by Jim Causley
The kingdom of Dumnonia was the ancient home of the Dumnonii, the Celtic tribal people who lived in this part of the South West peninsula before, during and after the period when the Romans popped by to visit for a chilly winter holiday. It is where the modern county of Devon derives its name and a large amount of its cultural identity.
This album is an expression of Devonshireness as I feel it; with people who were around me at the time, no border checkpoints, nobody pushed out, just what it is.
You’ll notice that all the famous Devon songs are suspiciously absent. I’m talking The Bell Ringing, Out Stepped Mother and Me, When Mother and Me Joined In, Tavistock Goosey Fair, Bampton Fair, Rounding the Horn, Mortal Unlucky Old Chap, 21 Years on Dartmoor, Childe the Hunter, Craftsmen of the Moor, Arscott of Tetcott, The Wife of Dunkerswell and of course the national anthem; Widecombe Fair.
I love all of those songs very dearly but I feel that they have been extremely well represented on many recordings and currently require no further leg up!
The intent of this album is to shine a light on some lesser known Devonshire songs and bring them together under a single umbrella to add to the awareness of the rich county we are in terms of our traditional music. Some of the songs are very specific, local and individual to a particular place whereas others are versions of songs that have been found all over the British Isles (and beyond) and represent the fascinating way in which songs migrate, morph and become localized on their travels.
I’ve tried to represent all parts of the county as best I can but songs have their own free will and they come from wherever they decide. I do not apologise for my East Devon bias!
Jim Causley – Vocals, Accordion
Jeff Gillett – Guitar, Mandola
Mark Bazeley – Vocals, Melodeon
Jason Rice – Vocals, Accordion and Step Dancing
Rob Murch – Vocals, Banjo
Mike Bond - Vocals, Gob Irons
Nick Wyke – Vocals, Fiddle, Viola, Cello
Becki Driscoll – Vocals, Fiddle, Lyre
Pete Flood – Pakistani Tabor, Tar, Tambourine, Symbols, Iraqi Bendir, Darabucka, Triangles, Bells, English Tabor , Snare Drum
Vocals - Tom Brown, Barbara Brown, Jackie Oates, Doug Bailey, Jennie Bailey, Joe Sartin
Nick Wyke & Becki Driscoll perform as a duo. Becki’s lyre was made by Alan Leah.
Mark Bazeley, Jason Rice & Rob Murch perform as Moor Music Trio and are also the core members of the Dartmoor Pixie Band. Rob also performs in The Watch with Gareth Kiddier and Dan Quinn.
Mike Bond performs whenever there’s anyone to listen!
Tom & Barbara Brown perform as a duo
Jeff Gillett performs in a duo with Ron Taylor
Pete Flood performs with Bellowhead
When I was Young is from Songs of the West by Baring Gould and it always struck me that this song is not as well sung as it should be. It ought to be one of those big Devonshire songs for obvious reasons. I learnt it from the singing of Paul Wilson, that incorrigible man, without whose influence I certainly would not being doing what I am now doing.
Little Ball o’ Yarn is one of my favourite songs, it is well known throughout southern England and appears to be particularly popular in Devon. Charlie Hill and Henry Scott of Drewsteignton both had/have versions of it. This one is collated from several pretty similar variants. Thank you to Will Duke, Dan Quinn and Mary-Anne Haynes for the large first verse.
Georgie While there are basically no minor key dance tunes in the current Devon repertoire (I blame melodeons) the songs Baring Gould collected tell a very different story. Although this song has been collected from Scotland to Kingdom Cum, the tune of this version is most unusual. I think of the scale it sits in as being ‘bottom half minor; top half major’. A very accordion way of thinking!
Old Uncle Whiteway I learnt from the singing of John Shepherd who was the ‘mayor’ of Whimple, an ironic title in my village, invented to poke fun at the Big City of Exeter. I cannot overstate how important and loved John was. He was a large part of the social cement in Whimple and he did a huge amount to encourage a sense of community in the village not least igniting the Whimple History Society, the opening of the Heritage Centre/museum and reviving our wassailing tradition. I first met him at play group which he visited annually under the guise of Father Christmas. He had an impressive repertoire of songs; many well known, some unique. Baring Gould published this one as “Cyder Cure”. I suspect this title was John’s own twist on the tale but it works very well and totally sums up his ethos of engraining local history.
The Old Threshing Mill Jason learnt this song from Geoffry Annaford who was a fine singer and a regular performer at the Devon Nights put on throughout the year in little villages, organised by the Pennymoor Singaround. We enjoy singing it for the gooey sentimentality it conjures in the listeners!
The Earl of Totnes is a tale of two Lords of the South Hams with more money than sense. One of them gets his just-deserts in the end but for the other it only serves to bolster his ego further! I’m not a great one for ballads but this track is for some of the reviewers who reckoned I should make an entire album of them. God forbid! It is also dedicated to the last Earl of Totnes; Sir James of Dumbelton, Devon misses you.
Royal Comrade is from the singing of Amy Birch, a highly respected West Country romany singer who lives in the village of Exford. Amy has a huge wealth of important songs in her repertoire and is among the foremost exponents of the English traveller style of singing. This song is a well known story in many cultures but Amy’s telling of it is quite unique. Again it has become localised and like so many of the travelling people’s renditions of traditional song, it rings with the emotion of human experience that so many of the broadside ballads simply do not convey.
Exeter Town is a version of the well known ‘Flash Lad’, ‘Adieu Adieu’, ’Salisbury Plain’ family of songs. I myself was born in Exeter Town. I have never worked at the saddler’s trade although I did spend most of my teenage years toiling devotedly (for free) in a nearby riding stables. More specifically I was born in Heavitree which is most famous for being the site of the Exeter Gallows where the last “witches” in England were hanged in 1682. A big thank you kiss to Chris Coe for giving me this one.
She Moved Through the Fair / Germany Clockmaker This is really a tune set that happens to have words involved. Waltzes are rather popular in Devon folk sessions and tunes in minor keys simply do not exist! Now and then a song is allowed to be popped in and these are popular choices. The first is a local version of the well known tear-jerker and the second is a cheeky little song popular throughout the West Country. Check out Charlie Will’s version on Voice of the People for an extremely cheeky rendition!
Tamar Valley Reqium Here is a song by Cyril Tawney that tells of the loss of the tin mining industry in Cornwall and Devon and also highlights the ancient bond between our two counties. Mike Bond told me that his father’s Cornish pals were called ‘Cousin Jack’ and they in return called him ‘Cousin Jacker’ which I think is a lovely greeting/custom that I personally intend to revive! On behalf of Devon I would just like to apologise for failing to fight off those pesky Anglo-Saxons. Although in truth the Dumnonii weren’t so much ‘driven out’ as conquered by inter-breeding!
Exmoor Anthem Exmoor is another of those areas that is its own entity and ignores authoritative boundaries. Half of Exmoor is in Somerset, the other in Devon. It is where the river Exe begins, Exe being an old Celtic word meaning ‘water’. Wasn’t life simple back then! Exmoor and Dartmoor are a big part of the Devon consciousness and very magical places. Hunting songs are prevalent in these parts and although controversial, they give a fascinating window into a lost slice of English culture. This song is littered with local place names, many too small to feature on most maps but the lady I learnt it from knows them all on a very personal level. Her name is Margaret Palmer, a farmer from Brendon on Exmoor and although she is not nationally known as a “source singer” she is well respected locally and was recorded by Sam Richards in the 80’s. She is the real deal and her repertoire beautifully mixes old trad songs with music hall numbers that are, lets face it, the nu-trad!
Honiton Lace was written by one of my heroes; Martin Graebe. I first heard him singing and reciting on a CD by the Wren Trust called Songs of the West, all about the song collecting work of Baring-Gould. Martin and his wife Shan have done a huge amount of work researching, transcribing and cataloguing the handwritten manuscripts of Baring-Gould and the folk world is forever indebted to them for it. Martin wrote this brilliant song and the story is taken from a letter he found in the Rougemont Museum written by a real life Honiton Lace worker detailing her daily life in 1897.
The Game of Cards is a well known song throughout the British Isles and is definitely one of the instantly recognisable titles on this album. I have exercised my 21st c liberty here and combined the text from Charlie Wills of Somerset with the tune from Queen Caroline Hughes of Dorset. But before you call me a dissenter I would just like to present that the lyrics do feature Devon place names and the Marshwood Vale area which covers the three counties is well known for having its own sense of identity regardless of the county borders.
Sidbury to Stockland Set
(Rew’s Waltz/Down the Sides and Up the Middle/Plain Schottische)
The best known musicians from Devon are undeniably Bob Cann, Jack Rice and of course the current incarnation of the Dartmoor Pixie Band which Bob Cann started back in the 70’s. The manuscripts Baring Gould collected of Dartmoor fiddler William Andrews have seen quite a resurgence in recent years due the excellent work of Wren. But in East Devon we were equally blessed with tunes collected from fiddler Fred Pidgeon of Stockland and concertina-ist William Rew from Sidbury. Nick & Becki and I have combined two tunes from Mr Rew followed by one from Mr Pidgeon.
In the Sidings I read a poll in a well known newspaper concerning Britain’s most despised characters in history. Obviously Mr Hitler was high up there but not too far below was Dr Beeching! His axing of the railway branch lines affected the whole country and the West Country was particularly hardly hit. This song is by the wonderful Cyril Tawney and is written from the point of view of a station master who has recently been made redundant. We are fortunate in Whimple to still have our train station on the Waterloo line but I do feel slight venom towards Beeching that I now have to catch a scab-tram (bus) to get to Sidmouth Folk Festival every summer!
Larkbeare is a beautiful little hamlet between Whimple and Talaton. I’ve got a soft spot for hamlets since I grew up in one (Slewton Combe) and they often don’t get the same spot in the limelight as villages do so I wrote this tune for lovely little Larkbeare.
The Tythe Pig I think Baring Gould must have had a good sense of humour to publish this song unedited seeing as it takes the pith out of a parson, which is one of the little jobs he undertook in his spare time when he wasn’t busy writing books about werewolves.
Wailey Wailer (the Whimple Carol) is another song from the singing of the late John Shepherd. Obviously it’s a Christmas carol and it is a lovely example of the times when the Indigenous and the Christian religions walked hand in hand.