I seem to have know this song all my life, but in fact I must have learnt it while singing in the folk clubs in the sixties. In those smoky back rooms of pubs that were all across the British Isles I heard and absorbed our traditional music from many varied, and now anonymous, performers, to whom I'm eternally grateful.
Blood & Gold/Mohacs
Words collected in Romania by Bela Bartock in the early years of the 20th century, re-written and set to a Bulgarian tune by Andy Irvine & Jena Cassidy.
The tune that follows was composed by Breton guitarist Dan Ar Brass.
The Boar's Head Carol
This song is sung at Christmas dinner in Queen's College, Oxford, as a boar's head is carried in on a platter. Both Steeleye Span and the Carnival Band have recorded the song and this arrangement is a combination of both.
A Virgin Most Pure
I first learnt this graceful carol from the Carnival Band for our first album 'A Tapestry of Carols'.
All In The Morning
A beautifully performed carol sung acapella by June.
From Castleton in Derbyshire.
Sing, Sing All Earth
The Copper Family of Rottingdean are the sour of this lovely folk carol. They have a family tradition of singing that goes back several generations with their extensive repertoire kept in hand-written books that have been handed down and developed by Bob Copper into several fascinating books.
The doffing mistress oversaw the young factory girls in the spinning sheds as they changed (doffed) the bobbins, ready to be sent to the weavers. The revolution in the technology brought with it new songs that reflected a different world from the pastoral songs of an earlier time and have a vibrant energy and positive outlook in this case, that we do not usually associate with factories,
I learnt this song of two Scots ladies' attempt to avoid the plague from Martin Carthy. peter and I perform this as a duet that gives him scope for his prodigious improvisatory skills.
Professor FJ Child collected the English and Scottish Popular Ballads in America from many written sources. It is a massive body of work and forms the core of the traditional ballad repertoire. Sadly he omitted to collect the tunes, viewing the ballads from their poetry perspective only. B.H. Bronson belatedly did his best to make up for this omission and this version is a compilation from the two volumes.
Singing The Travels
This song, recorded by the Silly Sisters, comes from Symondsbury in Dorset, sung as part of the Mummers play, and is a heated discussion about the merits or otherwise of being employed or independent. Performed at Christmas.
In the late seventies I spent a couple of months each winter in the Lake District, and I wrote this song, one of my firts, while snowed in.
Wren hunting was undertaking by boys and young men at Christmas tide and has along history. It may have once had some ritual aspect but latterly fell into a begging ploy. 'Please to see the king' refers to the wren who is known as 'The King of Birds', possibly because of a story of his trickery when he hid under the wing of the eagle during a competition for supremacy and at the last minute he lauched himself ahead of the eagle and won the prize. There is religious currency in the 'small is powerful' - i.e. the oak from the acorn and Jesus in the Manger.
Daughter Rose gallantly agreed to sing the harmony on this song that was written for her when she was a toddler.
Mother And Child
Generations often find it difficult to talk together. This song is special for me in that I have always loved to sing with Rick's palying of the fretless bass.
Songs written for children are always special. It is good to have one like this to remind me how I really feel about them in the hurly-burly and stress of daily family life.
My Husband's Got No Courage In Him
Of broadside origin, probably 19th but possibly earlier, this sad tale is based on a version from Dorset. James Reeve in The Idiom of the People Comments ' Oysters are a notorious aphrodisiac, but rhubarb is less well-known in this connection'. Tim Hart famously observed 'Oysters and rhubarb! The poor man can't have known if he was coming or going'.
The people of the now nearly defunct mining industry created a massive corpus of songs about their work. Some were technical, some were romantic, some were humourous, some were serious and political. This is one of the latter, and it gained in depth and poignancy when Steeleye sang it through the strike of '84.
Padstow May Song
Surly one of the most primitive and earthy customs still retained in England today. I first went when I was 18 years and it made a deep and abiding impression on me.