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Voices: English Traditional Songs

Voices (Fellside FECD87)

English Traditional Songs
Various Artists

Fellside Recordings FECD87 (CD, UK, 1992)
Musica Pangaea MP10004 (CD, USA, 1999)

Voices (Musica Pangaea MP10004)

Compilation produced by Paul Adams.
All tracks recorded by Paul Adams unless otherwise stated.
Edited by Graham Bell.


  1. Maddy Prior: The Blacksmith (Roud 816) (3.14)
  2. Cyril Tawney: The Broken Token (Roud 264; Laws N42; G/D 5:1038, 6:1201) (2.19)
  3. The Watersons: Cob-a-Coaling (Roud 9234) (2.01)
  4. Peta Webb: Go and Leave Me (Roud 459) (4.39)
  5. A. L. Lloyd: The Mower (Roud 833) (2.00)
    from The Bird in the Bush (Topic 12T135, 1966)
  6. Roy Bailey: Four Loom Weaver (Roud 937) (2.51)
  7. Dave Weatherall & Martin Hall: Two Brethren (Roud 202) (2.24)
  8. Linda Adams: Up in the North (Roud 582; Laws P3; G/D 4:895) (2.58)
  9. Martyn Wyndham-Read: The Constant Lovers (Roud 466; Laws K17; G/D 6:1244) (5.26)
  10. Peter Bellamy: The Brisk Young Widow (Roud 2438) (1.43)
    from Songs an' Rummy Conjurin' Tricks (Fellside FSC5, 1991)
  11. Hughie Jones: Sweet William’s Ghost (Roud 50; Child 77) (3.48)
  12. Patti Reid: The Fowler (Polly Vaughan) (Roud 166; Laws O36) (3.19)
  13. The Wilsons: 18th Day of June (Plains of Waterloo) (Roud 1132) (3.03)
  14. Bram Taylor: Lord Randal (Roud 10; Child 12; G/D 2:209) (4.00)
  15. Damien Barber: Old Brown's Daughter (Roud 1426) (2.58)
  16. Frankie Armstrong: Banks of Green Willow (Roud 172; Child 24; G/D 6:1225) (4.12)
  17. John Kirkpatrick: King Jamie and the Tinker (Roud 8946) (4.53)
  18. Martin Carthy: Young Emma (Roud 182; Laws M34; G/D 2:189) (4.53)
  19. The Arthur Family: Come Write Me Down (Wedding Song) (Roud 381; G/D 5:980) (2.54)
  20. Roy Harris: I Would That the Wars Were All Done (Roud 2036) (1.59)
    from The Rambling Soldier (Fellside FE017, 1979)
  21. Shirley Collins: The Banks of the Mossom (Roud 1646) (1.49)
    from Adieu to Old England (Topic 12TS238, 1974)
  22. Dave Burland: William Taylor (Roud 158; Laws N11; G/D 1:169) (2.41)
  23. Swan Arcade: Noah's Ark Shanty (Roud 318) (2.23)
  24. June Tabor: The Bonny Boy (Roud 293; G/D 6:1141) (2.59)
    from Abyssinians (Topic 12TS432, 1983)
  25. Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies: Felton Lonnen (Roud 3166) / Here's the Tender Coming (Roud 3174) (3.18)

Sleeve Notes

Singing is on of the basic human art forms; apart from humming, whistling or tapping some part of the body, it is the only way of making music. We share the art with various other creatures on this planet and, as far as we can tell, humans have always sung in one form or another and in every culture. The collection of songs on this recording belongs to a group called English Traditional folk songs and they are presented in their simplest form—unaccompanied by musical instruments. To describe some of the singing here as simple is to do the singers a grave injustice because you will find here some of the supreme stylists performing within the genre; from the gentle nuances of Dave Burland's style, through the intricate decorations of Maddy Prior and Martyn Wyndham-Read, all way to the outrageous mannerisms of Pete Bellamy. The harmony singing takes in the highly structured part singing of Swan Arcade as well as the loose harmonies of The Watersons.

All the singers here are what are termed Revival singers having come into this style of singing through the folk song revival. Many were probably influenced by singing traditions within their own families, but they have also turned to books, recordings and other revival singers as well as the whole gamut of 20th Century musical culture, to develop their style. They will also have used as their focal point what are termed “source” singers: people who have grown up in a culture where singing songs (traditional or otherwise) was part of the life which went on around them. Various source singers are mentioned in the notes to the songs and the listener is encouraged to seek out what recordings are available. There are almost four generations of revival singers represented here: starting with the late A.L. Lloyd, on to Cyril Tawney, Hughie Jones and Martin Carthy to Jez Lowe and The Wilson Family right up to young singers such as Damien Barber and Eliza Carthy who have joined the continuum. It is hard to find a stereotype folk singer here. A wide variety of styled and techniques are used. All have absorbed from, and paid their dues to, the tradition.

This album does not set out to represent all types of traditional songs. The singers were asked to contribute a song of their choice. In fact you will find examples of sea songs, broken token ballads, rustic idylls, industrial ballads, ritual songs and classic ballads. The sources include songs from the early collections of Cecil Sharp, from the continuing traditions of families such as the Coppers from Sussex and from other singers who are still alive. Are traditional songs relevant today? This subject could occupy many pages, but suffice it to say that you will find in these songs madness, abduction, sex, transvestites, songs about work, tall tales, love, war and all the other things we read about in our daily papers which have interested folk for centuries.

This collection came about because I felt that English traditional song had been neglected by the so-called World / Roots music movement of the late 1980's. Here I must pay tribute to the late Peter Bellamy, friend, journeyman singer, influencer of folk scenes and champion of traditional song. After the idea had been rattling around my head for some time, I talked it over with Pete late one night. He became fired with enthusiasm and bullied me into getting on with it. His sudden death was a tragic loss. This album is dedicated to Pete and I would like to think that he would be pleased with the result. It is also a tribute to all those who keep the tradition alive. My grateful thanks go to all the singers who gave of their time and talents and who entered into the spirit of the project.

Maddy Prior: The Blacksmith

(rec. Bewcastle 19.2.1992)

Collected in 1909 by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mrs. Powell in Herefordshire. The theme is common enough in English folk song, but the metre and the rather noble melody are not. It makes an interesting comparison with the Brisk Young Widow. The decorations are Maddy's and her rendition here makes it worth revisiting her version recorded in 1971 with Steeleye Span. The Blacksmith has long been one of Maddy's favourite songs. She is a consummate singer; full of power, control and great presence.

Cyril Tawney: The Broken Token

(rec. Leeds 24.10.1991)

Broken Token ballads abound in the English Tradition. The general idea is that the lovers divide a “token” (usually a ring) when they part (he usually goes off to foreign parts as a soldier or sailor) and agree to be faithful. He later returns, but she does not recognise him at first, etc. etc. Cyril learnt this version in his native West Country from his Mother and this goes to show how difficult it is to regionalise folk songs because she learnt it from her Grandmother, Mary Sharkey, in Northern Ireland! Cyril's rolling West Country accent sounds just right for this charming little song. Cyril is an ex submariner, an expert on sailors' songs and a noted songwriter.

The Watersons: Cob-a-Coaling

(rec. Robin Hood's Bay 31.1.1991)

The English tradition abounds with rituals ranging through Mummers Plays, Well Dressing, Rush Cart Bearing, Ball Games and so on (it is worth seeking out a copy of The National Trust Guide to Traditional Customs of Britain by Brian Shuel, published by Webb & Bower). This song, from the Lancashire and Yorkshire border is associated with Bonfire Night. It is believed to have been part of a Mummers Play before transferring to the more recent calendar ritual. It was given to The Watersons in the 1960's by A.L. Lloyd. It was to have been included in their album on ritual songs, Frost and Fire, in the 1960's but space did not permit.

The Watersons in full flight is one of the most glorious sounds to be heard. They do not sing rigid harmony part, but often shift the harmonies around. The blend of voices is such that even when singing in unison there is an aural illusion of harmony. This is the first time this line-up has recorded and The Watersons were Norma, Michael and Ann Waterson, Martin and Eliza Carthy and Jill Pidd.

Peta Webb: Go and Leave Me

(rec. London 23.3.1992 by Dave Kenney, Ideal Sound Recorders)

A love lament heard widely in Britain and Ireland. The chorus comes from Suffolk singer Percy Webb and the verses from many singers, mainly travellers. Peta says that she likes to bring out the woman's scorn for the man who jilts her as well as her pain. Peta believes firmly in the importance of learning directly from traditional sources and wherever possible has gone to meet the singers from whom she learnt. She has been on many collecting trips adding considerable knowledge as well as enthusiasm for traditional music. Peta is another great stylist.

A. L. Lloyd: The Mower

(rec. London 1966 by Bill Leader)

One name keeps cropping up time and again in connection with folk song: A.L. “Bert” Lloyd. Truly one of the pioneers of the interest in folk song. He was mentor and supplier of material to many of the singers here. Here he sings a traditional erotic song. In the tradition euphemisms for copulation and anatomy abound—some less subtle than others. There is a delicacy and moral quality to this song and the young man treats the girl with sympathy, good humour and resolution.

Roy Bailey: Four Loom Weaver

(rec. Barnsley 25.10.1991)

Roy is usually associated with songs of political and social comment. It is fitting, therefore, that he should sing one of the classic industrial ballads here. It was collected by Ewan MacColl from one Becket Whitehead of Delph, near Oldham, Lancashire. It dates from around the time of the Battle of Waterloo when handloom weavers' wages fell considerably. Roy is a highly distinctive and compelling performer who sings with great conviction.

Dave Weatherall & Martin Hall: Two Brethren

(rec. Workington 23.11.1992)

A song from the Copper Family of Rottingdean (see notes to Wedding Song). It is a rustic idyll about a way—and pace—of life which has all but disappeared. The interesting thing about the Coppers is that they sing in harmony—a rarity in the English tradition. Stylistically this version by Dave and Martin is based on the singing of Bob Copper and his cousin, Roy. Based on, because it is no slavish copy, they have evolved their own lines.

Linda Adams: Up in the North

(rec. Workington 5.4.1992)

Despite being printed in various broadsides and chap books in the early nineteenth century it has been rarely collected in the tradition. Alfred Williams collected it prior the Great War at Brize Norton, the Hammond brothers collected a Dorset version called Down in the West Country in 1907, John Baldwin collected one in Oxfordshire in 1969 and in the Southern Uplands of the U.S.A. it has been found as No Sign of Marriage (c.f. Young Emma). Linda's version comes from the singing of Freda Palmer of Witney, Oxfordshire. Again, the twist in the tale is that having made the wrong decision our hero has to live with it. Full marks to the young lady in question.

Martyn Wyndham-Read: The Constant Lovers

(rec. Workington 15.8.1991)

A favourite with Broadside printers in England, Ireland and Scotland. Frank Purslow maintains that it is probably Irish in origin. Despite being often collected in England and North America it is rarely to be found in the repertoire of revival singers. The tune is a little intricate, but Martyn is more than a match for it and tackles it with great relish. Martyn is one of the great lyrical singers of his generation with a lot of emotional intensity in his singing. He learned this from Gordon Hall, a singer from Horsham in Sussex.

Peter Bellamy: The Brisk Young Widow

(rec. Cockermouth, January 1991)

Pete could be said to be the most distinctive singer or traditional songs in England. He came to prominence in a group called The Young Tradition and this sung was always sung by Royston Wood in the group. When Royston was killed in a car accident Pete started to sing this song as a tribute to him. It comes from Cecil Sharp's collection and is delivered in typical Bellamy flamboyant style. Pete would always go full tilt at any song and this is no exception!

Hughie Jones: Sweet William’s Ghost

(rec. Workington 23.1.1992)

Hughie regards this as one of the classic English folk songs. It is No. 77 in Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Child asserts that the story has much in common with a supernatural ballad well known in Scandinavia. This particular version was given to Hughie by Bert Lloyd in 1966. As a member of The Spinners Hughie was instrumental in taking folk songs to a mass audience worldwide. He always made a point wherever possible of singing a traditional unaccompanied ballad at concerts. He now performs as a solo artist.

Patti Reid: The Fowler (Polly Vaughan)

(rec. Workington 5.4.1992)

This is another old story and seems to be based upon an old Celtic folk tale, An Cailin (The Fair Girl). The story simply is that of a jealous girl who thinks that her lover is going to meet someone else when he goes out shooting. She disguises herself as a swan to follow him. The theme, of course, finds it way into the ballet, Swan Lake. Although alterations have crept in, Patti's version is loosely based on that collected from Harry Cox of Yarmouth, Norfolk.

The Wilsons: 18th Day of June (Plains of Waterloo)

(rec. Workington 12.2.1992)

A pre EEC song from the days when British and French Armies set about each other all over Europe. Interestingly the British tradition has more songs in it about Napoleon than it does about its own heroes. However, this song is typical of the genre with its triumphant melody and patriotic lyrics. It is sung equally lustily by The Wilson Family from the North East of England. Everyone can be sure of a good sing when The Wilsons are around! Their version of the song comes from Pete Woods, fine singer and long standing friend of theirs from Tyneside.

Bram Taylor: Lord Randal

(rec. Workington 24.11.1991)

One of the most widespread and indestructible of the “big” ballads. The story has cropped up all over Europe and the Scandinavian countries. It is No. 12 in Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads and it can be seen to share some similarities with other ballads, notably Edward (Child 13) and The Two Brothers (Child 49). It has also spawned some less epic versions in the form of Henry My Son and a comic version of Henry My Son (sometimes called Green & Yellow). Bram's is a particular fine example, possessing a superb melody and was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs. Louie Hooper of Hambridge, Somerset.

Damien Barber: Old Brown's Daughter

(rec. North Dalton, 25.2.1991 by Roy Williams)

One of the greatest find of the 1970's was Walter Pardon, a hitherto undiscovered traditional singer. At the time of his “discovery” Pete Bellamy wrote about Walter's “vocal abilities and richness of repertoire”. Walter comes from the village of Knapton in Norfolk. Damien is a young man also from Norfolk. Barely into his twenties he is one of the new generation of singers. It is difficult to say whether Old Brown's Daughter comes from the Music Halls or a rural tradition. Whatever, it is a humorous tale and Damien accords it the dignity and understated style so typical of Mr. Pardon.

Frankie Armstrong: Banks of Green Willow

(rec. Broad Oak Studio by Dave Wood, 1992)

This song has been floating around in Frankie's repertoire for so long that she cannot remember where she learnt it. The theme of a wrong-doer on board a ship being discovered and thrown overboard is reputedly older than Jonah. There are many texts for the song but most seem a little confused and tend to obscure the superstition element. The song is obviously related to Bonnie Annie (Child 24; G/D 6:1225) where the whole thing becomes a little clearer.

John Kirkpatrick: King Jamie and the Tinker

(rec. Workington 12.2.1992)

Published in the EFDSS Journal in 1936 by Anne Gilchrist who had found it in Dixon's Ballads & Songs of the Peasantry of England, printed in 1846. The idea of the King dressing as a commoner and going among his subjects is as old as the idea of kingship. It's a good tale evoking images of the merry greenwood. John, a bit nimble on various squeezeboxes, shows himself no slouch when it comes to a straightforward declamatory style of singing. There is a pub in Enfield called King Jamie & the Tinkler. John has never been there, but knows a man who has.

Martin Carthy: Young Emma

(rec. Workington 30.11.1991)

The English always enjoy good melodrama and this song seems to fit the bill. As such it was very popular with broadside ballad printers, thus ensuring it would be widespread. As Young Edwin / Edward / Edmund in the Lowlands Low it has been collected in England, Scotland, Ireland and North America. Ralph Vaughan Williams collected a fine version from a lady in Hampshire, but (with a hint at a possible future project) Martin's version comes from the Ozark Mountains in the U.S.A. collected by Vance Randolph and obviously went over with emigrants. Unlike many English songs making that journey it has not taken on an American flavour. It also possesses a magnificent melody. Through his solo work as well as his work with Steeleye Span, The Albion Band, Brass Monkey and having become a Waterson by marriage, Martin has long been one of the most sought after singers (and influential guitarist) in the world of folk music.

The Arthur Family: Come Write Me Down (Wedding Song)

(rec. Rotherfield 1992)

The Copper Family from Rottingdean, Sussex, from whom this song came are probably the most famous of singers in the English tradition. In 1898 Mrs. Kate Lee noted down songs from James “Brasser” Copper and his brother, Thomas. Brasser could recall his Grandfather singing the songs and so it has gone on from generation to generation up to the present day. Part of this is due to Bob Copper's own appreciation of his family's tradition (he became a collector himself), the recording of their songs for the BBC Archives and the attention given to them by the folk song movement in the 1960's and early 70's. Groups such as The Young Tradition learnt a lot from the Coppers and, in turn, did a lot to draw attention to the family, its repertoire and its harmony singing. Dave and Toni Arthur had semi retired from singing (Toni pops up as a TV presenter from time to time and Dave is the editor of English Dance & Song magazine), but we coaxed them out and they were joined by their two sons, Jonathan and Tim. There is no attempt to recreate the Copper's style—they do it their own way!

Roy Harris: I Would That the Wars Were All Done

(rec. Halifax, February 1979)

The tradition has a fair stock of jingoistic songs but this one finds the folk getting closer to reality with a heartfelt longing for peace. The song appears to belong to the latter half of the eighteenth century. It was collected by Rev. Baring-Gould towards the end of the nineteenth century. Roy Harris is another fervent champion of tradition song. Illness over the last few years has prevented him from singing with the power he possessed in the 1970's.

Shirley Collins: The Banks of the Mossom

(rec. London 1974 by Nic Kinsey, produced by Ashley Hutchings)

This charming, albeit a little confused, song comes from Shirley's native Sussex. Jim Swain of Angmering learnt it from a shepherd near Felpham. From the late 1950's Shirley has been in the full flow of the folk song movement and her records are much sought after. Sadly she is no longer singing regularly.

Dave Burland: William Taylor

(rec. Barnsley 25.10.1991)

This song appears in a variety of forms and can be found in the English, Scottish, Irish and American traditions. The story is a fairly familiar one, but the rather drastic measure employed by the heroine to prevent her true love being unfaithful to her, is perhaps a little closer to reality than is usually encountered in folk songs! Dave's version, sung in his characteristically relaxed style, was collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset. Another version was collected by Percy Grainger, the first collector to use a recording machine, in 1908 from Joseph Taylor, of Saxby-All Saints, Lincolnshire.

Swan Arcade: Noah's Ark Shanty

(rec. Workington 23.8.1991)

Shanties were work songs and finding an example was not difficult. Which one was much more difficult. This one is interesting because (a) as an aetiological work song it is probably unique in the English tradition, (b) it was collected by the greatest of the folk song collectors, Cecil Sharp on the 3rd June, 1914 from Capt. Hole of Watchet, Somerset (the famous Watchet sailor!) and (c) Swan Arcade are not usually associated with the singing of sea shanties. Their dramatic, hard hitting harmony style coupled with their uninhibited repertoire makes them great favourites in folk song circles. They are Dave and Heather Brady and Jim Boyes. Dave does his damnedest to make this a Yorkshire song.

June Tabor: The Bonny Boy

(rec. Moor Green Studio, 1983 by Robin Brown, produced by Andrew Cronshaw)

June Tabor has been at the forefront of performing unaccompanied traditional songs for several years now. She possesses a highly individual, polished style using subtle ornamentation. One of her early influences was Anne Briggs and here she sings a song she learnt from Anne. Anne, in turn, had the song from A.L. Lloyd.

Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies: Felton Lonnen / Here's the Tender Coming

(rec. Workington 19.9.1991)

Jez is known mainly as a songwriter, but his writing has been very much influenced by the tradition and he uses traditional material in his repertoire. The songs come from Jez's native North East of England. Throughout this album we have avoided using studio techniques and multi tracking and just presented the songs as they come. On this final track we make an exception and show what it is possible to do with just voices. All the sounds on this track are human and “live”—there are no synthesisers nor samplers.

© Paul Adams, 1992 (Compiled from notes supplied by the singers)