(starting note and mode in brackets, 1 Ionian (major scale), 2 Dorian, 3 Phrygian, 4 Lydian, 5 Mixolydian, 6 Aeolian (minor scale); click on the title to view the lyrics in the archive)
Amongst the new mown hay (A2). The first couple of verses make this song sound like it is not going to have a happy ending, but by the end it all turns out well. Which is nice.
What's a labourer's lot in this country of freedom (C6). It was the sarcasm of the first verse that got me ('a gaol and a workhouse for all those who need them/what more does a labourer lack?').
Isle of beauty, fare thee well (E1). A little research reveals that this song (to another tune) was popular in Australia and America in the 19th century. The song is reputed by some to be the origin of the phrase 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'. The words even have a named author - Thomas Haynes Bayly. I have just watched a video on YouTube of a tune called 'Isle of Beauty' being played at the Remembrance Day service in 2009. I wrote my tune in complete ignorance of all of this.
Admiral's return (C5). This story song is just great. I love the way the shark slips into the lyric almost un-noticed right at the beginning.
On Compton Downs (F1). A simple tale of shepherds getting wet in the rain.
Jolly Shilling (D1). Just a jolly stupid drinking song.
Ripe and bearded barley (D3). September is my favourite month of the year, and these words invoke the season perfectly.
Joke and push about the pitcher (G4). A song about how you may as well stay up drinking until daybreak.
British man o'war (F6). This has a tune already (I am almost certain I have heard someone sing it somewhere or other, and it has now been put on the archive page). I've written another one.
Wiltshire labourers (D5). I love this kind of list song, no matter how hard they are to remember.
Farewell to Mary Ann (E5). I don't know why but I find this set of words almost unbearably moving.
By thy sweet silver light, bonny moon (G1). Something dark has gone down under that there moonlight ...
I'll weave him a garland (F4). The Lydian always threatens to go to the major key a fifth above (in this case C). I decided to give in to the strong C-ness of the chorus and just accept it.
Chain of gold (D4). This strange old father takes being protective of his daughter a little too far.
Hard times, come again no more (A1). 'Tis the song, the cry of the many.' So was it ever. It seems as if this song is actually American in origin, written by Stephen Foster. Emmy Lou Harris and Bob Dylan have recorded versions (and I've played the song live with Scott Gordon at the Half Moon in Oxford). Williams was well-known for collecting any songs that he heard people sing, whether they were 'authentically' English folk songs or not, a policy that annoyed other collectors but which I thoroughly approve of. The words as recorded in the Williams archive (and linked to here) seem to have been updated a few times, and are currently missing a verse, and boasting a garbled first line ('let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears/ while we all sup sorrow with the poor').
Deserter (A4). This is the song that opened up the Lydian mode for me.
Barley mow song (A3). For when you feel like you could drink the ocean.
Ram (A5). A song about a sheep. But not just any old sheep. Known elsewhere as 'The Derby Ram', this song is part of a genre some have taken to calling 'wonder songs' about prodigious specimens of nature. The words appear linked to the Appalachian tune 'Old Joe Clarke', who also owns a sheep similar to the subject of this song in various respects.
Jug of this (C2). I am sure there are already lots of versions of this kicking around. And now there is another one.
Deny no man his right (F3). I sang this one at Devises Folk Club and then Bob and Gill Berry sang their version. Bob then explained to me what a fustian coat is. There is a theory apparently that these words are due to Alfred Williams himself. I don't quite believe it (the repetition of 'wide' in the third verse is a little awkward and would be avoided by a poet I think). Rather, an authentic voice from the radical nineteenth century (which, note, was absolutely not suffragist).
Banks of the Nile (C3). William sounds very unkeen when Nancy offers to come away to war with him. I do wonder whether the hints of homo-eroticism I hear in the words are entirely anachronistic. Still, it all turns out alright in the end.
At seventeen I was young (C1). The first set of words I put music to. And one of my favourites. The story is missing a few details, which leads me to think there are more verses than found here, but whether they are lost to the mists of time I do not know. Somehow, it doesn't detract from the power of the song to me.
Down in the lowlands low (A6). Another one that has a tune already. The phrase appears in several songs that I am aware of, and there is a version of more or less the same song in Vaughn Williams and AL Lloyd's English Folk Songs (under the title 'Young Edwin in the Lowlands Low'). The music I have come up with is derived from a song I wrote about about a laundrette for my ska-punk band, 'Speed Queen'.
Springtime of the year (E2). 'I fondly strayed through the greenwood shade/In the springtime of the year'. Oh yes. Another one that Bob and Gill Berry have also written a tune to, and that provides the title of Bob's mother's album In Greenwood Shades.
Death and the maid (F2). The oldest story in the book. 'I'll give you all my gold in store/If you'll just let me have a few years more'. I have cut the final line of the song, which provided the whole story with what seemed to me a rather trite resolution ('so I died that I might live again').
Bold recruit (G5). An extremely moving set of lyrics, finely wrought to produce the desired effect. The character of Lysette is extremely well drawn, even though she only appears through her reactions to the singer's words.
Cuckoo (G6). These words, or various verses (especially the first) are sung to a variety of tunes in folk clubs all over the place. There is also an Appalachian tune called 'The Cuckoo' that I learnt from my banjo book, which despite the title and the first verse is mostly about playing cards. Since that one is in G minor, I wrote this one in G minor too.
Irish labourers (G2). This man seems to have so much to say that it all comes out a bit jumbled and compressed. The repeated 'sir' manages to be subservient and defiant at the same time.
Alderman and his servant (D6). Wherein Nancy demonstrates her nous.
Drunkard's farewell to his folly (E6). 'Farewell children with wry faces'. The genesis of the music was an attempt to write a reggae song in 3/2. Hasn't quite turned out that way, but this is currently one of my favourites of these songs to play and sing.
When we are homeward bound (D2). A song about sailors and their drinking and whoring.
Eynsham poaching song (E4). Having lived for a long time in Oxfordshire, I couldn't resist this song, even though I am sure it probably has a well-known tune already.
When morning stands on tiptoe (C4). At Devizes folk club one week, someone sang these words to two different tunes, none of which (thank goodness) sound like mine. It is the first line that struck me (as it did Williams, it seems), but I suppose I couldn't pretend to have captured anything like a picture of rural life without one song about hunting.
False hearted William (E3). Wherein William regrets being such a bastard to Polly. I have excised the final verse - two suicides in one song is a bit much really.
If it hadn't been for one (G3). The title in the Williams archive (derived from the first line of the first verse, which I have excised) is 'I'm a Pretty Wench', which I'm not keen on, but the song itself captures beautifully a particular kind of keen and slightly desperate desire. I'm not sure how the carter manages to keep his breath smelling as 'sweet as a rose' despite drinking 'strong ale, beer, and wine' and smoking 'tobacco as you may suppose', but that's the power of love I guess.
Music and wine (F5). Yep, that about sums it up.