I have been a working musician for over 20 years now. Music from the British folk tradition has been a constant companion. I grew up in a small market town in East Dorset called Wimborne Minster which has a well established folk festival, a calendar event which started when I was a child. Folk music was part of the everyday experience.
As a young adult I would listen to Fairport Convention, Trees, Mellow Candle & The Pogues alongside Bowie, Nirvana, Neu & Aphex Twin. Catholic tastes.
It has always been normal for me to enjoy music inspired by, or from the tradition alongside music from other genres.
I have run a monthly folklore society in the upstairs room of a pub in Borough for 7 or 8 years & through the talks I have heard or given I have gained a deep love of the lore of the land which in turn has deepened my relationship with the music from the tradition.
My new album, Constant Companion, is out now. It is a collection of songs from the British repertoire which I have heard in clubs or on records or found in song collections. These songs found there way into my life & keep me company.
1 Seeds Of Love
I first heard this at Sharps, the singaround in the bar at Cecil Sharp House; which is appropriate as this is the first song he collected. He got it from a Somerset gardener called John English in 1903.
2 Lovely Joan
Another song I heard first at Sharps, when Alison Frosdick sang a version. I used the Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L.Lloyd “Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs” as a reference when coming up with an arrangement. This is an invaluable book which countless folk before me have referred to.
3 Bruton Town
Like many folk I first came across this tune from the definitive Pentangle version. Bert Jansch & John Renbourn continue to be inspirational. I saw Bert at the 12 Bar on Denmark Street in 1995 & it was as formative as the first time I saw The Pogues.
4 Matty Groves
Liege & Lief is one of my favourite Fairport Convention albums & this was my favourite song on it. It pretty much has everything an English folk song could have. Love, class, snobbery, hunting, murder, grief & a tragic ending. Perfection.
5 Dick Turpin
I picked this up from the Marrow Bones book which is a collection of songs from the Hammond & Gardner Manuscripts. It was originally collected in Hampshire in the early 20th century. It manages to make Dick Turpin into a romantic hero as opposed to the actual highwayman who was unpleasant.
6 Death & The Lady
I heard this at the Goose Is Out Singaround in Nunhead many moons ago. Nygel Packet sang it & I went home & found it in “The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs”. It haunts me.
7 Constant Billy
I love William Kimber & learned this popular Morris tune from a recording of him.
8 The Cruel Mother
A difficult song. Some folk songs fall out of the regular repertoire as culture changes & this one is not often played. I included it as the folklorist in me wonders whether this song has echoes of Anglo-Saxon revenant tales. Cultural history is like gossamer & sometimes the traces are left in the less trod byways.
9 Robin Hood & The Pedlar
Another from “The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs”. It’s a waltz in the book but it migrated into 4/4 over the years I have been playing it. I’ve probably changed the tune too but the words are the same. So that’s something.
10 Souling Song
About 5 years ago I picked up the Watersons’ “Frost & Fire” album & it has travelled all over the place with me. It is a calendar of ritual & magical songs. This song was sung by children in the midlands before Halloween while begging for food to make a cake. The cake was for the dead who would return to life at that time & roam around their villages as revenants looking for food.
11 The Wanton Seed
This is the kind of traditional country song that the Victorian prudes could not assimilate into their “Merrie England” worldview.
12 The True Enlightenment
Doctor Dee, Elizabethan court advisor, magician & possibly spy. Used to sign his name 007. Through his cunning man, Edward Kelly, he talked to angels.
13 Ratcliffe Highway
A 19th century East London ode to sailors, booze & wilful misunderstanding
14 The Astrologer
I found this in the Marrow Bones collection & ran with it. It’s quite a rarity, only a few collectors found it over the years. There are more broadsides of it though. The dorian modality suits a blues riff so that’s what I did.
15 Dirty Old Town
I first heard this Ewan MacColl song on a Pogues record & it got stuck in my head. It’s still stuck in my head. Ewan MacColl was a great songwriter.
16 Shepton Beachamp Wassail
I got this from a Collins collection of English folksongs published in the early 1980s. It’s a South Somerset visiting song.
17 Poison In A Glass Of Wine
Jealousy & murder to a disturbingly jolly tune.
18 Soft Estate
Many is the time I drive on the A31 from Ringwood as it melds into M27 then M3 & remember the shrine by the road which literally said “SHRINE” in meter tall floral arrangements. It was there for years & years. A few years back I was just driving through the Twyford Down cutting near Winchester & this song came into my head. I had to turn off the M3 & stop near Arlesford & record the words onto my phone. It’s funny how songs can sometimes appear fully formed.
19 Willie O Winsbury
The first recorded version of Willie O’Winsbury was by Andy Irvine in 1968 on the Sweeney’s Men eponymous album. According to Andy; “This is Child 100. I collected the words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101. I’m not sure if this is true but it’s a good story”. It is rumoured that Andy wrote the tune himself. I wouldn’t be surprised as the man is a genius.
If you are around on Wednesday 12th December I am having a free album launch party from 7pm at Shortwave Cafe, Clements Road, Bermondsey, SE16 4DG. It’s going to be a singaround so if you want to sing a song or play a tune you are very welcome.
Music Folklore Magic
Hi George. I traverse the Peak district stone circles, cairns and barrows and holloways and have just come across your music via Folk radio. This music speaks to me in bucket loads and I look forward to your new album. I also love the same bands and artists that influenced you in your earlier years and I have copies of the books you namecheck in several of your songs. All the best to you for 2019.