1 Long Peggin' Awl
is from the singing of Harry Cox. The central metaphor here is really too obvious to be called double entendre, but the song is not particularly lewd or salacious. Ultimately, it is a rejoinder to parents who require their children to conform to a morality which does not reflect their own behaviour. This song has been in our repertoire longer and more consistently than any other. I regard it as seminal to my discovery of how to accompany traditional folk-song.
2 Stormy Scenes of Winter
Ron’s wife, Maddy, found this in Traditional Songs of Nova Scotia by Helen Creighton. A night-visiting song in which the lover’s advances are rejected. After a short bout of ranting and raving, he arrives at the sensible conclusion that the only thing for him to do is to seek his pleasures elsewhere.
3 Holland’s Leaguer
A broadside published round about 1635. Mrs. Holland ran one of the most successful brothels in London at that time. It was fortified to resist attempts by the authorities to shut it down. Set to a tune entitled ‘Cannons are Roaring’, the song announces the closure of Mrs. Holland’s premises (and her subsequent re-opening elsewhere...)
4 Lovely Joan
We both seem to have known this song for ever, although it was only quite recently that we started performing it. It was collected from C. Jay of Acle, Norfolk in 1909 and may be found in the original Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. It features a resourceful young woman who has no difficulty in eluding the amorous clutches of the man who has waylaid her.
5 Reynard the Fox
Ron learned this song from Ian Giles of Magpie Lane. Most of the song is from the perspective of the fox, and suggests the cruelty and barbarism of the huntsmen with their hounds. However, empathy for the fox seems to have broken down at the point where he is heard to urge his killers, after a successful chase, to retire to a pub and drink his health...
6 Young Johnson
An American version of a Scottish ballad, with a collated text and tune from Bronson’s ‘Tunes of the Child Ballads’. At first, Johnson’s murderous actions seem to be in defence of family honour. By the end of the song, he seems to be something of a psychopath!
7 Low Down in the Broom
Maddy heard Sarah Morgan sing this at Sidmouth Folk Festival some years back and knew Ron would love it. Sarah most generously passed the song on to Ron. She had made some alterations to it from the version in Frank Pursloe’s The Foggy Dew, thus removing the elements that had deterred him from singing it before!
Ron learnt this song from Jill Smith in the days of the excellent Exmouth Arms Folk Club in Cheltenham. The song is common throughout the Midlands, particularly Warwickshire. The behaviour of the protagonist is probably quite common, too...
9 Flash Lad
This was one of the most popular of the highwayman ballads and has been found throughout England. The protagonist’s claims that he ‘never robbed any poor man yet’ have a somewhat hollow ring, as the song makes clear that his principal concern has always been what he can get for himself and for his wife.
10 The Banks of Green Willow
is also in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs. Overd, Langport, Somerset in 1904. Ron learned this for a studio session with the Albion Band. The first verse came from Tony Rose. Some versions of this ballad suggest that mother and child have been sacrificed as the result of superstition. Here, the napkin tied round the woman’s head seems to imply that she died in childbirth.
11 Sir Patrick Spens
The four verses come from John Jacob Niles and really reduce the story to its bare bones. Graham Pratt set the text to Thomas Tallis's sumptuous tune and Ron originally sang this in a four-part harmony arrangement with Regal Slip. The opportunity to add hurdy-gurdy to the arrangement was fortuitous.
12 Rosie Grey
A sort of modern farewell shanty written by Maddy Taylor. Rosie Grey is actually a real person, with a name so fitting for a folk song that Maddy was inspired to write the song about her. Unless she reads these notes, she'll probably never know.
Ron worked with Shirley Collins in the 1970's, and he pinched this song from her! It is a Scots ballad which Shirley anglicised and the wonderful tune is of her own making. The story involves no deaths, no violence and no illicit sexual relationships. What it does feature is the rather successful use of emotional blackmail.