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Sleeve Notes for So Far So Good by Rattle on the Stovepipe

So Far So GoodBest of 'Return Journey' and '8 More Miles'

At Christmas 2009 our first album with Dan, no use in cryin’, came out on Wildgoose. The first two albums had sold out and because there was still an interest in our earlier recordings we decided to put out this compilation of tracks that have proved particularly popular with our audiences. If you are one of those, we hope you enjoy hearing some old favourites, if you missed out on the earlier albums, we hope you enjoy this selection.


It’s hard to believe that it’s seven years since Dave first went into the Wildgoose studios with Pete and Chris to record Return Journey -  a look at the musical connections and cross-overs between the British Isles and the Appalachians. After the recording we decided to play together as an ‘official’ group, Rattle On the Stovepipe. The name was taken from the title of a song we recorded on Return Journey. Three years later by 2006 we’d settled down as a band and got some gigs and festivals under our belts and we went back into the studio to record 8 More Miles. Reviewers from both the English Traditional and the Old Time camps were kind to both albums. Chris left the band in 2007 and Pete and Dave were joined by guitar/banjo player Dan Stewart, a ‘mere youth’ of 26, who seems able to play anything with strings and various things without! The band now had two banjo players – some people’s worst nightmare – and we have been able to broaden our arrangement possibilities. At Christmas 2009 our first album with Dan, no use in cryin’, came out on Wildgoose. The first two albums had sold out and because there was still an interest in our earlier recordings we decided to put out this compilation of tracks that have proved particularly popular with our audiences. If you are one of those, we hope you enjoy hearing some old favourites, if you missed out on the earlier albums, we hope you enjoy this selection.
    So far it’s been so good that we hope to hang in as a band and do a lot more travelling around the world playing and sharing our music with you.

     Dave, Pete and Dan, 2010

Track Notes


Not to be confused with the exciting Shetland reel of the same name that master fiddler Tom Anderson printed in his collection Ringing Strings (Shetland Times, 1983), 'The New Rigged Ship' is a traditional 6/8 jig popular amongst fiddlers and melodeon players in England and Scotland. In America the jig morphed into the fiddle and banjo reel 'Green Willis' or 'The Raw Recruit.' Legend has it that Green Willis was a 19th century fiddler from the Galax area of Virginia. Drinking moonshine at the age of fifteen Caused poor Willis' face to turn green; Then it turned red, 'cause he was ashamed, So we'll play the tune that goes by the name Of Green Willis.


'The Boatman' ('De Boatman Dance' or 'Dance Boatman Dance') is both a song and a fiddle tune. George P. Knauff published the tune under the title of 'Ohio River' in his Virginia Reels Vol. 4, in Baltimore in 1839. four years before the influential Minstrel songwriter and performer Dan Emmett published it as 'An Original Banjo Melody'! Like so much Minstrel music of the 19th century it was as popular in Britain as it was in America thanks to the regular tours of groups such as the Christy Minstrels, for whom Stephen Foster wrote, and Emmett's Virginia Minstrels. Emmett wrote such classic minstrel songs as 'Dixie', 'Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel', 'Old Dan Tucker', 'Come Ober de Mountain', 'Blue Tail Fly', all of which took on lives beyond that of the minstrel stage. Versions of several minstrel songs were collected by Alfred Williams, and published in Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames (1923). 'Cuffy' seems originally to have been peculiar to southwestern Virginia. Violin maker and old time fiddler Armin Barnett learned it from 'Nicky' Mills of Boobe's Mill, and is thought to have been responsible for its dissemination across North Carolina, and elsewhere. It was from him that the Highwoods String Band got the tune, which they recorded on their influential Rounder album No.3 Special (1976), and it was a 'hot' session tune by 1978 when Pete first visited the Appalachians. The title was said to refer to a runaway slave. Whatever the origins of the tune, the name Cuffy, (Cuffey, Cuffee) was a well known slave name in America, and widely adopted as a stage name by blackface minstrels. It's a custom with the Ewe people of the Volta region of Ghana to name a child after the day of the week on which it is born, and Cuffy is a variation of the Ghanaian Kofi the name given to boys born on a Friday.


The story of the young man who courts the younger of two sisters, thus precipitating her murder by the elder girl, is well known as a folktale and a ballad throughout Northern Europe and America. In most American texts the earlier European supernatural motifs of resurrection, or of a singing or speaking instrument made from the dead girl's bones, is missing, as in this version where the fiddle made from body parts merely plays a sad tune. Learnt by Dave from the singer Helen Schneyer in Washington in 1972.


Descriptive pieces have always had a popular place in the traditional repertory and few subjects lend themselves better to the genre than the foxhunt. Although banned in England, hunting and hounds are still as much a part of rural life in the southern states of America today as they were back in 1927 when fiddler Dudley Vance drove the 150 miles across the mountains from Bluff City TN to Winston-Salem NC, with Vance's Tennessee Breakdowners, to record six sides for Okeh Records. Only two of the tracks were actually released, but luckily Vance's family hung on to the original test pressings, and thus their wild 'Tennessee Mountain Foxchase' was preserved for posterity (Rural String Bands of Tennessee, County Records CD 3511).


The Light Dragoon - is a little different from most of the musical Trooper and Maid encounters, in as much as here it's the 'pretty maid' who takes the initiative with offers of ale, cakes and sex, an offer that, being a mere man, he can't resist. Despite her emancipated attitude, she's still hoping for love, and not just a one-night stand. Is that a male/female thing, or just old fashioned? The trooper hearing the bugle call sounding 'Rouse', scuttles off, pulling up his pants, promising to marry her if and when he returns. The wonderful North Carolina ballad singer, Dillard Chandler, sang a similar version which he called 'The Soldier Travelling from the North' (Old Love Songs and Ballads from Big Laurel, North Carolina. Folkways 1964). Dave originally learnt it from the singing of Harry List from Sweffling, near Framlingham, Suffolk, on the 1960s Caedmon series Folk Songs of Britain. A number of textual changes have crept into Dave's version over the last thirty five years, not least the last three verses which he added in a fit of martial enthusiasm after reading the exciting letters of Richard Lacey, a young Londoner who emigrated to Illinois in 1860. In 1862 Lacey volunteered to fight for the Southern Confederacy in the 1st Kentucky Cavalry, and later joined the legendary Confederate cavalry commander, John Morgan, as one of his 'Raiders'. 'The Downfall of Paris' is found in the John Clare manuscripts, and is popular with country musicians all over Britain and Ireland, where it is used in competition set dances. Composed in the 18th century by a Monsieur M. Becourt, an operatic side-drummer, it became a popular dance tune used for the cotillion, a dance introduced into England in the late 1760s by French dancing masters, and a few years later danced at American balls. During the French Revolution (1789-99) the tune was taken up by the revolutionary mob for the song 'Ca Ira' (It Will Succeed), a phrase originally used by Benjamin Franklin with reference to the American Revolution. The tune was later adopted by the British Army as a march and widely played during the Peninsular War. After 1805 'The Downfall of Paris' began to appear in printed dance tune collections in England and Ireland. In America, squeezed through the folk tune-grinder, it turned into the well-known breakdown 'Mississippi Sawyer', though some musicians such as the Murphy Brothers Harp Band (Harmonica Masters Classic Recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, Yazoo 2019) whilst playing 'Mississippi Sawyer' still retained the old title of 'Downfall of Paris'.


Here we have two versions of the same tune, the first of which was used for the hymn of that name written by the American Unitarian Minister William Cushing ((1823-1902) and the second one turned up in the manuscript fiddle tune-book of the Sussex church and social musician Michael Turner (1796-1885). Although the American hymn tune is credited to George Root (1820-1895) - we don't know where Turner got it from it is in fact Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's, KV 536, No. 2. published in Six German Dances. Pete heard 'When He Cometh' from Holly Norton, an ex-fiddle pupil, who remembered it from her childhood in Texas. Michael Turner's Waltz is a popular southern English session tune.


A roustabout song from the Ohio River, learnt by Dave from Jerry Epstein in New York. Jerry, in turn, learnt it from singer/folklorist Dillon Bustin who 'tidied up' the original version which appeared in Mary Wheeler's 1944 book Steamboatin' Days.


An example of the Anglo-Irish-American musical roundabout that interests us. Despite an enormous amount of interest and research, the origins of the song, claimed as a 'traditional Creole love song', an English street ballad of the mid 19th century, and an American song from the Civil War period, still remain shrouded in uncertainty. Pete first heard it from Ulster singer Paul Brady, who learnt it from the singing of Planxty's Christy Moore on the album Cold Blow and the Rainy Night (1974). Christy got it from Mike Waterson after hearing him sing it at Folk Union One, in Hull. Mike had learnt it in the 1960s from a tape sent to him by a fan, almost certainly a copy of the BBC recording of Paddy McCluskey, from Corkey, Co. Antrim, made by Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle in 1953. McCluskey had learnt the song around 1905 from another Corkey singer, Frank McAllister, who had picked it up whilst working as a woodsman in America. Phew! 'Pontchartrain' appears in several American song collections, sung to a variety of tunes, often under the title 'The Creole Girl', but also 'The Lakes of Ponsaw Train (Ozarks), and a cowboy version, 'On the Lake of the Poncho Plains.' With its reference to 'railroad cars', the song can't date before September 17th 1832, when the first steam locomotive, the 'Pontchartrain', was delivered from England and put into service on the Pontchartrain Railroad line that ran five miles from Elysian Fields Street, New Orleans, to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain at Milneburg, the first railroad in the Mississippi Valley.


A tune popular in the early British folk revival wedded to the song 'The Hot Asphalt'. Like many jigs and hornpipes taken over to the Appalachians the tune is usually played as a reel; 6/8 jigs not being popular with most frailing banjo players. However, when Dave started playing it as a two-finger picking piece he found that jig time was no problem the 'twiddly' bits falling naturally under the fingers.


Written in 1947 by Grand Opry star Grandpa Jones. Learnt by Dave from American Old Time duo Sandy and Jeanie Darlington when they were staying in London some forty years ago.


'Shepherd's Hey' and 'Old Molly Hare' obviously have a common ancestry, sharing as they do some identical phrases. Versions of many 'traditional' Morris tunes, such as 'Shepherd's Hey', appeared in 17th, 18th and 19th country dance or song collections, before becoming adapted and attached to the Morris.

'Old Molly Hare' is a standard tune in the repertoires of Old Time fiddle and banjo players. Both tunes are descendents of Scottish fiddler/composer Neil Gow's 'Fairy Dance' published in the early 1800s, and well known under a variety of titles in Colonial America.


Virginia's 'Dock' Boggs was as happy to sing 'Papa, Build Me a Boat' to the waltzy major Victorian parlour tune, used here, as other singers were to use more archaic sounding, 'high lonesome', vehicles for the same words. 'Dock' learnt it in the 1920s from Charlie Powers, one of his band members. Dave uses Dock's tune (or pretty close) to a set of words that he learnt back in the 1960s, collected by Frank Kidson from a Mrs Hollings, a Lincolnshire charlady.


The inevitability of death has fascinated people for thousands of years. Some have tried to cheat it with cryogenics, vitamin pills and mummification, and in Ingmar Bergman's classic film The Seventh Seal by challenging Death to a game of chess. None has succeeded. The personification of Death has been going on in Europe at least since the Middle Ages when dialogues between Death and his victim were enacted in the Morality Plays.

The ballad 'Death and the Lady' (of which 'Oh Death' is a comparatively recent American manifestation) has been around in Britain since the late 16th century. The version here was inspired by Virginia banjo-picker Dock Boggs who had a predilection for dismal sounding numbers.

On a personal note I find one verse in the old broadside versions particularly poignant, having lost my daughter-in-law, aged 27, to cancer: she left a three-year old daughter, Caitlin:
Death, be not so severe, let me obtain
A little longer time to live and reign
Fain would I stay, if thou my life wilt spare
I have a daughter beautiful and fair,
I'd live to see her wed, whom I adore
Grant me but this, and I will ask no more.


Our ornithological pairing of Pidgeon (sic) and Nightingale! Amongst Devon fiddler Fred Pidgeon's (1880-1970) large repertoire was his 'Scotch Polka' (known amongst contemporary fiddlers as 'Fred Pidgeon's No. 1'). The 'Jenny Lind Polka', or as it's sometimes called in the States 'The Heel and Toe Polka' or 'Sally With the Run Down Shoes', was as popular with earlier old time musicians from Virginia to California, as it was with English country players. Written by the German composer Anton Wallerstein in 1845, 'Jenny Lind's Lieblings-Polka' was part of a core repertory shared by many, although not all, English, American and Australian rural musicians in the late19th and early 20th centuries. The tune, like several other 'Jenny Lind' commemorative items, celebrated the massively popular 19th century Swedish singer Johanna Maria Lind (1820-1887). The 'Swedish Nightingale' was an international 'super star' long before the term was coined.


A slightly more sedate version of the '50s skiffle favourite 'Don't You Rock me Daddy-O', played in a F banjo tuning learnt from Dwight Diller. Recorded and/or sung by everyone and their dog over the years, including the Beatles earlier incarnation The Quarry men. An early Columbia recording was by 'Uncle Bunt' Stephens who in 1926 won the title World Champion Fiddler with 'Sail Away Ladies' and 'Old Hen Cackled'


Pete learnt 'Dan O'Keefe's No 2' from the playing of the fine Sliabh Luachra fiddler Julia Clifford and Dave learnt 'Ducks on the Pond' from legendary Virginia fiddler Henry Reed, the source of some of the finest Old Time tunes. According to Alan Jabbour, who collected some 184 'items' from Reed in the 1960s, 'Ducks on the Pond' appears to be a variant of 'Lady of the Lake' (a dance as well as a tune) which appeared in 1839 in Knauff's Virginia Reels Vol3.


Learnt from the singing of Jeff Davis, whom Dave first met in North Carolina in 1972. Jeff had it from the legendary Connemara singer Joe Heaney. 'Someone to Love Me' began as a light-operatic piece entitled 'Meet Me By Moonlight' written by Irish composer Joseph Augustine Wade in London in 1826. The song travelled a long way and underwent many changes including becoming mixed up with the hugely popular 'Prisoner's Song', which sold several million copies in America when recorded in 1924 by Vernon Delhart.