I released an album of songs from the traditional British folk repertoire in December 2018 & I’m really proud of it. I thought I would tell you the stories behind the songs. Heritage is not necessarily something you can touch but it is something you can experience through tradition. I find that there is a reward from taking part in tradition; it’s joining in with history, it’s finding out where you are from where your relatives came from. Some folk come from living musical tradition, an everyday family culture of singing & playing going back generations. I’m a revivalist; my family have no musical tradition. I learn songs from records & from songbooks. Many folk practitioners are revivalists & there is nothing wrong with that.
So this song is appropriate to start my record off with because it was what started Cecil Sharp’s folk song collecting career. Cecil Sharp was an English musician who was very much at the heart of the English folk song revival of the early 20th century. He collected thousands from songs from singers in the countryside of England & also took trips to Appalacia in America to do the same. He would listen to a singer & transcribe the melody & lyric very swiftly; he was a very talented man.
The foundation myth is that Sharp was a guest of a friend in Somerset & heard the gardener singing this song & this is how he became fascinated in English folk song. More prosaically, he had actually taken the trip down to Somerset with the intention of collecting songs & his host knew his gardener was a singer who sang in pubs & at events in the area.
The gardener was called John England. Which seems strangely appropriate. It is a beautiful song with a sense of coded lyricism. I first heard it at a singaround in the bar at Cecil Sharp House in Primrose Hill & it was love at first listen.
If you want to hear more of the album this link will take you to places you can listen to it.