Sleeve Notes for Tide of Change by Tom & Barbara Brown
Tom and Barbara's songs are always entertaining, informative, humorous and highly musical their sense of fitting arrangement nothing short of inspired. The use of harmony is earthy and exciting, always full of power and punch!
This is our third CD and continues our tendency to perform a diverse range of material that people call folk song.
That is not deliberate per se, but all the material fits within The Tradition, as weve known it in the West Country. Friends have again been called on to enhance arrangements and fill choruses, but with a more minimalist approach! There is no theme, although the title comes from a modern song about change in the countryside and several others tracks collide with the same theme even if it is across several hundred years. Perhaps on balance, there are as many constants here as there are changes and thats no bad thing either.
Every now and then a bit of fantasy does you good. So heres The Little Gypsy Girl away with the fairies for as long as her musing lasts and until another reality comes crashing in. The origin of this version lies in a recording of Louise Holmes, of Dinedor, Herefordshire, made by Peter Kennedy in the 1950s, but Barbara has been singing it for so long its probably revised itself.
Reality of a different kind crashes in on another heroine, in the ballad-soliloquy The Lowlands of Holland. Should we quote the Child number? the Laws or Roud? nah, look it up if need be! The Lowlands of Holland, of course, were the Dutch East Indies you dont get a very good crop of sugar-cane in the Netherlands! This version was published in Herbert Hughes Irish Country Songs (1915) with what appears to be one of the standard tunes except that on manuscript it staggers, with unpredictable irregularity, between 4/4 and 5/4. The tune became an intellectual challenge until it came alive again of itself, astonishing us with the resultant ethereal intensity and poignancy of the song. The version was collected in County Derry but, sadly, we dont know who from.
The second big ballad is Barbara Allen there seem to be several pairs of songs on this CD! The earliest record of Barbara Allen being sung is a note in Pepys diary for 2nd January 1666. Since then its popularity seems never to have faded. Its also widespread, with Bronson, in his Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, recording 200 melodies for it. It has recently become so often recorded within the folk revival that we seriously discussed not recording it but the version won in the end. This text, one of the fullest and certainly one that gives a whole perspective to the story that is often missing in other sets, comes from the extraordinary ballad singer Cyril Piggott. The tune used here was collected by Cecil Sharp from Jane Wheller of Langport in 1904.
There are also two West Country fair songs on the CD. Both fairs are ancient but of the songs, one is old and the other relatively new. Paul Wilson, in his Bampton Fair, is a writer who captures the essence there are universal truths about horse-fairs enshrined here. The fair in Bampton, older than its 1258 charter, is now primarily a pony fair when the Exmoor ponies are brought down from the moor in The Drift. The Romany word grai, a puff-less one of which the singer bought, means pony. While Bampton Fair is on the last Thursday in October, Bridgwater Fair (St. Matthews Fair) is held for four days in the last week of September, and has held its charter since 1249. Bridgwater Fair was collected by Cecil Sharp, from Bill Bailey of Cannington, Somerset in 1906, and from Henry Tidball of Wedmore, Somerset in 1907.
There is a class of song (probably more than one class in reality) that the folk revival dislikes acknowledging and yet which sits firmly within the tradition there are two of them here as well! These are the local, self-deprecating, dialect pieces which country singers readily adopted. Tom grew up with Bread & Cheese & Cider a tale of a country yokel who, having been stung by the bright lights, and taken for a fool, comes home to what really matters. It is here sung with the traditional variation in the words of the last chorus. Like many of his generation, Tom overlooked the song and never learnt it. Then you get older, less proscriptive and more cussed, and you begin to see how the song continued to be sung as a proud mark of identity!
Rather the same applies to When Mother And Me Joined In, which brings us to the Bix family guilty on all charges! It was Jerrys rendition of this song which persuaded us we ought to sing it. Its a reminder that country folk were determined to grow old disgracefully long before any poet thought of wearing purple. It was written by A.J. Coles (a.k.a. Jan Stewer) and was one of the pieces he used to perform on the village hall circuits decades before arts development managers created village hall circuits his other Mother song, of course, was Out Stepped Mother and Me. Our favourite rendition is by the Dartmoor farmer and singer Charlie Hill.
Jerrys better half, Hilary, is the lady to whom we owe our title track Tide of Change. Like Paul Wilson, she is a writer who can cut to the quick! Hilary was inspired to write the song after a conversation she had with her neighbour, Mrs. Tucker, in Frithelstock Stone, North Devon, back in the 1970s although the veracity of the song goes way beyond that in time and location. Mrs. Tucker was born around 1900, and she would be even more horrified by the situation now and they say the Countryside Alliance is only about hunting! Hilary is also otherwise involved in this album artwork, graphics and design too clever by half, that woman!
Hunting is now banned and Tom borrowed part of Exe, Barle and Bray from an Exmoor hunting song now lost except for its chorus which appeared in print in the 1920s in the series of books Echoes of Exmoor. Once again, the song is not just about hunting, but about all the old ways that are bulldozed out of existence by modern urbocentric ignorance and a neat reversal of Bob Dylans original admonition. The tune was nicked from Danny Dove who created it to carry his words to The Black Stag of Badgworthy (pronounced Badgery) which went into the tradition on Exmoor about 1973. Danny is also responsible for introducing us to The Sound of Singing a great starter of a song which Eric Bogle wrote for the 1993 Australia tour and which is recorded on I Wrote This Wee Song (Greentrax CDTRAX 082D).
Echoes of Exmoor was also the source for The Song Of The Flail which is set to a tune of Barbaras and so it goes round. The song was allegedly used to keep two men in time with each other when flailing. Pullets here, of course, means pellets (of grain) not small chickens, although the image of two men flailing a heap of chickens can influence the manner of singing!
Tom had Rusty Ol Knife (except for verse 2)from Charlie Bate, who himself had it from Jan Reveare who used to sing it at the Farmers Arms, in St. Merryn, in Charlies younger days. In other versions, its also known as Muddley Barracks, The Yorkshire Blinder, Bungay Roger etc. but always in strong locally accented versions most peculiar must be an M.A. in there somewhere! Charlie always sang it with the short first verse! It was sometimes known as St. Merryn Grinders but, when sung in St Issey, it was St. Issey Grinders. Charlie used to happily swap between titles and also called it Rusty Ol Knife. Weve taken the liberty of localising it to where we now live. Nigel Rowe, Charlies pupil and disciple, nagged Tom for years to learn and sing the song sad that he died before he could criticise this recording! It is obviously a song with more titles than versions and may originate in a broadside called The Awkward Recruit, although it feels more like a genuine army parody.
Like the boxing gym in many cities, the army has been the way out from boredom and the dole to risk, employment and the world for generations of youngsters from villages. And still is thats one bit that doesnt change.
We just couldnt do a CD without including the Hypothetical Band so
Rusty Ol Knife is followed by a Welsh tune called The March of the Men of Devon (!) which we had from Mick Tems whose recording of it can be heard on You Can Take A White Horse Anywhere (Callenig: Greenwich Village GVR224). Charlie Bate was always very fond of marches, partly from his time in the D.C.L.I. which is why he tended to play them fast, but not as fast as Mick!
The Cluster of Nuts is just one of those wonderfully exaggerated stories you sometimes get. The male hero is, of course, called Jack. The song was collected by the Hammonds from William Bartlett in Wimborne Union Workhouse. Bartletts text was corrupt and fragmentary and the song was published in the EFDS book The Wanton Seed with a text that came from a broadside in the Crampton collection in the British Museum. From the book, the song was learnt and performed by Tim Edwards from whom Tom learnt it it has evolved a little bit since. In the early days of the folk revival, it seemed that people made love once a night, and then blew the candle out. Then the frequency increased with the permissive society three times, six times, and even Nine Times a Night. The Cluster of Nuts suggests twelve (although there is some dispute about one of them) where do we go from here?
The last song on the CD neatly rounds off what was started by The Sound of Singing.
In Friendships Name is another song with a true sentiment but no sentimentality. What is more valuable than friendship especially when further enhanced by the social adjuncts recommended here?
In Friendships Name has been translated from the Border Scots we dont do other regions accents, even though Toms father was a Scot, and this song in its original state needs both dialect and accent. We first came across it at a festival in Crawfordjohn, Lanarkshire, sung in the bar by Kirsten Easdale from the magnificent Scottish group Calasaig. Subsequently we discovered it in the repertoire of Willie Scott its disconcerting how you miss things sometimes! Having said how much we loved it, we were persuaded by Kirsten, after some debate about texts and integrity, that as the song would suit us well we should translate it.Tom still gets nervous about it, although several choir friends in Cornwall want to sing it maybe something to do with the One and All in the chorus!
1 Sound of Singing
2 The Little Gipsy Girl
3 Bampton Fair
4 Cluster of Nuts
5 Barbara Allen
6 Bread & Cheese & Cider
7 Bridgwater Fair
8 Song of the Flail
9 When Mother & Me Joined In
10 Tide of Change
11 Exe, Barle and Bray
12 Lowlands of Holland
13 Rusty Olí Knife/March of the Men of Devon
14 In Friendshipís Name