Forgive me if it feels like I’m just doing the folk Greatest Hits here, but certain songs I just can’t resist. This week’s ‘Folk from…
Tag: Folk from the Attic
If Martin Simpson is to be believed (and I’ve no reason not to), one of the definitions of a folk song (or a traditional folk song, at least) is that nobody can remember who wrote it. If that’s the case then this article is not about a folk song at all. It’s about a song by one Robert Nunn, a blind fiddler from Newcastle who died in 1853, which was subsequently adapted over 100 years later by Stan Kelly-Bootle, a folk singer/songwriter (presumably with 20-20 vision) who moonlighted as a computer scientist at Cambridge and Warwick Universities.
As Ian Carter of Stick in the Wheel said in our interview last week, in the hands of Martin Carthy ‘The Bedmaking’ is one of…
‘Shallow Brown’ (Roud 2621) is a fascinating song for so many reasons. Is it a sea shanty? A slave song? Who is singing to who, and where in the world were they singing? There’s as much here to love as there is to be heart-broken by. Quite simply, another traditional folk song of fare-thee-wells and loved ones being transported over the sea that feels, in some ways, as prescient now as it ever must have done.
Something of a Greatest Hit, as far as folk songs go, “Hard Times of Old England” has been sung by everybody and anybody, from Martin Carthy to Stick in the Wheel. An 18th century song, it appears no fewer than 28 times in the folk archives at Cecil Sharp House, with many of those entries connected to the Copper Family, with whom the song is perhaps most closely associated. A recording of Ron Copper singing the song was made in 1955, and it first appeared in public as part of their 1963 collection, Traditional Songs from Rottingdean.
On a visit to the Cecil Sharp House library earlier this month, I came across a rather wonderful book called The Sounds of History: Songs and Social Comment by Roy Palmer. I must have been in something of a naughty-minded disposition, as I quickly found my way to the chapter on ‘The Sexes’ – a discourse on intimacy as portrayed in traditional song – and was delighted to learn of a sadly forgotten pastime known as “night visiting”, a hobby so popular that it seems to have become a genre of its own.