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Sleeve Notes for Parallel Strands by Martin Graebe & Shan Cowan

Parallel StrandsThis album brings together two aspects of Martin Graebe:- his ability to write great songs in traditional styles and his skill and patience in researching the songs from the C19th collection of Baring-Gould. Many of the songs are recorded here for the first time since Baring-Gould noted them down and all the arrangements of Martins own songs are new.

Martin Graebe - vocals
Shan Cowan -  vocals
Paul Burgess  -  Fiddle
Jeff Gillett  -   Guitar and Mandola
Keith Kendrick  -  English and Anglo Concertina
Barry Lister  -   Tuba and Trombone
Paul Sartin  -   Oboe
Paul Wilson  -   Accordion & Percussion (Granite, Slate and Tom)
additional vocals - Doug Bailey, Lynne Heraud,  Barry Lister and Pat Turner


Sabine Baring-Gould

Sabine Baring-Gould (1834  1924) was a pioneering collector of English Traditional songs and a mentor to later collectors such as Cecil Sharp.  Though he was also a highly regarded writer and antiquarian, he regarded his collection of songs from the mouths of the ordinary people of Devon and Cornwall, made between 1887 and 1916, to be the crowning achievement of his life.  While he published many of these songs during his lifetime in his two major collections Songs of the West and A Garland of Country Song, he acknowledged that because he had been obliged by the need to reach a wide audience, he had found it necessary to edit a number of the songs.  Recognising that future students of folk song might be interested in the songs as actually collected, he gave his original Fair Copy (containing 202 songs) and his rough manuscripts to Plymouth Library.  These manuscripts, together with a few others (including those sent to F J Child at Harvard) were the basis of study until 1992 when a chance discovery of a large quantity of previously unrecognised material was made.  Since that time Martin, and more recently Shan, have been working on these manuscripts to index and transcribe them and to understand their significance.  In the process of this research they have also discovered a number of lovely songs.


This recording has been a long time in the making.  It has been on my To Do list for at least 5 years and I had done some planning for a solo CD but those plans had not been translated into much action.  Two years ago I started to sing with Shan and we have both enjoyed performing a growing repertoire of songs from the Baring-Gould collection.  When Doug Bailey invited us in the summer of 2004 to make a CD with Wildgoose Records, he wanted to do something that brought that traditional material together with my own songs.  (Indeed, his provisional title for the CD was The Two Faces of Martin Graebe!)  And so the concept of Parallel Strands was born.  

Initially we thought more of the CD might be unaccompanied but we were very pleased to find that a number of musicians, some old friends and some new, were keen to help.  Working with musicians in this way was new to us and, it has to be said, some of the things that we naively asked them to do were a bit of a stretch.  It has been an real pleasure to work with them and to learn together  -  we are both grateful to them and awed by their talent.  So, my solo, unaccompanied, traditional CD has grown a bit.  A number of the songs are here recorded for the first time since Baring-Gould noted them down in the late 19th Century.  In the case of my own songs the arrangements are all new.  Shan and I have greatly enjoyed putting this collection together for you.  We hope that you enjoy listening to it.

Track notes

1.  Lavender Green (Traditional, Arr Graebe/Cowan) Roud 3483

Baring-Gould heard this sung by Louisa Williams in West Devon.  She had only portions of the verses, and the tune that she sang it to was Bobbing Joan.  Baring-Gould completed the ballad from the set in the Roxburghe Collection of ballads.  Here and elsewhere it is known as Diddle, Diddle or The Kind Country Lovers and has a number of diddles scattered liberally throughout the verses.  Louisa Williams clearly believed life was too short for that many diddles and, in any case, we cannot see how they would have fitted this tune.  There is another song, My Dog and I which shares some of the verses but is extremely rude and confirms, as Steve Harrison suggested to us, that Dog was slang for the male member in the 17th Century.

Vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan, Mandola - Jeff Gillett, Anglo Concertina  Keith Kendrick, Fiddle  Paul Burgess, Accordion  Paul Wilson

2.   Stonecracker John (Written by Martin Graebe, Arr Graebe /Gillett)

There are images from literature that stick in the mind and, for me, one of those is that of the roadman whose identity Richard Hannay borrows in John Buchans The Thirty-Nine Steps.  Robert Hard, one of Baring-Goulds singers, ended his life as a stone-breaker on the roads.  This song is about work, its ephemeral nature and a mans pride in what he does.  Paul Wilsons percussion on this track uses a piece of Dartmoor granite as well as slate (though not Cornish).

Vocal  Martin Graebe, Guitar - Jeff Gillett, Percussion  Paul Wilson

3.   Tyburn Hill (Traditional)

Baring-Gould heard this song from Sam Fone of Mary Tavy.  It is a version of Jack Hall, a song about a burglar executed in 1701.  It was included in the repertoire of a singer called Ross in the 1850s and its popularity was such that it became part of the repertoire of many country singers.  Sam Fones take on it is, though, quite distinct from other collected versions.

Vocal  Martin Graebe, English Concertina  Keith Kendrick

4.   Peters Private Army (Written by Martin Graebe, Arr Graebe/Cowan/Gillett)

Jeff plays The Rogues March to introduce this song which written after reading an account in Henry Mayhews London Labour and the London Poor of beggars pretending to be ex-soldiers or sailors to lend respectability to their appeal.  These Turnpike Sailors and Street Campaigners were very rarely what they pretended to be  -  but after knowing Peter and his band for several years Im more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan, Mandola - Jeff Gillett, Anglo Concertina - Keith Kendrick, Fiddle  Paul Burgess, Tuba & Trombone  Barry Lister, Percussion  Paul Wilson,

5.   Tobacco (Traditional, Arr Graebe/Cowan)

This song is a direct descendant of one composed by the unruly song-writer George Wither in about 1670.  There is an early manuscript of Withers song in Baring-Goulds papers and the lineage is clear  -  though a lot of the words are different!  Chappell, writing in 1859, talked of the songs enduring popularity, though he believed that the quality of the song had deteriorated as it had been re-iterated.  Baring-Gould collected it from  a number of singers around Dartmoor and I have usually introduced the version that we sing as coming from Anne Roberts of Scobbetor.  In preparing this recording we went back to the manuscripts and checked every song that we sing and hauled words and tune back as close to the original as we could.  In this case we found that, after having learned it in the Jolly Porter in Exeter more than 30 years ago I had changed it beyond recovery.  Looking back to George Withers original I can see that I am part of a long line.

Vocal  -  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan

6.   I had Two Ships (Traditional, Arr Graebe/Cowan)

Baring-Gould collected this song in 1893 from John Woodrich of Thrushleton who told Baring-Gould This was sung by a woman  she was so drunk that she couldnt sing more than these two verses, and she sung em over and over  that then was no forgetting em.  This was out on the line by Tresmeare.  This must have been at the time when Ginger Jack was navying and the woman (whom Baring-Gould notes against the tune as a tramp) was probably one of the camp followers.  I have not found another version of this song though there is The Prisoners Song in the USA which was written in the Twentieth Century by Guy Massey and popularized by Vernon Dalhart.  Somewhere there is a common antecedent.

Vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan, Mandola - Jeff Gillett, Anglo Concertina  Keith Kendrick, Fiddle  Paul Burgess

7. Sly Reynard / The Hunting Song Traditional / Written by Martin Graebe, Arr Graebe/Cowan)

We have put together a cantering Dartmoor version of the hunting song Bold Reynard the Fox (Roud 1868) using words given to Baring-Gould by Roger Hannaford with the tune that he got from Sam Fone.  We have then added one of my own songs which paints a slightly different picture.  I have never ridden to hounds and never had any ambition to do so.  It saddens me, though, that something that is so much a part of the fabric of our countryside and that is so valued by country people is being lost.

Vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan

8.   One Night at Ten O Clock (Traditional, Arr Graebe/Gillett)

The mention of Admiral Rodney in this song dates it to the latter part of the Eighteenth Century.  Baring-Gould was given it by Sam Fone of Mary Tavy in 1892 and published an unnecessarily modified version in A Garland of Country Song.  Baring-Gould was not able to find a broadside or any other published version of the song.

Vocal  - Martin Graebe, Guitar  Jeff Gillett

9.   Maiden Under Willow (Traditional. Arr Graebe/Cowan)

Baring-Gould collected one verse and the tune for this cheeky little song from William Kerswell of Two Bridges on Dartmoor in 1890.  In the following year he collected a fuller version from William Nicholls of nearby Whitchurch which we have used to complete the song.  Baring-Gould also copied into his manuscript a published text of the song called The Shady Tree which was published in The Maid of the Mill Garland of 1770.  Mary Humphreys has another version of the song from Newfoundland which she calls Pride of the Season.

Vocal  Shan Cowan and Martin Graebe, Anglo Concertina  Keith Kendrick, Fiddle  Paul Burgess

10. Jack in the Green (Written by Martin Graebe, Arr Graebe/Cowan/Gillett)

At Rockbeare, to the east of Exeter, is a Pub called The Jack in The Green that I used to visit in the 70s when I lived near there.  It deserved a song and this was it.  It has since become one of the most widely recorded of my songs and has often been attributed to the tradition.  That is, to me, very flattering and I would like to think that it indicates that I have captured the essence of the custom in the song.

Vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan, Guitar - Jeff Gillett, Accordion  Paul Wilson

11. Jacky My Son (Traditional, Arr Graebe/Cowan)

This is a version of Lord Randal (Child 12, Roud 10) that was sent to Baring-Gould by a Miss Adams of Plymouth who had learned it in 1835 from her nurse.  Baring-Gould also collected this from John Woodrich in 1896.  On another visit to John Woodrich in 1905 he was joined by Cecil Sharp who noted the tune to the song again and came up with a rather different result.  Whether Woodrich had changed his tune or Baring-Gould didnt note it correctly in the first place, we preferred the earlier version.

Vocal  Shan Cowan and Martin Graebe

12. Honiton Lace (Written by Martin Graebe, Arr Graebe/Cowan)

This was one of the first songs that I wrote.  I saw a letter in the Rougemont Museum in Exeter describing the life of a Honiton Lace-worker and wrote this song over the next couple of days.  The tune is based on a version of The Handsome Cabin Boy.

Lead vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan, English Concertina  Keith Kendrick, Fiddle  Paul Burgess

13. The Maid and her Swain (Traditional, Arr Cowan/Gillett)

This lovely little song was one of several sent to Baring-Gould by Lady Lethbridge.  He says, in his note to the song, that he believes that the first verse is missing and he was not able to identify its source.  I have been no more successful, so far.  The tune that Jeff Gillett plays at the end is Richards Hornpipe is one of several collected by Baring-Gould from the fiddler William Andrew of Sheepstor.

Vocal  Shan Cowan, Guitar - Jeff Gillett

14. From Severn, By the Somme (Written by Martin Graebe)

For those whose grandparents were young adults during the Great War that conflict is a source of boundless fascination.  Polished brass shell-cases, faded photographs of men in uniform and cap badges from forgotten regiments decorated their parlours and led to questions, often not answered because of painful memories.  This song was written shortly after a visit to Northern France to look at relics of the conflict and to try to understand it better.  While I was there I became fascinated with the stories of some of the bit-part players who never left France and who were buried alongside the soldiers they had gone to support  -  Nurses, Clerks, Cooks, Entertainers, Missionaries and other trades, many of them, of course, women.  In the great Cities of the Dead they lie in honoured places.

Vocal - Martin Graebe

15. Rouse, Rouse (Traditional, Arr Graebe/Cowan)

A wonderful Cornish carol sent to Baring-Gould from St Issy by Mr J W Yeale who had heard it sung when he was a boy some 30 years earlier.  Loose in the manuscript there is also a printed copy of another version of the carol sent to Baring-Gould by Lady Ingeborg Molesworth-St Aubyn who published it, together with a cutting from the West Briton describing how it had been collected in 1921 from Mrs Lobb of Penrose who had learnt it from her grandfather.  This is closer to the version of this carol that is still sung in Padstow.

Lead vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan, Anglo Concertina  Keith Kendrick, Fiddle  Paul Burgess, Accordion Paul Wilson. Tuba  Barry Lister, Oboe  Paul Sartin, Additional vocals - Doug Bailey, Lynn Heraud, Barry Lister and Pat Turner.

16. Laying My Life on the Line (Written by Martin Graebe, Arr Graebe/Cowan/Gillett)

Small boys love to watch men at work and I was no exception.  I used to travel to school by train as a kid, often on my own, and the gangers working on the rails were of great interest.  This is another song about the nature of work, written several years after Stonecracker John.  

Vocal  Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan, Guitar - Jeff Gillett

Track Notes

1 Lavender Green

See description section for notes

2 Stonecracker John

See description section for notes

3 Tyburn Hill

See description section for notes

4 Peters Private Army

See description section for notes

5 Tobacco

See description section for notes

6 I had Two Ships

See description section for notes

7 Sly Reynard / The Hunting Song

See description section for notes

8 One Night at Ten O Clock

See description section for notes

9 Maiden Under Willow

See description section for notes

10 Jack in the Green

See description section for notes

11 Jacky My Son

See description section for notes

12 Honiton Lace

See description section for notes

13 The Maid and her Swain

See description section for notes

14 From Severn, By the Somme

See description section for notes

15 Rouse Rouse

See description section for notes

16 Laying My Life on the Line

See description section for notes