by Dave Arthur
Songs from the Rattle vaults. Samples of the album can be heard on Youtube at https://youtu.be/oCYuEth9iLU
Rattle On the Stovepipe came out of an idea I had back in 2003 for an album looking at the crossover of songs and tunes between Britain and the Appalachians (Return Journey). Pete Cooper, Chris Morton and I had such a good time working on the album we decided to stick together and form a string band. However, with Chris living in Wales it became increasingly difficult to get together to rehearse and work on material, so after our 2006 album, Eight More Miles Chris left the band and was replaced by Dan Stewart, who has been with us ever since and together we’ve recently finished our seventh Wildgoose album, Through the Woods (2019).
Someone to Love You is a selection of some of my favourite songs I’ve sung with the band from 2003 to 2017 all greatly enhanced by the fabulous musicianship of Chris, Pete and Dan. As some of the early CDs are no longer available, and later ones will eventually run out, I fancied pulling a bunch of the songs together on one CD before they disappear. Primarily for myself, family and friends, and, of course, anyone else who fancy’s listening to an album of mainly Anglo-Appalachian songs.
It’s a mix of famiiar and less familiar titles but generally not in quite the way you will have heard them before. We always try and make the songs (and tunes) our own. As traditional music has always been in a state of flux, and traditional performers invariably perform their material ‘their way’, we have no qualms about moving, rewriting, or reassembling lyrics, and adapting, changing and in some cases writing new tunes to songs and ballads. If done with love and understanding and respect for the tradition then little harm will come of it. Our original sources are always there in books, on record and in folk music archives to be referred to and appreciated should anyone so wish.
I hope you enjoy listening to the songs as much as I and the rest of the band have enjoyed performing them.
Dave Arthur. November 2019.
THE GYPSY GIRL
A song once popular on both sides of the Atlantic in various versions, and widely distributed on Victorian broadsides. I can’t remember where I got the lyrics, although not, to my knowledge, from Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, or the Carter Family, both of whom recorded a similar set of lyrics. The provenance of tune, however, I do know. It’s a slowed down version of Sam McGee’s ‘Buckdancer’s Choice’. The fast original of which I learned back in the Dark Ages from a private recording I acquired of Tom Paley. I discovered if played at half Tom’s speed, with a bit more ‘swing’, this more laid-back ‘Buckdancer’s Choice’ fitted my ‘Gypsy Girl’ lyrics like a glove.
Dave: guitar/vocal, Pete:fiddle/mandolin/chorus, Dan: banjo
From Old Virginia
BILL DALTON’S WIFE
‘Bill Dalton’s Wife’ was originally a three-verse poem by Appalachian ‘people’s poet’, Don West, father of ballad singer Hedy West. Son of a Georgia farmer, West came from a long line of radical
mountain folk who influenced his lifelong stance against social exploitation, religious bigotry and racism. His outspoken defense of, and admiration for, the Appalachian working-classes caused the FBI to dub him ‘The most dangerous man in the South.’
I wrote three more verses and put a tune to it to turn West’s short, moving, poem into a song to help it reach a wider audience.
Dave: DADGAD guitar, Dan: guitar/banjo/chorus bass, Pete: fiddle/viola/chorus
From Old Virginia WGS 398 CD
RED APPLE JUICE
Along with ‘The Cuckoo’ and ‘Shady Grove’ one of the iconic Appalachian modal tunes. Recorded variously as ‘Sugar Babe (Doc Boggs 1920s) or maybe ‘Red Rocking Chair (Charlie Monroe 1940s). Tragically, nearly twenty years go, my daughter-in-law, Louise, died in her mid-twenties from a brain tumour, leaving a grieving husband and a tiny daughter. With a minimum amount of re-writing I turned this song from a collection of floating verses into a narrative commemorating Louise, and all those who die too young.
Dave: guitar/vocal, Pete: fiddle/chorus, Dan: banjo
From no use in cryin’ WGS 371 CD
On Christmas Day 1895 Lee ‘Stack Lee’ Shelton shot and killed Billy Lyons in Curtis’s bar at 11th and Morgan streets, St Louis, in a dispute over Shelton’s fancy Stetson hat. A symbol of Shelton’s success as a pimp. As mindless a dispute as modern ‘road rage’. Machismo can be a killer. For some reason, out of all the murders that were a regular feature of downtown St Louis, this one caught the popular imagination and over 200 versions of the Stackolee story have been recorded, but few as fast as Dan persuaded me to sing this version.
Dave: banjo/vocal, Dan: guitar, Pete: fiddle
From Poor Ellen Smith WGS 419 CD
SHORT JACKET AND WHITE TROUSERS
Cross-dressing (generally by girls) fascinated Grubb Street ballad writers and traditional singers. Many a fo’c’sle or barrack-room entertainer must have lived in the hope of discovering just such a young woman in the hammock or bunk next to his. Introduced to the British folk scene by A.L.’Bert’ Lloyd who unearthed it in Greenleaf and Mansfield’s Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland. Following Bert’s penchant for song ‘tinkering’ I partially rewrote his version following a trip to the tobacco growing area of Virginia and fitted it to a new tune.
Dave: DADGAD guitar/vocal. Pete: fiddle/viola, Dan: banjo
From no use In cryin’
This song, written by Dick Connette, based on the words of North Carolina ballad singer Dillard Chandler in John Cohens documentary film The End of an Old Song, wonderfully captures the importance of the old ballads to the isolated mountain communities of Appalachia. In my ‘to learn’ file for a number of years I was gratefully reminded of it on hearing Roy Bailey’s recording.
Dave: DADGAD guitar/vocal. Pete: fiddle/chorus, Dan: banjo
From no use In cryin’
DEAD HEADS AND SUCKERS
A strange song, the title of which no-one seems able to interpret, although this doesn’t stop them suggesting everything from fish and flowers to military shirkers. Whatever the meaning, it’s a great, driving, song to sing. Learned originally from my old friend Art Rosenbaum on a visit to Georgia in the 1990s. Over the years I’ve added some new lyrics to give it more of a narrative, and following some theories, included a First World War reference for the last verse.
Dave: banjo/vocal, Pete: fiddle/chorus, Dan: guitar/chorus
From Poor Ellen Smith WSG 419 CD
MONDAY MORNING GO TO SCHOOL
A fratricide ballad popular in Scotland from at least the early 1800s, and widely collected in America in the 20th century. From the singing of North Carolina’s Mrs Emma Shelton to harmonium accompaniment. Collected by Maude Karpeles in the 1950s. I have used one if Mrs Shelton’s verses as a chorus and perhaps tweaked the odd word or two.
From no use in cryin’
Dave: DADGAD guitar/vocal, Pete: fiddle/chorus, Dan:banjo
THE DEVIL’S IN THE GIRL
A cautionary tale of seduction and abandonment collected in 1904 by Cecil Sharp from farmer William Nott in North Devon. I came across it originally, minus a tune, in Bert Lloyd’s papers while working on his biography. I had already put a tune to it before discovering Sharp’s transcription of Nott’s version. Not wishing to make a fetish of ‘authenticity’ I’ve stuck to my tune which works for me. Sharp’s is always there if you so wish.
Dave: DADGAD guitar/melodeon, Pete: fiddle, Dan: banjo
From Poor Ellen Smith
THE TWO SISTERS
I first heard this supernatural ballad at a house party in Washington in the 1970s and it’s haunted me ever since. Jealousy, maybe as much as money, is possibly the ‘root of all evil’ - at least in ballads. The murder of one sister by another is the theme of an ancient folk tale and cante-fable known across Europe. As a ballad it has been widely collected in Britain and America. This version seems to have been popularised by the autoharp player Kilby Snow.
Dave: banjo/vocal, Pete: fiddle, Chris Morton: guitar
From Return Journey WSG 313 CD
POOR ELLEN SMITH
Another North Carolina girl who, along with Omie Wise and Laura Foster, failed to heed the ballad warnings concerning unfaithful and cruel sociopath lovers, and paid the ultimate price. A version of the story appeared as a poem in a local newspaper while Ellen’s murderer, Peter deGraff, was still in gaol, declaring his innocence. Found guilty, he finally confessed on the gallows, blaming corn-liquor, cards, dice and bad women for his downfall. First recorded by Henry Whitter in 1924, it’s Molly O’Day’s 1949 driving banjo-led recording that seems to have influenced most subsequent versions. I think my only contribution to the words are the lines, ‘They found me alone, on the dark side of town.’
Dave: banjo/vocal, Pete: fiddle/chorus, Dan: guitar/chorus
From Poor Ellen Smith
BLOOD RED ROSES
The evocative, surreal, and possibly meaningless ‘Go down you blood red roses, go down’ chorus of the shanty, insinuated into the folk scene by Bert Lloyd and sung by him in Houston’s whaling film Moby Dick, inspired me to write a narrative version incorporating the mysterious chorus.
Dave: guitar/vocal, Pete: fiddle/chorus, Dan: guitar/banjo/chorus
From Poor Ellen Smith
BLACK BOTTOM BLUES
A 1920s ragtimey blues warning of the dangers and temptations of such red-light districts as the Dallas, Texas, Deep Ellum downtown area. A magnet for blues and jazz musicians, good-time girls, gangsters and drug pushers. In the notorious alley aptly nicknamed ‘Death Row’ someone got killed every Saturday night. I put this version together from random verses taken from early recordings of ‘Deep Ellum Blues’ and ‘Black Bottom Blues’ - variations of the same song, but no-one knows which is the ur-version.
Dave: guitar/vocal, Dan: banjo, Pete: fiddle
From Poor Ellen Smith
FATHER, FATHER, BUILD ME A BOAT
A song widely sung in Britain and the USA under such titles as ‘A Sailor’s Life’, ‘Early, Early, All In the Spring’, ‘Sweet William’, and, on a Catnach broadside,‘The Sailor Boy and his Faithful Mary. I put this version together from a set of words I learnt in the 1960s, collected by Frank Kidson from Mrs Hollings, a Lincolnshire charwoman. The dramatic ‘Sailors, sailors, dress all in black’ verse came from Gavin Greig’s Folk-Song of the North-East, and the tune is Doc Boggs’ waltzy Victorian parlour melody, used by him for ‘Papa, Build Me a Boat, his Virginian take on the song.
Dave: DADGAD guitar/vocal, Chris: guitar/mandolin
From Eight More Miles WSG 333 CD
EIGHT MORE MILES TO LOUISVILLE
My more Folk Baroque than Bluegrass interpretation of the ‘Grandpa’ Jones classic, which I first learnt from Americans Sandy and Jeannie Darlington. Their infectious enthusiasm for Old Time music was an inspiration to many on the London folk scene in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Dave: DADGAD guitar/vocal, Pete: fiddle/chorus, Chris: guitar/chorus
From Eight More Miles
I WISH I HAD SOMEONE TO LOVE ME
A cri de coeur with its origins in London in the 1826 Joseph Wade song ‘Meet me By Moonlight’.
Seemingly, somewhere along the way it got mixed up with the English folksong ‘Here’s Adieu to All Judges and Juries’ and ended up in America. There it underwent further evolutions, including the popular ‘Prisoner’s Song’. I learnt it from the singing of Jeff Davis, whom I first met in Laurenburg, North Carolina, in 1972, when we were both much younger!
Dave: banjo/vocal, Pete: fiddle, Chris: guitar
From Return Journey
Dave Arthur thought it would be a good idea to collect some of his favourite songs from the Rattle On The Stovepipe catalogue as a Christmas present for his family and friends. When it was finished the collective wisdom was that it should be released to the wide world – a very good idea as the band’s early albums are now out of print. So Someone To Love You isn’t strictly a Dave Arthur album nor is it an objective Rattle On The Stovepipe retrospective. It is, however, a very enjoyable set.
It may be significant that Dave has selected longer songs, generally the more laid-back ones, as if he wants to savour the moments. There are exceptions of course: ‘Stackolee’ rocks along as does ‘Dead Heads And Suckers’ and the trio lean forward a bit on the murder ballad, ‘Monday Morning Go To School’, ‘Black Bottom Blues’ and ‘The Devil’s In The Girl’ – a text from Devon set to the tune by Dave, appropriately interpolated with ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’.
Dave is a great believer in the dictum that a song is a living thing and has added to several of the songs. I was fascinated to note that while ‘Bill Dalton’s Wife’ has the ring of authenticity it actually began life as a poem by Hedy West’s father for which Dave wrote more verses and a tune. The only other written song is ‘Dillard Chandler’, by Dick Connette and that borrows from old songs including a favourite of mine ‘Saro Jane’ (originally by Uncle Dave Macon but who remembers the JSD Band?).
But I digress and that’s one of the side-effects of this record; it will lead you down dusty half-forgotten trails. Although Dave Arthur’s name is above the title of Someone To Love You he gives due recognition to the three musicians who have made up the band over the last decade and a half: Pete Cooper, Chris Morton and Dan Stewart. If you have all the Rattle On The Stovepipe albums you’re very lucky. If not, this is a wonderful place to start.
Dave Arthur has spent a lifetime breaking down the perceived borders and prejudices so prevalent in the folk music world, and his now long-term fascination with Appalachian music and song has continued this trend. This compilation of songs from the Rattle On The Stovepipe back catalogue illustrates the point excellently. It also showcases a vastly experienced singer’s first-rate song delivery, diction and musicality.
But there’s more to this offering than crossover songs; the listener is taken on a journey that shows how the Appalachian tradition developed from its various roots and became what it is today, while casting a backward glance on the songs collected by Sharp in the West Country. Dave has a great way of taking elements from different versions of a song in order to present the story in as complete and captivating a way as possible, and this (combined with an encyclopaedic knowledge of many aspects of song and music) ensures that all the songs here seem to hit the spot. Add in the tight, slick support from the rest of the band and you have an eminently listenable recording.
According to the sleeve notes, the original idea was to produce a selection of songs for Dave’s friends and family. Personally, I’m glad that they’ve been given a wider circulation.
Do you like Old-Timey songs? Do you like Rattle on The Stovepipe, who
have played to sell-out audiences at Whitby every time they have
appeared? If you do, don't hesitate to buy this CD. It is the best
Christmas present I have had.
Although you may have some of these songs already on Rattle On The
Stovepipe CDs I would suggest you might like to acquire this album
because you get a great collection of Dave's best songs all in one
place. The musical accompaniments of Pete Cooper and Dan Stewart or
Chris Morton absolutely make the CD the gem that it is. Dave is a
sensitive player of the melodeon, banjo and guitar, but the addition of
the other two members of the trio makes the magical sound on this CD.
The songs are described as Anglo-Appalachian, which is more a stylistic
description than a geographical one. If you are a singer, then I
guarantee they are all eminently singable and have really memorable
story lines and tunes. The origins are all printed on the sleeve-notes
so they can be researched and the originals found and visited at your
leisure, should you want to do this. The notes include some details
which are heart-breaking: Red Apple Juice is a compilation of floating
verses to an iconic Appalachian tune commemorating the untimely death of
Dave's daughter-in-law Louise. It brought me to tears. Another
heart-rending song is Bill Dalton's Wife, a three-verse poem written by
Don West and augmented by three more verses from Dave and put to a
haunting tune that makes the whole composition so memorable.
Don't worry - these are the only tear-jerkers. There are lots of jollier
songs on the CD and they will lift your spirits when you listen to them.
The selection runs from slow tuneful sing-alongs to danceable numbers
where you won't be able to sit still. The Gypsy Girl is a wonderful
version of the Joseph Taylor song acquired and adapted from Tom Paley's
tune in the distant past. It is there to rival Taylor's version ( coming
from me, for whom Joseph Taylor is the apogee of folksingers, that is
pretty high praise.) I won't list all the songs - that gets very boring
in reviews. I will pick out some other outstanding ones though. Short
Jacket & White Trousers is a cross-dressing story with Pete Cooper's
rhythmic fiddle playing; Monday Morning Go To School is a North Carolina
version of the Child Ballad Edward. Dave's expressive accompaniment fits
the song like a glove.
By now, you will realise that I am a fan of Dave Arthur and Rattle On
The Stovepipe. If you are, then you will have this on your Must Have
list. If you want some great singing with superb accompaniment then you
won't be disappointed if you buy it. Go on, you know you want it.
Mary Humphreys (Tykes News)
Subtitled 'Songs From The Rattle Vaults' this album is a result of a request from Dave Arthur to Doug Bailey to 'put together a compilation of some of his own songs to go out to his family and friends for Christmas'. When Doug started to dig out the old masters he quickly realised many of the tracks had not been heard for a long while since they all come from old Rattle on the Stovepipe albums, and that they could release it to a wider audience as a Wild Goose album. This CD is the result.
Dave Arthur is one of the founding member of the trio Rattle on the Stovepipe (see my other review this issue) but originally started out performing on the folk scene with his ex-wife Toni in the sixties. At that time much of their material was taken from the English tradition which they took on an American tour. However, possibly based on the latter experience, Dave began to develop his material from the crossover of songs and tunes between British and Appalachian sources in the seventies. This solo album of some of those songs (with backing from Rattle on the Stovepipe) is his second with Wild Goose.
His long association with folk music and his wide ranging experience as folk performer shows throughout this album with his relaxed style of singing and fine musicianship on guitar and banjo. Some of the songs reflect on the violence that prevailed in the mountains of Appalachia such as the well known Stackolee which fairly rattles along (pun intended!), the 'strange' (Dave's descripter not mine) Dead Heads and Suckers, the fatricide ballad Monday Morning Go To School and the supernatural The Two Sisters. 'Sea themed' songs are also represented with Short Jacket and White Trousers and Dave's own penned version of Blood Red Roses and Father, Father, Build Me A Boat a classic song taken from the Frank Kidson collection.
Finally, you might ask 'so where are the love songs?' Well, a number of the songs have a love/lust element in them but the last track I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me is possibly the raison d'etre for the album's title.
The CD, as is usual from Wild Goose, comes with an insert that is informative and comprehensive in its description and background to the songs. An album worth having which I enjoyed tremendously and is available from the Wild Goose web site.