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 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).
The mp3 is from the Fellside “Ballads” CD in 1997.
Listen to Arthur Knevett singing "Lord Bateman:"
Lord Bateman was a noble lord
A noble lord of some high degree
He set his foot on board of ship
Some foreign country he would go see
He sailed east and he sailed west
Until he came to proud Turkey
There he was taken and put in prison
‘Til of his life he grew quite weary
Now in this prison there grew a tree
It grew so stout and it grew so strong
There he was chained all by the middle
Until his life it was almost gone.
This jailer had but one only daughter
The fairest creature my two eyes did see
She stole the keys to her father’s prison
And vowed Lord Bateman she would set free.
“Have you got houses, have you got lands
And does Northumberland belong to thee?
What would you give to that fair young lady
That out of prison would set you free?”
“Oh I’ve got houses and I’ve got lands
And half Northumberland belongs to me
I’d give it all to that fair young lady
That out of prison would set me free.”
She took him to her marble parlour
With sugar cake and the best of wine
And every health that she drank unto him,
“I wish, Lord Bateman, your heart was mine.
“For seven long years I will make a vow
For seven long years I will keep it strong
If you do not wed to no other woman
Then I will wed to no other man.”
She took him to her father’s harbour
And gave to him a ship of fame.
“Adieu, adieu to you Lord Bateman
I fear I never will see you again.”
When seven long years and fourteen days
When seven long years well nigh were gone
She dressed herself in her silken clothes
O’er the raging main to find Lord Bateman.
She floated low and she floated high
‘Till turf and stone she has chanced to spy
Then she went cracking of her fair white fingers
As for Lord Bateman she did enquire.
“Oh isn’t this Lord Batemans palace
And is that noble lord within?”
“Oh yes, oh yes,” cried the brisk young porter
“He has just taken his new bride in.”
“Then tell him to send me a slice of bread
And a bottle of the best of wine
And not to forget that fair young lady
That did release him when close confined.”
“What news, what news, oh my brisk young porter
What news, what news have you brought to me?”
“There is a lady enquiring for you
The fairest creature my eyes did see.
“She tells you to send her a slice of bread
And a bottle of the best of wine
And not to forget that fair young lady
Who did release you when close confined.”
Lord Bateman flew into a passion
He broke the table in splinters three
“I’ll lay my life if that’s young Sophie
So now my new wed wife, farewell to thee.”
“I own I made a bride of thee
But you’re none the better nor the worse by me,
You came to me on a horse and saddle
You shall go back in a coach and three.”
He then prepared such another wedding
And both their hearts, they was full of glee.
“I’ll sail no more to a foreign country
Now that my Sophie has crossed the sea.”
Arthur Knevett writes: I have had a passion for English traditional songs, particularly ballads, since the 1960s. When a folk club opened in Surbiton, where I lived, I was one the first members. Over the years I have sung at many clubs and festivals but always working around the ‘day job’ as a university lecturer. Now that I have more time available I am pursuing academic research, writing journal articles and giving guest lectures while also continuing with my great passion of singing traditional songs. Further details can be found at my website.
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.
The booklet was filled with songs Gale had collected from the Tilton family, a family famous for their singing as well as for their whaling. The words to "Brave Boys" were in it, but the tune Gale wrote out for me was different from that in the book. Of the two, I chose the one he had sung for me that night, and am proud to be able to pass it on.
Listen to Ed Trickett singing "Brave Boys:"
It was eighteen hundred and thirty-nine,
On the thirteenth day of May,
We weighed our anchor and set our sail
And for Greenland bore away, brave boys,
For Greenland bore away.
The Captain's name it was William Moore,
And the mate's name was the same.
The ship she was called the Lion so bold,
As she plowed the raging main, brave boys,
She plowed the raging main.
Oh, the mate he stood in the top cross tree,
And a fine looking man was he,
A-searching the horizon with a spy-glass in his hand,
"It's a whale, a whale, a fish, brave boys,
It's a whale, a fish," cried he.
And the Captain he stood on the quarterdeck,
A fine looking man was he,
"Overhaul, overhaul, let your davit tackles fall,
And lower your boats to the sea, brave boys,
Lower your boats to the sea."
The boats being lowered and the whale being struck,
He gave one flurry with his tail,
And down went the boat and them six jolly tars,
Never to rise any more, brave boys,
No, they never come up any more.
When the Captain he heard of the loss of his men,
It grieved his heart full sore,
But when he heard of the loss of that whale,
it grieved him ten times more, brave boys,
grieved him ten times more.
Oh, the summer months are past and gone,
And cold winter's coming on,
So, we'll head our ship back to New Bedford
And the pretty girls standing on the shore, brave boys,
pretty girls standing on the shore.
Ed Trickett writes: I have been collecting and performing folk music for over 60 years. My early musical influences were Frank Proffitt, Larry Older, Bob and Evelyn Beers, George and Gerry Armstrong, and Howie Mitchell. Later I learned from and sang with a number of other musicians whose commitment and talent were/are extraordinary: Gordon Bok, Bob Coltman, Cathy Barton and Dave Para, and Ann Mayo Muir. My recording efforts began in 1964 with the Golden Ring (Folk-Legacy #16), a loose collection of friends who used to gather in the living room of George and Gerry Armstrong in Wilmette, Illinois. I’ve been part of 4 other ensemble recordings since then, all with Folk Legacy Records, recorded 4 solo albums, and, during the 26 years I sang with Gordon Bok and Ann Mayo Muir, ten other CDs. “Brave Boys” is a traditional song I learned from Gale Huntington at his house on Martha’s Vineyard in 1965.
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.
I Saw Three Ships
introduced by Dave Para
Like John Roberts & Tony Barrand, Dave Para loves this "Crawn" version of the widespread carol “I Saw Three Ships.” It was collected in 1895 from a Humber estuary boatman on the east coast of England, and ultimately published by Baring-Gould in his Garland of Country Songs in the same year.
It finally makes sense out of the puzzle of why three ships appear in the Christmas narrative at all. Legend has it that the skulls ("crawns" = "craniums" = "crowns"?) of the "Kings" or "Wise Men" were taken and lodged in the cathedral at Cologne.
Dave thinks of this more as a pilgrim carol than a Christmas song, so here it is in March.
The Trooper and the Tailor
introduced by Mark Gilston
I performed my first public concert at the Yellow Door Coffeehouse in Montreal in 1971. When I was putting together my set list, I noticed that two of the songs contained lyrics about ears which had been isolated from their owners’ heads. “The Cat Came Back” had the line, “Next day all they found was Freddy’s own right ear.” “Perrine” had the the line, “The mice they chewed and chewed and only left an ear.” I was also familiar with the song, “Jackknife” from the Unholy Modal Rounders, which begins, “I was cleaning my jackknife when you did appear. I had a fight with you; I cut off your ear.”