Sleeve Notes for BitterSweet by Bob & Gill Berry
The Collins Dictionary describes Bittersweet as pleasant but tinged with sadness and many of the songs in this album fit this description. Enduring love coming to an end through wars, appalling working conditions for women, or even just the natural end of our days are all to be found.
In this, our somewhat eclectic collection of songs, we hope to convey the range of music that we love and wish to share. Without the wonderful diversity of songwriters and collectors of folksongs to be found in all corners of this great country and beyond we would be much the poorer.
Gill Berry vocals
Bob Berry vocals, guitars, bouzouki, percussion
Pete Harris bass guitar
Keith Kendrick concertinas
Paul Sartin fiddle, oboe
Jo Veal clarinet
1 Englands Glory
In June 1888, Clementina Black gave a speech on Female labour at a Fabian Society meeting in London. Annie Besant, a member of the audience, was so horrified about the pay and appalling conditions that women endured at the Bryant & May Match Factory, that the next day she wrote an article in her newspaper “The Link” entitled “White Slavery in London”. This caused the Company to react by forcing their workers to sign a statement saying they were happy with their working conditions. When a group of women refused to sign they were sacked which resulted in the immediate strike of 1400 women in July of that year. This is a story of hope; and shows the power of publicity even in a small, obscure publication. John Prosser of the “String Fellows” wrote this great song, which ranks one of our all time favourites.
2 I Wandered by a Brook side
This song just had to go on the album. The tune was written by Barbara Berry, Bobs mother, and set to the simple words in the poem written by Baron Richard Monckton Milnes in the 1800s. No bitterness here – just sweet!
3 Suffer Little Children
In 1905 a charity was set up by one Clara Grant at the Fern Settlement, in East London, to bring a small annual bit of sunshine to poverty stricken children. An archway was set up and any child that could pass under, without stooping or touching the arch, qualified for a small bundle of toys and things in exchange for the smallest coin of the realm. The song was written by Mary Foulkes and set to music by Paul Flannery in the 1980s as members of the celebrated group folk group Heritage. The Clara Grant Primary Schools are still in existence, not far from Tower Hamlets in London and have recently celebrated their centenary year.
4 Winter Man
This is a powerful song about Jack Frost from the writing of Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention. Bob first heard this when Chris and his brother, John, played in the Banbury and Oxford Folk clubs in the late 70s and the song has stuck since. Guaranteed to make you snuggle up under your blankets on a dark and cold winters night.
5 Revels day
At the end of May in the sleepy village of Box in Wiltshire the whole place comes alive for the annual “Box Revels”. About ten or more years ago they inspired local songwriter to put into song what he imagined they would have been like in days of old, where the whole village stopped its daily routine to come together on one day in the year and have some fun. These are great words that convey the atmosphere well. Thanks John for a great song.
6 Brown Girl (Trad)
An awesome song with undertones of revenge with the scorned lover finally dancing on his grave. Gill got this song from the singing of the great ballad singer Frankie Armstrong. Interestingly when Frankie heard Gill sing it several years later she was pleased to note that Gill had extra verses in her version. Gill doesnt know where they came from! A fine example of “the folk process” at work.
7 May Dew
This song has a simplicity and joy about it that we could not resist singing it. We have sung this song since we met in 1984 and never tire of the lovely sentiment of going out early on a May morning and washing your face in the early morning dew to ensure enduring beauty. Beats a trip to the chemist any day! We first heard from the singing of Derek & Dorothy Elliott in the 80s and it was published in Frank Kidsons “English Peasant Songs”
8 Gay Green Gown
This is a truly superb song collected from one Isiah Sully, over a period of 16 years 1904-20, by Ruth Tongue and published in her lovely little book called “The Chime Child” in 1967. We first heard the song on a Graham & Eileen Pratt album. Graham & Eileen were an inspiration to us in our first years of singing together and we owe them a debt of gratitude not only for this song but many others too.
9 Tom Goes to Hilo
We dont do many shanties or sea songs as our adopted county of Wiltshire doesnt have much in the way of a coastline! However this one has been in Gills repertoire ever since she started singing and we love the way the harmonies work. Its a darned fine song and a good prelude to the following couple of songs.
10 Fisher Lad of Whitby
This is the first tune that Bobs mum wrote many years ago after being given the words by someone from Doncaster Library. Another - sailor off out to sea whilst his lover waits forlornly on the shore - this song has a deep anguish within it that sends a shiver down your spine. You almost feel like you are stood on the foggy shoreline yourself.
11 Dockyard Wall
Shep Woolley is known throughout the country and beyond as a singer of comedic songs and as a great entertainer of adults and children alike. As with many entertainers of his skills he also is able to turn his hand to more serious songs. This one is a real cracker and tells of the longing for a sailor, lost but never forgotten.
12 Fair Flora
Its every folk singers wish, and pleasure, to sing something originally sung by one their parents and this is no exception. It is a sad song but one that Bobs father, Len, sang with real power and conviction We just love the tune too as it fits the words like a glove. This comes from the Alfred Williams Collection indexed as Oxfordshire. The tune is from Lucy Broadwoods English County Songs, collected from Mr Grantham, carter, Surrey.
13 Calum More
Suffering within an ordinary existence seems to be the theme here with a woman having to live with the evils of a drinking man. In the beginning it is only a few on the Friday night but then it all too often turns into something else. The final straw comes when the children begin to suffer. If there were ever a song written in support of Temperance this would be an excellent example.
14 Song of Time
A song originally written by Alan Bell in honour of Bobs mum & dad, Len & Barbara. A lovely set of words but a somewhat unusual tune Its pure Kletzmer! So we followed the natural flow of Alans tune and came up with a somewhat reflective song that somehow feels like it was written for us too.