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Sleeve Notes for Floating Verses by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

Floating VersesMARY HUMPHREYS AND ANAHATA sing and play their music at home in East Anglia and perform in clubs, concerts and festivals all over the UK. They specialise in finding unusual variants of songs and tunes from the English tradition and take great delight in putting them back into circulation.

Mary Humphreys: vocals,  English concertinas ( treble and baritone-treble by Wheatstone & Co),  Griffin banjo by James Bowen

Anahata:  cello by Fent, melodeons: 1 row Hohner, 2 row Oakwood,  2 row Salterelle; Jeffreys Anglo concertina

Joined by:  
Dave Holland on fiddle,
Gina Holland on recorder,
Chris Amos on guitar


We perform a range of mainly English traditional songs and tunes in variants that have been languishing in printed collections and rarely performed. During the recording we were struck by the number of textual similarities in several of the songs, such as Darling Boy and If I was a Blackbird. Most interesting was the Waly Waly version that is all recycled verses (floating verses) from other songs. So in a fit of inspiration we have called the album after this coincidence.


1.Green Grows  the Laurel

The tune and text come from Robert Cinnamond of Co Antrim, but the style is pure East Anglian pub session. Many is the Thursday evening that Anahata and I have been found making music along with a group of like-minded performers in pubs with sympathetic landlords. Suffolk and Norfolk still have such places and the licencing officers havent found us yet! This is one of the songs that gets them all singing.

2.Darling Boy ( I wish I had never known)

The song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs Emma (Mary)  Overd in Langport, Somerset and published in his collected works edited by Maud Karpeles in 1974. These two volumes have regrettably been out of print for years. Good old EFDSS and Folk South West have reprinted a selection in Still Growing  published in 2003 and this is one of the songs in that capital little book. I notice that the folk process had taken hold and some of the lines which I sing arent quite as CJS published them. This is proof that folk song is still evolving, and hasnt died as the pessimists have predicted. Most singers  - including myself - change songs unconsciously to suit their own patterns of speech.

If you listen carefully to verses 3 and 4 you will hear phrases that reappear elsewhere on this CD.

3.Geld him, lasses,geld him / Hornpipe by Purcell

The first tune is a stunning arrangement by Alistair Anderson for two melody instruments.

Alistair says: If I remember rightly I got the original tune from Oswalds Pocket Companion - late 18th century book of mainly Scottish tunes arrange for flute and violin by James Oswald a Scot who collected a load of stuff and then moved to London as a music publisher. The 3/2 hornpipe rhythm was widespread at the time, and in the 17th century  too.

Purcell and later Handel both composed in this rhythm and to prove the point we have followed on with an unnamed hornpipe by Purcell that is commonly printed in volumes of easy pieces for piano. It isnt so easy on a concertina and melodeon!

Our grateful thanks go to Alistair for allowing us to use the arrangement and for being so generous with the information about the tune. Also to Dave & Gina Holland for adding fiddle and recorder to the arrangements and taking the tunes into a different dimension.

4.Cambridge May Song

This song was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1907 from Fowlmere resident Hoppy Flack. He was one of the longest-serving members of a band of May carollers which visited the cottages in the villages of Thriplow and Fowlmere collecting money and ale on May eve. Hoppy related to RVW that one May eve having been given so much to drink during the proceedings, he fell into a ditch and couldnt get out again. His companion, loth to lose the money they would collect carried on without him and Hoppy lay in the ditch until day listening to the song as it went further into the distance.

The words attached to the text had a very  gloomy turn to them and seem to have departed considerably from their pagan origins. I have gone to other May carols, particularly the neighbouring Bedfordshire one, and borrowed some verses. It becomes a much more  celebratory song without the threat of Hell and Damnation.

5.The Turtle Dove ( Roud No 422)

The song was collected from Mrs Hann of Stoke Abbot, Dorset in 1906 by H.E.D.Hammond and published in JFSS 3:11 1907 pp86. The words that Hammond published in Folk Songs from Dorset are a composite.The only verses noted from Mrs Hann are verses 3 and 4 in the version sung here. Hammond notes that this is the only major version of the song he has collected. The others were all modal tunes, and heart-rendingly beautiful too.

A broadside printed c 1690 called the Unkind Parents is thought to be one of the origins of the text. Some verses of the song crop up in all the English-speaking areas of the British Isles and even form the basis of Burns  My Love is like a Red Red Rose.

6.Maid Freed from the Gallows (Prickly Bush) Child No 95

The tune was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mr W Major of Flamborough, East Yorkshire on 22nd December 1910.The text is collated from other texts collected by CJS. I love this song about a dysfunctional family, where all the relatives are coming one at a time for a grand day out to enjoy the sight of their daughter/sibling being hanged. Anahata takes great delight in playing snatches of Morris tunes between the verses that are totally in-keeping with the jolly atmosphere that is built up. Dave & Gina help create a carnival mood with the fiddle & recorder.

In earlier centuries hanging was a public spectacle that was regarded as an entertainment, and that is exactly the picture I have in my minds eye when singing this song.

7.The Willow Tree ( O take me to your arms love)

I found this song in the collection Folksongs of England ed Cecil Sharp 1908-12, Vol 3 Folk Songs of Hampshire, collected by G B Gardiner. There was no source attribution. I searched throughout the Folk Song Journals of the relevant dates to find who had been the source of the song text, to no avail. It was only looking at the music of the songs that Gardiner collected that brought the realisation that he had substituted a broadside text The Willow Tree  for The Banks of Green Willow as sung by David Clements ( aged 80) of Basingstoke, Hants and notated by R V Williams in 1909. I can only surmise that the original text would have been regarded as unsuitable to be sung by a young Edwardian lady and the tune was rightly regarded as eminently worth publishing.

David Clements was recorded by R V Williams on a wax cylinder and the result can be heard on the Century of Song CD released by EFDSS and it is well worth a listen. I love the Gardiner modification however, and will continue to sing it.

8.Sportsmans Hornpipe/Radstock/ Whitefryers Hornpipe

These really are English tunes I promise you! We are indebted to Dave & Gina Holland for their contribution to the overall sound on this track.

The Sportsmans is contained in the C19th Joseph Kershaw MS. Kershaw was a fiddle player who lived in the remote area of Slackcote, Saddleworth. Here it is heavily influenced by playing for Molly dancing with the Gog Magog team.

C J Sharp noted the Radstock from James Higgins, a fiddle player resident in Shepton Mallett Union (workhouse). Maud Karpeles published it in a collection of tunes for North-West dances which is where Anahata found it. The melodeon players must have had a fit when asked to play it!

The Whitefryers appears in Walshs third collection of Lancashire tunes published around the year 1730. Walsh and his son were London publishers. They scooped the rights to Handels later works in addition to printing music tutors and collections of popular tunes on a scale hitherto unknown in England. Anahata got this tune from John Offord, on the back of an envelope.

9.Searching  for Lambs

Collected by C J Sharp from Mrs Bray in Langport Somerset on 23rd August 1904. The tune reminds me of a psalm chant, being in essence only 4 bars long. It is totally different from the much more well-known modal version, but no less beautiful in its own right. I love the sentiment of the song.

10.Fair Margaret & Sweet William (Child No 74)

Collected by H E D Hammond from Mrs Crawford, West Milton Dorset in May 1906.We are not given any of the background to the disruption in the relationship between the two protagonists, but one can surmise that the reasons for Sweet William choosing a nut-brown bride is the same as in many of the other love-triangle ballads - that of houses and land. Nut-brown was a derogatory term for a plain woman, that could also describe a sallow-skinned or sunburnt woman.  

The verse relating to the rose and briar makes the end of the ballad a little less bleak for the listener. It is a motif that occurs elsewhere, notably Barbara Allen and Lord Thomas and Lady Eleanor.

11.Hares on the Mountains

This was collected from the sisters Lucy White and Louisa Hooper of Hambridge, Somerset by Cecil Sharp in September 1903. Professor Bertrand Bronson considers that it is a version of Child No 1 - The Two Magicians. There is a great deal of controversy about this which I dont want to take sides on. I am happy to sing it as a  rather racy song with a good chorus. When I  lived in Yorkshire I had the privilege to meet ( and play in a ceilidh band) with Dr Vic Gammon who supplied the last two verses of this song, in the knowledge that as a bell-ringer I would be sure to sing them!

Anahata supplies some subversive links from one verse to the next, bearing in mind that WildGoose is an English music label....  

12.Waly Waly

Collected by Cecil Sharp from the delightfully named Mrs Elizabeth Mogg aged 74 of Holford, Somerset on August 30th 1904. Mrs Mogg, according to Sharp, consumed prodigious amounts of snuff. It must have helped her voice to stay clear as the tune has a very large range for a folk-song - just three tones less than two octaves - bottom F to top C in this recording. The song is entirely composed of floating verses from a variety of sources and has no actual story-line.  

13.Blow the Candles Out

We are joined by Chris Amos on Martin guitar for this song. I learnt it for Harry and Lesley Boardmans series of programmes -  Ballads of Britain - recorded on BBC Radio Manchester in 1987. Chris guitar gives the song the same hypnotic air that Wilf Darlingtons fiddle did all those years ago.

The background to the song is rooted in the old practice of serving an unpaid apprenticeship of three years to a master and during that time being unable to support a wife. Once the three years  were up the apprentice would become a journeyman and able to earn a living at the trade to which he had become apprenticed, and presumably able to support a wife and children.

14.Harliquin Air and Tom Fowlers Hornpipe

Benjamin Cooke ( 1734-93) was organist at Westminster Abbey and director of the original Academy of Ancient Music. He collected many popular tunes of the day, probably from the theatre and pleasure grounds of London and left them in a series of manuscripts. The Harliquin Air is one of these.

Alex Szyszkowski & Dave Wooldridge from Cheap Jack Ceilidh Band gave us the dots for Tom Fowlers Hornpipe. There is a very much longer version called Tom Tollins Hornpipe which Robin Huw Bowen discovered in the MSS of Welsh triple harper, Llewelyn Alaw ( 1828-1879) from Aberdr. There is a slightly shorter version called Tom Tolleys Hornpipe that is well known to many session musicians today. The version we play is the economy version with a regular 8 bars per part and very suited to dancing. It comes from the Winder family of the Trough of Bowland, Lancashire. They were a noted ceilidh band of the C19th, much in demand locally, though with a rather dubious reputation for drinking.

15.If I was a Blackbird

This is another song popular in the Suffolk pub sessions we frequent - it is the one I get asked to sing most often.The original song comes from the collection of G B Gardiner. The source singer was Henry Lee of Whitchurch Hants who sang the song in May 1906.I remember my mother singing something very similar to me as a small child, and almost everyone knows a slightly different version. Although this one is a Hampshire variant it gets the full East Anglian treatment here, as that is where I sing it most often. It has verses that crop up in The Darling Boy, and The Bonny Light Horseman and as such seems a good way to finish an album called Floating Verses.                                                                          

Mary Humphreys

Track Notes

1 Green Grows the Laurel

See description section for notes

2 Darling Boy ( I wish I had never known)

See description section for notes

3 Geld him, lasses,geld him / Hornpipe by Purcell

See description section for notes

4 Cambridge May Song

See description section for notes

5 The Turtle Dove ( Roud No 422)

See description section for notes

6 Maid Freed from the Gallows (Prickly Bush) Child No 95

See description section for notes

7 The Willow Tree ( O take me to your arms love)

See description section for notes

8 Sportsmans Hornpipe/Radstock/ Whitefryers Hornpipe

See description section for notes

9 Searching for Lambs

See description section for notes

10 Fair Margaret & Sweet William (Child No 74)

See description section for notes

11 Hares on the Mountains

See description section for notes

12 Waly Waly

See description section for notes

13 Blow the Candles Out

See description section for notes

14 Harliquin Air and Tom Fowlers Hornpipe

See description section for notes

15 If I was a Blackbird

See description section for notes