CDSS Song of the Month
Community and traditional song in the 21st century
Join us each month in song!
CDSS designated 2016 our Year of Song. We chose it for two reasons: to honor the start of Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles’ prolific folk song collecting in southern Appalachia (1916-1918), and to look at how song serves CDSS's mission. This examination also begins a cycle of focusing on one or two genres at a time, as we identify community needs and allow for better use of our resources.
Our Song of the Month feature has been so well received that we decided to make it a permanent part of the website. You'll find an archive of these songs below as well as new ones being posted in the months to come.
CDSS’s song traditions are based primarily in the English and Anglo-American traditions — folk songs, ballads, sea shanties, rounds, songs with choruses. We also include spirituals, work songs, country harmony, African call and response, shape note and gospel, contemporary a cappella, and new arrangements of traditional songs. Our special emphasis is on community singing.
Lorraine Hammond, CDSS Board member and Song Task Group Chair, spearheaded our Year of Song efforts and oversaw 2016’s song selections. Judy Cook took on that role in 2017 and continues to contribute each month, with help from Lorraine. Our thanks to them both.
Note: Many of these old songs should be looked at as "fairy tales for adults" in that they often address very strong, and sometimes scary, subject matter. They allow us to deal with difficult situations and emotions with the distance afforded by putting it in a song. They are cautionary tales, and had their use as such.
Submitted by Jeff Gillett
Glenlogie, or Jean O Bethelnie is No. 238 in the Child Collection. The earliest text in Child dates back to 1768.
It is a ballad with a happy ending, but perhaps none the worse for that! There is no murder, no rape, no incest: the most sensational element is emotional blackmail. The young Lady Jeannie sees Glenlogie and falls head-over-heels in love with him. When he says he is already promised to another, she takes to her bed and prepares to die for love. Glenlogie relents, they are married and (we suppose) live happily ever after!
The tune that I know best for it was written by Shirley Collins, and I loved it from the moment Ron Taylor first introduced me to it.
I have a particularly soft spot for the song because it was one of the earliest for which I was happy with my own attempts at finding a way of accompanying traditional song that might enhance the vocal performance without restricting it in any way.
Here is the recorded performance of Glenlogie by Ron Taylor and myself (also featuring my other long-term collaborator, Becky Dellow on the fiddle), which is taken from our Wildgoose CD Buy it, Try it (and Never Repent You).
There were four and twenty nobles came to the king’s hall,
And bonny Glenlogie was the flower of them all.
And the fair Lady Jeannie came tripping downstairs
And fell in love with Glenlogie out of all that were there.
She sent for the footman that ran by his side,
Saying: ‘Who is that young man, and where does he bide?’
‘He bides at Glenlogie when he is at home,
And he’s of the gay Gordons; and his name is Lord John.’
‘Glenlogie, Glenlogie, and you would prove kind,
I have laid my love on you, I’m sure in my mind.’
But he’s turned around lightly, as the Gordons do all,
Says: ‘I thank you, Lady Jeannie, but I’m promised away.’
She’s sent for her ladies her bed for to make
And the rings on her fingers, she did them all break;
Saying: ‘Is there a bonny boy that would win hose and shoon
That would ride to Glenlogie and bid my love come?’
When Glenlogie saw the letter, a loud laugh laughed he.
But when he had read it, the tears blinded his eye;
Saying: ‘What is my lineage, and what is my make
That such a bonny lady should die for my sake?’
When he’s come to the castle, little mirth there was there
But weeping and wailing and tearing of hair.
And pale and wan was she when Glenlogie came in;
Ah, but red and rosy grew she when she saw it was him!
‘Turn around, Lady Jeannie, turn around to my side
For I’ll be the bridegroom, and you’ll be my bride!’
And it was a merry wedding - all silver and gold –
For bonny Jeannie Gordon, just seventeen years old.
Jeff Gillett writes: My interest in folk music dates back to my childhood, when my parents introduced me to the music of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. I later discovered Martin Carthy and began to explore folk music from the UK. I have a great deal of sympathy for those who regard folksong as an essentially unaccompanied form, and have devoted my own efforts as singer and accompanist to finding an approach that supports the song without swamping it.
I performed with Ron Taylor intermittently for about 30 years, concurrently working in largely instrumental line-ups with fiddle-player Becky Dellow (culminating in Mischief Afoot). I have appeared on albums by Jim Causley, Martin and Shan Graebe, Craig Morgan Robson and Marianne McAleer, and was also in a duo with Sarah Morgan. Currently, I perform solo and with Elaine Gillett as Discovery.
I play guitar, mandolin, mandola, English concertina and Appalachian Mountain dulcimer.
Sprig of Thyme
Submitted by Peter and Barbara Snape
"Sprig of Thyme" was widely collected and published on broadsides throughout the British Isles. The version we sing here is from the John Greaves collection of Irlam Hall, Manchester and published in Lancashire Lyrics, Songs and Ballads of the County Palatine, edited by John Harland in 1866.
The song is of the same character as "The Seeds of Love" and also "Love's Evil Choice or The Unfortunate Damsel," a poem written by Mrs Fleetwood of Habergham Hall, Padiham, near Burnley in Lancashire, who wrote it to console herself when, in 1689, her husband’s extravagances finally led to the loss of the family estate.
It is interesting to note some similarities between "Sprig of Thyme" and "Seeds of Love," the first song collected by Cecil Sharp.
Listen to Peter and Barbara Snape singing "Sprig of Thyme:"
You virgins far and near,
That flourish in your prime,
I’d have you keep your gardens clear,
Let no man steal your thyme.
Once I had a sprig of thyme,
It flourished night and day,
Til at length there came a false young man,
Who stole my thyme away.
And now my thyme’s all gone,
And I cannot plant no new,
In the very same place where grew my thyme,
It’s overrun with rue.
Rue, rue, runs over all;
But rue will not be seen,
I will plant again in the very same place,
And call it willow green.
Willow, willow, I must wear,
And willow is my doom,
Since my false love has forsaken me,
And left me here to moan.
The gardener standing by,
Three flowers he offered me,
The lily, the pink, the red rose-bud,
But I refused all three.
The pink is a flower that is sweet,
And so is the rose in June;
The lily is the virgin flower,
Alas! oft cropped too soon.
Peter and Barbara Snape live in the North West of England and perform traditional song from that area. They research songs with varied and interesting themes and perform them with commitment, passion and enjoyment. Closely aligned to their research and singing interests, Cotton Town Chronicles is a presentation of songs about working life during the age when cotton and coal were king in Lancashire. Anne Geddes Gilchrist, OBE, with its focus on the songs she collected in her native Lancashire, is an overview of a remarkable woman who became a pivotal figure both within the folk-song collecting community of the early 20th Century and in the publication of the Journal of the Folk Song Society.
Submitted by Arthur Knevett
This ballad has enjoyed widespread popularity. It was regularly printed on broadsides, which have kept it in circulation and helped to stabilize the text.
The story is a ‘ripping yarn’ concerning an adventurous lord who sails to Turkey and is taken prisoner. The jailer’s daughter, Sophie, releases him and he sails home to freedom. After seven years, she decides to find him, and having done so, he jilts his new bride and marries her!
It’s one of the few Child ballads that has a happy ending (except, of course, for the jilted bride). It has been a favourite of mine since I learnt it in the 1960s from the recording of Bert Lloyd (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. 2 on Riverside Records, 1956).
Submitted by Ed Trickett
I spent only one evening with E. G. Huntington at his home on Martha's Vineyard. That was in 1965. It was a truly wonderful evening of music and conversation, during which Gale played for me this version of the "Greenland Whale Fisheries" which he called "Brave Boys."
I didn't have a tape recorder or my photographic memory with me, so he wrote out the melody and sent it to me some months later, along with a small booklet of The Dukes County Intelligencer, May, 1961, which was published by the Dukes County Historical Society in Edgartown, Massachusetts.
Abroad as I Was Walking
Submitted by Carolyn Robson
The folk song collector George Gardiner collected over 1200 songs from the county of Hampshire in southern England during the period 1904–1908. In 1907, he collected about 164 songs from five women in the village of Axford near Basingstoke in the northwest of the county.
One of these women, Sarah Goodyear, gave him 41 of these songs, including one of my favourites, ’Abroad as I was walking.’ It is the common tale of a young woman who is seduced by an older man and falls pregnant. He is what is commonly termed a ‘bounder’ and blames her for her ‘wanton will,’ though she is just 14 years old. These days, it would have been a clear case of child sex abuse.
The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow (Child 214)
Submitted by Margaret Bennett
I've chosen a ballad I’ve loved for years: ‘The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow’ (Child 214).
As a student in the mid-sixties, I joined the Glasgow Folksong and Ballad Club, and among the unforgettable singers was an Aberdeenshire traveller, Davie Stewart. He played the accordion and sang with such conviction that I was transfixed.
The Setting of the Sun (Roud 133, Laws O 36)
Submitted by Martin Graebe
I heard this first as 'Polly Von,' sung by Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1960s, but that is an interpretation of a traditional song with many titles. Though widely found in England and Ireland, Roud lists more variants in the USA than from anywhere else.
This lovely version was collected by Sabine Baring-Gould from mine-worker Samuel Fone, of Mary Tavy, in 1893. Fone was his most prolific singer and a man who specialised in beautiful tunes, some learned from navvies he had worked with. I have 'repaired' verse 2. You can see the manuscript entry here.
Submitted by Cindy Mangsen
Child Ballad #239 exists in fragments, telling the story of Annachie and his love Jeannie, forced by her father to marry another man for his status and wealth. Jeannie tells her parents that if she marries the lord, she'll refuse to share his bed and will die for her true love.
Sure enough, she dies on the very day of the wedding, which is also the day Annachie returns from his seafaring. He dies, of course, of grief. It's a tear-jerker of a story, but when put to this beautiful melody (thank you, Nic Jones), becomes incredibly moving. Emily Friedman introduced me to this song, many years ago in Chicago.
This song was written in support of our friends working in health care and other essential fields during the COVID-19 pandemic, who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe and healthy while being denied everything from basic protective equipment to hazard pay. We wanted to send support to our friends on the front lines, express outrage and frustration that they have been put in such an impossible situation, and hope for the day that we can welcome them back safely.
This song is also a call to action for those of us who are still financially secure - please check out the fundraiser mentioned at the end of the video, with clickable links available through the video on YouTube and Facebook.
Braw Lads of Galla-Water
introduced by Andrew Calhoun
This lyric to "Galla-water" is taken from David Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scots Songs (1769), p. 312. Herd was an excellent collector who did not manipulate/correct the source material, but he did not publish the song melodies.
The song was next published as #125 in Volume 2 of The Scots Musical Museum, with the lyric poorly adjusted. The SMM’s musical editor, Stephen Clarke, only printed the A part of the melody, a move typical of this indolent character through whom so much of the Scots song tradition, including the bulk of the songs of Robert Burns, has unfortunately been filtered. Clarke was in fact a church organist from Durham, England.
The full tune I sing here, "Braw Lads of Galla-water," was published by James Oswald in book 8 of The Caledonian Companion in 1756. Burns wrote a new version of the song using the same first line for the publisher George Thomson, but it does not match the quality and mystery of the old words. The shifting perspective in the lyric is well supported by the contrasting musical parts.
The Lincolnshire Poacher
introduced by David Jones
"The Lincolnshire Poacher" has been referred to as the unofficial county anthem of Lincolnshire. It is said that the song was a favorite of King George IV and dates back to the American Revolution (1776).
The tune has been used as a quick march by several British regiments, including the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, who are known as the “Poachers.” It was also used by some New York Regiments during the American Civil War.
On a personal note: This was a song we sang at school. I first sang it when I was 10 years old, so I have known it for 75 years. It was a great relief to sing this song after “Who is Sylvia,” “Nymphs and Shepherds,” and other arty-type songs which were commonly sung in school singing classes. You may remember Jean Redpath talking about songs sung at British schools. She was very funny.
Another factor in its favor is that it has a good tune and is easy to sing.
The Hills of Mexico
introduced by Sara Grey
The tune and text is a variation of “Buffalo Skinners” from Woody Guthrie but Woody’s version is more likely derived from this version. This is one of my favorite songs – so plaintive such a common theme.
I heard this version from Roscoe Holcomb; it’s ironic the way songs can move in opposite directions. We doubt Roscoe ever travelled west – someone probably had migrated back to the Southeast and he heard it there.