Sleeve Notes for West Country Night Out by Tom & Barbara Brown
Welcome to a West Country Night Out. This CD contains some of the best known and some lesser known songs and tunes from Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Tom and Barbara have drawn together a wealth of talented musicians and singers to complement their own arrangements with other instruments and choruses. Nine of these tracks are previously unreleased; the remainder have been drawn from various of Tom and Barbaras previous CDs. Together, and spanning over 400 years, these tracks give a genuine flavour of the song traditions of the counties that make up the South-West peninsula.
Lamorna Cove, near Penzance in Cornwall, has long been a local hot-spot for ‘courting’. Here, a philandering husband gets his come-uppance from his wife who appears to be doing the same thing! The song may originate in a song-sheet about the Pomona pleasure gardens in Manchester (which had a similar ‘courting’ reputation) ~ but whatever the origin, this song has been in the Cornish repertoire for a long time. We had it from any number of singers in North Cornwall.
2 Dorset 4-hand Reel
A dance tune known in various versions throughout the West Country (and beyond) and most usually used for the dance of the same name.
3 Bridgwater Fair
Bridgwater is in Somerset and the St. Matthew’s Fair is held for four days in the last week of September, having held its charter since 1249. The song was collected by the eminent folk-song scholar Cecil Sharp from Bill Bailey of Cannington, Somerset in 1906, and from Henry Tidball of Wedmore, Somerset in 1907.
4 Egloshayle Ringers
The West Country keeps up a strong tradition of church bell-ringing even to this day, and consequently there are many West Country bell-ringing songs. The team of bell-ringers, each named in this song, were champions, and came from the village of Egloshayle, just outside Wadebridge in North Cornwall. This version came from Charlie Bate, the great Padstow accordion player and singer, who really saved the song from oblivion. Nowadays, almost every choir in North Cornwall has its own version.
5 Sir Francis Drake/The Bold Privateer
Devonshire hero Francis Drake was, like many heroes, not exactly what history generally chooses to remember. He was, in effect, a pirate licensed by Elizabeth I ~ a privateer. So following the 400-year old ballad about the first attempt to form a European Union (i.e. The Armada), we’ve added a Cornish march tune which also has its own set of words.
6 Dartmoor Song
The writer of this song was a melodeon player, step-dancer, singer, storyteller, jig-doll operator and event organiser, and a most remarkable repository of Dartmoor tradition and folklore. His grandson now continues the traditions that Bob loved so dearly. This is Bob’s ‘protest song’ which he wrote when moves were afoot to ‘improve’ the A30 trunk road across Dartmoor in order to give easier access to Cornwall.
7 Tavistock Guzie Fayre
The legendary goose fair has its origins in a King’s writ of 1116 and since the calendar changes of 1752, it has been held on the second Wednesday of October each year. The song is of later date, and the narrative speaks for itself!
8 When Mother & Me Joined In
A.J.Coles was a school teacher, and writer, who created the character and stories about an old countryman by the name of Jan Stewer. The stories were in broad Dartmoor dialect and Jan, with his naïve country ways, acute observations, and social commentary, captured the imagination of West Country folk everywhere. Dressed up as Jan, A.J. Coles toured the villages giving readings of his stories to packed houses ~ to add variety to the evening, he also included a couple of songs: this is one of them. In Devon and Cornwall, of course, ‘Mother’ is the wife, not the woman who gave birth to you!
9 My Old Game Cock
There are a great many songs that, despite the fact that they apparently make the countryman look foolish or naïve, were exceedingly popular amongst country singers. We were spoilt for choice on this CD, but selected this one not least because most of the others are exclusively men’s songs. Barbara first learnt the song from Jim Stephens of Chulmleigh.
10 Widecombe Fair
This is the version that many people learnt in school, although there are other versions ~ even in the West Country. Bob Cann (see Dartmoor Song) had his grandfather’s version (with an extra man ~ making eight), and another version (Widdlecombe Fair) comes from Hampshire. If you go to Widecombe-in-the-Moor, and look at the plaque that commemorates the song, you’ll find eight men on the mare!
11 Where Umber Flows
The River Umber flows through the village of Combe Martin on the North Devon coast, where we live. Having been exiled in London for the sake of work for fifteen years, Barbara was inspired to write this air when we finally escaped from the South East and returned home.
12 Mortal Unlucky Ol’ Chap
Over a century ago, there was an old music hall song about a country chap who always had good luck ~ it was called Happy-Go-Lucky Ol’ Chap. This parody, which is much more accurate from the true countryman’s point of view, is still sung throughout Devon and Cornwall, and has survived whilst the original is long lost. Tom had this set of words from Jim Stephens of Chulmleigh.
13 Bampton Fair
The fair in Bampton has had its charter since 1258. It is held on the last Thursday in October, and is now primarily a pony fair when the Exmoor ponies are brought down from the moor in ‘The Drift’. The song was written by Paul Wilson in the 1970s and captures something of the essence of horse-fairs wherever they may be! The Romany word ‘grai’, simply means ‘pony’.
14 Seeds of Love
A classic English lyrical folk song, this was the first that Cecil Sharp recorded. It was sung to him by the fortuitously named John England in Hambridge, Somerset in August 1903 and, arguably, started the entire folk revival of the early twentieth century. This set of words is collated from a variety of sources.
15 Soap, Starch & Candles
The town of Ilfracombe (‘Combe’ in the song), on the North West tip of Devon, was a small fishing village until the railway arrived ~ it then became a flourishing Victorian holiday destination and the steamships arrived to give cruises up and down the coast. That’s the background to this little love story. We had it from Mick Tems, who collected it from Marjorie Bowden of Mumbles.
16 Pleasant & Delightful
Known in different variants throughout England, this song is something of an anthem in the West Country ~ known also as William & Nancy’s Parting and The Hartland Anthem. Our version came (like Egloshayle Ringers above) from Charlie Bate of Padstow. It’s a version built for harmony and quite distinct from the more melodic versions from the Eastern counties of England.
17 Barnstaple Fair
One of some five songs called Barnstaple Fair; this comes from the 1930s and was first published in the local paper. Many fairs have tortuous formulae for determining their dates: Barnstaple Fair starts on the Wednesday preceding the 20th of September and, according to tradition, has done so since the days of King Athelstan who granted the town its charter, including rights to hold both market and fair.
18 Wives of St. Ives
A fantastical little ditty that Tom learnt when he was a young farm labourer in North Cornwall, from Mervyn Vincent of St. Issey. He never discovered where the song originated, but Mervyn had lots of these peculiar little songs ~ several of which were not for publication!
19 The Watchet Sailor
Another wonderful English lyrical song collected by Cecil Sharp, this time from Captain Lewis (retired) of Minehead, Somerset in 1906. Try walking from Watchet to Bristol overnight, and you’ll get some idea of how determined this sailor was to reclaim his sweetheart.
20 The Farmer’s Boy
Probably one of the most requested songs in our repertoire, and widely known not only in the West Country, but throughout England for at least 200 years. Many countrymen, having lived through times of agricultural depression, identify strongly with the song ~ and it seems that once again agriculture is under threat, what with blunders over disease control, falling produce prices, and a government that tells you when to cut a hedge. No wonder DEFRA is known as the Department for the Eradication of Farming and Rural Activities!
21 March of the Men of Devon
This is actually a Welsh tune (Ymdaith Gwyr Dyfnaint) which came to us from good friends across the Severn Sea. The Gower peninsula is often known as ‘little England beyond Wales’ as it was planted by people from North Devon many centuries ago.