Song of the Month

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Join us each month in song!
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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, as well as to Lynn Nichols for shepherding them to our website.

Happy singing!


A poacher creeps through the woods

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.

Listen to John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing "The Lincolnshire Poacher:"

"The Lincolnshire Poacher" sheet musicClick here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

Well I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire

Full well I served my master for more than seven year

'Til I took up a-poaching, as you will quickly hear
Oh, 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

As me and my companions were setting of a snare

'Twas then we spied the gamekeeper, for him we did not care

For we can wrestle and fight, my boys, and jump o'er anywhere
Oh, 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

As me and my companions were setting four or five
And taking of them up again, we caught a hare alive
We caught a hare alive, me boys, and homeward we did steer
Oh, 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

We put him over our shoulder and then we trudged on home

We took him to a neighbor's house, and sold him for a crown
We sold him for a crown, my boys, but I dare not tell you where

Oh, 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

Good luck to every gentleman that lives in Lincolnshire
Good luck to every poacher that wants to steal a hare

Bad luck to every gamekeeper that will not sell his deer
Oh, 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

David Jones: a South East Londoner, born in 1934, has been singing the old songs for many years. Earliest remembered folksongs are "The Lincolnshire Poacher" and "The Farmer's Boy," learned at school in the mid-1940s. He has sung in the USA more than anywhere else, but has made forays back to the UK, to Australia, and to parts of Europe. He has sung solo, and with a number of groups, and, on the way, has recorded several albums of folksongs. Now, he lives in Leonia, NJ, Gateway to the Golden West, with his wife Louise, and tries to be involved as much as possible with the NYC folk music scene. Has appeared in a number of NYC theater productions to favorable reviews. Last local performance was as Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady.

A cowboy sitting on his horse

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.

Listen to Sara Grey and her son Kieron Means sing "The Hills of Mexico," from their album Better Days a Comin':

"The Hills of Mexico" sheet musicClick here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

When I's in old Fort Worth in eighteen eighty-three
An old Mexican cowboy come steppin’ up to me
Sayin' “How’d you like, young feller, and how’d you like to go
And to spend another season with me in Mexico?”

Lord, I had no employment, back to him did say
“Well, accordin' to your wages, accordin' to your pay.”
“I will pay to you good wages and oft times, too, you know
If you'll spend another season with me in Mexico.”

Now with all this flatterin' talkin' he signed up quite a train
Some ten or twelve in number, some able bodied men
And our trip it was a pleasant one, and we hit the western road
And we crossed the old Peace River to those hills of Mexico.

It was there our pleasures ended and our troubles they began
Well, a lightning storm did hit us and made our cattle run
And we all got full of stickers from the cactus that did grow
And the outlaws they did rob us in those hills of Mexico.

Well I went up to that cowboy, and I gave to him my hand
And he gave me a string of horses, so old they could not stand
And I nearly starved to death there, and I mean to let you know
That I never saved a dollar in those hills of Mexico.

Oh they put me on a steamboat and back to home did go
Well the bells they did ring, and the whistle it did blow
Well the bells they did ring, and the whistle it did blow
Far from the God-forsaken country that they call Old Mexico.

Sara Grey is a fine American singer, banjo player and song collector, who is immersed in the song traditions of both sides of the Atlantic. Her love affair with traditional songs for over 60 years has given her an incomparable knowledge of songs and ballads and how they have moved and evolved. She wants to gather the songs and pass them on to future generations so that they will have the pleasure of hearing and singing them just as she has. After living and singing in Britain for more than 45 years, Sara has returned to her native New England and is living in Maine with her husband Dave. She continues to tour actively, mostly with her son Kieron Means. See more about Sara at her website.

Three angelic women in sailing shipsI Saw Three Ships by Walter Crane, courtesy of The Victorian Internet

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 discovers the tailor in the cupboard

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.”

The Lady Elgin"The lake steamer Lady Elgin, as she lay at her wharf at Chicago on the day before she was lost. -From a photograph by S. Alschuler."

Lost on the Lady Elgin

introduced by Lee Murdock

This song was composed by Henry C. Work in the wake of one of the worst maritime disasters to occur until that time. The Lady Elgin was a side-wheel steam-powered vessel, 300 feet long with a capacity of 1000 tons. She carried finished goods, mail, general freight and passengers between lake-towns in the United States and Canada. Her master was Captain Jack Wilson, well respected among his peers and considered a first-rate sailor.

Cemetery in Newfoundland, CanadaBright Phoebe

introduced by Kim Wallach

It was autumn, around 16 years ago, a friend died unexpectedly of a heart attack. My marriage with my hopes and dreams was also dying. I was searching through my big collections of songs - Lomax, Warner etc - tracking down songs I wanted to learn. I found "Pinery Boy," and the Warner version of "Lang a-Growing." Then in Folk Songs of the Catskills by Cazden, Haufrecht & Studer, State University of New York Press, Albany c 1982, I found the relatively rare "Bright Phoebe." The raw grief and loss in both melody and lyric matched what I was feeling perfectly, and I set about learning it.

I am a singer and a songwriter. The way I understand the world, my place in it and my feelings about it has always been through music.

Mark WalkerTickle Cove Pond

by Mark Walker
introduced and performed by Anita Best

"Tickle Cove Pond" was written by Mark Walker, a fisherman and songwriter who lived in Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay in Newfoundland, Canada during the late 19th century. This song is prized locally for the beauty and wit of the lyrics, which turn a mundane event into an act of heroism. In addition, this song has been recorded by a St. John's Traditional Folk group called Connemara, Anita Best and Sandy Morris on a CD entitled Some Songs, and by classical singer Meredith Hall. It was also recorded by the Vermont-based ensemble Nightingale.

A convict in chains en route to AustraliaFor the Company Underground

introduced by Margaret Walters
performed by Margaret Walters, Don Brian, and Robert Boddington

Words: Francis MacNamara, aka Frank the Poet, written approx. 1839

Tune: adapted by Margaret Walters from “Norwich Gaol” from Peter Bellamy's 1977 ballad opera, The Transports

Francis MacNamara was a convict transported to Australia in 1832 on the ship Eliza. An incorrigible rogue, he served more than 17 years punishment. "For the Company Underground" is Frank's letter to J. Crosdale, Esq., who was the superintendent of the Australia Company's Colliery Establishment in Newcastle (north of Sydney), outlining the precise conditions under which he would be prepared to work underground.

Frank Proffitt playing banjoI'm Going Back to North Carolina

Traditional
introduced by Judy Cook
performed by Frank Proffitt

I love this traditional song from the southern Appalachians for its simplicity, accessibility, and poignancy. It’s easy to keep it going by adding either the first or third verse as a chorus between every verse, or by adding any number of “zipper verses” that might suit the situation. We have the song sung by Frank Proffitt on the album Frank Proffitt of Reese, NC (1962), Folk Legacy Album #1. The entire Folk Legacy catalog is now available on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

The Maid of Sweet Gurteen

introduced by Marge Steiner

The song is found in Northern Ireland and in the Canadian Maritimes. 
Roud number: 3025

The singer is Frank Murphy in Derryard, Roslea.

Recorded on 08/21/1978

I like to introduce people to source singers when I'm giving talks and such, and I was taken with Frank Murphy's modal rendition. Please note that, as with many source singers, Frank’s tune varies from verse to verse. We have transcribed the first verse here, but urge people to listen carefully to the entire song.

Starving to Death on a Government Claim

introduced by Bob Bovee

"Starving to Death on a Government Claim," also known as Lane or Greer County Bachelor, is a traditional song from the late 19th century. It's often sung in 6/8 time to the tune of "The Irish Washerwoman," or sometimes in 3/4. I learned it from a 78 rpm record by Ed Crain with considerable changes to the tune, words and tempo. Growing up in Nebraska, I can identify with the life and landscape of this song, the hardships of a difficult existence.

When I Went for to Take My Leave

introduced by Dave Para and Cathy Barton

Ozark song collector Loman Cansler often sang this song he learned from his grandfather James Broyles, originally from Laclede County, Missouri, and he recorded it for Folkways in 1959. A variant of “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” its extended phrasing suggests a Western sound. The Civil War references are vague, but the main story remains all too relevant. “Texian” was a term used by early colonists and leaders in the Texas Revolution, many of whom were influential during the Civil War.

Watch Dave and Cathy sing the song in the video on the right (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mKnh6_xrCw). You can also hear Loman Cansler sing it from his 1959 Folkways album on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/track/41kBY3yNTtZ80GqkOamMVu.

Drive Dull Care Away

introduced by Dick Swain

This wonderful song was introduced to most people by Joe Hickerson on his recording, Drive Dull Care Away, Vol. 1, Folk Legacy Records, FSI-58. It was collected on Prince Edward Island from Charles Gorman by folklorist Edward (Sandy) Ives, and published in his book, Drive Dull Care Away: Folksongs from Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, PEI, Institute for Island Studies 1999, pp. 81-82. The book includes a CD with a field recording of Charles Gorman singing the song. In the late 18th and early 19th century  it appeared in broadsides and a number of songsters under the titles "Contentment" or "The Friendly Society." In the notes to his recording, Joe Hickerson says that an untitled version of the song was published in the September 30, 1775 issue of The Pennsylvania Ledger; or the Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania & New Jersey Weekly Advertiser, and included the refrain, "Let us then constant be / For while we're here / My friends so dear / We'll fight for liberty."

Listen to John Roberts and Debra Cowan sing the song in this YouTube video (also embedded above): https://youtu.be/LElqdYyWwu4

Welcome Home My Sailor

introduced by Ian Robb

Score Welcome Home My SailorClick on the image for a downloadable PDFI first heard this “unbroken token” ballad from a young St. John's singer, Ellen Power, then in her teens, at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival. Asking around, I discovered that the song had come from singer and accordion player Dorman Ralph, of Little Harbour Deep, White Bay, Newfoundland, who lived in St John's from 1956 until his death in 1999.

I was attracted to the song for two reasons: Firstly, I loved the denouement, when not only do the long parted lovers fall into each other's arms, but “both sat down to sing..." Secondly, I was intrigued by the melody, which is a version of that collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Harriet Verrall, in Monk's Gate, Sussex, and to which he set John Bunyan's poem “To Be a Pilgrim," creating one of the best known English hymns. On the English folk scene, the tune is mostly associated with Mrs Verrall's song “Our Captain Cried All Hands” and with a version of “A Blacksmith Courted Me," but despite the fact that the text of “Welcome Home My Sailor” is known in England, sung and recorded by no less than Lal Waterson and later, Eliza Carthy, the tune used is quite different.

The words here are as I sing it, mostly from Jim Payne and Fergus O'Byrne's version on their CD, How Good is Me Life, with some inevitable minor tinkering.

Sweet William's Ghost

introduced by Lisa Null

The version I sing of "Sweet Williams Ghost" (Child #77) is based on the singing of Mike Kent of Cape Broyle Newfoundland. It was collected as "Lady Margaret" in 1951 by Kenneth Peacock in Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, vol 2. I love the way it deals with the continuance of love and commitment after death. William has to be relieved of the promise he made to marry Margaret who follows him over the hills walking and talking, even asking if she can be buried with him. It's an old ballad, appearing in Allan Ramsay's The Tea Table Miscellany (1740) and Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Bill Shute accompanies this song on a guitar played like a hammered dulcimer. 

Listen to Bill and Lisa sing the song on this YouTube clip (also embedded above): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SlzH1KI7V4

Double Sledder Lad

introduced by Matthew Byrne

Variant of a traditional ballad called "The Lumber Camp Song" found all over northeastern North America. Evidence collected on its background suggests a New Brunswick or Maine origin. This variant was arranged and recorded by Jim Payne & Fergus O'Byrne on their 1995 album Wave Over Wave: Old And New Songs Of Atlantic Canada (SingSong Inc). A very similar variant was collected in 1959 from Martin Deveau of Upper Ferry, NL, by Kenneth Peacock and published as Hurling Down The Pine in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Volume 3, pp.750-751, by the National Museum of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.

The Devil Buck

introduced by Mark Gilston

angrybuck revThis song was "gifted" to me by Ben Mendel from New York City in the late 1970's. He told me he learned it from Bob Beers and that it was originally from Montana. I have been unable to find any other recorded sources or versions, though my understanding is that the huge evil cervine premonition of death is a legend in the northwestern states and in southwestern Canada. It certainly is a wonderfully eerie song, and I always included it in concerts around Halloween.

Listen to Mark sing the tune (also embedded above): https://youtu.be/dN3kdF21LPw

Song, Composed in August (Now Westlin Winds) by Robert Burns

introduced by Andrew Calhoun

grouse resizedThis was first published in the Kilmarnock edition of Robert Burns' Poems: Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. Burns' first draft was written ten years before in 1776. Robert was then 17 and its addressee, Peggy Thomson, of Kirkoswald, was 13. Burns indicated that it was to be sung to the tune of a humorous Ayrshire ballad, "I Had A Horse, I Had Nae Mair." 

 

 

 

Here is the first verse of the model: 

'I had a horse, and I had nae mair,
I gat him frae my daddy;
My purse was light, and my heart was fair,
But my wit it was fu' ready.
And sae I thought me on a time,
Outwittens of my daddy,
To see mysell to a lawland laird,
Wha had a bonny lady.'

Mr. Burns later sent his lyric to The Scots Musical Museum, indicating that it could be set to the tune, "Port Gordon." Scholars for well over a century have taken this gesture as evidence that Burns was disaffected with his original choice, which has never been published with the lyric; but they are missing something. "I Had a Horse, I Had Nae Mair" (I Had No More) had already been published, with its tune, in the second volume of the Musical Museum, where it is song #185; James Johnson (and Burns) preferred not to repeat melodies, hence his flexibility. The tune to which this is now commonly sung is neither of those to which he assigned it. Robert Burns is unique among major poets of his time in composing to melodies; he played fiddle, and needed to become deeply engaged with a tune before he could write lyrics for it; he was also a  major collector of traditional lyrics and tunes. I explain in the linked video why this particular tune is of inseparable artistic importance to this particular lyric. 

The Bay of Biscay

introduced by Harry Tuft

The origin of this song, "The Bay Of Biscay" eludes me, even after a search of the internet. It appears that versions have been done by Shirley and Dolly Collins and Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, before the version I heard and have used in my own singing, by Norma Waterson on the album Waterson/Carthy. I imagine it would fall into the category of the ghost return of a dead lover. The melody is appropriately haunting, and Ms. Waterson's version is impressive. I included it on an album I released in 2011, Treasures Untold, on my own label, Manasses Records.

Here is a link to Norma Waterson singing “The Bay of Biscay” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_BK-e9mlvI (also embedded above)

The Boy That Wore The Blue

introduced by Shelley Posen

The Boy that Wore the Blue photoThe Boy That Wore The Blue, also known as The Soldier’s Letter, is an American Civil War song of unknown origin, Roud #4389. For some reason, it found favour in the logging camps of Eastern Canada and the Northeast U.S. over the next century.

I learned it in 1977 from Loy Gavan in Chapeau, Quebec, a village on Allumette Island in the Upper Ottawa Valley. It’s one of the most poignant and eloquent songs I’ve ever heard. The song’s vague and seemingly random provenance gives some insight into how traditional singing worked in a community, how offhand and precarious it could be, and how lucky we are to have what traditional songs we have.

The Boy That Wore The Blue came to Chapeau in the 1930s via an itinerant man-of-all work named Carl Brian—an “Englishman” (from England? an Anglophone?) who came from Quebec, no one knew exactly where. He cleaned the stables at the village hotel and did farm chores. Always short of money, Brian sang in the hotel bar after work for drinks: “He'd sit and sing that song I betcha four times in the night,” said Loy. “He sang lots of songs, but that was the best—the best song, the best story.” Loy’s older brother Cliff learned it from Brian, and Loy learned it from Cliff.

The Boy That Wore The Blue captivated me the first time I heard Loy sing it, and was the first of many songs I learned from him. It was “Loy’s song” in Chapeau: if I asked someone else to sing it, they’d demure: “That’s Loy’s song”—meaning not his property, but that he sang it best.

     
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