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.
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.
‘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.
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.
What can you say about Little Musgrave (Child 81 for those who care about such things)? It’s old. Apparently it’s quoted from by Beaumont and Fletcher in their 1611 play ‘Knight of the Burning Pestle’.
It’s no Barbara Allen or Lord Randell, but judging by the number of variants in Bronson, it’s one of the more popular ballads, either as Little Musgrave or Mattie Groves. In one version he becomes “Little Moth Grone”, which has a glorious, if garbled, set of words.
The version I sing is taken pretty much straight from Pete
Morton’s version on Trespass, Pete’s 1999 album of traditional material, which is well worth seeking out.
Everybody knows Come Write Me Down, and everyone got it from the Copper family of Rottingdean, who deserve a blog entry far longer than I feel like typing on an iPhone.
The last verse isn’t from the Coppers though – there’s no smut in the Coppers’ Book – Gill heard Bill Elliott singing it and he credits his grandfather, Jack Elliott. The Elliotts of Birtley are worth a longer blog entry too, or seek out Pete Wood’s book on them.
It does feel odd to hear this without any harmonies. Come Write Me Down is so well known that folk club audiences don’t just join in on the repeats, they join in with the verses too. Which makes it a very good “first song ever” to sing out. If you’re a bit nervous or you forget a line your audience will carry you through.
Like so many of the songs I sing, the motivation to learn this came from a single line “I ain’t got a moment of time”. I don’t know why it should be this particular line – in a song chock full of fantastic images – that hooked me the first time I heard Cath sing it in the bar of the Cumberland Arms in Byker, but I’ve been listening to and meaning to learn it for years. (You can buy Cath’s version here).
Then, on Tuesday, I stuck it on “repeat track” on my iPhone, and sang it out (very roughly with a ‘wrong’ tune) at Sharps that night and again at the Green Note Cafe’s Open Mic night on Wednesday (with something far closer to the actual tune). I sang it into the iPhone this morning and here it is for your listening pleasure. Consider this an early draft. I’ve got the words and tune pretty solidly now, all that remains is the long process of bedding in. In a few years time it’ll feel more like something of mine and less like something I borrowed from Cath.
Think of this as something of a bonus track. It's not strictly in my repertoire (I had a lyric sheet in front of me while I sang. Shame on me!) but it sits well with the sentiments of my last post.
This version comes from the singing of my wife, Gill Cawley, who started singing it around the time she realised she'd learned it by osmosis. It's somewhat cut down and differs from the original 1861 lyrics, which you'll find on the wikipedia page for the song.