Just A Summary

Piers Cawley Practices Punditry

Pretty Saro

Pretty Saro by pdcawley

I’m a wee bit late writing this because it’s mostly about my summer trip to the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, North Carolina. It just so happened that YAPC (Yet Another Perl Conference) was held in Asheville this year, the week before the gathering’s Traditional Song Week. Well, I’m a perl hacker. I sing traditional songs. My employer was paying for me to attend YAPC and were willing for me to extend my stay in America by a week. It was a no brainer really.

YAPC was bloody good this year. Perl 5 development is moving forward and the community is buzzing because of it. Lots of “… and we’re hiring” slides. And that’s before we get to the pleasure of catching up with friends that I only see online most of the time. If you’re working in any field that has grassroots conferences associated with it, I can’t recommend attending them highly enough.

On to Swannanoa

At Swannanoa, I met Sheila Kay Adams and immediately switched my schedule to spend as much time singing with her as possible. Sheila’s a seventh generation ballad singer from the Sodom Laurel community in Madison Count. Her “grannie Berzil” Wallin remembered Cecil Sharp coming to Madison County and collecting songs from the family.

Pedigree in singing shouldn’t matter, but it turns out it does. Sheila grew up in a community which was changing, but which still had old ‘love songs’ as an important part of how it understood the world. Today, not so much. People still relate to the world and understand it through songs, but the songs are more likely to be contemporary. Lyrically, many of the love songs that Sheila and her family sing could have been written yesterday, but their performance is radically different from contemporary style. One voice, unaccompanied, a style that requires the listener to concentrate on the song rather than any aspects of production. Not something you’re going to dance to at your wedding, say.

Sheila’s classes, on Meeting House Songs (more later) and her Ballads class with Bobbie McMillon were just wonderful; I won’t forget in a hurry the sound Bobbie singing “A conversation with Death” as a thunderstorm grumbled across the campus in the background. Spine tingling stuff. Sheila’s description of how she learned songs “knee to knee” has been helpful too. The way it would work was that the teacher and student would be sat out on the porch, often doing some chore or another, and the teacher would sing the first verse of a song. The student would sing it back and the teacher would sing the second verse. The student would then sing the first two verses then the teacher would sing the third verse and the student would sing the first three verses and so on, until the student was singing the whole song back to the teacher. A time consuming process to be sure, but it works.

I know this because I learned Pretty Saro from a recording of Sheila’s late husband Jim Taylor, using a variant of the method, “knee to CD” if you like. I’d play the first verse, hit pause and sing it back, play the second verse, pause, repeat the first two… and so on. And in very short order I had the words and tune (up to a point; I listened back to that recording again recently and I’m singing a different tune now) and could start the process of actually learning the song, which involved singing it it lots, listening to other recordings, singing it some more and then taking the song out and trying it out in front of audiences and listening to what works and what doesn’t. I’ve never really finished learning a song; this recording is a snapshot. I hope you enjoy it.

Pretty Saro

Pretty Saro by pdcawley

I’m a wee bit late writing this because it’s mostly about my summer trip to the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, North Carolina. It just so happened that YAPC (Yet Another Perl Conference) was held in Asheville this year, the week before the gathering’s Traditional Song Week. Well, I’m a perl hacker. I sing traditional songs. My employer was paying for me to attend YAPC and were willing for me to extend my stay in America by a week. It was a no brainer really.

YAPC was bloody good this year. Perl 5 development is moving forward and the community is buzzing because of it. Lots of “… and we’re hiring” slides. And that’s before we get to the pleasure of catching up with friends that I only see online most of the time. If you’re working in any field that has grassroots conferences associated with it, I can’t recommend attending them highly enough.

On to Swannanoa

At Swannanoa, I met Sheila Kay Adams and immediately switched my schedule to spend as much time singing with her as possible. Sheila’s a seventh generation ballad singer from the Sodom Laurel community in Madison Count. Her “grannie Berzil” Wallin remembered Cecil Sharp coming to Madison County and collecting songs from the family.

Pedigree in singing shouldn’t matter, but it turns out it does. Sheila grew up in a community which was changing, but which still had old ‘love songs’ as an important part of how it understood the world. Today, not so much. People still relate to the world and understand it through songs, but the songs are more likely to be contemporary. Lyrically, many of the love songs that Sheila and her family sing could have been written yesterday, but their performance is radically different from contemporary style. One voice, unaccompanied, a style that requires the listener to concentrate on the song rather than any aspects of production. Not something you’re going to dance to at your wedding, say.

Sheila’s classes, on Meeting House Songs (more later) and her Ballads class with Bobbie McMillon were just wonderful; I won’t forget in a hurry the sound Bobbie singing “A conversation with Death” as a thunderstorm grumbled across the campus in the background. Spine tingling stuff. Sheila’s description of how she learned songs “knee to knee” has been helpful too. The way it would work was that the teacher and student would be sat out on the porch, often doing some chore or another, and the teacher would sing the first verse of a song. The student would sing it back and the teacher would sing the second verse. The student would then sing the first two verses then the teacher would sing the third verse and the student would sing the first three verses and so on, until the student was singing the whole song back to the teacher. A time consuming process to be sure, but it works.

I know this because I learned Pretty Saro from a recording of Sheila’s late husband Jim Taylor, using a variant of the method, “knee to CD” if you like. I’d play the first verse, hit pause and sing it back, play the second verse, pause, repeat the first two… and so on. And in very short order I had the words and tune (up to a point; I listened back to that recording again recently and I’m singing a different tune now) and could start the process of actually learning the song, which involved singing it it lots, listening to other recordings, singing it some more and then taking the song out and trying it out in front of audiences and listening to what works and what doesn’t. I’ve never really finished learning a song; this recording is a snapshot. I hope you enjoy it.

A Child of the Library, revised

Here’s a revised version of A Child of the Library.

Child Of The Library (Revised) by pdcawley

Whenever I learn a new song, there’s a period of making it “mine”. This happens as I sing it out to different audiences and find out which bits work, which bits are hard to sing and all the other little details that you only find out when there’s a living, breathing, listening and (hopefully) singing audience in front of you.

It turns out that the same things happens with songs I’ve written.

The biggest stumbling block of the original version is the last line of the first verse:

My wife met Pippi Langstumpf, I met Paddington the Bear

Someone on the comment thread suggested:

Heidi, Pippi Longstocking and Paddington the Bear

Which is fine, except that means singing ‘PIPpi LONGstockING’, and I’m not happy with putting the emphasis on the WRONG sylLABles if I can possibly help it. In the revised version, I think I’ve cracked it. The line is now:

The daughter of a pirate king and Paddington the bear

Which is much easier to sing and follows the rest of the verse by being a more oblique reference to the character. If you know who Pippi is, then it’s obvious who I’m singing about. If you don’t, then maybe I’ve piqued your curiosity.

The first recording also had two slightly different tunes for the verses, this version has settled on just the one.

And, for people who care about that sort of thing, this was recorded with a click track at 110bpm rather than speeding up over the course of the song, which should make life a little easier for anyone taking part in Rabid Gravy’s project to remix and rerecord different versions of the song.

If you’re concerned about Library closures, a good place to start is Voices for the Library. If you’re on twitter, you might also start following @ukpling. If you’re not concerned about library closures, why on earth did you read this far, and what kind of excuse for a human being are you?

Published on Mon, 04 Apr 2011 05:45:00 GMT by Piers Cawley under . Tags , , , , ,

Lands' End

Lands’ End Mail Order Catalogue by pdcawley

This is by Chris Manners, a Yorkshireman who I met when we were both exiled in Essex. The commute into London from Essex was made so much more bearable if we managed to share it with Chris and Tim Blyth. The day Chris moved back home was a day of mixed feelings, we were sorry to lose his company every but delighted for him too. As well as being good company, Chris is an accomplished singer, guitarist and, as this song proves, songwriter. I’m very pleased that he’s given me permission to record this.

Enjoy.

Published on Mon, 21 Feb 2011 01:44:00 GMT by Piers Cawley under . Tags , , ,

Save Our Libraries

So, on Saturday, the opening line, and pretty much the entire tune, of a song banged on my head as we went to our local Library to fill our boots with books and generally get with the “Save our Libraries” message. Here it is. Sing it out. Sing it loud.

Child of the Library by pdcawley

A Child of the Library

Chorus:
I’m a Child of the Lib’ry, it made me who I am,
It taught me about freedom and the fellowship of Man
A sea of story waits for you behind the lib’ry door,
Don’t say we can’t afford them any more.

The Lib’ry’s where I made some friends I’ve known my whole life through
The Walkers and the Blacketts and the Pevensies so true.
Simp the canine cannonball, Galadriel the fair.
The daughter of a pirate king and Paddington the Bear

I’ve travelled South with Shackleton and all his gallant crew
And to the African interior that Mary Kingsley knew
I’ve rode the trackless prairie where the bison used to roam
An travelled round the Universe, not half an hour from home.

And as I grew the libr’y fed my curiosity,
All there for the asking. All of it for free.
It’s there I found the stories that I couldn’t find at home.
It’s where I learned I was myself and not my father’s clone.

So make friends with your library, don’t let it fade away.
Teach your kids the lib’ry’s where you go on Saturday.
Don’t let the bastards tell you they will cost to much to save
While they’re shovelling our taxes down the hole the bankers made

So make a stand for the lib’ry. Stand up while you can.
Stand up for your freedom. Stand for your fellow man.
Ignorance is never bliss, don’t close the lib’ry door.
For a lib’ry lost is lost forever more.

Lyrics © 2011 Piers and Gill Cawley
Music © 2011 Piers Cawley

Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA License.

Anyone who sings this is a friend of ours.

Notes and Updates

Mike Whitaker has worked out a set of chords for this, if you’re happier singing with a guitar. Frankly, instrumentation scares me, I’m much happier singing unaccompanied but I realise I’m in a minority on this.

When you sing it, try making the song your own by changing things to suit your own. Julie Chilton’s posted an alternate first verse in the comments, but the world is the mollusc of your choice.

The ‘I’ in the song, isn’t quite me and it isn’t quite Gill either. Most importantly, both of us grew up in houses where no book was out of bounds. Our fathers used to take us to our respective local libraries (Lewisham for Gill, Doncaster Central and then Bawtry for me) every week or so on a Saturday morning. As soon as I was old enough, I’d ride my bike from our home in Scrooby to Bawtry with a carrier full of books hanging off the handlebars. Bawtry is currently in the crosshairs of Doncaster’s idiot mayor – the bloke who suggested getting kindles for everyone instead – along with 13 other libraries in the district.

There’s a revised version of the recording with additional notes at: http://www.bofh.org.uk/2011/04/04/a-child-of-the-library-revised, or just press play:

Child Of The Library (Revised) by pdcawley

August 9th 2011

I’ve updated the lyrics here to reflect what I sing now. A few of the clumsier bits have been fixed. Hopefully there will be video from my performance at OSCON 2011, which has the ‘right’ lyrics.

Published on Wed, 09 Feb 2011 02:50:00 GMT by Piers Cawley under . Tags , , , , ,

Repertoire Project: Lottery Song

Lottery Song by pdcawley

This is the only song I’ve written. I don’t really think of myself as a songwriter at all, but Gill was doing a songwriting module on the Folk degree at Newcastle University and was writing a suite of songs about the lottery. She was stuck trying to write something about how lottery winners think the money won’t change them but it does. As I was driving her into town for her lecture, I suggested that maybe what she should do was change the viewpoint and try and write something from the point of view of a friend of the big winner.

I dropped her off at the Armstrong Building and, as I pulled out of the university car park, this song fell on me. It arrived pretty much fully formed – I had a tune and all the verses by the time I got back to our house in Bensham, so I wrote it down fast as I could, tweaked a few bits and pieces, kicked out a verse that didn’t belong and recorded the tune into garageband with my laptop’s internal mic just so I didn’t forget it.

“I’ve written that song!” I said as I picked Gill up.

She nearly killed me.

Published on Mon, 31 Jan 2011 16:00:00 GMT by Piers Cawley under . Tags , , , , ,

Tamlyn

Tamlyn by pdcawley

Ah, Tamlyn, one of the ‘muckle sangs’ appropriate to this time of year. This isn’t the first time I’ve recorded this and put it online, but I lost the original AIFF files and Bandcamp doesn’t accept lossy files.

So, rather late for Halloween, I’ve rerecorded it.

This is the first time I’ve broken my ‘one take’ rule – when you’re singing a 10 minute long song and you cock it up 7 minutes in (for the second time), you tend to think “Sod it! I’ll fix it in post” so here it is – with only the grossest errors covered up.

I got the bones of this from Pete Morton’s version on “Frivolous Love”, but it’s been modified somewhat by hearing Mike Waterson’s take on it (which seems to have informed Pete as well) and I found the pair of verses involving the “old grey knight” on Mudcat and thought that they help make Margaret a little less of a doormat and more the kind of strong willed independent woman that’s depressingly rare in folk songs.

Published on Sun, 07 Nov 2010 11:37:00 GMT by Piers Cawley under . Tags , , , , ,

The Blackbird, by Dave Webber

The Blackbird by pdcawley

‘Lady of Autumn’, by Beggar’s Velvet was one of the earliest influences on my singing as I switched repertoire from the ‘plastic Paddy’ phase of my early years as a singer (I can still remember songs like the Fields of Athenry and Carrickfergus, I just don’t sing them any more). Dave Webber is both great singer and a great songwriter and this heartfelt song about the pleasures of nature and the necessity of singing got me right between the eyes and I just had to learn it. There’s not much on that album that I haven’t had in my repertoire at one time or another over the years, and I heartily recommend you all check it out.

So, although this isn’t not traditional, I have sought out and received Dave’s permission to put up my recordings of some of his songs here, and this is the first one. Enjoy.

Published on Sat, 06 Nov 2010 07:29:00 GMT by Piers Cawley . Tags , , ,

Composed in August

Composed in August by pdcawley

A compare and contrast day today. I’m not sure when Jon Boden recorded Now Westlin’ Winds for his Folk Song a Day project. I recorded this as the clock ticked over from July to August in our kitchen (it was only after I’d gone to bed that I realised that if I’d been able to record a song down there, I couldn’t’ve remembered to set the dishwasher off). I’ve been singing this for nearly 20 years now. The words are by Robert Burns, the tune appears to be traditional, and I got it from Lady of Autumn, by Beggar’s Velvet.

I’ve just looked through the track listing of that album on iTunes and realised that, of 13 tracks, I still sing six of them. Most of them aren’t traditional, so I’ll need to get Dave’s permission before I can record any of them for this project, but if you’re at all interested in the English harmony singing tradition, you should definitely lay your hands on the album. Beggar’s Velvet were Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman and Charley and Cathy Yarwood, and very good they were too.

Cathy’s now Cathy Barclay and singing with Ailsa Mackenzie and Alison Younger in the reformed (after 17 years) Bryony. They still sounded fabulous (albeit a couple of semitones lower) when they sang at my aunt’s 60th birthday last week. Another band you should seek out.

Published on Sun, 01 Aug 2010 02:05:55 GMT by Piers Cawley . Tags , , , , ,

Palms of Victory/The Wayworn Traveller

Palms of Victory/The Wayworn Traveller by pdcawley

This got uploaded to soundcloud a couple of weeks ago, but I uploaded it late on the Sunday before OSCON and then forgot to post something here as well. Anyway, this is a belting old hymn that I first heard sung by a chap called Derek, when I was living in Northampton and going to the “Soles and ’Eels” folk club. I finally got the words down from a fabulous recording, done for a Fellside anniversary compilation, by the combined forces of Swan Arcade, the Watersons and (seemingly) everyone who ever recorded for Fellside.

Published on Sun, 01 Aug 2010 00:11:00 GMT by Piers Cawley . Tags , , ,

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