“His love for folk music manifests itself throughout this lovely album.” – Folk Radio UK “Songs From the Attic is a genuine, carefully considered album which is made with a lot of heart. It deserves to be noticed.” – Bright Young Folk Songs from the Attic, the album, is the result of the last nine months spent researching and writing traditional folk songs here on this blog. Each song at some point began to get under my skin and, following a lengthy process of fairly obsessive study and performance, I found I’d fallen in love with them – just as many, […]
Fresh from my Steve Roud interview, having learnt that the folk singer is an entirely modern construct, today I found myself itching to get my guitar out and dive into an old sea shanty. Let’s be clear, though: while this is some kind of performance of ‘The Greenland Whale Fishery’, it doesn’t in any way bear any resemblance to the original ‘Greenland Whale Fishery’ [Roud 347]. Nor can I claim to be a folk singer. In fact, it’s probably best that you – the reader – limit yourself to thinking that this isn’t really a performance at all. More a […]
One of my preoccupations in recent months has been the relaunch of the Whitchurch Folk Club (which you can find out more about here). I say ‘relaunch’ even though there never has been (to my knowledge) a club of that name. The local folk club that ran regularly throughout the folk revival of the 70s and closed 30 years ago was named after the pub in which it met – The Red House – and while we’re very keen to acknowledge the traditions that the organisers established (not least the amazing-sounding Whitchurch Folk Festival), it’s going to be very hard to […]
Like most modern performers, I think I first heard ‘When First I Came to Caledonia’ sung by Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy on their first Waterson:Carthy album. For years, in fact, it was pretty much the only song I’d return to again and again. The melody is haunting, and given that I was in my early twenties and living in southern Japan – an old mining and coastal region, warmer but not dissimilar to the place in the song – there was something very familiar about the story of a young man working far from my family, homesick but fascinated in […]
If there was ever a case of a folk song hiding in plain sight, this was it. I first heard ‘My Old Hat That I Got On‘ as a recording on Voice of the People, performed by an old Oxfordshire chap named Tom Newman. It struck me as a song with potential for a slightly bluesy guitar arrangement so I began hacking away at it, slowly chiseling it into something performable, much to the annoyance of my family (that chorus played 20 times a day will wear down the hardiest of people).
Forgive me if it feels like I’m just doing the folk Greatest Hits here, but certain songs I just can’t resist. This week’s ‘Folk from the Attic’ is ‘Ye Mariners All’, a song I first heard when I was at university in the mid-90s, back when I was the only person on campus with a copy of Martin Carthy’s debut album and very much the lonelier for it. Sorry Martin – the other kids didn’t think you were as hip as Boyzone. Who’s laughing now? (Answers on a postcard…)
If Martin Simpson is to be believed (and I’ve no reason not to), one of the definitions of a folk song (or a traditional folk song, at least) is that nobody can remember who wrote it. If that’s the case then this article is not about a folk song at all. It’s about a song by one Robert Nunn, a blind fiddler from Newcastle who died in 1853, which was subsequently adapted over 100 years later by Stan Kelly-Bootle, a folk singer/songwriter (presumably with 20-20 vision) who moonlighted as a computer scientist at Cambridge and Warwick Universities.
As Ian Carter of Stick in the Wheel said in our interview last week, in the hands of Martin Carthy ‘The Bedmaking’ is one of those songs that makes guitarists sit up and wonder what the hell he’s doing. You’ll commonly read of his influence, but his prowess really shows through whenever he sits down to this tune, marking him out as a fingerpicking ninja of sublime syncopation and subtlety.
‘Shallow Brown’ (Roud 2621) is a fascinating song for so many reasons. Is it a sea shanty? A slave song? Who is singing to who, and where in the world were they singing? There’s as much here to love as there is to be heart-broken by. Quite simply, another traditional folk song of fare-thee-wells and loved ones being transported over the sea that feels, in some ways, as prescient now as it ever must have done.
Something of a Greatest Hit, as far as folk songs go, “Hard Times of Old England” has been sung by everybody and anybody, from Martin Carthy to Stick in the Wheel. An 18th century song, it appears no fewer than 28 times in the folk archives at Cecil Sharp House, with many of those entries connected to the Copper Family, with whom the song is perhaps most closely associated. A recording of Ron Copper singing the song was made in 1955, and it first appeared in public as part of their 1963 collection, Traditional Songs from Rottingdean.