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Sleeve Notes for Sounding Now by The Claque

Sounding NowDistilled from the legendary groups of old, four voices of depth and maturity blended to give warmth and harmony to the English tradition.

Dave Lowry
Tom Addison
Sean O’Shea
Barry Lister


Historical Background

The Claquer were an organized body of people who, either for hire or from other motives, banded together to applaud or deride a performance and thereby attempt to influence the audience, especially during competitions. As an institution they date back to ancient Greece. Under the Roman Empire claques were common in the law courts as well as the theatre. In the 16th-century a French poet, Jean Daurat would buy up a number of tickets for a performance of one of his plays and distributed them gratuitously to those who promised publicly to express their approval. In the 18th century they created an organisation of claque, and opened an office in Paris for the supply of Claquers. It became a regular institution. The manager of a theatre sends an order for any number of Claquers. They would usually work under an elected leader a chef de claque, whose duty was to start the demonstration of approval or disapproval, depending what they were hired to do. The Claquers had different roles - there were the Commissaires, those who learnt pieces of the play by heart, and drew the attention to the audience to its good points between the acts; The Rieurs who laughed loudly at the jokes; the Pleureurs or pleaders who feigned tears, and the Bisseurs who simply clapped their and shouted to secure encores.

Track Notes

1 The Devil’s Questions

Sean wrote the tune we use for THE DEVIL’S QUESTIONS. It’s a typical shame-the-devil song where you can escape the clutches of evil by telling the truth. The boy in this case seems to have got away with murder when the devil forgets how many questions he’s asked and lets the boy off one-short.

2 Devoran Smugglers

DEVORAN SMUGGLERS is a great favourite of ours and we often start a set with it. It was noted from one John Gay in the early twentieth century. He was a former bargeman and it is suggested that he probably would have learned it in Falmouth. Dave has been singing this one for years and when we sang it together, we were delighted with the energy in its shanty idiom.

3 The Mountains Adieu

is from the Peninsular Wars and was learned from the singing of George Deacon. It questions the ideal of the righteous causes of war when even God’s protected hit the dust at the hands of the French. Al Murray would not approve!

4 I went down to London

I WENT DOWN TO LONDON is from the singing of Karl Peachey of Devon. It belongs to the family of swapping and lying songs where a singer would try to out-claim the fantastic declarations of the singer who sang the previous verse, often holding some token that would be passed around. Our great claim is that we, once, nearly got this completely right in performance. At Cheltenham, Tom’s phone went off just as he was about to sing his bit. We didn’t flinch!

5 My Faithful Johnnie

The song MY FAITHFUL JOHNNIE, as sung here was learned from Eileen Armstrong from Belfast in 1973. It has a strange mix of provenance including claims that the tune is by Beethoven. Jeannie Robertson is probably best responsible for a wider knowledge of it.

6 The Goose and the Common

The late Martin Bloomer took the well-known late medieval verse, added a chorus, tune and extra stanzas to make THE GOOSE AND THE COMMON, a song from the time of the early enclosures of common land to accommodate sheep. The last verse has a lesson for societies that accept their bad lot, blindly and advocates fighting back!

7 Farewell, Farewell

We have Dave Lowry to thank for teaching us the singing of FAREWELL, FAREWELL, from Padstow in Cornwall. It is a poignant song which was used to accompany the putting away of the peace ’oss at the end of Mayday, during the great war.

8 The Trumpeter

Sean’s father called this song “Trumpet Boy At Balaclava”, but it is rightly called THE TRUMPETER and written by J. Airley-Dix. Sean can trace this as being a family-sung song as far back as the end of the first world war. In places, the melody copies bugle calls from various times in a soldier’s day.

9 The Soldiers Return from the Wars

THE SOLDIERS RETURN FROM THE WARS is from the pen of Thomas D’Urfey in “Pills To Purge Melancholy”. What a girl will do for a man in uniform!

10 Drink, Puppy Drink

We had thought DRINK, PUPPY DRINK to be a traditional song. It’s not. It was written by CJ Melville-Whyte in 1874. It was purported to be the bully, Flashman’s favourite galloping song during which he would bestride himself of a convenient junior for a steed and whip him around the room. As you would.

11 Once a Farmer

Dave Robbins is also the source for the song of another family disagreement sorted out in ONCE A FARMER. It’s the story of the ardour of youth cooling down to an eventual acceptance of the passing of the years. From Herefordshire, we are given to believe.

12 Tom of Bedlam

TOM OF BEDLAM is a grand and image laden song in which the hero declares his fantastic experiences along the way of life and wonders why he’s incarcerated in such a place. A diagnosis of bi-polarity in a big way! From the singing of the great Dave Stephenson of The Songwainers.

13 Joyful May

JOYFUL MAY has a well-embraced theme and here the song is assembled from several texts. Barry and Sean sing this as a duet and they learned it in the late seventies from they know not where, they declare.

14 Salt Horse

SALT HORSE celebrates the practice of selling clapped-out old horses to ship’s captains to be salted down for meat on a long voyage. An interesting and sympathetic song that suggests that sailors were reluctant to eat horse for esoteric reasons. Probably not so. Also gleaned from Dave Stephenson.

15 The Miller and His Three Sons

Dave Robbins sang at The Jolly Porter Folk Club in Exeter in the sixties and early seventies and it’s from him that we take THE MILLER AND HIS THREE SONS. It reinforces the well trodden theme of Jack, the youngest and least valued son, turning up trumps, surprisingly, in an intellectually illuminated way. The song is from Devon, we believe.