Folk song of the week

Every week we add a new folk song to this list. We try to pick pieces that are traditional, rather than singer-songwriter songs, in keeping with the general theme of this website. Where possible, we match the videos and the songs (the song comes first, the performer second), and we try to give you a little info about the song itself.

You can subscribe to either the Spotify list or the Youtube playlist any time you like, which means you can take them with you without having to refer back to the Grizzly Folk website (although we’d always be delighted to see you!)

Incidentally – while you’re here – if you want to support the upkeep of the Grizzly Folk website, the editor made an album of traditional folk songs (sorry – we couldn’t stop him). If you buy that – and you can name your price over at Bandcamp – the money will be invested in keeping this website going. Thanks for reading.) 

Here are the playlists. Scroll down for the song info. Please note, the majority of the heavy lifting in terms of research has already been done by the wonderful Mainly Norfolk website. It’s well worth visiting whenever you have the time.

Roll Down (Sweet Ladies of Plymouth)

Performed by The Young’uns (Spotify list) and John Roberts/ Louis Killen/ The Revels Chorus
Taken from the album When Our Grandfathers Said No and Homeward Bound: Sea Songs, Ballads and Chanteys
Roud number: Not traditional 

This week’s favourite is in tribute to news of next year’s Transports tour (not to mention the forthcoming album on Hudson Records). Anyone who had the pleasure of seeing the performance earlier this year will know that this huge closing number is about as infectious as it gets, when it comes to sea shanties (and that, surely, is saying something!) However, it may surprise newcomers to traditional folk music that it’s actually an original song written by Peter Bellamy for the 1977 production of the same folk opera. Originally sung by Cyril Tawney, it has been recorded a number of times over the subsequent decades, most notably by John Roberts, Louis Killen and the Revels Chorus, as well as The Young’Uns and The Fisherman’s Friends. We can’t wait for the full-cast recording by the modern-day Transports, with Saul Rose taking the lead vocals.

The Pressgang

Performed by Nick Hart
Taken from the album Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs
Roud number: 662

“Rarer than a good song should be, this one. Sharp heard it, or three verses of it, in a Herefordshire workhouse (the workhouse was a great place to find singers in his day). Jack Moeran noted a fuller version at Winterton Norfolk, and that’s the one Mike bases his performance on. Moeran’s singer was James Sutton, nicknamed “Old Larpin”, from whom the great Sam Larner learnt a boatload of songs. The tune belongs to that imposing family of heavy crotchet, double-stamp ending, hornpipe-like melodies such as the Irish march tune, The Peacock, already popular in the opening years of the nineteenth century. It’s the favourite kind of melody for a great many songs about sailors, beggars and robbers. Any connection?” – A. L. Lloyd, sleevenotes to Round Cape Horn: Traditional Songs of Sailors, Ships and the Sea

Rufford Park Poachers

Performed by Martin Simpson
Taken from the album Trails & Tribulations
Roud number: 1759

“As well as being a warning, the song is a rallying cry to ‘make a fight for poor men’s rights’. It argues that the buck, doe, pheasant and hare were ‘put on earth for everyone, quite equal for to share.’ For me this is the most engaging aspect of traditional music – it is a people’s history and often an account of the age-old battle against power lying in the hands of the wealthy. At many of the gigs that I play in non-folk venues it is this political messaging that really grabs people, and I think that could be a way for a whole new generation of people to start getting excited about traditional music.” – Jimmy Aldridge, talking to the Grizzly Folk website in September 2017.

Blow the Windy Morning

Performed by Faustus
Taken from the album Broken Down Gentlemen
Roud number: 11

“This is the only song we know about skinny dipping in Scotland, a chilly and ill-advised pursuit in the best of weather! It features a twist on the common ballad tale of a nasty young man who takes advantage of a girl. In fact, the shepherd lad is far too modest for this lassie.” – Sleevenotes to Battlefield Band’s Happy Daze album, taken here from Mainly Norfolk.

Hey, John Barleycorn

Performed by Jack Rutter
Taken from the album Hills
Roud number: 2141

“This is not the widely-known song which recounts the death, burial, rebirth, growth and subsequent ill-treatment of Sir John Barleycorn, before he emerges as ale or beer. Rather, it praises and lists the virtues of the beverage (so much more than just a breakfast drink!)… This version appears in only a couple of broadsides, plus Cecil Sharp collected it from Albert Poole of Exford, Somerset, in 1906 and Bob Copper recorded it for the BBC from George Attrill of Fittleworth, Sussex, in 1954.” – Brian Matthews and Rod Stradling, taken from the booklet to Come, Hand to Me the Glass. Noted here from Mainly Norfolk.

The Sandgate Dandling

Performed by Jon Wilks
Taken from the album Songs from the Attic
No Roud number, as only semi-traditional

“Robert Nunn [the partial author of the song] was, by all accounts, a hearty, happy man who – having lost his eyes and some of his fingers in a roofing accident early in his life – made his living by writing songs and playing them at parties. Contemporary reports say that “No party of the kind was considered complete without ‘Bobby’ and his fiddle,” and he was apparently known to perform more coarse songs riddled with innuendo the drunker he became. He also wrote songs that suggested he had a fulfilling and joyous home life, so quite where the sinister ‘Sandgate Dandling’ came from is something of a mystery. It should be added, however, that the tune wasn’t entirely his either, having originally been adapted from a traditional Tyneside tune called ‘Dolliah’. (So it is a folk song after all. Glad that’s sorted.)” – From the sleevenotes to Songs from the Attic.

Hard Times of Old England 

Performed by Stick in the Wheel
Taken from the album From Here (2015)
Roud number: 1206

“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.” – Noted on the Grizzly Folk website entry for ‘Hard Times of Old England‘, December 2016.

Till April is Dead

Performed by Lisa Knapp
Taken from the album Till April is Dead
Roud number: 1520

“I love how ideas, beliefs and customs cross borders of country and language. Playing around with the spoken rhymes I joined them to some verse of the Hal-an-Tow, a song performed as part of a mystery play on Flora Day in Helston, Cornwall. I’m struck by the supernatural image of ‘St Michael with his wings outstretched’ and the way they ‘welcome in the summer, welcome in the May-O'” – Lisa Knapp, from the sleevenotes to Till April is Dead. 

Cold, Wet & Rainy Night

Performed by Eliza Carthy
Taken from the album Heat, Light and Sound
Roud number: 135

“From Cecil Sharp’s collection of English folk songs in two volumes. One of the many “trick the lass and run off” songs…! The tune [The Grand Hornpipe] is from A Northern Lass compiled by Jamie Knowles.” – Eliza Carthy, from the sleevenotes to Heat, Light and Sound. Taken here from Mainly Norfolk.

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