Supper Songs


We recorded this selection of songs in the summer of 2008, the evening before Ed headed off overland to Mongolia. It was an all night, fairly inebriated affair, with our good friend Shlauff engineering.  Ed managed to leave in time the next morning, and we had a little CD to trumpet ourselves with.

To hear the recordings, please do click for more.

Harvest Song

This song is from the Eastern counties of England, and recounts the harvest as a time of full community involvement, with many hands working together to provide for all.

It is considered a part of the ritual of gratitude that would follow the harvest’s completion, but we feel this view valorises the past. A good song at harvest is always sung in gratitude, and also in simple celebratory joy and wild mirth, without a mask of solemn ritual humility. The ‘heritage’ explanation of this song’s purpose gives excessive emphasis to its being a deliberate and considered religious tool, and shows insufficient awareness of the ubiquity of the ritual element in singing today.

Likewise, theories talk of this song’s ‘harvest horn’ as a lost tool of ceremonial origin. We feel it probably had the same dual ritual/practical role that a good shout does today, being an effective and satisfying way to awaken drowsy workers.

We learned this song from a version recorded by the Waterson family, which was played to us by a fellow in Hampshire. We have since found that our lyrical version deviates from its source, as a result of mis-hearing. The results are satisfyingly enriching in the song’s narrative. We are now pondering the evolutionary significance of blocked ears, as a vital crux of the oral tradition.

This song’s tune is poly-morphous, adaptable, and happily exists with other lyrics attached. We have adapted it to many occasions, with lines like ‘as we celebrate la belle sophie’s birthday’ and ‘as he smokes the kohibar’ working well.

Grey Funnel Line

This again is twentieth century song, but we feel is undeniably ‘folk’. It is borne of an individual’s emotional response to a situation that must be undergone. This song describes life in the Royal Navy. The song-title is a bluejacket’s (sailor’s) nickname for the RN. We find it an absolute pleasure to lean back and let this song soar. Its sweetness causes regular comment.

“Oh yeah, butter wouldn’t melt in your mouths, boys”.

Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

This song laments and celebrates the cycle of young men going away to sea. It is best known as a Copper-Song, as it was maintained by the family singing traditions of the Copper Family, of Rottingdean. It was last revived in the 1960s by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, on their seminal ‘Folk Songs of Olde England’ LP.

The Diggers’ Song

We learned this song in a fireside night off the Ridgeway path. Performing it is necessarily an episode of wild gesture and shaken fist, and can cause a degree of alarm.

Written in 1649 by Gerrard Winstanley, this is a political song, seeking recognition for the plight of the Diggers’ cause. The Diggers were active during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, and Winstanley was their leader and spokesman. They were people unwilling to pay the taxes needed by the state to pursue civil warfare. They squatted and farmed wastelands, built little communities, and probably sang.

Priests and Landlords sent wave after wave of militia to pull down their houses, to uproot their crops, to smash these people down. The Diggers were notoriously non-violent, and lasted only two years before dispersing.
This song, and their message, survives them.

“The power of enclosing land and owning property was brought into the creation by your ancestors by the sword; which first did murder their fellow creatures, men, and after plunder or steal away their land, and left this land successively to you, their children. And therefore, though you did not kill or thieve, yet you hold that cursed thing in your hand by the power of the sword; and so you justify the wicked deeds of your fathers, and that sin of your fathers shall be visited upon the head of you and your children to the third and fourth generation, and longer too, till your bloody and thieving power be rooted out of the land.”
(Winstanley, A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England)

“When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”

Fiddler’s Green

This is technically a song of the modern era, but exists in the national consciousness happily alongside its older brethren. Written by John Connelly, it discusses the sailor’s paradise, which sits somewhere beyond the winds, where fishermen dance and drink on tranquil seas. This song is popular with 8 year olds and sea-dogs alike.

John Barleycorn

This song tells the life cycle of barley. It can be dated to the early 1600s, and is an anthem of the English Folk scene, and an iconic symbol of its links to paganism and ale.

Such associations have a mixed past. Theorists assert that this song was propagated by the Saxon Church, its function being to ease the transference of Anglo-Saxon pantheism toward the newly arisen Christianity. Its lyrics use recognizable pagan symbols: the nature cycle; vegetation spirits; the sacrifice and renewal of a divine king…but it is bound to a single central figure, the Christ-like John Barleycorn. Robbie Burns also re-wrote it, infusing its lyrics with Masonic symbolism. It has also been cited academically as evidence for national Vegetation Cults, to prove the speculations of Frazer’s Golden Bough.
drinkingmanIt seems to have been a propaganda vehicle for many causes, with success for each. We have found that when we sing it, we attract cattle, a phenomenon open for interpretation.

The “beat-boxing” on this recording was a one-off novelty, and represents the type of baseless modernization that traditionalists suffer with every new generation of folk singer.

8 Responses to “Supper Songs”

  1. Val Mellor says:

    I heard the Ramblings programme on Radio 4 today.
    The quite magical sound of Ed and Will singing in the Kennet Longbarrow was so wonderful I had to pull over and listen.
    More power to you lads.
    I also would love a tape of your music and do you plan any gigs?

  2. Arwen says:

    Wow what a joy to hear those songs – and to hear of your fabulous journey too. It’s fantastic that there’s still folk around like the three of you, that gives hope. Thank you, guys!

  3. W B Barratt says:

    How can I purchase your tape please

  4. Helen says:

    Enjoyed listening to your songs and hope you rekindle more traditional folk song sessions on your travels.

  5. Matt Allison says:

    Good luck to ‘ee sonnies with your traypsing and rambling about and singing – ’tis a treat to hear ye.

  6. richard says:

    go boys go uplifting!

  7. john brereton says:

    I read a report of your journey in the saturday Telegraph and thought what a great idea. In these times when to be british and perticularly English is frowned upon by our unelected masters in Brussels it’s refreshing to see 3 young chaps maintaining and restoring a little bit of English tradition in such a unique way . Good luck to you !

  8. Mel Pitts says:

    Grey Funnel Line is by Cyril Tawney – I’m sure you knew already.

    You might like to try his “Sally Free and Easy” and “Sammy’s Bar” as well.

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