For many of us of a certain age, Britain's great folk music revival in the middle of the 20th century couldn't have come at a better time. For me, growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, the "electric folk" music of the era was the gateway drug that lead to a deeper exploration of folk music in general, and thence to the adjacent fields of folklore, folk dance, folk drama, and the like. I stumbled upon my first folk album (Steeleye Span's Hark! The Village Wait) in the sale bin of a record store in a depressed Pennyslvania steel town at the age of 13. What it was doing in that improbable place I'll never know -- but the cover intrigued me, I took it home and was hooked by the very first song. In those isolated, pre-Internet days, it was difficult to seek other music like it, or even to know if there was other music like it...but over the next few years I managed to find my way to Pentangle, Fairport Convention, The Albion Country Band, The Watersons, June Tabor, and the rest. I learned what a Child Ballad was. I discovered Cecil Sharp and the English Folk Dance and Song Society; and, through Sharp, the American folk tradition. Thus a chance album discovery grew into a life-long love of folk music in all of its permutations.
If you, too, remember, the Sixties/Seventies folk revival fondly, I recommend Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music by Bob Young (Faber & Faber 2011). The book documents the history of British folk music through the 20th century, with information ranging from insights of music scholarship and historical context to pure gossip about who was sleeping with/living with/working with/feuding with whom. It's a lengthy volume, and rambles a bit, but I found it engrossing nonetheless...reminding me of a bands and musicians I'd long forgotten, and introducing me to some new ones too.
Okay now, on to this morning's music....
Above: "A Calling On Song" by Steeleye Span (Ashley Hutching, Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Terry Woods, and Gay Woods), from their first album, Hark! The Village Wait (1970). As the album notes explain: "Songs similar to this one are used by the leaders of rapper and long sword dance teams to preface the dancing and to drum up a crowd. The duration of these songs depended on how long it took for a satisfactory audience to assemble. It was customary to introduce each member of the team as the son of a famous person such as Bonaparte, Nelson, Wellington, etc. This, however is our own 'calling-on', the tune and the basis for the words coming from the captain's song of the Earsdon Sword Dance Team."
Below: "The Lark in the Morning," also from Hark! The Village Wake, performed live in 1971. (Martin Carthy and Peter Knight had replaced the Woods as band members shortly after the album was released.) This version of the song was collected in Sussex by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904.
Above: A live performance of "Hunting Song" by Pentangle (Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson, and Terry Cox), filmed for a BBC television production in 1970. The song, adapted from 13th century Arthurian narratives, appeared on Pentangle's second album, A Basket of Light (1969).
Below: A live performance of "Willy O Winsbury" by Pentangle, filmed for a Granada television production in 1972. The song is Child Ballad #100, and appeared on Pentangle's fifth album, Solomon's Seal (1972).
Above: "The Famous Flower of Serving Men" (Child Ballad #106 ) sung by Martin Carthy, from his solo album Shearwater (1972). Delia Sherman's first novel, Through a Brazen Mirror, was inspired by the ghostly song, and I highly recommend it.
Above: "Blood and Gold/Mohacs," from Silly Sisters' second album, No More to the Dance. recorded over a decade later in 1988.
Go here for the final song today: "Four Loom Weaver," sung by Maddy Prior and June Tabor -- reunited for a performance at Cecil Sharp House in London in 2008. (I'm not able to embed the video here.) The song, collected in Lancashire by Ewan MacColl, appeared on their first Silly Sisters album in 1976.
Art: two Child Ballad illustrations by Arthur Rackham.