Sunday, 30 December 2012

Country Life

For the final Sunday song of the year, Rob leads us in a popular chorus;

"Fantastic chorus song, everbody seems to know it, even when they don't. Like so many songs, its origins are suitably obscure, but if anyone is interested, here's a good place to start looking:
I learned it originally from Mike Waterson, as, I suspect, did most people, though the recorded Watersons' version on "For Pence and Spicy Ale" only has verses 1 and 4 (plus chorus).

The "layland" (or leyland, or lealand, or laylum) upon which the small birds merrily sing, is probably meadowland, or land laid down for pasture, though again there are plenty of different theories. I think "laylum" is an especially interesting word, as I had always just thought of it as a nonsense word which I know from the refrain from one version of The Derby Ram, but apparently it could mean "branch" or possibly "chorus" and much else besides. Incidentally, there are one or two parodies around:

"....And a pox on the life of a country boy

Who's allergic to the new-mown hay."

This is a great 'year round' song to end the Sunday Song blog year with, and fitting too; most of the songs posted on the blog through the year have been perfomed by just one or two musicians, whereas this recording gives a flavour of what those Sunday evenings in the Star are like when we all really get going. Many thanks to Tim for recording the songs and taking the time to run the website, and thanks also to Paul, our host at the Star who has put up with so much from us over the last 12 months."Rob
I like to rise when the sun she rises,
early in the morning
And I like to hear them small birds singing,
Merrily upon their layland
And hurrah for the life of a country boy,
And to ramble in the new mown hay.
In spring we sow at the harvest mow
And that is how the seasons round they go
but of all the times choose I may
To be rambling in the new mown hay.


In summer when the summer is hot
We sing, and we dance, and we drink a lot
We spend all our nights in sport and play
And go rambling in the new mown hay


In autumn when the oak trees turn
We gather all the wood that's fit to burn
We slash and we stash and we stow away
And go rambling in the new mown hay


In winter when the skies are gray
we hedge and we ditch our time away,
and dream of the summer when the sun shines gay,
And we ramble in the new mown hay.


Oh Nancy is my darling, she's so gay
She blooms like the flowers every day
But I love her best in the month of May
When we're rambling through the new mown hay


Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Nailsbourne Beast Song

A lovely little Somerset carol sung by Chris and Anne, it was collected from Ruth Tongue who was a folklorist, collector of stories and performer throughout most of the 20th Century. She says of this song in the book 'Folklore':

"The Nailsbourne Beast Song in the Cowman's mystery. It may only be sung by him to the cattle in the barn on Christmas Eve. If he is ill, or gives up his work, he must hand it on to a successor. The widow who sang it for me knew it because her husband had not, apparently, considered his successor a fit recipient, and had therefore taught it to his wife in order that she might hand it on to the 'raight one'. I, although a girl, was allowed to learn it because I was born in the chime-hours
The reference... to the Holy Thorn is of interest because there was a Glastonbury thorn at Nailsbourne that flowered on Old Christmas Eve, when all beasts can speak, and will, unless tethered, come to kneel there"


The Nailsbourne Beasts' Song

Oh the beasties all heard the angel call
When the cock sang “Christ is born”
And they all kneeled to pray down upon the hay
When the cock sang “Christ is born”

And the ruddick sang, oh the little ruddick sang
So sweetly sang-ed he
On Chrissimas morn on the blessed thorn
On a twig of the holy tree.

The oxen did low and the ponies they did bow
When the cock sang “Christ is born”
And the donkey roared “Praise our sweet Lord”
When the cock sang “Christ is born”


Let us kneel in the hay for 'tis Chrissimus Day
When the cock sang “Christ is born”
And there's bloom on the twig and the little lambs do jig
When the cock sang “Christ is born”


Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Cause and the Colliery Board

This week's song is sung by James Froud, an excellent singer songwriter who has recently started attending the session:

"Inspired by the documentary 'all our working lives' the song is a fictional story of a man starting his mining career during the reign of the national coal board only to find the mine is closed years later. I was struck by the Victorian living conditions in mining towns and the optimism felt by people after the formation of the coal board, only to be betrayed."


Said you were a coal mining man
Said you worked hard all your life
And if anyone had ever given you the chance
You would have shone like the brightest light

Don't remember much about the swinging sixties
Don't remember much about free love
Just your mother scrimping and saving
Trying to make sure you had enough

In nineteen sixty five,
You started your job for life
Proud to follow in the footsteps
Proud to know what was right

Your fathers had been calling for years
To be working for the public and the pockets of their peers
Yea these really were the good old days
Taking the very first steps towards the socialist state

Ch: And now when your sitting on your own,
You haven't been back since the day you were gone
It's like what you get ain't what you ordered,
The difference between the cause and the colliery board

Investment was poorest into the pit,
Starting the mechanisation of the seems that had been hit
Older men said you didn't know you're born,
Working in the days of the national colliery board

Well then that truly was the case
Your skin got thick and tough and your back began to break
Looking back you began to love the toil,
Getting out became your mantra, in your heart this was your home.


Do you remember that day back in June,
Everyone gathered outside the gates to hear the news.
It hit you like a hammer had been swung,
The colliery band marched home playing a slow marching drum

You took it as an opportunity,
Said it was your chance to be free,
Always wanted to go see the world some day,
Eke out some of that severance pay.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Streams of Bunclody

This week's song is a second track from Rosie Upton:

"I first heard the song in the early 1970s when I was in Ireland with a group of itinerant musicians from Bristol. We were in O’Donaghues’ Bar in Dublin just before Easter. I heard someone sing it and wrote down the words. I assume it’s a traditional song. The singer told me that the cuckoo referred to the British occupancy of Ireland. Even so it is a relatively common ‘floating verse’ found in many folk songs from these islands. I’ve heard many recordings including Emmett Spiceland who I heard in Ireland at that time, The Dubliners and of course Christy Moore have versions, all very similar, but I preferred this one. I’ve only recently started singing it again. For years I felt it important to sing material from the English tradition rather than stealing from other traditions. However, my great grandmother Helen Collins came from Dublin, so on the basis that there is some Irish blood tracking through my veins I’ve started singing it again!"


Oh were I at the moss house where the birds do increase
By the foot of Mount Leinster or some silent place
By the streams of Bunclody where all fortunes do meet
Aye and all I would ask is one kiss from you sweet

Oh it’s why my love slights me as you might understand
For she has a freehold and I have no land
She has fine store of riches in silver and gold
And everything fitting a house to a home

Oh were a clerk and could write a good hand
I would write my love a letter that she might understand
Oh but I am a poor fellow that is wounded in love
Once I lived in Bunclody but now must remove

Oh the cuckoo she’s a pretty bird she sings as she flies
She brings us good tidings and tells us no lies
But she sucks other birds' eggs just to make her voice clear
And the more she sings cuckoo the summer draws near

So its farewell to my father, my mother adieu
My sisters and brothers farewell unto you
I am bound out for Americay my fortune to try
And when I think on Bunclody I am ready to die

Sunday, 2 December 2012

On Christmas Day

Well it's December, everybody's starting to feel slightly Christmassy, now's the perfect time to bring them back down! I heard this song first on Spiers and Boden's album 'Songs' and was captivated by its narrative, message and moral. The story seems so out of place with the traditional image of Jesus and yet, on occasion, his nature as a player of tricks, sometimes vengeful. There is another example in the song 'The Bitter Withy' which is based upon a piece of gnostic literature written before the formation of what we more readily know as Christianity (a similar tale that may well have been rewritten later is here: 'The Holy Well'.) There are other carols though few and far between as well that deal and represent a more paganistic side to Christianity, the Corpus Christi Carol, or 'Down in yon Forest' is a lovely example. Going back to the song at hand there are different theories as to what lies behind this song, have a look HERE though my personal favourite is this:

'Another possible background to the song would be the Anglican/Puritan conflict in England. The Puritans did not believe in Christmas, as it has no biblical basis; the date of December 25 was in fact selected by the 4th Century Roman Emperor Constantine as Christ's birthday because it had been Mithras's birthday before that. Constantine had a vested interest in converting his armies (largely Mithraists) smoothly to Christianity, which he had selected as his state religion. The English Puritans thus essentially considered Christmas to be Pagan.'
On Christmas Day it happened so
Down in the meadows for to plough,
As we were a-ploughing on so fast
Up comes sweet Jesus himself at last.

“Oh man, oh man, what makes you plough
So hard upon the Lord's birthday?”
The farmer he answered him with great speed,
“For to plough this day we have great need.”

His arms did quaver to and fro,
His arms did quaver, he could not plough.
The ground did open and let him in
Before that he could repent of sin.

His wife and children are out of place,
His beasts and cattle they die away.
His beasts and cattle they die away
For the breaking of Our Lord's birthday.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Lay Me Down & Fundy Bay

Lay Me Down

Two tracks this week, the first was recorded at last Wednesday's Up in the Gallery by James Riley:

Fundy Bay

The second was sung by Alan Farrow who was passing through for the recent Mummers Festival last week:

"I picked (the song) up off of a Lou Killen Lp/cassette.Cannot find notes from said recording but I remember there being a reference to a singer/sailor with some Dutch sounding name who sailed on a scooner from Ann Harbour, Maine to Nova Scotia and got becalmed in a fog bank for 17 days with a 30 foot tide to contend with along with the shoals and the other coastal traffic in the late 19th century. (Otherwise there was "no pressure!" )

You now know as much as I do!"

With a little more searching I found the album that Alan referred to and a little more on the song though not much, have a look here and here, the song was originally written by Gordon Bok and recorded to the album "Bay of Fundy". In his sleeve notes, Bok wrote:

"This is about a long and weary, windless trip from Maine around to Halifax on a little black schooner that seemed to move only by the slatting of her gear. We had a coal stove in her, and the foresail used to downdraft onto the charlie noble, turn the stack into an intake and the cabin into a chimney. So, with the coalgas and the wet, the offwatch was not much more comfortable than the deadwatch"

Alan & Tim

All you Maine-men, proud and young,
When you run your easting down,
Don't go down to Fundy Bay,
She'll wear your time away.

Fundy's long and Fundy's wide,
Fundy's fog and rain and tide,
Never see the sun or sky,
Just the green wave going by.

Cape Sable's horn blows all day long;
Wonder why, wonder why.

Oh, you know, I'd rather ride
The Grenfell Strait or the Breton tide,
Spend my days on the Labrador
And never see old Fundy's shore.
All my days on the Labrador
And never see old Fundy's shore.

Cape Sable's horn blows all day long;
Wonder why, wonder why.

Give her staysail, give her main
In the darkness and the rain,
I don't mind the wet and cold,
I just don't like the growing old.
I don't mind the wet and cold,
I just don't like the growing old.

Cape Sable's horn blows all day long;
Wonder why, wonder why.

East-by-North or East-North-East,
Give her what she steers the best;
I don't want the foggy wave
To be my far and lonely grave.
I don't want the foggy wave
To be my far and lonely grave.

Cape Sable's horn blows all day long;
Wonder why, wonder why.

Cape Breton's bells ring in the swells;
Ring for me, ring for me.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


This week's song is Rob's masterly retelling of the classic ballad:

This is one of my all time favourite songs, originally learned from one of my all time
favourite albums, Liege & Lief by Fairport Convention. Since I first heard Sandy
Denny singing this, I must have heard a dozen or more different versions but hers tops
them all for me.

Among those different versions are different interpretations. Sometimes Reynardine
is a handsome outlaw or sometimes a dashing young lord. It is usually a love song
or sometimes he is a magical sort of elvish type, or even a shape changer. Like most
great folk songs and stories it has prompted a wealth of academic analysis, and oceans
of ink have been spilled over it. Start with Mudcat, and you can spend days following
the links and reading the dissertations. To me though, the story is simple and dark,
very dark, and words like "serial" and "killer" spring to mind. Bluebeard rather than
Robin Hood.
I believe that Bert Lloyd is considered to be largely responsible for the Fairport
version, and if so I think it is one of his greatest works. I have hardly changed any
of the lyrics, though I can't help but make one alteration: Sandy Denny sings that he
leads the young woman "...over the mountains", I prefer "...into the mountains", as I'm
not sure that she makes it out again.


One evening, as I rode by among the leaves so green
I overheard a young woman converse with Reynardine.
Her hair was black, her eyes were blue
her lips as red as wine
and he smiled to gaze upon her
did that sly bold Reynardine.

She said "Kind sir, be civil, my company forsake
for in my low opinion, I fear you are some rake."
"Oh no" he said "no rake am I
brought up in Venus' train
but I'm seeking for concealment
all along the lonesome plain."

"Your beauty so enticed me I could not pass it by,
and its with my gun I'll guard you all across the mountains high.
And if by chance you should look for me
in a house you'll not me find
for I'll be in my castle
you must enquire for Reynardine."

The sun went dark.
She followed him.
His teeth did brightly shine.
And he led her into the mountains,
did that sly bold Reynardine.