1967 : Byker Hill

Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick

01 : The Man of Burnham Town
02 : The Fowler
03 : Gentleman Soldier
04 : Brigg Fair
05 : The Bloody Gardener
06 : The Barley Straw
07 : Byker Hill
08 : Davy Lowston
09 : Our Captain Cried All Hands
10 : Domeama
11 : The Wife of the Soldier
12 : John Barleycorn
13 : Lucy Wan
14 : The Bonny Black Hare

First released in the UK 1967 by Fontana Records STL 5434

Re-issued by Fontana Records (date unknown – probably early 1970s) under the title “Brigg Fair” 6857010

Re-issued 1977 by Topic Records 12TS342

CD issued 1991 by Topic Records TSCD342

Byker Hill MA0072

Also released on CD in South Korea with reproduction cardboard LP sleeve, Obi strip and paper insert by Media Arte KR Records MA0072

Martin Carthy: vocals, guitar
Dave Swarbrick: fiddle, mandolin

Produced by Terry Brown
1-4, 7, 9, 10, 13 & 14: Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy
5 & 8: Traditional, arr. A.L. Lloyd
6 & 12: Traditional. arr. Martin Carthy / Dave Swarbrick
11: Bertold Brecht

Sleeve Notes:

There are usually pretty savage recriminations in folk song against wives who stray from the “straight and narrow” but rarely, if ever, stories of the reverse happening. Normally when men “stray” it is a huge joke and the cue for drinks all round: this is not to say that the songs are not good – some are superb. The Man of Burnham Town was collected from Harry Cox by E.J. Moeran in 1922 and the tune is one which keeps you on tenterhooks until the last to find the root note.

The Fowler or The Shooting of His Dear is another song from the Norfolk collection of E.J. Moeran with an additional verse. It seems curious that Child should have passed over this song when compiling his English and Scottish Popular Ballads as he undoubtedly knew of its existence. Perhaps he felt himself more than usually guided by the opinions of notable predecessors like Jamieson who called it a “silly ditty” and “one of the very lowest of vulgar modern English ballads” and “paltry stuff” before stating his apology for printing it. To be fair, it is in a very confused state. Anne Gilchrist in the journal of the Folksong Society (number 26) points to many tales, Hessian, Celtic, Scandinavian, and French, telling of girls or milk-white doves or swan maidens who can only be released from enchantment by death. Some have the girls resuming human form at night (Swan Lake is an obvious close relative). It would seem that a less blurred version of the ballad might have the young man coming upon the maiden at sunset, about to undergo the transformation from swan to maiden, thus doing away with the need for the “apron” rationalisation in the last verse. Miss Gilchrist goes further to suggest that in the alternative title “dear” has become confused with “deer” and that “fountains of snow” could possibly have been “fawn, white as snow”. She concludes “Molly Bawn (as she is known in some versions) is no kingless waif of vulgar balladry, but her ultimate ancestry may be left to folklorists to trace…”

Gentleman Soldier is an example of the husband’s infidelity seeming unimportant. People in countries occupied by the British for centuries may well have wished that her soldiery had acted in a similar way to this guard more often; indeed stories and legends abound in which the attention of a guard is diverted by a beautiful woman with drastic consequences. The lady in this song, however, seems to have no altruistic motives; she seemed to be minding her own business. Collected in Sussex.

When Percy Grainger first went up to Lincolnshire in the early days of field recording (he was one of the first in England to use recording techniques in the collection of folksong) one of the men he recorded was a beautiful singer by the name of Joseph Taylor. Among the many songs taken down on the wax cylinders was Brigg Fair, slightly pensive but very happy. Mr Taylor subsequently became one of the first of the traditional (or “field”) singers to have recordings issued by a commercial recording company; he has great subtlety, beautiful timing, and, despite of his old age, a fine clear voice.

A.L. Lloyd first ‘discovered’ The Bloody Gardener in a Vauxhall Gardens songbook of c. 1770, but it did appear in several broadsides in a form very close to the one sung here. It is curious that the ballad has not attracted more attention among scholars, for the story contains very old folkloric notions. Curious too that such a primitive-fantasy song should have been sufficiently popular in 18th century pleasure gardens to have earned a place in the annual printed songbook.

Besides being the obvious mound, The Barley Straw is also the name given to the love-knot made of wearing stalks of barley bound together. There are Scottish versions of the song (such as Davy Faa) and the theme is related to stories of the King Jameses of Scotland who used to relax by going around the countryside dressed as a beggar (it is alleged) calling on young girls while their men were out in the fields and leaving assorted children dotted about the place. This version was recorded by Peter Kennedy from the singing of Harry Cox.

The tune of Byker Hill sung here is not the one sung traditionally. It is a Northumbrian dance tune in 9/8, unusual in that instead of being divided into three threes as are most other 9/8 tunes, it is divided in three twos and one three and appropriately called the Drunken Piper. The words are an amalgam of a version I learned years ago while playing with the Thameside Four, and the version sung by A.L. Lloyd.

New Zealand has not as yet been notable for producing good songs – most Antipodean songs are from Australia – but Davy Lowston is a New Zealand song about the seal hunters who, each season, go down into the Antarctic. It is a remarkable song in several ways; firstly because it underlines the difference between reading a song on a piece of paper and actually singing it; secondly in its brevity; and also because it uncovers and encompasses more in four verses than do many songs with several times that number.

The tune of Our Captain Cried All Hands was noted down by Vaughan Williams and slightly adapted to John Bunyan’s famous hymn He who would Valiant be. James Reeves, in his notes to the song In the Everlasting Circle, suggests that the song may at one time have been converted for religious use (in much the same way that the Salvation Army converted Oh, No John to Oh, Yes Lord) which would possibly explain the rather confusing last verse which suggests a voyage into Eternity rather than a simple naval expedition. Lucy Broadwood has cited a broadside entitled The Welcome Sailor as a possible literary origin of the song.

When sailors were away on long voyages, the various deprivations must have put them under a colossal strain, but their imaginations appear to have been equal to it even if their bodies sometimes weren’t. The mind at work on Domeama smacks strongly of seafaring, Chaucer, or Decameron and indeed it has a basic similarity with the English ballad Glasgerion. There is probably no direct connection between this and Domeama as the theme is very old and very widespread. It is, incidentally, the only song I have ever learned on one hearing only (without the aid of tape-recorder or pencil and paper). I’ve tried since but to no avail.

The Wife of the Soldier was written by Bertolt Brecht and comes from his play The good soldier Schwejk. This is a shortened version which I first heard recited by Isla Cameron to music by jazz flautist/saxist Johnny Scott when we were doing Hallelujah for ABC TV a couple of years ago. The music that Johnny wrote and played stuck in my head until Dave and I decided to record it at a moment’s notice (without asking his permission – I hope he doesn’t mind).

A.L. Lloyd in the Penguin Book of English Folksong points out that if John Barleycorn is a folklore survival of the ancient myth of death and resurrection of the Corn God, it is remarkable if only for its coherence, but, he says, it could be the work of some more recent writer which was somehow absorbed into the tradition. It is certainly powerful enough to be the former but also quaint enough (not to use the word in its pejorative sense) to be the latter. It might be interesting to speculate further of the three men coming from the West (sunset – the place of death?) bringing with them the promise of live (for no matter what they do they succeed only in giving John Barleycorn new life and the Three Wise Men coming from the East (sunrise – the place of life?) to see Jesus, bringing as gifts the promise of death. It is found all over the British Isles; this version was taken down in Bampton, Oxfordshire, by Cecil Sharp.

There is a rather dreamlike ballad called Two Brothers in which two start wrestling in play and one is accidentally stabbed by the other’s dagger and dies. Earlier versions suggest that in fact the brothers were quarrelling over possession of a bit of lad, but in earlier versions still the implication is that they were each jealous of their sister. The bloodstained killer is interrogated and at first makes evasive answers but finally confesses to the deed. In the ballad called Edward also the young man makes excuses about the bloodstains on his clothes but eventually admits to having killed his brother after an argument about the “breaking of a little bush that should have been a tree” – this was explained to Cecil Sharp as meaning the de-flowering of a girl. Lucy Wan is close to the form of the original story in which the two later ballads are based. It is a powerful reflection of the intuitive (or neurotic) horror of incest so persistent in the primitive mind. The dialogue form of the ballad is very ancient; likewise the curious rigid tune, in Fa or Lydian mode. Possibly the tune came to us from Ireland where the Fa mode is more common than in England but in any case belongs to the general old European stock of melodies (although Fa is now very uncommon except in parts of Spain, one district in Slovakia, and some Cantons of Switzerland) and there is reason to believe that in former times it was the general peasant mode par excellence. A.L. Lloyd, from whom the song was learned, says that in the course of singing it over some thirty years he has emphasised the Lydian starkness of the tune and has also mildly adapted the original (and somewhat scrappy) text.

The notion of identifying intercourse with ordnance, as in The Bonny Black Hare, is as old as Cupid with his bow and arrow. Just as old is the intuition connecting the images of love and hunting, as in the jokey southern counties song called The Furze Field. Restoration bucks were fond of making songs on this theme but were only annexing an ancient (perhaps sacred) piece of folk symbology. The song seems rare although it has been reported in an unmistakably British form in upper Arkansas. This version was collected from an Irish labourer, Mr Morrow, at Walberswick, Suffolk, in 1938. His tune is a member of the widespread melody family called Lough Lein but his rhythm was not very clear. Some versions he sang in a standard 9/8 (3 3 3) others a bit curtailed into a ‘mixed’ 8/8 (3 2 3).

Martin Carthy, 1967
with additional material by A.L. Lloyd

3 Responses to 1967 : Byker Hill

  1. […] tracks from all five 1960s Carthy & Swarbrick albums but the track selection somewhat favours Byker Hill from 1967 (three tracks) and Prince Heathen from 1969 (four tracks). And unlike the Pegasus album, […]

  2. […] Bonny Black Hare Done to great effect with Swarb on the 1967 “Byker Hill” album and still (very) occasionally included in their live […]

  3. […] is an August 2015 release of Martin’s 1967 Byker Hill album from Media Arte Records and rather than being from Japan this was issued in South Korea. […]

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