Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick
01 : Ship in Distress
02 : Banks of Sweet Primroses
03 : Jack Orion
04 : Matt Hyland
05 : White Hare
06 : Lord of the Dance
07 : Poor Murdered Woman
08 : Creeping Jane
09 : Streets of Forbes
10 : Long Lankin
11 : Brass Band Music
First released in the UK 1968 by Fontana Records STL 5477
Re-issued by Fontana Records (date unknown – probably early 1970s) under the title “Tales Of Long Ago” 6857013
Re-issued 1977 by Topic Records 12TS343
CD issued 1994 by Topic Records TSCD343
Martin Carthy: vocals, guitar
Dave Swarbrick: fiddle, mandolin
All tracks Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy except:
03: Traditional, adapt. A.L. Lloyd
06: Traditional, arr. Sydney Carter
11: Leon Rosselson
The Ship in Distress was the subject of a parody by Thackeray, which itself is sung frequently in folk song clubs, Little Billie, but the sense of the song is the same. Becalmed for days and out of food the crew of a ship draw lots for which of them shall die and serve as food for the rest to give some of them a last chance of survival. One is selected, and while keeping his last watch before his death, is delivered by the sight of a rescue ship.
Learned from Australian singer Trevor Lucas, The Banks of Sweet Primroses has been described as one of the most perfect of English folk songs. It has been collected all over southern England, nearly always in forms closely approximated, or at least related to, this version. In its idyllic setting of fresh air, flowers and green grass, it is the happiest and most optimistic song I have yet to come across.
A.L. Lloyd has done exceptional work in many fields, especially, to my mind, in knocking into singable shape songs that were lost in tradition, but have attractive and not to say very powerful story lines. Jack Orion is such a one. It is a reworking of the ballad Glasgerion or Glenkindie, and has a story not unlike the sea song Domeama, but more detailed and with an exceedingly violent end. The song in its traditional form was, according to evidence at our disposal not very widespread, which serves to highlight one of the curious features of the folk revival, that, is, the many songs which were not at all common in tradition are very commonly sung in the revival and vice versa.
Matt Hyland is an Irish song which I first heard three or four years ago from a Scots girl singer Christine Stewart who had leaned it from an Irish singer Al O’Donnell. Since that time I tried to find the words, but without success, until a singer at the Prestwick club in Scotland gave me the words at a ceilidh. In return I can’t even remember his name for which I am sorry, but thank him very much anyway.
White Hare was collected by the composer Percy Grainger during his trip to Lincolnshire armed with phonograph recording equipment, from his finest singer informant, Joseph Taylor: likewise Creeping Jane. The former is the story of the hunting and killing of an elusive hare and the latter is about a horse race where Jane, given no chance whatsoever of winning by the pundits, thrashes her luckless rival.
Sydney Carter is probably the most prolific song writer in the revival, and never seems to be satisfied with his work. He is forever chopping verses around and altering them, sometimes going through torment over single words, but it seems to work well. One song which, as far as I can tell, he seems satisfied with is Lord of the Dance, set to a tune which is adapted from a Shaker hymn, The Gift To Be Simple. It reflects, I think, his attitude to the life and natural processes in general, an attitude which, as it so happens, I share.
The Poor Murdered Woman Laid on the Cold Ground is a fairly short and simple song which describes what I can only describe as a non-event, but it is the kind of song to which I am attracted, as having a lot more underneath it than is at first obvious. No one know who this woman is, nor where she comes from, but everyone nonetheless is stirred to action.
Ben Hall was probably the most notorious of all Australian bushrangers. Driven out of his home by brute force the took to the bush and for many years was the terror of the countryside. However, eventually he and two of his partners, John Gibson and John Dunn, decided to give up and to try and make a fresh start in America. To this end they split up, arranging to meet at the boat sailing for America, but on the road Hall was waylaid by police with aboriginal trackers and shot, and his body with his feet tied to the stirrups of this horse was dragged through the streets of Forbes to show the inhabitants that he was finally dead. Collectors named the song The Streets of Forbes but to traditional singers it was know simply as The Death of Ben Hall.
Long Lankin was the subject of an extensive essay Anne Gilchrist in EFDSS Vol. 1 no. 1, where she noted how the song has developed in two distinct forms. The first which she titles Lamkin, the Wronged Mason, is the Scottish version and the second, found from Northumberland to the south coast of England, she called Longkin, the Border Ruffian, but, she says, the second might have arisen from the first when the verse was lost as the motives appear to be the same, ie. revenge. The version here, from the second stream, is from the singing of Ben Butcher, with an expanded text which itself was largely from the singing of a nun, Sister Emma of Clewer, Bucks. It has been suggested that Lankin was indeed a leper seeking to cure himself by bathing in the blood of an innocent, which was often believed to be successful, but attractive (if that is the word) though his idea may seem, I myself incline the view that it is a simple “bogeyman” song, for, after all, if children have bogeymen, why not adults? They just call them by different names nowadays, “neurotic fancies” et al. Indeed, according again to Anne Gilchrist, until a few years ago a mother near Whittle Dean, Northumberland, had but to go outside, shake a bunch of keys, and cry “There’s Long Lankin!” to recall her straying children at nightfall.
Money, and the failure of people to handle it is the subject of Leon Rosselson’s song Brass Band Music. It was inspired by the Louis MacNeice poem Bagpipe Music.
Martin Carthy, 1968