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Sleeve Notes for Echoes of Alfred by Bob and Gill Berry

Echoes of AlfredAll of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to people like Alfred Williams who recognised the value of the songs, saw that they were disappearing and made records of them before their echoes finally passed into oblivion.
As artists we have been greatly influenced by the research and singing of Len & Barbara Berry (Bob’s parents) of songs which Alfred Williams collected in Oxfordshire. This album has songs mainly from the collection, but from Wiltshire - the county that we have made our adopted home.
Many of the songs had no tunes, so they have been adapted to fit new tunes or arranged to suit our own interpretation. We make no apologies for altering words and tunes and feel that Alfred would have ‘echoed’ our sentiments.

The image on the album front was inspired by a line in the song “Out with my dog in the morning” which describes the joy of singing by the fireside. There is nothing better to connect us to the rural people for whom singing songs like these was an integral part of their lives and labours for hundreds of years.

Track Notes

1 No Followers
(trad/G Berry)

This came from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of Old England. Originally called ‘The Young Man from the Country’ it describes the much frowned upon habit of servants having ‘followers’ (boyfriends) since a young sweetheart just might prove to be a thief which, in this case, is true.

2 My Jolly Waggoner Drive On
(trad/R Berry)

A fun little song from the singing of David Sawyer from Ogbourne St Andrew. It would seem that this song should actually be sung by the horse! A new tune from Bob brings the song to life as the horse tries to decide who he’d prefer as a master.

3 I’ll Weave Him A Garland
(trad/B Berry)

A beautiful song of pure love. Collected from William Bartlett, Marston Meysey and set to music by Bob’s mum, Barbara.

4 Chickens!
(trad/R Berry)

This song is a version of ‘All the Little Chickens in the Garden’, a lovely song collected in the Cumbria region and the singing of the Waterson family. Further research and information from Jeff Warner (USA) shows it to have been penned by African-American, James A. Bland in 1879. This version has been taken from the collected songs of Mrs E King, Castle Eaton and a new, but strangely familiar tune from Bob. The last verse is an attempt to finish the song’s story.

5 Sweet Queen Of May
(trad/R Berry)

The words of this song were collected by Frank Kidson, sung by Elizabeth Parkes in Trowbridge in 1906 and set to a new tune by Bob. The tune was inspired from the beautiful Catholic Hymn “Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)” This is as near to a Parlour Song as we get.

6 My Old Wife’s A Good Old Cratur
(trad/B Berry)

From the singing of Len Berry, this is a great little song of the love of a man for his wife. And why not! Collected from Prucilla Brunsdon, of Clanfield, Oxfordshire. Tune by Barbara Berry.

7 Days Of Summer
(M Campbell)

This is a relatively new song, not from the Wiltshire area but one that can easily be transposed into any area of natural beauty. This evocative song instils thoughts of times in the summer sitting next to Dew Ponds on Salisbury plan watching nature go about its business. Our thanks to Miggy Campbell for her excellent word-smithery and singing.

8 Broken Down Gentleman
(trad/Rees/arr R Berry)

A version of “Epsom Races” collected from Timothy Tassel, Wanborough, Wiltshire. A jaunty tale of the downfall of a young gentleman drawn into debt by the racing of horses. The small “bridge” tune in between the songs was written by Richard Rees and called the ‘Highworth Hop’.

9 Deny No Man His Rights
(trad/B Berry)

A good example of a late 19th century protest song. It is from the singing of Thomas Smart of Blunsdon and sounds very much like a Chartist piece. The “Fustian Coat” was a garment regularly made in the area around Ramsbury, Wiltshire. It is a very old type of material mentioned in writings as far back as the 12-13th Century. The song could have been written for many periods of civil unrest and interestingly, for some, the sentiments still hold true today

10 Sarah Gale
(trad/B Berry)

This song, collected from Charles Tanner, depicts the desperate situation and gruesome murder of Hannah Brown. A lot has been written about the actual case and the fate of the perpetrators. Chilling stuff!

11 Through The Groves
(trad/arr R Berry)

This is an interesting version of the Holmfirth Anthem but we think it comes from earlier than that. Bob has arranged it to be more introspective rather than the usual big chorus version. From the singing of Mr W Shergold, Amesbury, Wiltshire.

12 I Was Much Better Off In The Army
(Butler/Lubin/Gay /arr R Berry)

Bob has been singing this song for over 40 years without remembering where he originally heard it. The wonderful Roy Hudd proved more than a match to recover the origin and two extra verses! Bob sang this song in Salisbury Folk Club in 1980 on the day he signed off from his Armed Forces duties. It seemed an appropriate song then and still enjoyed today. You can imagine this song being sung in the post war skits and shows put on by the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), amusingly also described as “Every Night Something Awful”.

13 Sprig Of Thyme
(trad/arr R Berry)

This song is widely popular and is generally sung as a sweet ditty. We see it as a more despairing style of song with some great herb lore depicting the frailties of the human condition. This version was collected by Alfred Williams from David Sawyer with the first verse by George W Gardiner from Mary A (Polly) Gurd in the Tisbury Workhouse

14 Shearers Song
(trad/R Berry)

Another David Sawyer song from Ogbourne St Andrew. David was a sheep shearer on the Marlborough Downs and this song captures the fun the shepherds had when they met up after the shearing. Bob wrote the tune in the shepherd’s tradition of northern France where all the songs are sung in unison. The other singers on this track are the men from Tinkers Bag, a band which Bob & Gill led for over 20 years.

15 Salisbury Plain
(B Dransfield/D Howes/arr R Berry)

This is a very popular song and depicts the exercises of the Royal Horse Guards (known as the Blues) on the plain many, many years ago. Robin and Barry Dransfield sang it in 1970 as the title track of their album “The Rout of the Blues”. This song was put together by Barry from the book “The Idiom of the People”, Ingledew’s “Yorkshire Ballads”, and a vaguely remembered tune learned originally from Dave

16 Out With My Dog In The Morning
(trad/arr R Berry)

Inspired by the singing of this song by Keith Kendrick, Bob was delighted to find it nestling within the manuscripts of the Williams collection. It describes the sort of simple life to which we wish we could return, a nice little cottage, a loving wife and singing whilst sat next to the fire. Another song collected from Mrs King, Castle Eaton