Sunday 31 July 2011

17: Paddy West

This song is about a boarding house keeper in Liverpool who, in addition to offering board and lodgings, trained people in the art of blagging that they were experienced seamen. The version I sing here is, I thought, the one Stan Hugill gave in Shanties from the Seven Seas; but, having looked it up again, I can see that the words I'm using seem to have picked up bits and bobs from other places (possibly as a result of hearing people singing A.L. Lloyd's version of Paddy West).

Hugill explains some of the historical background of this song in his book Sailortown, a vivid description of the maritime districts of major port cities (thanks to KathyW and Matthew Edwards for helping me locate the relevant passages): "He professed to make a greenhorn - whether yokel, with heyseed falling from ear-holes, criminal on the run, or bank clerk - into a fully fledged Able Seaman in a matter of days. This was how he worked. His house was usually full of all the bums and stiffs of the neighbourhood. When he felt they had been around too long, he started their 'tuition' so that he could sign them away aboard an outward-bounder. First he would get the aspiraing candidate accusomed, as the song hints, to deep-sea fare, dressing him in dungarees, with a 'nice clean rope-yarn for a belt'. Practice in stowing canvas came next, Paddy sending him up to the attick to furl the 'main royal', or rather the window-blind. Further seamanship was acquired in the back-yard, where Paddy had a ship's wheel rigged up. The 'apprentice' had to stand by the wheel, and before he had spun it around twice, Paddy's wife would have thrown a bucket of ice-cold water over him... The 'boyo' next was called into the 'passage', where he would have to step over a piece of string, before entering the parlour or 'front room'. Here on a table stood a cow's horn, around which the candidate was ordered to march. The explanation of this ritual was that, when the mate of the outward-bounder asked our berth-seeking hero as to what parts of the world he had sailed, he could honestly answer that he'd 'crossed the Line' [crossed the equator] and been ten times around the [Cape] Horn'. But 'Don't tell him it was a bloody cow-horn!' Paddy would caution. Then the potential seaman was handed the papers of some real sailor - one who had been knifted or clubbed, probably, in some earlier drunken brawl. Paddy would give him a sea-chest full of second-hand gear - if there were two candidates, he would furnish one suit of oilskins between the two of them, telling them, 'I'll see to it that the mate puts yiz in dhifferent watches'... Of course, Paddy didn't go to all this trouble for nothing; he always receoved the 'Paddy Wester's' advance note, a month or two's wages."

Further to this, Hugill tells us that Paddy West apparently reinvented his training to respond to new technology - as steam ships became the norm, he'd have his potential sailors tossing coal into a swinging barrel.

It's usually agreed that Paddy West was a real historical figure; the American seaman Dick Maitland said that Paddy West was active in the 1870s keeping a boarding house around London Road, although others place him on Paradise Street or (as in the version of the song I'm singing) Great Howard Street.

Hugill tells us that this was sung both as a forecastle entertainment and as a work song (apparently as a capstan shanty, for pulling up the anchor). It is #3092 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday 25 July 2011

16: I Like An Apple

Sasha Moorsom recorded a group of Liverpool children singing this skipping song in 1958 - the recording was used as part of Peter Kennedy's "A Roving" series. We also hear girls singing it in Denis Mitchell and Roy Harris' amazing 1959 documentary film "Morning in the Streets" (from which comes the picture above), filmed primarily in Liverpool and drawing on the extensive field research of Frank Shaw, who also includes this song in his book on Liverpool Children's Rhymes You Know Me Anty Nelly?

Versions of this song are found elsewhere (including London, East Anglia, and Ireland), and are sometimes known as 'Still I Love Him', 'The Black Shawl' or 'I'll Go With Him Wherever He Goes'. It is #654 in the Roud Folksong Index.

Sunday 17 July 2011

15: The Testimony of Patience Kershaw

This song was written in 1969 by Frank Higgins, a blues singer and guitarist who lived in Birkenhead and frequented the Liverpool folk clubs (I don't know much more than that about him, if anyone who comes by here knows him or has information about him I'd be interested to find out more). The words are based on real testimony given to the Royal Commission into the Employment of Children at the Mines by Patience Kershaw of Halifax, aged 17 (by which time she had been working in the mines for more than 6 years).

This is Patience Kershaw's account in her own words: "All my sisters have been hurriers, but three went to the mill, Alice went because her legs swelled from hurrying in cold water when she was hot. I never went to day-school; I go to Sunday school, but I cannot read or write; I go to pit at 5 o'clock in the morning; I get my breakfast of porridge and milk first; I take my dinner with me, a cake, and eat it as I go; I do not stop or rest any time for the purpose; I get nothing else until I get home, and then have potatoes and meat, not every day meat. I hurry in the clothes I have now got on, trousers and ragged jacket; the bald place upon my head is made by thrusting the corves; my legs have never swelled, but sisters' did when they went to mill; I hurry the corves a mile and more under ground and back; they weigh 300 cwt; I hurry 11 a-day; I wear a belt and chain at the workings to get the corves out; the getters that I work for are naked except their caps; they pull off all their clothes; I see them at work when I go up; sometimes they beat me, if I am not quick enough, with their hands; they strike me upon my back; the boys take liberties with me sometimes, they pull me about; I am the only girl in the pit; there are about 20 boys and 15 men; all the men are naked; I would rather work in mill than in coal-pit."

Monday 11 July 2011

14: Marco and Pedro

A song about two grumbling farmers, collected on the Wirral. I was first introduced to Marco and Pedro by Matthew Edwards, who brought it with him to sing at the singaround in The Lion Tavern, Moorfields. I asked him if he'd be kind enough to provide some notes to go along with it, so over to Matthew (I've put the text by him in a different colour so credit and blame can go where it is due!):

This song was collected by Dorothy Dearnley of Heswall from the "late Mrs Stanley of New Ferry" and published in her book, Seven Cheshire Folk Songs, Oxford, 1967 with a piano accompaniment. Mrs Stanley also contributed a striking version of the ballad, The False Knight, but otherwise nothing seems to be known about her. I understand that Pete Coe and Roy Clinging have tried unsuccessfully to contact Dorothy Dearnley, whose married name was Furber.

There is an unreleased BBC recording of Dorothy Furbur (sic) singing 'The Grumbling Farmers' for Seamus Ennis on 5 June 1957 (RPL LP 23494), which suggests that Dorothy Furber probably collected the song some time in the early 1950's.

There are only two other examples in the Roud Index of the song being found among traditional singers; George Gardiner collected it from J Boaden of Curry Cross Lanes, Helston, Cornwall on 31 May 1905. Mr Boaden had learned it from a Mr Curry of Helston who by that time was "long deceased". Arthur Williams collected two short verses of the song from Elijah Iles in Inglesham, Wiltshire in a version in which the farmers' names have been anglicised to Mark-O and Peter-O.

It is also a rarity among singers of the revival even though Frank Purslow included it in the popular EFDS song book Marrowbones in 1965, based on the version collected by Gardiner from J Boaden, but with the chorus shown as being the same for all three verses. I have a vague personal memory of Martin Carthy singing it which may be how I learned the tune, but I don't think he has recorded it. Ralph Jordan has recorded it on a long deleted LP, but I don't know which group he was with at the time. It seems that John Kirkpatrick has recorded it on his new CD 'God Speed the Plough'.

It was quite widely printed in the nineteenth century by broadside printers with examples from London, Portsea, Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool, Preston, Manchester, North shields and Edinburgh. [See, for example, the broadside version printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824.] The tune was well enough known to be used for the campaign song of the Tory candidate in the Coventry parliamentary election of 1826. In their revised edition of 'Marrowbones' Malcolm Douglas and Steve Gardham argue convincingly for a late eighteenth century origin for the song on the basis of a broadside printing by Evans of London whose known dates of operation were 1780-1812. Were it not for this early dating I would think the song belongs more to the post-Waterloo period of agricultural depression – although there is nothing unusual about farmers grumbling at any time!

To me there is also a rather "stagey" flavour to the song which makes me wonder whether it first appeared in a musical play or comic opera. The names of the farmers Marco and Pedro are so emphatically not English that I wonder about some topical reference being intended whose point is now thoroughly lost. They don't even belong to the same language – Marco is Italian or Greek, while Pedro is Spanish/Portuguese. If some kind of topical allusion was intended, the only rather improbable candidates I can put forward are Marco Bozzari (Markos Botsaris 1788-1823) and Dom Pedro (1798-1834), King of Brazil, both of whom were popular heroes in Britain.

The joke upon which the song is based is probably as old as the doctrine of physical resurrection itself; the Sadducees taunted Christ about the issue of who would be reunited with whom in the case of multiple marriages (Mark 12; 18-27). However the joke about a flood following a spell of dry weather can be traced to an aristocratic quip by the Irish baronet Sir John Hamilton designed to bewilder the Lord Lieutenant the 4th Duke of Rutland who was Viceroy from 1784-1787.

Whoever the following story may be fathered on, Sir John Hamilton was certainly its parent. The Duke of Rutland, at one of his levees, being at a loss (as probably most kings,princes, and viceroys occasionally are) for something to say to every person he was bound in etiquette to notice, remarked to Sir John Hamilton that there was "a prospect of an excellent crop; the timely rain," observed the Duke, "will bring everything above ground."

"God forbid, your Excellency!" exclaimed the courtier. His Excellency stared, while Sir John continued, sighing heavily, as he spoke; "Yes, God forbid! for I have got three wives under." (Personal Sketches of Jonah Barrington, Dublin, 1827) The same story is also cited as an example of rustic humour from Ayrshire and from North Carolina with a very similar punchline. 

The photo above is by the late Guardian photographer Don McPhee, and is of two farmers at a Shire Horse sale. It doesn't have a particular Merseyside connection, it's just one I've always liked and seemed to go rather well with the song.

Marco and Pedro/The Grumbling Farmers is #1390 in the Roud folksong index.

Saturday 2 July 2011

13: We're All Bound To Go

This is an interesting combination of sea shanty and emigration ballad; I take the words (slightly abridged - feel free to contact me or leave a comment below if you're after the full set) and tune from Mersey shantyman Stan Hugill's Shanties and Sailor Songs. He writes: "This greatly liked windlass shanty came into being about the time of the Irish Potato Famine, when thousands of migranting Irish were passing through Liverpool heading for 'Amerikee'. Tapscott was a well-known packet agent of Oldhall Street, Liverpool, and publisher of the famous Tapscott's Emigrant Guide." Windlass shanties (also known as Capstan shanties - as far as I understand it, they're the same thing anyway) were work songs sung during the raising of the anchor.

Liverpool was, of course, a major point of departure for those setting sail for the New Worlds, with some estimates suggesting that between 1830 and 1930 nine million emigrants passed through the docks en route to the United States, Canada, and Australia. A plaque on the gateway to the Clarence docks commemorates in particular those Irish emigrants who passed through Liverpool during the time of the potato famine; it reads, "Through these gates passed most of the 1,300,000 Irish migrants who fled from the Great Famine and 'took the ship' to Liverpool in the years 1845–52. Remember the Great Famine".

In the Roud folksong index, We're All Bound To Go is lumped in with other shanties with the "Heave away my Johnny" refrains as #616.