All of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to people like Alfred Williams who recognised the value of the songs, saw that they were disappearing and made records of them before their echoes finally passed into oblivion. As artists, we have been greatly influenced by the research and singing of Len & Barbara Berry (Bob’s parents) of songs which Alfred Williams collected in Oxfordshire. This album has songs mainly from the collection, but from Wiltshire - the county that we have made our adopted home. Many of the songs had no tunes, so they have been adapted to fit new tunes or arranged to suit our own interpretation. We make no apologies for altering words and tunes and feel that Alfred would have ‘echoed’ our sentiments. The image on the album front was inspired by a line in the song “Out with my dog in the morning” which describes the joy of singing by the fireside. There is nothing better to connect us to the rural people for whom singing songs like these was an integral part of their lives and labours for hundreds of years.
You can see a video of some samples of this album on You Tube here is the link
Bob Berry Vocals, Guitar, Mandolin, Bouzouki, Coconuts
Gill Berry Vocals
Lewis Wood Fiddle, Piano, Mandolin
Gill Redmond Cello
Richard Rees Melodeon
Nigel Owen Vocals
Christine Owen Vocals
Rickard Rees Vocals
Mick Hiscock Vocals
This came from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of Old England. Originally called ‘The Young Man from the Country’ it describes the much frowned upon habit of servants having ‘followers’ (boyfriends) since a young sweetheart just might prove to be a thief which, in this case, is true.
A fun little song from the singing of David Sawyer from Ogbourne St Andrew. It would seem that this song should actually be sung by the horse! A new tune from Bob brings the song to life as the horse tries to decide who he’d prefer as a master.
A beautiful song of pure love. Collected from William Bartlett, Marston Meysey and set to music by Bob’s mum, Barbara.
This song is a version of ‘All the Little Chickens in the Garden’, a lovely song collected in the Cumbria region and the singing of the Waterson family. Further research and information from Jeff Warner (USA) shows it to have been penned by African-American, James A. Bland in 1879. This version has been taken from the collected songs of Mrs E King, Castle Eaton and a new, but strangely familiar tune from Bob. The last verse is an attempt to finish the song’s story.
The words of this song were collected by Frank Kidson, sung by Elizabeth Parkes in Trowbridge in 1906 and set to a new tune by Bob. The tune was inspired from the beautiful Catholic Hymn “Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)” This is as near to a Parlour Song as we get.
From the singing of Len Berry, this is a great little song of the love of a man for his wife. And why not! Collected from Prucilla Brunsdon, of Clanfield, Oxfordshire. Tune by Barbara Berry.
This is a relatively new song, not from the Wiltshire area but one that can easily be transposed into any area of natural beauty. This evocative song instils thoughts of times in the summer sitting next to Dew Ponds on Salisbury plan watching nature go about its business. Our thanks to Miggy Campbell for her excellent word-smithery and singing.
A version of “Epsom Races” collected from Timothy Tassel, Wanborough, Wiltshire. A jaunty tale of the downfall of a young gentleman drawn into debt by the racing of horses. The small “bridge” tune in between the songs was written by Richard Rees and called the ‘Highworth Hop’.
A good example of a late 19th century protest song. It is from the singing of Thomas Smart of Blunsdon and sounds very much like a Chartist piece. The “Fustian Coat” was a garment regularly made in the area around Ramsbury, Wiltshire. It is a very old type of material mentioned in writings as far back as the 12-13th Century. The song could have been written for many periods of civil unrest and interestingly, for some, the sentiments still hold true today
This song, collected from Charles Tanner, depicts the desperate situation and gruesome murder of Hannah Brown. A lot has been written about the actual case and the fate of the perpetrators. Chilling stuff!
This is an interesting version of the Holmfirth Anthem but we think it comes from earlier than that. Bob has arranged it to be more introspective rather than the usual big chorus version. From the singing of Mr W Shergold, Amesbury, Wiltshire.
Bob has been singing this song for over 40 years without remembering where he originally heard it. The wonderful Roy Hudd proved more than a match to recover the origin and two extra verses! Bob sang this song in Salisbury Folk Club in 1980 on the day he signed off from his Armed Forces duties. It seemed an appropriate song then and still enjoyed today. You can imagine this song being sung in the post war skits and shows put on by the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), amusingly also described as “Every Night Something Awful”.
This song is widely popular and is generally sung as a sweet ditty. We see it as a more despairing style of song with some great herb lore depicting the frailties of the human condition. This version was collected by Alfred Williams from David Sawyer with the first verse by George W Gardiner from Mary A (Polly) Gurd in the Tisbury Workhouse
Another David Sawyer song from Ogbourne St Andrew. David was a sheep shearer on the Marlborough Downs and this song captures the fun the shepherds had when they met up after the shearing. Bob wrote the tune in the shepherd’s tradition of northern France where all the songs are sung in unison. The other singers on this track are the men from Tinkers Bag, a band which Bob & Gill led for over 20 years.
This is a very popular song and depicts the exercises of the Royal Horse Guards (known as the Blues) on the plain many, many years ago. Robin and Barry Dransfield sang it in 1970 as the title track of their album “The Rout of the Blues”. This song was put together by Barry from the book “The Idiom of the People”, Ingledew’s “Yorkshire Ballads”, and a vaguely remembered tune learned originally from Dave
Inspired by the singing of this song by Keith Kendrick, Bob was delighted to find it nestling within the manuscripts of the Williams collection. It describes the sort of simple life to which we wish we could return, a nice little cottage, a loving wife and singing whilst sat next to the fire. Another song collected from Mrs King, Castle Eaton
Since 1987 Bob and Gill Berry have immersed themselves in songs from Wiltshire, and look to the Oxfordshire research and singing of Bob's parents. Inevitably this led to Alfred Williams (the Alfred of the title), whose Wiltshire collection is prominent here.
Williams collected no tunes, so his books have been a rich inspiration for folk inventiveness. There are both new and reworked tunes here. Bob's 'new, but strangely familiar tune' for Chickens! a version of All the Little Chickens in the Garden sounds more adaptation than new invention, while his arrangement of Through the Groves gives it a more reflectively harmonised setting than usual.
As a result these songs sound well shaped to and by the singers. It feels welcoming and comfortable without being over familiar.
Gill gives a lovely solo performance of Miggy Campbell's Days of Summer, and is joined by Bob for the chorus of the standout I'll Weave Him a Garland. Singers from Tinkers Bag harmonise choruses on Bob's Deny No Man His Rights, and join him for the splendid unison Shearers Song.
Bob's guitar/mandolin/bouzouki form the bedrock of the accompaniment, but some pleasing guest contributions on fiddle, melodeon and cello also break up the sound. The spread of songs and arrangements, from grim murder (Sarah Gale) to sentimental pieces and a skit on army life, is nicely judged.
A good way to spend your time.
Some people are born into families steeped in the folk tradition; some are the first in their family to discover the genre. Whatever their background, they all share at least one thing in common: a love of folk music.
Di Harris caught up with Bob and Gill Berry to discover how their love of folk music and traditions developed, and what the future holds.
Gill and Bob Berry both grew up with music in their lives. Gill danced ballet in her youth and remembers singing with her brothers and parents. All the family played instruments; with Gill's mum on piano, her dad on cornet, one brother on trumpet and another on tuba, there's no wonder Gill has such a big voice.
Bob remembers his mother playing the piano when he was a child. "I always sang," recalls Bob. "1 was in the choir as a child and I loved to sing songs around the campfire when I was a Boy Scout, not realising they were folk songs." But it wasn't until he was in the army, aged 17, that Bob discovered folk when a friend, Greg Bunyan, invited him and his guitar along to local folk clubs. In 1973, on weekend leave at home with his parents, Len and Barbara Berry, Bob suggested going to a folk club at Ascot under Wychwood in North Oxfordshire. In the course of that one evening, they became completely hooked.
"It was a seminal moment for me," recalls Bob. "Looking back, it feels a bit weird to have introduced my parents to folk music, but they really got to love it and within a couple of years they were performing semi professionally as The Portway Pedlars."
In 1979 Len was contacted by Paul Davenport of Green Oak Morris who danced in the Kirtlington tradition: The following year, they revived the Kirtlington Morris side and the traditional Lamb Ale weekend, after 50 years of it being dormant in the village. Barbara made the costumes and wrot and researched the tunes. It was about this time that Len and Barbara started the early research on the Oxfordshire songs in the Alfred Williams collection with tune writing, recordings, books and research papers being produced. One of Barbara's tunes, put to I Wandered by a Brookside, brought her into contact with the late Eva Cassidy who recorded it a few years later to great acclaim and proves that registering your work with PRS does pay off as Barbara was paid substantial royalties.
Meanwhile, Gill was gradually getting involved with folk. "My first contact with folk music was at Maidenhead Folk Club in 1962," smiles Gill. "Red Sullivan and Wally Whyton and Johnny Collins were there."
It was in 1980 that she went to Nettlebed Folk Club and remembers fondly how welcoming and friendly everyone was. On her second visit, the guests were Len and Barbara Berry. Gill and Bob met at the Kirtlington Lamb Ale in June 1983, but the first time they sang together was at Nettlebed Folk Club. Gill recalls the moment: "Bob said, 'I know that song, I'll join you'. From that one song we got three gigs." Maidenhead Folk Club gave them a feature night and they were asked do a gig supporting Oysterband at the Cookham Festival. "It was a bit scary," adds Gill. "We had to learn some songs fast." Bob and Gill devoted every moment they were together to singing. Bob remembers: "Gill's job took her all over the country, so we would drop into folk clubs wherever we were and always try to get back to Maidenhead and Nettlebed Folk Clubs when possible."
In 1986, Bob and Gill bought a house in Potterne, near Chippenham. They soon started to make a mark on the local folk scene.
Five years after moving there, they started Potterne Folk Club, which moved to Devizes seven years later. They also formed the eight piece band, Tinkers Bag, and performed several themed shows, the most popular being the Labourer's Year. Bob says: "Most of our gigs were local. We did Sidmouth Festival a couple of times, Tenterton, Banbury, but we didn't do many folk clubs. It was difficult to get eight people together to rehearse regularly and travel to gigs." Bob also joined the Potterne Christmas Boys, a local mumming tradition going back to 1896, and is currently the organiser of that group.
Talking about Chippenham Folk Festival, Gill says: "We got involved by mistake." Bob explains: "We were booked to perform in 1986. Then, in March 1989, we were asked to find concert artists for that year's festival. With contacts all over the country we were able to do that and so we were asked help out again the coming year." They committed to another couple of years, but when Dick Stanger retired five years later, Bob and Gill agreed to carry on organising the festival along with their friend, Julian Weaver. A year later Julian moved to France. The years passed and this year will be Bob and Gill's 30th year of involvement with the festival their 25th year running it. And they feel it is a good time for them to move on.
Though the energy and time that Bob and Gill have put into the folk club and Chippenham Folk Festival has been voluntary, it hasn't gone unrecognised. In 2007, EFDSS chose Bob and Gill to receive one of 75 awards – presented to celebrate the Society's 75th anniversary for their work in promoting folk locally. In 2012, Chippenham Town Council presented Bob and Gill with an Exceptional Community Service Award a joint award for their work with the festival.
During all this time, Bob and Gill were still performing as a duo and made four recordings, including their latest based on Wiltshire folk songs, called Echoes of Alfred. Gill says: "Our years with the festival have helped to connect us with thousands of lovely people for which we feel very blessed." Bob adds: "We are looking forward to having the opportunity to sing together more often. We love singing together for no other reason than just sharing the music. We want to catch up with friends we haven't seen for a while; we've met lovely, kind, generous people and we want to make contact again and to get around some other folk clubs, especially up north."
They also have another exciting project they want to work on. "Wiltshire Folk Arts has been sitting on the shelf for too long," says Bob. "We have a huge archive of folk material, much of which has been left to us by local people. We need to catalogue it and make it available. I think there's an opportunity in Wiltshire for a good collection of music, recordings and books. We hope we'll have the time to do that now."