'Ravenchild' cover
CD - Park Records, PRKCD49
(UK, 1999)

Sound bits available at
the Samples Page.

Maddy Prior:

1. Twankydillo [2:57].
2. Bold Poachers [4:12].
With Napolean in Russia:
    3. Boney [1:51];
    4. Scorched Earth [4:21];
    5. Loot [5:00].
6. Rigs of Time [4:06].
In the Company of Ravens:
    7. In the Company of Ravens [3:09];
    8. Young Bloods [4:09];
    9. The Masts of Morrigan [3:42];
    10. Rich Pickings [4:32];
    11. Ravenchild [3:00];
    12. Dance on the Wind [3:57].
13. Great Silkie of Sules Skerry [6:57].

musicians: Maddy Prior - vocals
Nick Nolland - keyboards, backing vocals
Troy Donockley - uilleann pipes, electric and acoustic
    guitars, low whistle

Terl Briant - drums and percussion
Nick Beggs - 'Chapman' stick
other credits: Produced by Nick Holland and Troy Donockley
Engineered by Steve Watkins
Recorded at Warehouse Studios, Oxford
Mastered at Country Masters
    by Denis Blackham
Photography by Jay Alice Preece
Sleeve designed by Terri Donockley
Graphics & artworks by Chris Sands at Indigo Design
    West Yorkshire
Album Coordination by John Dagnell
© 1999 Park Records


N o t e s   a n d   L y r i c s

      I've known this song since I forst became involved in folk song and I believe it comes from the singing of the Copper Family of Sussex. I found myself humming it one day, and thought what a good song it was. But I couldn't get my head round the `Twanky' bit. For an English person familiar with the Pantomime tradition of the `Widow Twanky' in Alladin (a grotesque dame, for those unfamiliar), it made nonsense of the song. When I eventually came to look up the word it turns out to be Victorian slang for gin. So for some obscure reason I now feel happier singing it. Such are our prejudices. Ho Hum.

Here's a health to the jolly blacksmith, the best of all fellows
Who works at his anvil while the boy blows the bellows

Which makes his bright hammer to rise and to fall
Here's to Old Cole and to Young Cole
And to Old Cole of all
Twankydillo, Twankydillo, Twankydillo-dillo-dillo-dillo
And a roaring pair of blow-pipes made from the green willow

Here's a health to the pretty boy, the one I love best
Who kindles a fire all in my own breast

If a gentleman calls his horse to be shoed
He'll make no denial of one pot or two

Here's a health from us all, to our sovereign the Queen
And to all the Royal family, whereever they're seen

      An American film maker, many years ago made a short film of Steeleye Span's version of this song. He portrayed one of the brothers as being about 9 years old, which gave the song abiding poignancy.

Concerning of three young men, one night in January
According laws contrary, apoaching went straightway

They were inclined to ramble, among the trees and brambles
A firing at the pheasants, which brought those keepers near

The keepers dared not enter, nor cared the woods to venture
But outside round the centre, in them old bush they stood

The poachers they were tired and to leave they were desired
At at last young Parkins fired, and spilled one keeper's blood

Fast homeward they were making, nine pheasants they were taking
When another keeper faced them, they fired at him also

He on the ground lay crying, just like some person dying
With no assistance nigh him, may God forgive their crime

And they were taken with speed, all for that inhuman deed
It caused their hearts to bleed, for their young tender years

There seen before was never, three brothers tried together
Brothers condemned for poaching, found guilty as they stood

Exiled in transportation, two brothers they were taken
And the third hung as a token, may God forgive their crime

With Napoleon In Russia

      This piece is based on a contemporary account by an officer from the South German State of Württemberg, Lt. H. Vossler, serving with Napoleon in 1812/13 on that long and disastrous march against the hugeness that is Russia. It was also inspired by a traditional song, The Grand Conversation with Napoleon which forms the basis of Scorched Earth.

(words Prior, music trad. arr. Prior/Holland/Donockley)

Boney was a warrior
Wey, hey, ah
A warrior, a terrier
John François

He planned a distant enterprise
Wey, hey, ah
A great and distant enterprise
John François

He is off to fight the Russian bear
Wey, hey, ah
He plans to drive him from his lair
John François

They left with banners all ablaze
Wey, hey, ah
The heads of Europe stood amazed
John François

He thinks he'll beat the Russkies
Wey, hey, ah
And the Bonny Bunch of Roses.
John François

Boney was a warrior
Wey, hey, ah
A warrior, a terrier
John François

He took four hundred thousand men, likewise some kings to swell his throng.
He was so well provided, enough to sweep the world along,
Through the villages of Prussia, where food was plentyful, and billets sweet
They marched with merry hearts my boys all through the wealthy fields of wheat.

But when they crossed the Nieman, the Russians they ran in retreat
And they burnt all before them, scorched earth left them nought to eat.
No forage nor provisions, their horses dropped dead in the line.
Diseased forced marches no comfort there in those hard times.

Still the enemy refused to fight, through blazing heat or freezing rain.
They chased them to the gates of hell, through fields of mud, over rough terrain.
But when they came to Moscow, they were overpowered by ice and snow
And Moscow was a-blazing and they lost all heart in grief and woe.

What is this brilliant company
Dressed in silks and satins gay
They are draped in bales of linen
That they found along the way.
They ride in gilded carriages
And they eat off china plates
Finest shawls across their shoulders
Weird and wonderful freight.

There are generals and officers
And every rank of men
They are straggled, and have struggled
On the road back home again.
They are all weighed down with silver,
They have booty rich and fine
They're a motley mix of rabble
How they shimmer, how they shine.

Mostly they have got no rifles
Nor no guns of any sort
But laden with their spoils
By their greed they are caught.
For the Cossacks they have chased them
They have harried them to death
And the frost has bit their fingers
Taking ears and nose and breath.

One hundred thousand are returning
All the men that now remain
They are broken and defeated
By the weary Russian plain.

Ambition drove Napoleon to Moscow
He thought that he would rule the world
But even snow couldn't smother
The noise of such a mighty fall
The sound of great misfortune
Will ring and echo down the years
And bring him immortality
As sure as any great victory.

      Traditional topical songs usually require a tedious amount of explanation, but are attractive quite often because of strong tunes and singable choruses. This is such a song, but instead of getting bogged down in social history, I decided to simply update it. I wonder how long it will be before it needs explanation?

Honesty's all out of fashion
These are the rigs of the time
Ay me boys,
These are the rigs of the time

The Transnational companies are running the show
Unaccountable, faceless ones, nobody knows
Richer than countries, their cause they advance
They pull the strings that make politics dance

The private utilities, I must bring them in
A private monopoloy is guaranteed to win
They charge what they like, give you cause for much grief
And the customer watchdogs have more gums than teeth

The huge hypermarkets on the outskirts of town
Convenience is up, and the prices are down
But the cost of this comfort is not set at nought
It's all the small business in the bankruptcy court.

The cool high street clothes stores are part of the scene
Neat designer labels, a marketing man's dream
The young people buy them, and here's the surprise
They pay extra for logos, which in turn advertise.

Is Diana an angel, is Charles a cad?
It's a media circus gone totally mad
The never ending rehash of their private lives
And who knows the truth between husbands and wives?

      Ravens are renowned as highly intelligent birds in all cultures. They are very astute scavengers and are found in every terrain from ice covered regions, through forest to the desert. In Europe they are largely regarded as birds of ill omen and, possibly due to the ancient celtic influence and their connection to carrion, are associated with death. In other cultures, namely the Native American tradition, the Raven is seen more in the role of the trickster and/or creator, due to their playful and innovative qualities.

You walk with an intelligence
That informs a clear bright eye
There are unexpected revelations
In the company of Ravens.

You walk with dire drear death
Breath rancid and heavy
Through the bleakest battlefield
In the company of Ravens.

You walk beside the trickster
He makes mischief of your mind
You walk with doubt and strange confusions
In the company of Ravens.

      Bernd Heinrich wrote a classic book, `Ravens in Winter', the result of some extraordinary research. Ravens leave their parents at the end of the first year, but don't mate until they are four or five years old, and then they mate for life, which could be as long as forty years. In those years of adolescense, to feed they have to gather into gangs to be able to approach feeding grounds, e.g. carcasses, of they will be driven off by the local, more powerful, mated pair. This song blithely sums up hundreds of hours of raven watching.

We travel in a pack
We steal from the wolves
We are proving ourselves
We are the young bloods.

We follow the hunter
Waiting our chance
We caper and dance
We are the young bloods.

We gather at the roost
Fly low to the kill
To show our skill
We are the young bloods.

Young young bloods
Young bloods
Young young bloods

We call for backup
It's numbers we need
Survival or greed
We are the young bloods.

And we're shrewd and clever
At the carcass we snatch
Then flee with our catch
We are the young bloods.

      The Morrigan was the anvient irish celtic goddess of battle. She was supposed to be able to transform into a raven, creatures that were always to be found at the scene of carnage, in search of food. They are so clever that they have learnt to not only respond to carcasses, but to anticipate them by following the hunters. So they will follow packs of wolves or soldiers, even lately having learnt to fly towards the sound of guns, knowing that modern hunters cut the entrails from their prey on the spot.

      The ancient celts believed in the sacred qualities of the head, where they believed that the soul resided. This cult of the head meant not only that they revered the skulls of their ancestors but also that they decapitated their enemies and put the heads on poles around their camps. These were known as the masts of Macha, or Morrigan. Here is a description of the Morrigan - also known as Macha or Badb, she being a triple goddess: Now when they were there they saw coming to them towards the hostel, a big-mouthed black swift sooty woman, lame and squinting with her left eye. She wore a threadbare dingy cloak. Dark as the back of a stag beetle was every joint of her, from the top of her head to the ground. Her filleted grey hair fell back over her shoulder. She leant her shoulder against the door-post and began prophesying evil to the host, and to utter ill words from Da Derga's hostel.

I fear that bead black eye
That pierces me to the bone
The cruel stare
The glassy glare
That fingers me alone.

Too cunning for a bird
Her mind is warped and crooked
Again and worse
Her voice is harsh
And grates course and wicked.

And the masts of Morrigan
Are strung across the world
See the masts of Morrigan

An omen sour as gall
She revels in our gore
My skull her cup
Drinks my blood up
The one-eyed gimpy whore.

She deals in the black arts
Runs with the soldier and wolf
The battle sounds
Death rattle mourns
She steals our eyes for herself.

      Their scavenging abilities have been developed almost to an art form, and at the town of Ely in the USA they have been encouraged by the locals and descend in great numbers on the catering facilities. In England the health and safety laws have served to diminish the numbers of ravens because dead sheep are removed from, of buried in, the fields. The farmers are generally pleased by this, since ravens will attack s young lamb directly after it is born, when it is helpless and its mother less capacitated. Ravens consider the eyes and tongues a particular delicacy.

Rich pickings from the wastrels
Rich pickings from the hand of man

These fine beaks can find
What you leave behind
Because we're not fussy
We don't care
We're not proud
We're loud.

We'll scrabble in the rubbish like the poorest poor
We're cheeky, and sneaky, and beaky what is more
We find our future in plastic bags
Hidden among the rubble and worn out rags.

We poke our noses into unsavoury places
Juicy morsels of onion and fruit
Tasty treads of jam and jellied pigs foot
Rancid burgers in chocolate spread
Squashed in sand and mouldy bread.

You are fastidious
We are omnivorous
We own the franchise on this catering midden
We will find what you try to keep hidden
Because we are ravenous.

      With all the associations of darkness and the trickster, it is easy to lose sight of the softer, more generous side of their nature. They are often to be seen in the wild, rubbing beaks and canoodling with their life's partner, using their extensive vocabulary to 'whisper sweet nothings' in a strangely anthropomorphic way.

Why do you see me and tip your head
With questions dark and wild
Why do I shiver through my backbone?
Because I know, cried the Ravenchild.

Why do you call me with that tragic voice
Broken and defiled
Why does it strangle my heart's ease?
Because I feel, cried the Ravenchild.

What are you whispering so quiet on my ear
Every once in a while
What are you showing so rare and sincere?
I am happy, cried the Ravenchild.

What is this softness, surprising me
Gentle, warm and mild
What is this longing that catches my breath?
That's my heart, cried the Ravenchild.

      During the years of adolescense the males spend their time perfecting the skills necessary to attract a mate. One of these skills is aerial acrobatics. They alone among the corvids have a delight in spectacular flying displays, plunging from great heights, wheeling and turning, later to synchronize with their mate. They appear to do this, not only as a courting ritual, but just for the sheer fun of it.

I soar with the draughts and balance on the wind
Coal black and at ease
I drop, I swoop, I loop the loop
Tumbling above the trees.

My partner for life well matches my flight
Through weather sharp or fair
We dip and dive a drunken jive
Falling as a pair

Fine games in the clouds, a pirouette, a dance
Pure fun and glee
To fall on air, without a care
Joyfully flying free

      This eerie ballad from the Shetland isles harks back to the land's Scandinavian roots. It is a shape-shifting story of a seal/man whose fate is told with great simplicity and grace.

An earthly nourris sits and sings
And aye she sings `Ba lily wain
And little ken I my bairn's father
Far less the land that he dwells in'.

Then one arose at her bedfoot
And a grumbly guest I'm sure was he
Saying here am I, thy bairn's father
Although I be not comely

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie on the sea
And when I'm far and far frae land
My home it is in Sules Skerry

And he has ta'en a purse of gold
And he has placed it upon her knee
Saying give to me my little young son
And take thee up thy nurse's fee

And it shall come tae pass on a summer's day
When the sun shines bright on every stone
I'll come and fetch my little young son
And teach him how to swim the foam.

And you, you shall marry a pround gunner
And a proud gunner I'm sure he'll be
But the very first shot that e'er he shoots
He'll kill both my young son and me.

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