Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick
01 : The Sheepstealer
02 : The Poacher
03 : I Courted a Damsel
04 : Lucy Wan
05 : The Trip We Took Over the Mountain
06 : The Skewbald
07 : The Ride in the Creel
08 : The Brown Girl
09 : Such a War Has Never Been
10 : Perfumes of Arabia
11 : Carthy’s Reel / The Return to Camden Town
12 : The New Mown Hay
13 : Clyde’s Water
14 : Mrs. Bermingham / No. 178 / Blind Mary
First released on CD in the UK 1992 by Special Delivery Records SPDCD1046 (CD) and SPDC1046 (cassette)
CD re-issued circa 1994 by Topic Records TSCD492
Martin Carthy: guitar, vocals
Dave Swarbrick: fiddle, mandolin
Recorded at Ideal Sound Recorders, London, May 1992.
Engineered by Dave Kenny
Mastered by Tim Young at The Hit Factory, London
Photography by Gary Compton
Cover design by Tony Eagle
All tracks Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy / Dave Swarbrick except:
05: Martin Carthy / Dave Swarbrick / Savourna Stevenson
09: Lyrics: Les Barker / Melody: Martin Carthy
10: Maggie Holland
14: Turloch O’Carolan arr. Martin Carthy
Sing a song of sixpence was never like this, and in another sense, neither, as a rule, are songs on this subject. There are two songs called The Sheep Stealer, a great angry show of defiance with a nasty streak a mile wide, and this one, which is a fragment from a woman calied Mrs Woodberry in Somerset, to which I have added a verse to give it an ending, and its atmosphere of rumbustious idiocy marks it out among songs on the subject, which generally share the bleaker more sombre tones of The Poacher, written down by Vaughan Williams from a Mrs Joiner just outside St Albans. Apparently the majority of people transported for poaching were first offenders, caught whiie hunting in order to feed hungry possibly starving families. Certainly that is the impression left by this song – indeed the stink of entrapment hangs heavy in the air as do the presently celebrated (in some quarters) Victorian values, which insist that the victim’s “very large family” survive, in modern terms, on roughly half a dozen bread loaves, after which, nothing. Percy Grainger recorded the melody for I Courted a Damsel from the great Joseph Taylor, and the words are from various sources. I learned it from Bill Prince, who had it from a woman he calls a songfinder extraordinary, whose name is Michelle Soinne. Lucy Wan is from A. L. ‘Bert’ Lloyd. The song is one of those rare birds in the British Isles tradition which deals with the great taboo of incest, and it does so bluntly and succinctly. The attitude in most parts of our society is still one of hiding and not talking about it as evinced in the very recent BBC decision to cut love scenes from the Australian soap opera “Neighbours” between actors playing a half brother and sister. I remember when I first started singing the song twenty five years ago, a friend who was a social worker – very excited at hearing a song on the subject – telling me that of all the problems he had to deal with, incest was far and away the most common, and any attempt to move discussion into the mainstream is still firmly resisted. The tune is one of the type that Bert favoured, being cast in one of the very unusual modes. I have not the slightest idea where Bert got it, or indeed if he made it up, but I declare that I don’t give a toss, because the feel it generates is, for me, unforgettable (sounds like a cue for a song).
The descant part of The Trip We Took Over the Mountain is the work of the driving and imaginative harpist Savourna Stevenson, who finds it considerably easier to play on her many many strings than Dave does on his mere four. Well that’s what he always moans on about. Good tune though. The Skewbald is another one from Bert Lloyd. The saying on this side of the Atlantic among the horseracing fraternity which goes “one white sock you may try him / two white socks don’t deny him / three white socks never buy him”, which has its Kentucky counterpart, was the reason why punters in Co. Kildare were so disdainful of this ‘Circus Horse’ – Skewbald horses being of course a veritable whitesock supermarket. And all on four legs. The event must have rise to songs in the USA as well, and it was Leadbelly’s version that I heard sung (heavily adapted as was his wont) by Lonnie Donegan in the mid-1950s.
Francis James Child wrote in his notes to The Ride in the Creel, “no-one looks for decorum in pieces of this sort, but a passage in this ballad, which need not be particularized, is brutal and shameless almost beyond example”. He didn’t relish the prospect of nosy parents being treated with such a lack of respect. Noses put well out of joint – and a few other things beside. Same in The Brown Girl, but informed by real anger. She’s thrilling, desirable, wanted – in fact fine and dandy, but only up to a point. When push comes to shove, though, the fact that he blows hot and cold then hot again, fuels a fury in her that is awesome to behold. No pity for the pitiless (and why should she). The tune is from the Sharp MS and called Sweet Kitty.
Les Barker is far better known as a writer of comic pieces and spoofs whose other side is not so often acknowledged. I put a tune to Such a War Has Never Been which itself grew from the experience of seeing on TV the first TV war, fought with prime time in mind. Likewise, Perfumes of Arabia, written by Maggie Holland, who since striking out on her own has become a remarkable songwriter. Carthy’s Reel is nothing to do with me. Dave and I heard it played by one of the younger Glacklin Brothers on fiddle on a compilation, and I found The Return to Camden Town in, of all places, a book of guitar tunes – and it’s a tune filled with all sorts of surprises.
Percy Grainger ought in fact to have opened something of a can of worms when he started using recording techniques in his song gathering, but others, after tinkering with the idea and making a few recordings, put the lid back on and the can back in the cupboard. Among the recordings that have survived is this version of The New Mown Hay sung probably by Mr Alfred Edghill and recorded by Cecil Sharp. The rest of the verses are from here and there.
Clyde’s Water is an astonishing song of iron parental control. There is no question of the iron fist being encased in a velvet glove – the glove too is made of iron. I don’t think I have ever heard a song so relentless or so pared down. The tune comes from Christie’s MS with grateful thanks to Ethel Raim.
Dave has always had an eye and ear for the more unusual tune, and in the works of the blind Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan are to be found quite a few. Mrs Bermingham is one of several pieces which he dedicated to her and it hides all sorts of little melodic and harmonic surprises about its person. The more you look the more you find. No. 178 is one of the pieces which he never bothered to name, and Blind Mary was named for a fellow harpist and soul mate of that name, a wonderfully simple and expressive piece.
Martin Carthy, June 1992