Friday 30 November 2012

61: O Scottie Road

This is a song I first learned from a couple of Evertonians I met. They could only remember a bit of it, but after some digging around, I found a set of words and discovered that it was a very close adaptation of the Manchester song Collyhurst Road. Even if it does turn out to have been derived from something sung at the other end of the East Lancs Road, it's still a decent song, and by the looks of it this version has a long enough history in Liverpool, with someone saying they heard a skiffle group singing it in the 50s. Plus, from the point of view of my project, one thing of interest is the very close similarity between the words here and those recalled by Stan Kelly as The Quality of Mersey (which as I said last week also bears similarities to certain versions of The Cruise of the Calabar).

Scotland Road has such a place in the history of the city, it's strange to sing about it now that it's only a shell of its former self. So much of the road is demolished, and what remains isn't in a great state (see photo above). I guess songs like this serve as reminders of how much Scottie Road used to be synomymous with the city. Also, I have to say, it feels weird to be singing an Evertonian song, but I'm sure I'll recover...

Sunday 18 November 2012

60: The Cruise of the Calabar

A song about the perils of life aboard a canal barge; a parody of tales of danger and bravery on the high seas, the humour comes from the somewhat underwhelming nature of the (mis)adventures and locations. This version is one I found in a packet of reproductions of street songs and ballads (the Liverpool Packet No. 1 sold by Scouse Press). Fritz Spiegl (writer, humorist, and principal flautist with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra) transcribed it from a copy in the Liverpool Record Office, noting the original had been "made almost illegible by some anonmyous amateur entertainer who made illuminating (but equally feeble) alterations. He was determined, for example, to get an easy laugh by mentioning the word 'Bootle' as often as possible". The tune used was that of the ironically named song 'Limerick is Beautiful'. The words are as was sung by Billy Richardson for many years at Sam Hague's in St James' Hall on Lime Street. The African American Theatre Directory, 1816-1960 explains that "Sam Hague's Slave Troupe" was a minstrel troupe under Sam Hague, well-known English minstrel man and clog dancer; they toured around the USA and Britain from 1865 before settling more or less permanently in Liverpool in 1870. Billy Richardson was one of the troupe's great comedians, a "stump speaker" who delivered witty monologues on local issues.

A little further up the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Burscough, a very different version (also full of Liverpool locations) was collected in 1953 by Fred Hamer from Emma Vickers, who came from a family who lived and worked on the barges - one of the few (perhaps the only?) songs about the inland waterways to be collected from people who actually lived that life. Her version has some similarities to Stan Kelly's reconstruction The Quality of Mersey, which makes me wonder if there's any connection between that song and the Cruise of the Calabar.

The Leeds-Liverpool canal was built between 1770 and 1816, with a final connection to the Liverpool docks built in 1822, and was of massive importance supplying coal and other goods to the city, as well as taking goods from the port inland. (The canal has a special place in my own heart because I grew up right by it in Bootle.) The photo above shows a horse-drawn barge at Chisenhale Street Bridge in 1814 - it's astonishing how rural it looks, now long since swallowed up by the urban sprawl. The canal now stops short of Chisenhale Street, though you can still see the bridge over where the canal used to be.

In the Roud Folksong index, this is #1079

Sunday 11 November 2012

59: My Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier

Frank Kidson collected a verse ("I'll dye my petticoats, I'll dye them red") and the chorus of this song from Alfred Mooney, a railway clerk, who had heard it "walking in Scotland Road, behind a Liverpool basket-girl who with her companions was singing the verse to the tune". It was published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 2 No. 9, 1906. The song was published under the title of "Shule Agra", basically writing out in English syllables the Irish "Siúl a ghrá", which apparently means something like "Go, o love".

There are many Irish versions of this song; perhaps the most well known version today is the macaronic "Siúl a rúin", which has a full Irish chorus (the title is often rendered "Shule Aroon" in English). The nature of the war to which Johnny has gone is not always specified - for those looking to theorise sometimes it's said that he's gone to France. I'm not really prone to that kind of speculation, given that the song has a long history, with versions as early as the 17th century, so it's probably not wise to pin it to any particular war. It's not as though there there's a shortage of conflicts that have left people to weep for lost love. Whatever the songs origins, it has certainly travelled well, with a well-known American version "Buttermilk Hill". In the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Anne Gilchrist also notes the similarity to the American sea-shanty "Let the Bulgine Run"/"Eliza Lee".

The painting I've used above by Hugues Merle, "A girl with a basket of apples", and is from the Sudley House collection - I had a lot of trouble finding a suitable picture, so this one was chosen in tribute to the fact that this version song came from a basket-girl. Merle was French, so it might take a bit of imagination to mentally place this one singing an Irish song on Scotty Road, but do your best.

Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier/ Shule Agra/ Siúl a ghrá is #911 in the Roud folksong index.