Sleeve Notes for Swan-Upmanship by The Old Swan Band
Old Swan have been influencing English country dance music for 30 years. This is their first new recording for 21 years. So here it is; still unbeatable. Driving fiddles with a full raunchy brass section and rhythm from drums and keyboard. This band is still unique and still at the cutting edge.
The key is they dont sound like they're thinking about it. Someones stuck a load of instruments in their hands and theyre instantly bounding away, sounding like theyll carry on playing til they drop, clearly hopelessly, irretrievably in love with the music. And thats an irresistibly infectious quality. John Adams, Paul Burgess, the Fraser sisters, Neil Gledhill, Martin Brinsford, Flos Headford, Heather Horsley ?theyre old hands at this. They dont look right, they dont look left, they just play and theyve gathered some killer tunes to do it with: Wenlock Edge, Freedom Of Ireland, Flowers Of Edinburgh, General Ward... wondrous, intoxicating sounds all. The formidable frontline of fiddles is specially seductive and this really is English dance music at its most invigorating. Incredibly its 21 years since their last new studio album? thats some baby theyve been storing up there.
1 The Green-Clad Hills/Jimmy Garson’s March
Jimmy Garson was an Orcadian musician recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1955. One of the tunes he played was an untitled march tune, which Peter Kennedy told Paul Burgess he decided to call “King William’s March”, just because he felt it should have a title. We don’t subscribe to any extra-musical association this tune may have, so prefer to call it “Jimmy Garson’s March” as it’s a fine melody!
The Green Clad Hills comes from Richard Valentine – we can’t remember where he got it, but we’ll ask him next time we see him!
2 Jack Robinson/William Irwins No. 3/The Tipputs
There was a comic song “Jack Robinson” being sung on the London stage in the 1820’s - whether there is any connection is not known. We got the tune from the much missed Mel Dean.
William Irwin’s No. 3 is from a MS tunebook compiled by William Irwin of Wigtown, Cumberland, in the 1840s or ‘50s - we learned it from Cock and Bull Band.
The Tipputs Inn at Tiltups End, Horsley (originally the Black Horse) gives it’s name to the last tune, written by Paul & Jane Burgess
3 Steamboat Hornpipe/Gloucester Hornpipe
Steamboat is a popular English tune, but it, like so many, has traveled and can be found in Kerr’s Merry Melodies. Our version was learned from the playing of the Yorkshire ironstone worker George Tremain, who was the melodeon player for the North Skelton Sword Dancers.
Stephen Baldwin had a habit of changing around the names of the tunes he played – “it’s difficult remembering all them names”. Some collectors also imposed there own ideas on what the tunes were called. This one was called “Gloucester Hornpipe” on one of the sessions and “Swansea Hornpipe” on one of the others – it’s also known as “The Man From Newry”, under which title it appears in O’Neill’s Music Of Ireland. (The “Gloucester Hornpipe” we recorded on Gamesters, Pickpockets & Harlots which was re-issued on “Still Swanning After All These Years”, is a different tune which Cecil Sharp recorded from Stephen Baldwin’s father, Charles).
4 False Start
5 General Ward/The Day Room
Both written by Paul when he was in hospital!
6 Winster Gallop/Four-Hand Reel/Dark Girl Dressed In Blue
This set of tunes was included on the band’s first album ‘No Reels’ in 1977 and Dave Hunt adapted a dance for it, which we now know as “The Old Swan Gallop”. It’s changed a bit since then and shows the way the band has developed.
“Winster Gallop” is one of the traditional Morris tunes from Winster in Derbyshire, which was noted down by Cecil Sharp in his famous meeting with the team in 1908. The “Four-Hand Reel” with its odd number of bars in the A-music, was a tune played by Herbert Smith in 1952 to Peter Kennedy. Smith was a sexton from Blakeney in Norfolk.
“The Dark Girl Dressed In Blue” Decca F11140 coupled with “Growing Old” in 1959 by Stanley Holloway. Jack Warner (more famous as Dixon of Dock Green) was said to have used it as his theme song when he worked on the Music Halls, but, in fact, it’s much older than that, with broadside versions having been issued around 1865. It’s a humorous song where the chap (often up for the Great Exhibition) meets the Dark Girl, who asks him to get her change for her five-pound note. Of course, the note is forged, the girl disappears and he has to explain himself to “the large man dressed in blue”. It was popular as a tune especially in England and Ireland, where the great fiddler Johnny Doherty had a fine version.
7 Church Street/ Redwing / St. Marys
Ah - a quintessential set of English tunes. Well, actually not. The first and last tunes were originally recorded as “Memories of Ballymote” and “Gurkin Cross” by Paddy Killoran’s Irish Orchestra in New York in 1937. Killoran was a good, rough-toned country fiddler who ran a bar in the Bronx and who played with Michael Coleman. His life was cut short at a very early age when he perished in a New York ferry disaster. We originally got the tunes from an inspirational group led by a Canadian hammer-dulcimer player called Bill Spence & Fennig’s Allstars and only found out later, that he had them from the Chieftains.
“Redwing” was written in 1907 by Kerry Mills, a prolific American popular composer of songs and dance tunes, who also brought us “Whistling Rufus”.
8 Flowers Of Edinburgh/Soldier’s Joy/Morpeth Rant
The first known appearance in print of one of the most popular of all tunes, the Flowers Of Edinburgh, was originally published in 1742 as “My Love’s Bonny When She Smiles On Me”. The Scottish fiddler Neil Gow claimed that the “Flowers Of Edinburgh” were the city’s magistrates. A likely story. It is popular all over Britain, Ireland and the US. The slower version is from the Cotswolds, and was collected by Cecil Sharp from Harry Taylor, mainstay of the Longborough and Lower Swell Morris sides in Gloucestershire.
Soldiers Joy (also known as King’s Head) is a universal tune, appearing on both sides of the Atlantic in major, minor and multi-mode versions, with and without words and with extensive variations available even within the same band. Paul Roberts sings a complete song which starts with the following verse which suggests a possible meaning of the name.
25 cents for the morphine
15 cents for the beer
25 cents for the morphine
...and Soldier’s Joy is here!
“Morpeth Rant” (also known as “Woods Hornpipe”) has been credited to the pen of the 18th-Century Northumberland musician William Shields. Since when it has spread all over, with versions recorded from William Hocken (Boscastle) and Stephen Baldwin (Forest Of Dean). It was listed in William Vickers tunebook, dated 1770 (now in Gosforth Record Office), but the notation is missing. Vickers could well have been an Excise Officer living in Newcastle and his huge collection of tunes is prefaced with the poem:
Musicks a Crotchet the Sober thinks it Vain
The Fiddles a Wooding Projection
Tunes are But Flights of a Whimsical Brain
Which the Bottle Brings Best to Parfection
Musisians are half witted mery and madd
And Those are the same that admire Them
Theyr Fools if they Play unless their Well Paid
And The Others are Blockheads to Hire them
9 Wenlock Edge/Summer Waltz
We had “Wenlock Edge” from Tony Gibbons via Flos. Tony & Caroline’s band Hetty Peglar’s Tump, based in Cheltenham, have been going almost as long as we have! Summer Waltz, or Sommarwaltzen, was written by Filarfolket bandleader, multi-instrumentalist and amazing person Ale Möller.
10 Flowers Of Edinburgh
Is a version used by the Longborough Morris dancers, and was collected by Cecil Sharp from the prime mover in the side, Harry Taylor.
11 Schottis fran Havero/Another Fine Mess
Also known as “Schottisch fran Harjedalen”, there are no prizes for guessing that this tune comes from Sweden! The second tune is a remnant of the early days of Edward II and the Red-Hot Polkas and we got it from Dion Cochran. We don’t know the proper name, but he always called it “Another Fine Mess”.
12 George Greens College Hornpipe
George Green played melodeon for the Little Downham Molly dancers and photographs taken by WH Palmer on Plough Monday 1932 and reproduced in Elaine Bradtke’s ‘Truculent Rustics - Molly Dancing in East Anglia before 1940’ show him with the dancers. It bears no relation at all to the College Hornpipe that most people know which is also known as ‘The Sailor’s Hornpipe’. George Green’s tune now often accompanies the dance ‘Mr Dolly’ originated by the Southampton based border morris team Red Stag
13 Basquet of Oysters and Sally Sloanes
Basquet of Oysters is three parts collated by Pete Coe from a longer Basque tune that he heard on a tape owned by our friend and fellow musician Andrew Cronshaw. The second part is the same as the B music of the well known tune The Oyster Girl which gives us our title. Pete tells us firmly that the triple ‘hits’ in the C music were not how the tune was played originally. We have ignored this.
Sally Sloane was an Australian fiddler/melodeonist of Irish descent but her jig is not particularly Irish. It appears in Yorkshire (in one of Lawrence Leadley’s handwritten manuscripts of around 1840) as Trip to Cottingham, but was previously published by one John Simpson (who claimed to have invented the tenor flageolet and had a shop in Regent Street London) as Le Nouvelle Fantasie (probably an English fashionable construct rather than an actual French tune, given the bad grammar of the title).
14 Freedom of Ireland/Kitchen Girl
The first tune came to the band via Rod Stradling, who had it from a melodeon player in Sutton, Surrey. However, the original source was probably the classic recording by “The King of the Pipers” Leo Rowsome, who recorded it in 1948. It also appears related to the song “I’ll Marry and I’ll Never Be A Nun” and is another of the family of tunes which included “Salmon Tails”, a fact which causes much confusion in sessions!
Fi got “The Kitchen Girl” from Sarah Gray.
15 Beatrice Hill’s Three-Hand Reel
Another Gloucestershire tune, from Bromsberrow Heath melodeon player Beatrice Hill, recorded in 1952. Her father kept the village pub and was the “King” or leader of the Bromsberrow Heath Morris Dancers. Beatrice Hill’s sister was the superb (and little-known) traditional singer Emily Bishop, who was recorded by Peter Kennedy talking about the Morris and singing a number of carols. The tune has travelled a bit and appears twice in Australia, once by fiddler Charlie Bachelor played as a schottische and again (just about) as Kate Kelly’s Waltz (source unknown).
16 Ger The Rigger/Mickey Chewing Bubble Gum
Ger The Rigger comes from the playing of the wonderful Jackie Daley of Sliabh Luachra. Jackie, along with equally brilliant fiddle player Seamus Creagh came to the Cheltenham area and did a small tour on a couple of occasions in the 70’s and the band learned the tunes then. I’m pretty sure they used to follow it with the second tune, which we never got the name of at that time but have since learned they call “Bill Sullivan’s”. In fact, it was composed by Terry “Cuz” Teahan as a youngster prior to leaving Ireland for America; he called it “Mickey Chewing Bubble Gum”. Philippe Varlet says that Teahan composed the tune while still taking lessons with the great Sliabh Luachra fiddler Padraig O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe liked the composition and continued to teach it after Teahan’s departure, and it eventually circulated among local musicians; hence the name “Bill Sullivan’s,” after a local player.