(1968) Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The Amorous Muse

•July 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

theamorousmusefrontAmatory folksongs from England, Scotland and N. America

Argo issue numbers: DA 84, ZDA 84

Availability: long deleted; never issued on CD; you can hear samples of the songs here.

Singers and musicians
Ewan MacColl – vocals
Peggy Seeger – Appalachian dulcimer, guitar, 5-string banjo, Autoharp


Side One
amorousmusebackcoverKissing’s Nae Sin (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
The Little Carpenter (American) – PS vocal and banjo
Stonecutter Boy (English) – EM unaccompanied
When I was In My Prime (Nova Scotia) – PS unaccompanied
The Mill-Mill O (Scots) – EM vocal, PS autoharp
Bonny Bunch of Rushes Green (Canadian) – PS unaccompanied
Lassie Gathering Nuts (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
If He’d Be a Buckaroo (American) – PS vocal and banjo
Let Me In This Ae Night (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
Whistle Daughter Whistle (American) – PS vocal and guitar
Eppie Morrie (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
Supper is Nae Ready (Scots) – EM unaccompanied

Side Two
The Spinning Wheel (Scots) – EM and PS unaccompanied vocal duet
A Pretty Fair Maid (American) – PS vocal and autoharp
Firelock Stile (English) – EM unaccompanied
Where Are You Going, My Pretty Little Girl (American) – PS vocal and banjo
O Gin My Love Weere You Red Rose (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
Young Munro (Canadian) – PS unaccompanied
The Bogaboo (American) – PS unaccompanied
Dainty Davie (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
The First Time Ever (contemporary English/MacColl) – PS vocal and guitar
Sweet Thames Flow Softly (contemporary English/MacColl) – EM vocal, PS guitar, vocal chorus

MacColl’s sleeve notes

“Luve’s as warm among cotters as it is among courtiers,” says the Scots proverb, and if songs are an accurate barometer of emotional temperature, then the cotter, along with most of his class, would appear to have gone through life without ever feeling the need of an electric blanket.

Furthermore, when it came to making up songs which matched the intensity of his feelings, the cotter seems, on the whole, to have been rather more successful than his more socially-elevated contemporaries. This is not to say that the ‘folk’ have been more pre-occupied with the theme of love than have formal composers or creators in the field of Anglo-American popular song; love is a perennial theme with all kinds of songmakers and probably accounts for well over half of all songs written in English or in any dialect of English.

Tin Pan Alley
If there is no fundamental thematic difference between the folk, the formal, and the popular amatory song, there is a tremendous difference in the way the theme is treated. This difference of approach is between the amatory folksong on the one hand, and the formally composed and popular song on the other.

This division would, at first sight, appear to be a somewhat strange one particularly in view of the fact that many commentators in the present folksong revival are fond of saying that today’s Tin Pan Alley creations are tomorrow’s folksongs. An analysis of the last fifty years of Anglo-American popular song does not support this theory; on the contrary, it shows that pop song (as far as the treatment of subject matter is concerned) leans overwhelmingly towards the type of song created by formal composers.

Maggie vs ‘my honey’
In both classes of song we are presented with a lover whose sole function is to love or to be loved, to be rejected, jilted and betrayed. The lovers have no social identity, they appear to live without having to work; if they have names then they are usually of the kind derived from classical literature or, in the case of the pop songs, the beloved is addressed affectionately – and possessively – as “my gal”, “my baby”, “my sugar”, “my honey”, etc.

In the folksongs the lovers generally possess the kind of names that have been common throughout the British Isles for the last three or four hundred years—Willie, Johnnie, Maggie, Peggy, Barbara, Helen, Mary, Annie, etc,—and, as often as not, we are told in the course of the first three or four lines, that Johnnie is a weaver, collier, soldier, brewer, or ploughboy and that Mary is a farmer’s daughter, who milks her father’s cows or minds his sheep.

Again, in formal and popular type love songs, there is usually a total lack of topographical detail: the lovers exist in a circumscribed part of an idealised landscape or in an area as abstract as deep space. There is an equally loose disregard for time, which is, so to speak, perpetually frozen, so that there are no seasons, no hours, no days or nights.

Folksongs, on the other hand, are usually quite explicit; Johnny, a brisk young sailor, soldier, deserter, roving heckler, ploughboy, etc., walks out one bright May morning, or one morning in June, or sweet July, in the ewing time, in the nutting time, just as the tide was flowing, and encounters Mary milking, reaping, dressing flax, washing or bleaching her clothes on the banks of a sweet purling stream, or by the salt sea strand.

The most important difference, however, lies in the action of the songs, In formal and pop songs the action is nearly always minimal; a young man loves a young woman (or the other way around), and he or she is frustrated and unhappy or, less frequently, happy and fulfilled.

At the conclusion of the song the condition of the lovers is unchanged—they are still frustrated and unhappy, or happy and fulfilled. Nothing has happened to them. In most folksongs, lovers consummate their love at a fairly early point in the text, and thereafter events follow in a perfectly logical sequence; the young girl becomes pregnant and marries her lover or is abandoned by him; or, alternatively, the couple make love, taking enormous pleasure in the encounter and then part, still full of admiration for each other.

Abstract pop, specific folk
Perhaps it would be true to say that in formal compositions and pop songs, we are presented with an abstract concept of romantic love, shared by a ‘he’ and a ‘she’ who are themselves mere abstract formalisations of social attitudes, whereas in folksongs we are asked to observe the effects which love has on specific human beings functioning in a specific set of circumstances.

To claim for our amatory folksong a greater degree of realism than is apparent in formal and pop songs, is not to say that they are mere matter-of-fact descriptions of sexual encounters, That they are often forthright and refreshingly frank in their observations of human pleasures and passions, is undeniable; that they can combine candour with sensuousness, tenderness with sensuality, humour with lust, and delicacy with appetite, is equally true.

And there is no lack of imaginative ideas in the way in which the subject is handled. Traditional love songs are rich in euphemism, ranging from the most delicate and oblique metaphors, to analogies obvious enough to have provoked an immediate belly-laugh from the crowds who followed the mountebanks of Athens and Sparta five centuries before Christ.

At various times throughout history, stern moralists have attempted to wean the ‘rude unlettered folk’ from their ‘lewd and licentious songs and ballads’. It would appear that their efforts have not been entirely crowned with success. A surprisingly large number of amatory folksongs have survived and the scores of young singers encouraged by the current folksong revival are busy ensuring that they will continue to survive.


(1968) Ewan MaColl & Peggy Seeger – The Wanton Muse

•July 28, 2009 • 1 Comment

wantonmusefront2Argo issue number: DA 85, ZDA 85

Availability: long deleted, never released on CD, samples of tracks available here.

Singers and musicians
Ewan MacColl – vocals
Peggy Seeger – English concertina, guitar, 5-string banjo, Appalachian dulcimer, chorus vocals
John Fauklner – chorus vocals
Denis Turner – chorus vocals
Terry Yarnell – chorus vocals

Side One
wantonmusebackThe Ballad of the Trades (English) – EM vocal, PS guitar, con
The Shepherd Lad (Scots) – EM lead, chorus
The Wanton Seed (English) – EM unaccompanied
The Wind Blew the Bonnie Lassie’s Plaidie Awa’ (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
The Coachman and his Whip (English) – EM vocals, PS con, chorus vocals
The Thrashing Machine (English) – EM unaccompanied
Maid of Australia (English) – EM lead, with chorus
The Cuckoo’s Nest (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
The Gardener’s Chylde (Scots) – EM vocals, PS dulcimer

Side Two
The Vintner (Scots) – EM vocals, PS con, chorus vocals
Andrew and his Cutty Gun (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
The Game of ‘All Fours’ (English) – EM unaccompanied
The Cobbler (English) – EM lead, chorus vocals
The Modiewark (Scots) – EM unaccompanied
The Furze Field (English) – EM vocals, PS dulcimer
The Long Peg and Awl (English) – EM unaccompanied
The Maid Gaed to the Mill (Scots) – EM lead, chorus vocals
The Bird in the Bush (English) – EM unaccompanied
She Was a Rum One (Scots) – EM lead vocals, PS banjo, chorus vocals

MacColl’s sleeve notes

All the songs recorded for this album have in common the theme of sexual encounter and desire, a theme which is shared in some measure by the overwhelming majority of English and Scots folksongs. The amatory pieces presented here, however, differ in some respects from the general run of traditional love songs.

For one thing, they are all more concerned with the act of love than with an abstract idealisation of it; indeed, they are scarcely concerned at all with romantic love, with its sighs and protestations of fidelity, its frustrations and betrayals instead they deal with physical desire and the joys and pleasures attendant on the consummation of the body’s appetite. They are, in short, erotic folksongs.

They differ, too, in the manner of their treatment of the subject. All of them may be broadly described as euphemistic. In some of them, the action flows, so to speak, from a single extended metaphor; in others, a series of analogies are skilfully combined like a set of variations on a musical theme. In one or two cases a single phrase or even a single word embedded in the text informs us that the song is in code and at the same time serves as a key to unlock the code.

The metaphors may be as delicately oblique as in ‘The Bird in the Bush’, ‘The Gairdener’s Chylde’ and the ‘Furze Field’- or as obvious as those used in ‘The Cobbler’ or the Thrashing Machine’. They can be tender, boastful, sly, lusty – but they are never coy.

A third point of difference between the songs in this collection and the main corpus of traditional love songs is that most of the pieces here remained unpublished until comparatively recently, or were printed in versions from which erotic detail was almost entirely expurgated.

Allowing for the fact that some collectors bowdlerized folksong texts with an eye to popular publication, and in particular to school publication, it is still odd that these revised versions can also occasionally be found in the pages of folk society journals.

Equally strange and irritating are those isolated single verses followed by a note informing the reader that the remainder of the text ‘is of a character unsuitable for the pages of this journal’. One asks oneself why it is suitable to print John Donne’s rapturous climactic line ‘0 my America, my Newfoundland !’ and why a Norfolk farm labourer’s enormously satisfying cry of ‘Then I entered the bush of Australia’ is unsuitable.

‘Unsuitable for publication
Aristophanes, in The Lysistrata, has the magistrate say: ‘Another (husband) will go to the cobbler, a great strong fellow with a great long tool, and tell him: “The strap of one of my wife’s sandals presses her little toe, which is extremely sensitive; come in about mid-day to supple the thing and stretch it.” ‘ Balzac, in the opening sentence of the short story, entitled Innocence, swears: ‘By the double red crest of my chanticleer and by the pink lining of my love’s black slipper!’ Publishers, even in Victorian times, did not consider Aristophanes or Balzac to be unsuitable for publication; why then, is a traditional song like ‘The Cobbler’ who ‘to the bedroom goes mending ladies’ shoes’ confined to manuscript collections?

Again, why is it necessary when commenting on traditional songs such as ‘The Molecatcher’ or The Furze Field’ to describe their affectionate euphemisms for male and female genitals as ‘the lingua franca of the folk’? It is also the ‘lingua franca’ of Shakespeare, Jonson, and the whole tribe of Elizabethan poets and dramatists, not to mention Plautus, Terence, Sappho, Virgil, Ovid, Chaucer, Burns and indeed almost every poet who has ever concerned himself with the most absorbing of all themes.

‘Sex makes it interesting’
Gershon Legman, in his magnificent work on erotic folklore and bibliography (wittily entitled THE HORN BOOK), writes:’Erotic folklore is to be collected for the same reason that it is proliferated : because it is about sex. That is what makes it interesting both to the “oral source” and to the collector – who is supposed to be a human being, with all the organs and impulses of a human being – that is what makes it socially valuable and historically important.

‘Sex, and its folklore, are far more interesting, more valuable, and more important in every social and historical sense, than, for instance, the balladry of murder, cruelty, torture, treachery, baby-killing, etc., which are the principal contents, to give only one familiar example, of the Child ballads.’

An emphatic statement, but no more emphatic than the one made by Beatrice in John Marston’s Dutch Courtesan: ‘We pronounce boldly robbery, murder, treason, which needs be far more loathsome than an act which is so natural, just and necessary as that of procreation. You shall have an hypocritical vestal virgin speak that with close teeth publicly which she will receive with open mouth privately … I love no prohibited things, and yet I would have nothing prohibited by policy but by virtue, for as in the fashion of time, those books that are called in, are most for sale and request, so in nature those actions which are most prohibited are most desired.” ‘

MacColl’s liner notes to the songs

Ballad of the Trades
This comprehensive catalogue of the tools of the trades might be said to sum up the contents of this album. Each of the songs has been conceived in the terminology of the trade of its maker, each process of work honed down to fine shades of description, each symbol exactly mirroring or extending the tool(s) used, or the medium in which the trade is carried on.

Such a song could well be extended into modern life, what with the myriad of new professions, trades and skills daily being developed – as long as the eye remains receptive to impressions of shape, the hand to impressions of texture and the mind open to analogous sensation and creation, ‘The Ballad of the Trades’ could well have thousands of verses ! (Source : a collation of several broadside texts, with tune by the singer.)

The Shepherd Lad
‘The Baffled Knight’, the title by which Professor Child designates this ballad type (No 112 in his collection), was first printed in the Deuteromelia of Thomas Ravenscroft, in 1609. It was henceforth a favourite with broadside printers. A second, third and fourth part of the ballad was written towards the end of the 17th century and were later combined into the version found in the Pepys ballads. A similar story is found in ballads from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany and Denmark. (Source: from the singer’s father, William Miller, with some verses collated from Greig’s LOST LEAVES.)

The Wanton Seed
Gershon Legman : ‘The folklore, the science, the religion and the songs of people living this (agricultural) are filled, in a sincerely accepted way, with the profound sexual tonality, both open and symbolized, that is basic to its fabric. The sexuality and fertility of the human being becomes his or her principle feature, as it is in biological fact, and the prime concern of the husbandman. He sees it, he accepts it, and he celebrates it in his folklore and song, precisely as he accepts the same immanent sexuality of every other part of his life, with the superb simplicity of Shakespeare’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA II, ii. 242 : “He plough’d her, and she cropt.” ‘ (Source: text: Reeves, p. 276; tune: from the Hammond Collection in the Cecil Sharp House, London, D.404.)

The Wind Blew The Bonnie Lassie’s Plaidie Awa’
Robert Ford printed a version of this spirited song in VAGABOND SONGS AND BALLADS and, in a note, writes: My friend, Mr. D. Kippen of Crieff, has it that the song was composed by an Irishman who lived in Crieff near to the cross in the early years of the present century (early 1800’s) and who was known by the name of “Blind Bob”.’ Ford describes the version in his book as ‘a little high-kilted”, though ‘by no means rudely indelicate.’ In actual fact the kilt stops short at the ankle and only the most bigoted Presbyterian might be expected to register shock at the sight of a mere inch or two of bare leg. Our version on the other hand, has abandoned the kilt completely and goes tripping by with bare hurdies, unabashed and unrepentant. (Source: Hughie Graeme, Galloway singer.)

The Coachman and his Whip
A somewhat longer version of this can be seen in the collection of Original Broadsides in the Nottingham University Library. This particular version was learned from Sam Larner of Winterton, Norfolk, in 1961.

The Thrashing Machine
It is easy to place a time-limit at which this song could have been started, for the threshing machine came of age in the late 1780’s. The song is delicately balanced, not only in its use of the machine analogy, but the fact that threshing is a harvesting process, closely tied up with the concepts of fruition. The adopting of such a machine as a symbol is but an extension of the older type of song which glorified the ‘tearing scythe’ or the reaper’s hook, and so on. And, for people who lived close to the land and depended upon it for their sustenance, they themselves might often have seemed but extensions of the same natural sequence of events which provided them with their living. (From the singing of Anne O’Neil, Belfast tinker woman, N. Ireland.)

Maid of Australia
This is a great favourite among country singers in Norfolk, although it appears to be unknown elsewhere. Learned from the singing of Sam Larner, of Winterton, Norfolk.

The Cuckoo’s Nest
Like ‘The Bird in the Bush’, this fragment is the terse versification of a good sexual analogy. (Source: learned from Jeannie Robertson, Aberdeen.)

The Gairdener Chylde
No. 219 in Child’s definite collection, this ballad seems to have been collected only from northern sources and even then but rarely. Its first appearance in print was in a rather corrupt form in an Edinburgh chapbook dated 1776, The floral codes for desire, love, rejection, etc., are common in country songs, but rarely is the code as elaborate as it is here. (Source: from the singer’s mother, with verses collated from Greig’s LOST LEAVES,)

The Vintner
Broadside versions of this piquant story can be found in both the Roxburghe and the Bagford collections under the title of ‘The Fair Maid of Islington’, or The London Vintner Over-reached’. The version given here was collected by Peter Hall, of Aberdeen, from Jessie MacDonald, a 97-year-old MacDuff (Banffshire) woman.

Andrew and his Cutty Gun
The earliest published song under this title appeared in Alan Ramsay’s TEA-TABLE MISCELLANY (1740). Robert Burns, in a letter to George Thompson in 1794, described the version given here as ‘the work of a master’. (Source: Merry Muses of Caledonia, p. 1 20.)

The Game of ‘All Fours’
All Fours (or High Low Jack and the Game) was still a popular card game as late as the mid-1930’s. The song to which the game gave its title has, apparently, been collected in many parts of England but, until Frank Purslow published Gardiner’s version in MARROWBONES, appears never to have got into print. The version here is from the singing of Sam Larner of Winterton, Norfolk.

The Cobbler
From the singing of George Spicer, Copthorne, Sussex. An almost identical text can be seen in the collection of Original Broadsides in Nottingham University Library.

The Modiewark
Of all the creatures abounding in field, river, forest and mountain, the most celebrated is neither deer nor dog, fish nor fowl, It is the modiewark, or mole, which enjoys the most popularity as an erotic symbol in Scots and English country songs. This witty example of the gype was collected by Burns. (Source: text, Merry Muses of Caledonia, tune from Johnson. No. 354.)

The Furze Field
This is a curious and unique song – it is obviously passionate, obviously directed at one person (a man), hence meant to be sung by a woman. Yet it is the kind of song one almost never hears sung by a woman! It was collected from Mr. Moses Mills at Preston Candover, Alresford, Hants, in 1907 by George Gardiner. It is the kind of song which was the staple fare of the chapbooks, the cheap, popular collections of songs sold on the streets from the early 1700’s onwards. Its circular, almost fugue-like melody, its incremental repetition, the tenderness and gentleness of conception and utterance, set it quite aside in atmosphere from the rest of the songs on this album.

The Long Peg and Awl
Nearly every male country singer in southern England has such songs as this in his repertoire, although hardly ever do such songs as this appear in print or get sung in mixed company. The symbol is, of course, too obvious to ignore, too common in communities where the small craftsman plying the tools of his trade is a commonplace. This particular piece has chiefly been collected in southern England, in eastern Canada and northern United States. (Source: from the singing of Harry Cox, Catfield, Norfolk.)

The Maid Gaed to the Mill
This defiant assertion of the right to be wanton is a central theme in Scots literature and a constantly recurring one in traditional Scots songs. An English version The Miller and the Lass’ can be found in the Cecil Sharp manuscripts. (Source: from the singer’s father, collated with verses from David Herd.)

The Bird in the Bush
This is one of the most intensely amorous songs in the entire English repertory. The quiet, leisurely action and the disarmingly simple language succeed in producing an atmosphere compounded equally of sensuousness and mystery. The Scots air which accompanies the text is from Christie’s TRADITIONAL BALLAD AIRS.

She was a Rum One
For the north-east Scots ploughman, the horse was a sacred beast, and women were often described in horsey terms, compared to horses in build, stride and character. The final verse, although very direct, is typical of the bothy songs made by these plowmen. As Rob Donald, the Gamrie shepherd, commented after hearing this song for the first time, ‘That a gey rough sang, but it gets richt to the hairt o’ the maitter.’ And that is an understatement, (Source: from the singing of Jeannie Robertson, Aberdeen.)

(1972) Peter Bellamy (with Louis Killen) – Won’t you go my way?

•July 17, 2009 • 2 Comments

wontyoufrontArgo issue number: ZFB 37

Recorded: before an invited audience at the Folk Studio, Norwich, 22nd June, 1971
Producer: Kevin Daly
Engineer: Peter Self (Counterpoint Mobile Recording)

Front cover photo: Alex Atterson
Back cover: Bill Leader
Costume and cover design: Peter Bellamy

Availability: long deleted, never issued on CD

Peter Bellamy – vocals, concertina, whistle
Louis Killen – vocals


Side One
won't youbackBroad soul (introduction): Dick Bagnall-Oakley
Butter and Cheese and All (trad arr PB) – PB lead, club chorus
Lovely Willy – PB unaccompanied
Here’s Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy – PB vocals and concertina
Testimonial (Bellamy) – PB unaccompanied
Black Is the Colour of My Loved One’s Hair – PB whistle solo
Three Sea Shanties (trad arr PB/LK) – Won’t You Go My Way (PB lead) / A Hundred Years Ago (LK lead) / The Alabama (PB lead)

Side Two
On a Monday Morning (Tawney) – PB lead, club chorus
Nameless Air (trad arr PB) – PB whistle
The Sweet Nightingale (Arne arr PB/LK) – PB lead, LK harmony, club chorus
Charming Molly (trad arr PB) – PB unaccompanied
When Spring Comes On (trad arr PB) – PB vocal and concertina, club chorus
Above the Hill (Bellamy) – PB unaccompanied
Spencer the Rover (trad arr PB/LK) – PB lead, LK harmony
Yarmouth Town (trad arr PB) – PB lead, club chorus

Ah, listening to it makes you wish you’d been there. Bellamy is in fine voice, engaging and self-deprecating in his chat between songs. Lou Killen’s harmonies are a real treat (including some jolly Larry the Lambing on Spencer The Rover) and the club manages to squeeze every possible fab harmony into the choruses. You just know that everyone had a very good night.

The album contains the first two songs that Bellamy wrote (as he put it) “without the help of Rudyard Kipling” – ‘Testimonial’, about the farm he was brought up on, and ‘Above the Hill’.

Muggins bought it
Bellamy took care and delight (especially when it was the Coppers) in naming the sources of the songs he sang. But he wasn’t above having a giggle at the whimsical movement of songs across the Atlantic. Here’s his introduction to the whistle solo on Side One, Black is the Colour of My Loved One’s Hair.

“The next one is a whistle tune which sounds very Irish. The reason for this is not surprising – I learnt it from an Irish whistle player by the name of Willie Clancy. And what fascinated me was that apart from the fact that it was a beautiful tune was the fact the title and the basic melody are the same as an Appalachian song which I have heard from Jean Ritchie, Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair.

“It turns out that this is not in fact an Irish song that went to America without changing. It is an English song that went to America so long ago that everyone’s forgotten how it went. And the Americans changed it, the way they do, and it got into the Ritchie family repertoire and Jean Ritchie sang it to, I believe, Shirley Collins, who brought it back to England and sang it to Willie Clancy who thought ‘there’s a lovely tune’ and he went home to Ireland playing it.

“And then Folkways records from America dropped in on Willie Clancy and said ‘play us an Irish tune, mac’ and he played Black is The Colour. They shot back to the States and they issued it on an American label, it was imported to England and Muggins bought it.”

loukillenphilfolk1968Louis Killen
At the time this record was recorded, Louis Killen had been living in the States for four years and was embarking on a six year stint playing banjo, concertina and tin whistle (and singing) with the Clancy Brothers.

Aside from this album, there are only a couple of other recordings around of Bellamy and Killen singing together. Two songs appear on the Bellamy compilation CDs Wake The Waulted Echoes (one of which was taken from Bellamy’s Both Sides Then – Topic 1979). The compilation isn’t available any more.

Killen appeared on one other Argo LP, the BBC Radio Ballad The Big Hewer (more of which when I get round to it). For a discography of the great Louis Killen, click here.

And his website is here.

dick bagnall oakleyDick Bagnall-Oakley
The guy who introduces Bellamy in Norfolk dialect at the beginning of the concert is the Norfolk naturalist, dialect expert and teacher, Dick Bagnall-Oakley, remembered on his death in 1974 as “one of the last, true all-rounders, an outstanding, if mildly eccentric, example of a species of Briton approaching extinction. His joie de vivre and vitality spilled over so that everyone else felt better for it.”

Alex Atterson
Alex Atterson, who took the cover photo, was a big influence on the Norfolk folk scene in the ‘60s and 70s – and one of those excellent musicians, inspired organisers and all-round good guys that peopled the world of folk of the time.

alex attersonAtterson was a Scot who moved south (after graduating in industrial science at St Andrews University) to work for the British Sugar Corporation in Peterborough, setting up a folk club in the town in the mid-60s. He moved on to work for Colman’s, the mustard people, in Norwich, set up a club there too and was instrumental in getting the city’s folk festival off the ground in 1969 – a unique venture in which artists didn’t get paid, but signed up for a share of the profits.

By that time he had turned professional musician. He went on to record two solo albums: Roundabout (on the Parade label PAR 001) in 1974 with Dik Cadbury and Diz Disley accompanying; and ‘Pushing the Business On’ (Plantlife Records, PLR005) in 1977, which included six poems of Cornish poet Charles Causley which Atterson set to music.

An accomplished guitarist, pianist and singer (who was into jazz as well as folk), he also appeared on albums by Brenda Wootton, Mike Cooper and Richard Digance.

In the late seventies, Atterson re-trained as a science teacher. At the time of his death (1996) he had just retired as head of science at Acle High School in Norfolk.

(1969) Cyril Tawney – Children’s Songs From Devon and Cornwall

•July 14, 2009 • 8 Comments

tawneychildfrontArgo issue number: ZFB 4
Recorded on: 24th and 25th July 1969
Producer: John S Gilbert
Engineer: Kevin Daly

Availability: long deleted, never issued on CD

Cyril Tawney – vocals
Tom Paley – guitar
Trevor Crozier – jaw’s harp, mandolin, concertina, chorus


Side One
The Three Huntsmen – CT vocals, TC mandolin
John Jago – CT unacc.
Harvey Darvey – CT unacc.
The Old Grey Duck – CT vocal, TP guitar
The Herring’s Head – CT unacc.
the cornish song bookOld Daddy Fox – CT vocal, TP guitar
The Tree in the Valley – CT unacc.
A Lying Tale – CT vocal, TP guitar
My Father Had a Horse – CT vocal, TP guitar, ?TC chorus
Carrion Crow – CT vocal, TP guitar
Cradle Song – CT unacc.

Side Two
The Snail – CT vocal, TP guitar
Jonathan, James and John – CT unacc.
The Jolly Shilling – CT vocal, TP guitar, TC jaw’s harp
Tommy and the Apples – CT unacc.
The Foolish Boy – CT vocal, TP guitar
The Cuckoo – CT unacc.
Johnny Greyman and his Grey Mare – CT vocal, TP guitar, TC concertina
I Had a Little Cock – CT vocal, TP guitar
Jinny Jan – CT unacc.
Three Scamping Rogues – CT vocal, TP guitar
There Was a Lady All Skin and Bone – CT unacc.

What do we mean by ‘Children’s Songs’? Hmmm. In the sleeve notes Cyril Tawney confesses “I just do not know”.

“To some it means nursery songs crooned by Nanny,” he says, “but it is doubtful whether the vast majority of underprivileged children in the old days ever heard these. Then there are adult songs which are sufficiently simple and humorous to appeal equally to young folk. Finally there are the ‘game songs’ employed by children at play nowadays, but whose ancestry may be far from juvenile.

“On this record we have tried to give a selection of all these kinds of songs, as they were sung in Devon and Cornwall.

“The main sources have been the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould’s manuscripts in Plymouth Central Library and Dr Ralph Dunstan’s ‘Cornish Dialect & Folk Songs’; through them we are also indebted to people such as Jim Thomas of Cambourne, people who preserved these old songs and rhymes and, with admirable unselfishness and patience, passed them on to the collectors.

“In fact, it is rather nice in a way to realise that, with the possible exception of ‘Jinny Jan’, all the ‘Children’s Songs’ on this record were obtained from grown-ups”.

Junior Choice
Reviewing the album, the Gramophone magazine wondered how familiar the songs on the album would be to “the children of Devon and Cornwall today”. Up for review at the same time was an album of ‘Favourite Songs for Favourite Children’ in which Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, the presenter of the BBC’s massively popular kids’ request show, Junior Choice, was joined by a choir of children for ten tracks, including songs from Dr Dolittle, The Wizard of Oz and some traditional songs.

“I have no doubt at all that most youngsters will plump for that by Ed Stewart. The others (including Tawney’s) may well appeal more to older people who enjoy children’s songs,” the reviewer said.

sabine baring-gouldHunters and hunted
I’ve often wondered what life on the road must really have been like for those song collectors – Alan Lomax in the isolated and impoverished rural communities of Franco’s Spain in the early 1950s, Cecil Sharp in the Appalachian mountains during the First World War, and people like Sabine Baring-Gould, one of the main sources for the songs on this album.

I suppose I hadn’t looked properly.

The Lomax field recording journals are awaiting publication (still), but today I found an objective blow by blow account of the Sharp-Karpeles trip (written by Mike Yates and published on the Mustrad website) and an essay by Baring-Gould himself full of jolly anecdotes about his collecting in the West Country. They’re both pretty fascinating – with loads of insights into the protagonists (hunters and hunted) and the process itself of getting to hear the songs and taking them down.

Cyril TawneyLinks
For an appreciation of the life of Cyril Tawney (and to get hold of some of his recordings) the best place to start is the website that’s still maintained by his widow Rosemary.

Ralph Dunstan’s 1929 book, The Cornish Song Book, is now available in digital form online.

‘Songs of the West – Folk Songs of Devon and Cornwall collected from the mouths of the people’ by Baring-Gould and his sidekick Henry Fleetwood Sheppard has been reprinted too and is available here.

(More as and when)

(1972) Bonnie Dobson – Bonnie Dobson

•July 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

bonnie4[1]Argo issue numbers: ZRG 3781, ZFB 79

Produced by: Kevin Daly
Recorded by: Iain Churches

Availability: re-released on CD by Dutton Vocalion, 2006 and again in 2010 by Bear Family Records.

Bonnie Dobson – vocals, guitar

(other musicans and singers appear on several tracks, playing mandolin, fiddle, electric guitar, whistle and singing chorus vocals. Don’t know who they are, but at times they sound suspiciously like the Druids)


Side 1

1 Thyme (Trad arr Dobson)
2 Long River (Lightfoot)
3 Farewell to Nova Scotia (Trad arr Dobson)
Bonnie Dobson tracks notes4 Un Canadien Errant (Trad arr Dobson)
5 Poor Little Girl of Ontario (Trad arr Dobson)
6 Four Strong Winds (Tyson)

Side 2
1 Vive La Canadienne (Trad arr Dobson)
2 Land of the Silver Birch (Trad arr Dobson)
3 Ise the Bye (Trad arr Dobson)
4 Sixteen Miles to Seven Lakes (Lightfoot)
5 A La Claire Fontaine (Trad arr Dobson)
6 Someday Soon (Tyson)

bonnied1968By the time she moved permanently to London in 1970, Canadian Bonnie Dobson had a pretty susbtantial career under her belt: four albums on the Prestige label – including the song for which she’s best known ‘(Walk me out in the) Morning Dew’ – plus two on RCA Victor.

Born in Toronto in 1940, she got into folk seriously as a teenager on summer camps where people like Pete Seeger and Leon Bibb would turn up to give concerts. She got her break in 1960, left university and started touring in the States.

“I did my first tour with Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry who had been my idols and then I was playing with them,” she recalled in 1993. “And then I went off to Los Angeles. There was a festival up in Idlewild, the University of California had this arts festival every summer and I taught Canadian folk songs. I never got back to University. I just kept going and eventually I hit New York.”

Grief over theft
What followed were those six albums, years of touring and lots of grief over her song Morning Dew being stolen by Tim Rose. In November 1969 she made her London debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and settled in the city the following year.

bonniephilposter(in the pic on the right she’s on the bill at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1968 with Joni Mitchell, Doc Watson, Buddy Guy, Phil Ochs and The Young Tradition – nice line-up)

Lost Ladies of Folk
She recorded just this one album for Argo, then one for Polydor in 1976 (Morning Dew), followed by a few singles in the early eighties. Since then it’s been pretty much reissues, retrospectives and compilations.

She had in fact called it quits – “I didn’t feel I was growing, I didn’t feel I was doing anything. I just seemed to be doing the same things over and over again and I thought some people are happy to do that, I wasn’t. So I thought I’ll go back and get my degree”. Once back in the university world, she stayed, working as an administrator in the Philosophy Department of Birkbeck College, London.

bonniedobsonlostladiesIn 2007, 28 years after she made her UK debut there, she was persuaded back on to the stage at Queen Elizabeth Hall by Jarvis Cocker, who was running a ‘Lost Ladies of Folk’ night as part of his Meltdown curatorship. By all accounts she was on fine form.

For a full discography of Bonnie Dobson, click here.

(1970) Various Artists – This Is Man’s World

•July 12, 2009 • 3 Comments

Argo issue number: ZFB 17

Issued in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). All proceeds from the record and sheet music (published by Robbins Music Corporation) went to the WWF

Recorded: at Decca Studios, London, July 1970
Producer: Frederick Woods
Engineers: Terry Johnson and Adrian Martins

David Attenborough
Liz Dyer
John Faulkner
David Goulder
Rick Jones
Sandra Kerr
Cyril Tawney

Frederick Woods
Jim Lacey
Donn Dunnigan


Side 1
A fable for tomorrow (from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson) – read by DA
This is man’s world – RJ vocal and guitar, JL & DD guitars
The big machines – LD vocal, DG guitar
This land is my land – CT vocal, DG guitar and chorus, FW
The land of the carrion crow – DG vocal and guitar, JF fiddle
Killing without thought – RJ vocal and guitar, JL & DD guitars

Side 2
Open your eyes – LD vocal, DG guitar
Bitter Harvest – JF vocal, SK guitar
Do you wanna come clean? – SK vocal and guitar, JF mandolin and chorus, FW chorus
If we did to their daughters what they’re doing to our land (Tawney) – CT unaccompanied
I’ve held your hand – SK vocal and dulcimer
The child from the future – RJ vocal and guitar, JL & DD guitars

Notes to follow

(1969) John Faulkner & Sandra Kerr – John & Sandra

•July 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

zfb2Argo issue number: ZFB 2

John Faulkner – vocals, mandolin
Sandra Kerr – vocals, dulcimer, concertina, guitar, whistle


Side One
Song of Choice (Peggy Seeger) – SK and JF
The Pneumatical Drill (trad arr AL Lloyd) – JF
Jack Orion (trad arr AL Lloyd) – SK
William Taylor (trad arr SK & JF) – JF and SK
The Unquiet Grave (trad) – SK
The Old Drover (trad) – JF
George Collins (trad) – SK

Side Two
Striking Times (trad arr SK & JF) – SK and JF
Seven Yellow Gypsies (trad arr SK & JF) – SK
Grand Conversation on Napoleon (trad) – JF
Three Jolly Butchers (trad arr SK & JF) – SK
The Rambling Royal (trad arr AL Lloyd) – JF
What’ll the Neighbours say (Sandra Kerr) – SK
Schooldays End (Ewan MacColl) – JF and SK

Notes to follow