Old Dan Tucker

Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger sessions CD, ‘We Shall Overcome‘, is a rousing selection of mainly American folk songs from the repertoire of the iconic folk singer Pete Seeger. Here’s a live version of one of them, ‘Old Dan Tucker’:

Mudcat quotes the following information about this song:

“Composed by Dan D. Emmet, and sung by him with unbounded applause in Howe’s Amphitheatre of the Republic, New York.” Page 622 in “Marsh’s Selection, or Singing For the Million, Containing the Choicest and Best Collection of Admired Patriotic, Comic, Irish, Negro, Temperance, and Sentimental Songs Ever Embodied in One Work.” Three volumes in one, New York, Richard Marsh, 374 Pearl Street, 1854. Reproduced in Newman I. White, 1928, American Negro Folk Songs, pp. 446-447 (1965 reprint). 

The whole thread can be found on Mudcat here.

Bruce Springsteen is of course one of the best known artists in American rock music today. His website is here.

Farewell to Nova Scotia

Here we have one of the most quintessentially Canadian singers (‘tho not one who is normally associated with traditional folk songs) singing one of the most quintessentially Canadian folk songs. This is a very young Gordon Lightfoot, in 1972, singing ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia’.

Edith Fowke gives the following information about this song in ‘The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs’:

Helen Creighton collected it in the 1930s from half a dozen singers in the Petpeswick and Chezzetcook districts, some twenty-five miles east of Halifax: they told her that it was formerly sung in the schools. Mrs Carrie Grover learned it when she was a little girl in Nova Scotia as Adieu to Nova Scotia, and Marius Barbeau found another version in Beauce County, Quebec, as On the Banks of Jedddore... The tune is similar to one Cecil Sharp gives for The Lowlands Low.

Mudcat Café has a good thread about the song, and its possible Scottish antecedents, here.

Gordon Lightfoot is so well known as to really need no introduction, but if anyone wants to learn more about him, his website is here.

Limited service for the next couple of weeks

On Monday 30th Marci and I are heading up to Jasper for the week, and we won’t be back until Saturday afternoon some time. Then the following week we’re off to visit friends in Saskatchewan. The daily traditional folk song will continue since I have a few cued up and ready to go, but I likely won’t be responding to comments or posting anything extra, as I’m not taking a computer with me.

So yes, for the next couple of weeks I’ll be suffering from Internet withdrawal symptoms in places like this…


The Golden Glove

I first heard this song on an album by the great Nic Jones called ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap‘ (released in 1977 and sadly unavailable commercially because of a long-standing record company dispute). I still think Nic’s version is one of the best pieces of music I have ever heard. However, Jim Moray has recently recorded the song on his album ‘Skulk’, and he is seen in this video performing it at the Bristol Folk Festival in 2011.

If you’d like to compare the recorded version on Jim’s new album, here it is.

Mainly Norfolk has a brief discussion of the different recorded versions of this song (also known as ‘Dog and Gun’), and there is a very informative discussion about the history of the song itself at Mudcat Café.

Jim Moray is a very fine young folk musician in England who has done some very original things with traditional folk songs (which make up the majority of his repertoire). His website is here, and on it (unusually) you can listen to complete versions of every track on his new CD, ‘Skulk‘.

Ain’t No Grave

I first heard Crooked Still a few years ago at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and was immediately impressed with their original sound and interesting take on old American folk and blues standards. Here they are singing ‘Ain’t No Grave’ in 2009 at the Greenhoe Theatre in Putney, Vermont:

‘Ain’t No Grave’ is an example of a song which has become a ‘traditional’ song, even though we know who the author was (and it wasn’t written that long ago!). It was penned by ‘Brother’ Claude Ely, a Pentecostal Holiness preacher who was born in 1922 and died in 1978. However, so many musicians have recorded versions of the song that it has truly taken on a life of its own; it was recently, and famously, recorded by Johnny Cash on an album of the same title released after Cash’s death. Mudcat Café has a discussion of the song here.

Crooked Still are: Tristan Clarridge (cello), Brittany Haas (fiddle), Aoife O’Donovan (vocals), Greg Liszt (banjo), and Corey DiMario (bass). You can find out more about them at their website here.

Over the Hills and Far Away: updated

I thank Jonathan Hagger for introducing me to the wonderful music of the New Scorpion Band. As Jonathan comments about them on his blog:

To be honest I think they are somewhat excluded from the scene by its movers and shakers because they don’t quite fit the snobbishly rigid qualifications for membership that those with influence within the tradition impose. They can read music, they do not disdain the parlour folk and music hall traditions, they sing military songs and religious hymns and often turn up with classical musicians on records and in concert. But, I think they are far more authentic than all the middle class guardians of the tradition pretending to be Northumbrian shepherds or factory workers.

Here they are at the 2010 Fylde Folk Festival singing ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’.

Of course, this song was made famous by John Tams, who sang it on the ‘Sharpe’ movies. Tams had substantially rewritten the song, retaining the chorus but adding several verses of his own. The original song dates to the early 1700s and exists in at least two distinct versions, one to do with soldiering and the other to do with loving! Wikipedia gives a good overview of the two versions; Mudcat focusses here and here on the many permutations of the ‘soldiering’ version (which the New Scorpion Band is singing above), and Mainly Norfolk gives some good history as well.

The New Scorpion band is Tim Laycock, Brian Gulland, Robin Jeffrey, Sharon Lindo, and Robert White. You can find out a lot more about them from their website, which is well worth a visit.

UPDATE: It appears that the videos of the New Scorpion Band have all been removed from YouTube. My apologies; I will keep an eye on things and try to reinsert our video if it appears again.

Genticorum: ‘Pinson et Cendrouille’

In recent years, one of the big discoveries for me at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival has been the traditional Québecois band ‘Genticorum’ (made up of Pascal Gemme, Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand and Yann Falquet). I could talk about their wonderful harmonies, their infectious humour and sense of joy in their music, their gift for imaginative storytelling in the banter between songs and so on. But instead, why don’t I just let you listen to one of their wonderful songs?

This song, ‘Pinson et Cendrouille’, also goes by the name ‘La Noce Des Oiseaux’ (‘The Birds’ Wedding’), and I suspect it may be related to the well-known English folk song ‘Froggy Went a-Courting’. One version of the lyrics (with English translation) is found here, although it doesn’t quite match the lyrics Genticorum sing, and the story doesn’t quite have the hilarious character described by Genticorum when they sing the song live!

(Click the ‘blue clicky’).

‘Pinson et Cendrouille

As for Genticorum, their web page is here (in English – there is also, naturally, a French version!). They also have a lot of songs uploaded to their Reverbnation page here. Enjoy! I can truly say that they are one of my favourite bands (even though I don’t understand a word they’re singing!).

The Holy Club

(This is the third post in a series. The previous post is here).

In the year 1729 a very strange society began to meet in the rooms of John Wesley, a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. It became known as the Holy Club, and its members included John’s brother Charles, George Whitefield, and a number of other young men, all of whom were ordained clergy of the Church of England (ordination was required in those days for Fellows at Oxford and Cambridge).  These young men began to meet regularly to study the Greek New Testament and the works of the Church Fathers, to pray and to encourage each other. They made strict rules of life for themselves, celebrated Holy Communion together regularly, and did work among the needy and destitute.

This disciplined way of life attracted much ridicule from other members of the university, and their methodical lifestyle gave the group the name which would stick to them in the future: ‘Methodists’. It would be a mistake, however, to see them at this period in their history as being a type of proto-evangelical; they had not yet come to understand either the Gospel of grace or the nature of Christian conversion. It is said of John Wesley at this time that, on being asked to go to speak to a man who was about to be hanged, he refused. His reason was that the man would not have adequate time for the amendment of life which was necessary for anyone wishing to become a Christian. Looking back on this period later in his life, Wesley described it as ‘the faith of servants, but not of sons’.

Eventually John and Charles Wesley, along with George Whitefield, volunteered to go to the American colonies as chaplains. While he was in Georgia, John attempted to enforce a church discipline which was far beyond anything the colonists had ever experienced before, a discipline based on his reading of the early Church Fathers. This aroused great resentment among the colonists, and there was also a badly managed love affair which did great damage to his ministry. After only a few years, John returned from Georgia in despair; he is said to have remarked “I went to convert the Indians, but who will convert me?”

On the journey home across the Atlantic, John encountered some Moravian Christians, and was deeply impressed by their sense of peace and serenity. When he arrived back in London he continued his conversations with the Moravians. His spiritual search came to a head on May 24th 1738. Let’s listen to his description of that evening:

‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death’.

Wesley soon began to preach this message, but it aroused great opposition in the Established Church, and very quickly he found church doors closed to him. Then George Whitefield, who had experienced a similar conversion, invited Wesley to join him in Bristol where he was preaching to huge crowds of miners in the open air. Reluctantly at first, but soon with growing enthusiasm, Wesley joined him, and so began his life’s work.

It is estimated that John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles during his lifetime, preaching many times a day in fields, marketplaces, and village squares. Crowds of people were hungry for this message of personal faith in Christ, and thousands were converted up and down the length and breath of England. He organised these new believers into small groups known as ‘class meetings’, where they would experience fellowship, teaching, and accountability. Members of these meetings had to agree to strict standards of personal prayer, Bible reading and Christian service. From these class meetings came the lay preachers who soon joined John in the work of travelling evangelism. John’s brother Charles was a talented poet who wrote thousands of hymns for the new movement. Hymn singing, by the way, was a radical idea in those days, at least as controversial as was bringing rock music into church in my youth!

The movement encountered a great deal of opposition, some of it, sadly, from the Established Church. There are stories of local clergy hiring drunken mobs to attack Wesley and break up his meetings. The Church didn’t know what to do with the movement; there is a famous quote from a meeting between Wesley and Bishop Joseph Butler in which the good bishop remarked ‘Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing – a very horrid thing’. There is not time in this post to go into all the sad circumstances which led to the break with the Church of England; suffice it to say that eventually the Church lost the Methodist movement, which became a new branch of nonconformity in England.

However, not all of those who believed as Wesley believed left the Established Church. Many stayed, preaching and living the message within the structures of the Church of England. At first, they took for themselves the description of ‘Gospel’ people, but later they became almost universally known as ‘evangelicals’. To their story we must turn in the next post in this series.

Rachel Newton – The Last Minute/The Groupie/Height of Rudeness

I asked Jonathan Hagger (AKA Mad Priest) – who is very knowledgable about folk music – to give me some recommendations for this series. He pointed me in the direction of Rachel Newton.

I don’t know anything about these tunes Rachel is playing (are they traditional or her own compositions?), but I do know the music sounds stunning.

If you want to find out more about Rachel, her website is here. She also has a MySpace page (I’m surprised they still exist!) where you can hear three more of her tunes. Me, when I get a bit of pocket money I’m buying the album.

Early Evangelical Anglican History – the Backdrop

This is a follow-up post to ‘What is an Evangelical Anglican?‘ which I posted in May 2011. In the earlier post I defined historic evangelical Anglicanism in terms of four convictions: (1) the supreme authority of Scripture, (b) justification by faith, (c) a belief in personal conversion, and (d) a love for simple forms of worship. I ended the earlier post by promising to say a bit about the condition of the church in England before the eighteenth-century evangelical revival. So let me now try to give a picture of church life in general in the eighteenth century as the evangelical movement began.

The seventeenth century had been a time of violent and often bloody conflict in Christian Europe, much of it fuelled by the theological controversies of the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. The eighteenth century reacted to all this with a deep suspicion of controversy and of what it referred to as ‘enthusiasm’. The spirit of the age was one of moderation and of what is sometimes referred to as ‘sweet reasonableness’. The eighteenth century Church was gifted with people of fine intellect and deep piety. One thinks of Bishop Joseph Butler, of William Law, and even of old Doctor Samuel Johnson. But despite the quality of people such as these, there were enormous problems in the life of the Church.

The Church of England was in many respects an instrument of the English establishment. Bishops were appointed by the government, and were expected to repay the favour by spending much of their time in the House of Lords voting in support of the government which had appointed them. There was enormous inequality in the level of income received by both bishops and clergy. The Archbishop of Canterbury was paid £7,000 a year, the Bishop of Winchester £5,000, but Oxford only £500 and Bristol £450. The only way of earning a translation to a wealthier diocese was by faithful political service. Clergy incomes reflected a similar inequality. Over half the livings in the country paid less than £50 a year; many smaller churches paid between £5 and £20, and in Colchester there were two churches that paid respectively £3 and £1 1 shilling a year (figures taken from Gerald R. Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason, 1648-1789, pp.123-126).

Another, and perhaps a related, problem was pluralism: that is, the practice of clergy holding more than one living at the same time. What often happened would be that the rector might hold a living, for which he might receive perhaps £300 a year, but because he was also the dean of a cathedral far away, he might pay a curate perhaps £20 a year to actually do the work. Gerald Cragg quotes the example of John Hoadly, who was at the same time chancellor of the Diocese of Winchester, a prebendary in another cathedral, master of the Hospital of St. Cross, and rector of six widely flung parishes! (Cragg, p.125)

Obviously this situation had a negative effect on the quality of pastoral care offered in the parishes. It’s also fair to say that few clergy of the time had much sense of a divine call to their work. Holy Orders were seen as a secure source of income, and there was little sense of obligation to do much actual work beyond leading Sunday worship. Standards for ordination were very uneven; a man who had taken a degree from a university might never have studied theology, but could still be ordained on the strength of his degree, and there was very little real supervision after ordination.

Parish life at the local level would seem to us today very non-sacramental. In Essex in 1763 only 20 of the 310 churches had a monthly communion service; the most common frequency was three or four times a year (G.R. Balleine, A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England, London, 1906, p.3). Morning or Evening Prayer was the standard fare for Sunday worship. Most of the music consisted of the singing of the parts of the service, with perhaps a metrical psalm. Sunday Schools were unknown, and sermons, as Cragg says, were ‘rational rather than mystical in tone, ethical rather than dogmatic in content’ (Cragg, p.116).

Beyond the doors of the church there was much immorality and scepticism in the country. Gin drinking was the curse of the working classes and drunkenness was so common as to be for the most part unremarkable. Among the educated classes, as Thomas Secker, subsequently Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote, ‘Christianity is now railed at and ridiculed with very little reserve, and its teachers without any at all’ (Cragg, p.127). This is the background against which the early Anglican evangelicals did their work.

In the next post, I’ll turn to the strange story of the ‘Holy Club’ that started at Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1729.