1 John Ball
Written in 1981 by Sydney Carter to commemorate 600 years since the Peasant’s Revolt. John Ball was a priest and leader in the rebellion, and suffered the standard fate - he was hanged, drawn and quartered.
2 The Quaker’s Wife
Country dance musicians will know the popular tune of the same name to which this 19th century nursery rhyme is set.
3 The Reddleman
Inspired by the fascinating character of Diggory Venn in Thomas Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native. Reddlemen dug the red ochre from the redding pits of which there are many in the South West, and sold it to the farmers for marking their sheep. A down side of the job was that reddlemen become permanently stained red all over, making them striking figures, who were sometimes known as ‘the devil on the moor’.
4 Widecombe Fair
A musical mug from Issy’s childhood was the inspiration for this arrangement of one of Englands best known songs! “We spent part of every summer holiday in the house in Devon built by my great grandfather. Over the fireplace stood a musical tankard that played the tune of Widecombe Fair. We all loved the tankard, even though I cried for the old horse, and had nightmares about the skirling and groans. And there was something faintly chilling about that tinkling tune…”
5 Martinmas Time
Martinmas falls on November 11th and is a Church Festival for St. Martin, a Roman Soldier of the fourth century who, legend has it, cut his cloak in half to share with a needy beggar one freezing winter’s day. That night, Jesus appeared to him wearing the piece of cloak he’d given away, and Martin converted to Christianity and eventually became a monk. If nothing else, it’s handy to bear in mind that ‘if ducks do slide at Martinmas, at Christmas they will swim’.
6 The Last Tommy
A mixture of thoughts and reflections inspired this song, written shortly after the death of Harry Patch, Britain’s last fighting Tommy. Mostly it was a feeling of appreciation and joy in freedom, something not to be taken for granted by those of us lucky enough to have it.
7 The Keys of Canterbury
A fairly standard courtship song of which there are many versions, but this one has an interesting tune which made for a bit of fun in writing the harmonies, which as any Bean will tell you, are a pig to sing!
8 Watercress O
Words Roger Watson, music I.Emeney
Roger wrote this cracking song in 1965. “The child was my mother, my grandmother told me the story. Gathering and selling watercress kept many people in a small extra income around our North Nottinghamshire mining community. Children listened out for the watercress seller on Sunday afternoon as keenly as kids today do for the ice cream van. The strike referred to was c. 1920 when my mother was 6”.
9 Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya
The origin of this song is the subject of huge debate, so we won’t even go there! The 4th verse in this version “where are those arms...” was made up by Freshly Ground member David Emeney.
10 The Would-be Lover
A song for both realists and romantics.
11 Hey John Barleycorn
A folk club classic with a chorus that defies even the most reluctant joiner-inner not to sing along to.
12 Princess Caraboo
A young woman wearing exotic dress and speaking a strange language, turned up in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire around 1817. It was eventually discovered that she was a Princess from a far away land who’d been stolen by pirates, but had managed to escape. For several months she was enthusiastically embraced by the gentry of Bristol and beyond – until one day a local woman recognized her and blew the gaff on ‘Princess Caraboo’, who was really Mary Baker, a cobbler’s daughter from Witheridge in Devon. She’d fooled ’em all! As a teenager she was wild and romantic, and had many an argument with her dad for the way she dressed in “fal-lals and fantisheeny clothes”. Nothing changes does it!
13 The Cold Dark Days of Winter
Inspired, one cold winter’s afternoon, by a radio programme on Sacred Harp singing. A joy to sing.