Songs from the Attic

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“His love for folk music manifests itself throughout this lovely album.” – Folk Radio UK

Songs From the Attic is a genuine, carefully considered album which is made with a lot of heart. It deserves to be noticed.” – Bright Young Folk

Songs from the Attic, the album, was the result of nine months spent researching and writing traditional folk songs here on this blog. Each song at some point began to get under my skin and, following a lengthy process of fairly obsessive study and performance, I found I’d fallen in love with them – just as many, many people have done before me and will do again.

These traditional songs very quickly elbowed the original songs out of my live set, and so I thought it might be worthwhile recording them as a snapshot of where I am now. Two original tracks remain here, mainly because they slip in comfortably with the storytelling aspects of the traditional pieces. For now, it’s this storytelling that I’m interested in. I hope you will be, too.

You can read more about the individual songs on Songs from the Attic by scrolling down this page.

About the songs

The Sandgate Dandling 

I first heard this song as ‘The Liverpool Lullaby’, which I recall my mother and grandmother singing (both are from Liverpool). Researching it for my blog, I found that it originated from the North East, where it had been adapted by a fiddler called Robert Nunn from a traditional tune called ‘Dolliah’. The lyrics to this version are adapted from a number of others that can be found online. Read more about The Sandgate Dandling

The Bedmaking (Roud 1631)

When traditional English folk music first hooks you there’s no escaping The Watersons or the Carthys. Eliza has been a really friendly supporter of the blog this year, but her father… well, he and I go back to a meeting in a halls of residence at Bangor University in 1996. He played me this track and I was fairly smitten. (I should add that he wasn’t actually there in person.) The version that Stick in the Wheel collected from him for their 2017 collection of field recordings is also brill. My version is loosely based on Carthy’s, although with added funk (just because). Read more about The Bedmaking

Girl on a Kemble Train 

The first of only two non-traditional songs on this album, I thought for a long time that this was based on a memory of a train journey taken before I met my wife, but something jolted that memory recently I suddenly recalled that I’d read of the experience in a poem called ‘Not Adlestrop’ by Dannie Abse, and hadn’t actually lived it at all. Such is life.

When First I Came to Caledonia 

One of the first folk songs I ever truly fell in love with, I first heard this performed by Norma Waterson. To my mind, nobody can top that version, but that hasn’t stopped me from having a go. It originates from Cape Breton, Novia Scotia, and it was collected in 1979 from an elderly chap called Amby Thomas who recalled hearing it in his youth. The floating verse about rotten apples comes from the book Stories & Songs from Deep Cove Cape Breton and appears to have been left out of the song by a lot of singers. I quite liked it, so I’ve popped it back in where it belongs. Read more about When First I Came to Caledonia

Hard Times of Old England (Roud 1206) 

The inclusion of this song in my set shows just how wet behind the ears I was when I started studying and writing about traditional songs in December, 2016. I now know that this is kind of like the folk version of ‘Wild Thing’ – everyone has to have a crack at it at one time or another. However, I don’t think that would’ve stopped me from including it in my set. It’s such a fine song, and a perfect example of how folk songs can form wonderful bridges through time. I find it hard to sing this without picturing some of the recession-hit towns I’ve travelled through in recent years. To think that it was actually written in the 18th century sends chill down my spine. This song could’ve been written yesterday. When I started playing this it took on a bluesy tone, which I ditch in the last verse. For a really beautiful version without bluesy pretensions, head for the Stick in the Wheel recording. It’s gorgeous. Read more about Hard Times of Old England

Ye Mariners All (A Jug of This) (Roud 1191) 

When I’m not pretending to be a folk singer, I occasionally play things with the band The Grizzly Folk. Way back in our earliest formation we would sometimes sing old English folk songs at gigs, just as a way to keep things interesting. My good friend Jon Nice would sing this song unaccompanied, just as Martin Carthy had done on his first album, but Jon’s voice is stronger than mine so he can get away with such things. My version therefore comes with guitar accompaniment, which I arranged following a little mind warp in which I tried to imagine how Bert Jansch might’ve played it down at Les Cousins. These are the things that keep me from my bed at night. Read more about Ye Mariners All (A Jug of This)

My Old Hat That I Got On (Roud 475) 

A wonderful old song that I found on Topic Records’ Voice of the People, sung by a slightly loopy Oxfordshire chap called Tom Newman. Legend has it that he removed each item of clothing mentioned in the song as it progressed. I’ve yet to try that onstage. I don’t want to be arrested. Read more about My Old Hat That I Got On

Durham Fair 

The second original song on this album, ‘Durham Fair’ is very loosely based on a conversation I had with my grandmother before she passed away. Seemingly keen to tell someone her life story, she took me on a wild and sometimes barely believably escapade, much of which went into this song some 15 years later. As I said in the original blog post concerning this song, ” I wondered how much of any account of a life well-lived, narrated by its owner in their final years, can be a reality. How much of this was true? Did she even know herself? Did it even matter?” Whatever she may have been thinking, her words finally ended up here. Read more about Durham Fair… 

Shallow Brown (Roud 2621) 

The final song to be recorded for Songs from the Attic, and the only one to feature anything approaching a harmony, ‘Shallow Brown’ fascinates and haunts in equal measure. Is it a slave song? A sea shanty? Something akin to gospel? If it was the latter, why did it turn up in a Portsmouth workhouse? And how can something so devastating and beautiful be confined to the listeners of a single genre? Why isn’t this more universally known? The song (which I first heard performed by Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith) was the first to hint to me that traditional folk songs in this country had more to them than fol-de-rol laddity, fol-de-rol day, and that a whole world of wonders was there to be discovered by anyone who had the inclination. Read more about Shallow Brown… 

‘Songs from the Attic’ was produced and performed by Jon Wilks. Tracks 3 and 8 were written by Jon Wilks. Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 9 are traditional, arranged by Jon Wilks. Research for these songs as they appeared on the Grizzly Folk website was largely conducted via the Cecil Sharp House “Full English” website, and at the ever-wonderful Mainly Norfolk

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2 responses to “Songs from the Attic”

  1. Tobias Avatar

    Hey, love the album! Especially Girl on Kemble Train and Durham Fair. Trouble is, it’s not on Spotify at the moment 🙁 At least when attempting to listen from the UK, it is saying it’s not available from my country. Would love to be able to listen to it on there again, great stuff!!

    1. Thanks Tobias. Yes, it’s no longer on Spotify. Sorry about that.

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