(1972) Peter Bellamy – Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye
Argo issue number: ZFB 81
Produced by: Kevin Daly
Recorded by: Iain Churches
Recorded at: Decca Studios, London, June 1972
Cover drawing and sleeve notes: Peter Bellamy
Deleted by Argo in late 70s; self-bootlegged by Peter Bellamy as part of private issue cassette of ‘Puck’s Songs’ in 1974; versions of some of the songs appeared subsequently on limited edition tour cassettes. A different version of The Way Through the Woods appears on the Fellside CD Mr Bellamy, Mr Kipling and the Tradition.
Frustrated in their attempts to get the Bellamy Argo Kipling albums re-issued, the good people at Folk Police Recordings have put together an album of contemporary re-workings of the songs by people like The Unthanks, Jon Boden and Elle Osborne.
Musicians and singers
Peter Bellamy – vocals, guitar, concertina, flints
Nic Jones – fiddle, chorus vocals
Dolly Collins – organ
Dik Cadbury – vocals
Peter Hall – lute
Chris Birch – violin, harmony vocals
Anthea Bellamy – harmony vocals
Dave Arthur – bodhran
Fred Woods – chorus vocals
Mike Edmonds – chorus vocals
(Click on a song title and it’ll play in a new window)
1 Puck’s Song – PB vocal, NJ fiddle
2 A Smuggler’s Song – PB, CB, AB three-part harmony
3 The Run of the Downs* – PB vocal, NJ fiddle
4 Eddi’s Service – PB unaccompanied
5 The Queen’s Men – Dik C counter-tenor vocal, PH lute, Dolly C organ
6 The Bee-Boy’s Song – PB vocal, NJ fiddle
7 Harp Song of the Dane Women – PB vocals & guitar, DA bodhran
8 Song of the Men’s Side – PB vocals and flints, NJ, ME, FW chorus
1 The Heavens Above Us – PB vocal, Dolly C organ, Dik C counter-tenor, CB bass harmony & violin
2 Prophets at Home – PB vocal, NJ fiddle
3 Who Shall Judge the Lord? (A Carol)* – PB unaccompanied
4 St. Helena (A St. Helena Lullaby) – PB vocal, NJ fiddle
5 The Way Through The Woods – PB vocal and concertina
6 The Bricklayer and the Shipwright (A Truthful Song) – PB vocal, NJ fiddle
7 Song of the Red War-boat – PB vocal with NJ, FW, ME chorus
Lyrics and tunes
All song lyrics by Rudyard Kipling from Puck of Pook’s Hill or Rewards and Fairies. All tunes Peter Bellamy, apart from those asterisked, which are traditional tunes arranged by Bellamy.
Harmonies on A Smuggler’s Song arranged by Chris Birch
Musical accompaniment on The Queen’s Men arranged by Dolly Collins
On The Heavens Above Us, organ and counter-tenor parts arranged by Dolly Collins, bass voice and violin scores by Chris Birch
I’ve only just realised that Peter Bellamy sort of worked his way backwards through Kipling’s poems, tackling the ‘Puck’ poems (published in 1906) before the Barrack Room Ballads (published 14 years earlier in 1892). But maybe it’s not surprising.
At the time of the Barrack Room Ballads Kipling was being criticised as a banjo poet (all tinka-tinka-tink, and blaring trombone). But by the time of Puck, he’d changed his tune and the music in his head was old and simple English melodies – the folk-songs, shanties, ballads and carols that (Bellamy always said) he would have heard his one-time Sussex neighbours, the Copper family of Rottingdean, sing. The kind of songs that were very familiar territory for Bellamy 60 years later. And it’s with those poems that Bellamy started kipling on the album Oak, Ash & Thorn.
This album, though, is more ambitious. Bellamy had already nailed those Copper-style trad tunes to Kipling’s poems. So here he takes on something more difficult.
“Kipling…was not content with imitating known styles,” Bellamy explains in the sleeve notes to this album, “and some of the songs in the two books (Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies) were bold guesses at the type of songs which might have been sung by people whose verbal culture has long been lost.
“This record, therefore, contains not only the more obvious folky pieces but also four songs which perhaps could have been sung during the Neolithic, Saxon and Viking eras,” Bellamy goes on. “Right or wrong, Kipling’s verses have somehow always managed to ring with a feeling of authenticity. It is for the listener to decide if my music carries the same conviction.”
Conviction? Authenticity? On Harp Song of the Dane Women, Bellamy (with his own relentless falling guitar chords and Dave Arthur’s bodhran behind him) sounds as close to a Norseman as I can imagine. That is, it sounds like The Incredible String Band’s grandad had somehow wriggled his way inside Kipling’s head. And it’s fantastic.
Dave Arthur describes the bodhran he plays on the track Harp Song of the Dane Women as “a rubbish bodhran, made from a large garden sieve in the old traditional style, and buckled and twisted”.
“There weren’t many English folk musicians around London who played the instrument in those days, before it became trendy and a session nightmare,” he says.
At the time he and (his then wife) Toni Arthur were researching and singing traditional British magical songs and folklore.
“Pete (Bellamy) and I had spoken about magical rhymes and chants – like Oak, and Ash and Thorn – and fairylore a couple of times before.”
Two years after this album, Dave and Toni Arthur recorded a folky children’s album for Argo producer Kevin Daly (‘Sing a Story’, Decca SPA 509, 1974). “We told stories and traditional folktales that we’d used for Playschool and other kids TV and radio shows, mostly cante-fables with folk songs intermingled.”
“I knew Kevin quite well and liked him a lot,” says Dave. “A couple of times over a meal we talked about possibly recording a folksong album for Argo but none of us ever got round to it.”
They were hectic times, when a recording like this one was “an everday occurrence”.
“It’s that old story of regretting that you didn’t take more notice of what was going on at the time, but we were all too busy just doing whatever we were doing to make any significance of what were everyday occurrences,” he says. “We were all singing, playing, trekking round folk clubs and festivals, and in and out of studios, reading, writing, researching etc….”
After a lifetime of all of that (and picking up an EFDSS Gold Badge on the way), Dave rediscovered Anglo-American Old Time music in the early 90s and is still playing solo and with Pete Cooper and Dan Stewart in the Old Time trio Rattle On the Stovepipe.
Thanks to Dave for his memories. Here he’s singing (Nic Jones accompanying) Broomfield Hill in 1970 on the long-deleted Hearken to the Witches’ Rune, an album that’s been described as a “seminal neo-pagan milestone” (Yikes!) and is currently gathering dust in the vaults of Celtic Music in Harrogate.
It’s true. And what fiddlers!
Here he’s with Nic Jones – the only time the latter ever appeared on an Argo record. On the two before (Oak, Ash and Thorn and The Fox Jumped Over the Parson’s Gate), it was Barry Dransfield. On the two after, Chris Birch (who sings harmony and chorus here). Then it was Dave Swarbrick, then back to Chris Birch, then Jamie O’Dwyer…
Bellamy, Jones…and Campbells Soup
For Nic Jones, Bellamy was a loyal friend and a “very individual, highly creative and expressive singer.”
“I thought it was a great idea getting the Kipling project going,” Nic recalls. “Kipling was one of his favourite poets and he had lots of creative ideas, though I only have a vague memory of the recording sessions (for this album).”
“I spent a lot of time with Pete. He was a very loyal friend and I enjoyed his company enormously – he was a very good impressionist and would have me in fits. We would talk about anything and everything bar folk music, which was our everyday work!
“Pete and I did do a memorable and highly amusing recording in Norwich for an advert for Campbells soup, to the tune of Whisky in the Jar,” says Nic. “We had a lot of fun, probably too much, as they never used it!”
Thanks to Nic, who also has albums gathering dust in those Harrogate vaults, for his memories.
A bit overawing
For Dik Cadbury, who sings lovely counter-tenor here on the tracks The Queen’s Men and The Heavens Above Us, the sessions for Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye were his first experience of a proper recording studio.
He’d get used to it over the years… with Brenda Wootton, Richard Digance, Decameron, Steve Hackett, Nigel Mazlyn Jones, Rosie Hardman, Steve Ashley, Mike d’Abo and finally on his own. About Time too.
“It was a bit overawing,” Dik says, “but we soon got down to recording and the tracks didn’t take long to capture. Then we drove back to Norwich via Cambridge, where Steeleye Span were playing at a college summer ball which we gatecrashed.”
As a teenager Cadbury would throw in harmonies as his brother in law’s cowman (David Berkshire aka Dave The Bum) and his singing partner (Barry Leddington) sang Young Tradition and Copper Family songs round the kitchen table at his sister’s farm. “That was my indirect introduction to Peter Bellamy.”
Then he went to Norwich to study at the University of East Anglia (and sing as a chorister in the Cathedral choir), joined the folk group Totem on bass and got into the city’s folk scene, centred on the Studio 4 folk club.
“Among the regular singers there was Peter Bellamy. He was a great fan of Totem and I got to know him quite well at Studio 4 and then socially. I recall him recording a live album there with Louis Killen.” (Won’t You Go My Way, also on Argo – see separate post)
“At Studio 4, he used to throw in all sorts of curious songs – ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ and ‘What’d I Say’ for example ("Tell your mother, Tell your pa, Gonna take you back to Attleborough – Blast!!!"), sung in his best Singing Postman voice and all done in his inimitable, jerky folk style. Hilarious coming from such a folk icon! He played me Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy albums, sharing his passion for the blues. His tastes were very ‘catholic’.
“It was a privilege to be on the fringes of his career and especially his work with the Kipling poems, which he said he always felt were folk songs without tunes. Knowing my choral as well as my folk potential, Peter just asked me one day if I’d be interested in singing the ‘Two Cousins’ (The Queen’s Men) in counter tenor with lute and pipe organ. I was delighted and so we rehearsed and went to London – the Decca studio in West Hampstead I think – to record.
“I’d rehearsed with Peter Hall the lutenist, who also lived in Norwich, but I only met Dolly Collins (pipe organ) on the day.
“Sadly I only saw Peter once after I moved from Norwich to Cheltenham in 1973 to join folk-rock band Decameron. Steve Ashley, a dear friend of his and also a folk singer and songwriter, who had been at art college with him and knew him well, alerted me to a gig in Stroud shortly before Peter died so tragically and he and I went over to see him, which was a joy. Shortly after that, he sent me in the post a cassette of songs I’d written, recorded and given him at his request. Was he ‘clearing his desk’? We’ll never know.”
(thanks to Dik Cadbury for sharing his memories of the time)
Staggered by workshop
In December 1973 a member of the Kipling Society wrote in to the Kipling Journal to report on the "very good missionary work" that Bellamy was doing.
She’d stumbled upon one of Bellamy’s Kipling workshops during the Loughborough Folk Song Festival and had been staggered at the numbers of people in attendance, the quality of Bellamy’s settings and the atmosphere.
It felt, she said, like a "revivalist meeting". Bellamy’s enthusiasm was infectious and "the settings struck me as extraordinarily good and powerful music".
"The songs obviously had enormous appeal for the assembled youthful and critical audience (who I suspect do not normally enjoy Kipling for his own sake)," she said.
She went on: "I was accosted by a young man who, on discovering that I was a member of the Society, wished to know how he might join. He said he had never read any of Kipling’s work, but, if what he had just heard was a fair sample, he was a convert!
"I suggested that he read some of the books, and if he still felt the same way he could then apply to us with a little knowledge behind him. The young man explained that he had always been told that Kipling was strictly for square grand-parents, and he felt he had been most grossly deceived.
"It seems to me that Peter Bellamy is doing some very good missionary work on our behalf."
Before he dropped out to become a folk singer, Bellamy was an art student (Norwich School of Art, and then later Maidenhead Art College under Peter Blake). His cover for this album is well worth close inspection. Go on!
And if you want to find out the last word about Bellamy and Kipling, there’s a very readable and comprehensive post by Raymond Greenoaken here on the Folk Police blog.