pardon sang this song about the heroine of the Longstone Lighthouse, who with her father in an open rowboat, braved a horrendous storm in 1838, rescuing nine seamen from the shipwrecked paddle steamer Forfarshire.
My version probably owes more to the Limeliters (~1960)
Big Ship Trad English Now for some songs about the sea and sailors… and another song from ‘Singing Together’ at prep school. I recalled the words when I started playing it years later as a Hornpipe for ceilidhs.
Candlelight Fisherman Trad English The story of the reluctant fisherman – My version comes from comes from Bob Roberts, master of the Cambria, the last of the Thames sailing barges.
The Mermaid Trad English Another song learned at school which has been around for a long time. Mermaids were considered bad luck and in this case bring about a complete disaster.
Broad Atlantic Trad English Also learned from the BBC Schools broadcasts. Originally published in the Scottish students Handbook in 1897 but has a distinctly ‘music hall’ feel about it.
The Smugglers song – Rudyard Kipling.
The very first English folk song that I knowingly learned – I didn’t know that the songs from the radio ‘Singing Together’ programmes were mainly traditional songs! I learned it from the grandfather of a schoolfriend in Hastings who had a fishing boat and who used to take us out long-lining when we skipped school. The poem was written by Rudyard Kipling in 1906 when lived at Batemans in East Sussex Peter Bellamy sang it in 1972 but I learned my version around 1960… and I think that I have the best tune!