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Sleeve Notes for Blood & Honey by The Devil's Interval

Blood & HoneyThree musicians utterly committed to singing the traditional songs of these islands and doing so while maintaining a great sense of adventure along with an obvious enjoyment of the music and a pride in their own abilities as musicians. ......Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy MBE

The Devils Interval are:
Jim Causley
Lauren McCormick
Emily Portman


Having previously been impressed both by Jims solo singing and Lauren and Emilys duo work, I came across the unique sound of The Devils Interval when American musician Jeff Davis played me Songlinks, a CD of transatlantically migrated traditional songs, on which he'd performed. We listened through the groups arrangement of The Cuckoo, stopped the playback and sat in stunned silence for a matter of minutes before pressing the back button and playing it over again. Their setting pulls off the seemingly impossible feat of taking an unusual version of a well-known song and treating every verse to different and highly sophisticated harmonisation, while sounding entirely natural, spontaneous and unforced.

It was an approach I'd enjoyed previously from Emily and Lauren together, but the addition of Jims voice mostly taking a low baritone part, occasionally leaping up to the high tenor lent it a whole extra dimension. The performance combines roller coaster exhilaration with a thumping emotional punch: the most exciting rendition of an English folk song Id heard in years.....Brian Peters from an fRoots article.

Track Notes

1 Green Valley

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.

From the inimitable singing of Chris Coe; this song got mangled up in Jim’s head together with John Kirkpatrick’s tune to Tarry Trousers. This is the monster that was spawned. The last line has become our motto for life.

2 Silver Dagger

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.

We like to name our sources unlike Dolly Parton, our source for this song, who failed to name her own source… Of course one can have too many condiments! It features on Dolly’s album ‘The Grass is Blue’, but there are many other versions of this widely collected traditional song, also known as Arise Arise.

3 Studying Economy

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.

We felt that this perfectly described our predicament as penniless students, with a penchant for spending afternoons in coffee shops and evenings in public houses. Our version is from the singing of Mabs Hall (mother of the legendary Gordon) who Emily first heard on ‘Ripest Apples’ (Veteran VT107). We were perplexed by the

4 The Leaves of Life

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.
This Biblical story contains elements of apocryphal imagery. The rose and the fern create a landscape far removed from the Bible lands, showing how such stories become localised and thus relevant to the singers’ familiar surroundings.
Our version comes from the wonderfully haunting singing of May Bradley, a Shropshire Traveller (Voice of the People Vol. 11).

5 The Well Below the Valley

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.
We first heard this song from Planxty, who made it famous. Then we heard their source and we were sold! His name was John Riley, a traveller from Co. Roscommon. Riley approached the tune with such fluidity that we decided to incorporate his variations into our version. At one time this ballad was banned in Ireland for its references to incest and infanticide; it clearly was not popular with the Catholic Church. There are many theories regarding the story within the song. We reckon the young woman in the tale is an earthbound spirit who is unaware that she is dead. The tall, dark, handsome gentleman (as we imagine him) may be the Devil in disguise, come to claim her soul… But don’t let our interpretation mar your judgement!

6 Two Crows

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.
Harry Adams sang The Three Crows to Bob and Jacqueline Patten in 1977 calling it ‘an old pub song’. Some people think it is related to the ancient ballad The Three Ravens (Child 26) but in our scholarly opinions we feel the connection is highly dubious! Emily folked it up a bit, added some lines and lost a crow along the way.

7 The Bonfire Carol

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.
After thirty years of pestering, John Swift finally gave in and sang this song down the phone to Pete Coe. Bizarrely John discovered it in a farming magazine whist waiting in a dentist surgery! Somerset folklorist and song collector Ruth Tongue regularly contributed her findings to that very magazine and apparently John was so attached to the song that he refused to pass it on to anyone, even the Young Tradition! We were fortunate enough squeeze it out of the delectable Chris Coe. The Bonfire Carol intriguingly interweaves apocryphal themes with English folklore. The Bonfire Council of Lewes in Sussex might be particularly interested in this one.

8 A May Carol

McCormick. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.
Lauren didn’t think there were enough songs about May mornings so she thought she’d write her own celebration of spring. The song is followed by a little waltz creatively titled ‘The May Waltz’!

9 Down Among the Dead Men

Dyer Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley. This song rouses our hedonistic tendencies, whilst maintaining our feminist sensibilities. Emily found Down Among the Dead Men in ‘The Songs of England Vol. 1’ in a dusty second-hand bookshop. It is credited to John Dyer ‘around 1700’ and as Emily couldn’t decipher the melody she made up a new one.

10 The Cuckoo

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.

An original English Blues. We were asked to sing ‘The Cuckoo’ for Martyn Wyndham Reed’s Song Links 2 project, which linked English traditional songs with their American variants. We chose the Dorset traveller Queen Caroline Hughes’ version and have it on her authority that this song is ‘the oldest song in the world’.

11 Long Lankin

This version was sung to Cecil Sharp by a Nun, Sister Emma of Clewer, Berkshire. The first published version appeared in Bishop Percy’s collection in 1775 but the song is likely to be much older. Lankin could have been a Stone Mason with a grudge, but Jim prefers the theory that Mr. Lanky was a leaper who sought the folk cure of babies’ blood caught in a silver bowl.

12 The Midsummer Carol

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley.

From the manuscripts of Devon collector Sabine Baring-Gould, this little jewel is a
relic of a long forgotten tradition. It mentions Leman Day, which was the original Valentines day. (Look up Lemady or listen to the Copper Family’s Sweet Lemeney). Young men would woo their lemans (true loves) with garlands of flowers at the crack of dawn on midsummer’s day. This probably didn’t make them very popular at 4.30am!
Baring Gould often liked to add flowery Victorian language to the songs he collected and he did a grand job on this one.
Jim has taken the liberty of editing out the melodramatic “why must I die” verse. Does that make him as bad as the early collectors? We do hope so! No disrespect to Rev. BG intended.

13 Blow Me Jack

Trad. Arr. McCormick, Portman, Causley. John Kirkpatrick pulled our string with this cheeky little ditty! We arranged this song one night at Emily’s house aided by a few bottles of raspberry wine – the result included a synchronised dance routine. Unfortunately we couldn’t recreate this in the studio but Doug did insist on a swift half at the village pub before recording this track, for purely artistic reasons of course!