Nic Jones sings ‘Ten Thousand Miles’

This version of the traditional song ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ is taken from Nic’s 1977 album ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’, now sadly unavailable (by legal means, anyway).

For those who are unfamiliar with Nic, this wikipedia article gives a short introduction to his career and his influence on English folk music, including the horrific accident which almost killed him in 1982 and brought his musical career to a halt for nearly thirty years.

Nic’s first four solo albums are currently unavailable because of a complicated legal dispute with a record company. If you can find them, they are worth their weight in gold, especially the third and fourth ‘From the Devil to a Stranger’ and ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’. His fifth solo album, ‘Penguin Eggs’ (1980) is widely considered to be one of the finest folk albums of all time, and is readily available on CD. There are also a number of compilation CDs made up of live recordings of varying qualities; check his website for more information.’

Mainly Norfolk has a good piece on ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ (AKA ‘The Turtle Dove’) which also notes its kinship to ‘A Roving on a Winter’s Night’, ‘The Blackest Crow’ and ‘Mary Ann’.

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Twenty Essential Albums for Me Today

There have been a lot of people on Facebook recently sharing albums that shaped them when they were teenagers, which is quite interesting. I thought I’d also like to share my current ‘Top Twenty’ – in alphabetical order by artist surname, with the proviso that I will not let myself pick more than one album per artist. These albums are by the artists I currently play the most and consider essential to my musical well-being and inspiration.

  1. Nicola Benedetti: ‘Vaughan Williams/Taverner’
  2. Billy Bragg: ‘Tooth and Nail’
  3. Anne Briggs: ‘A Collection’
  4. Matthew Byrne: ‘Hearts and Heroes’
  5. Martin Carthy: ‘Martin Carthy’
  6. Bruce Cockburn: ‘Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws’
  7. Maria Dunn: ‘Gathering’
  8. James Findlay, Bella Hardy, Brian Peters & Lucy Ward: ‘The Liberty to Choose: A Selection of Songs from the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs’
  9. Genticorum: ‘La Bibournoise’
  10. Nic Jones: ‘Penguin Eggs’
  11. Choir of King’s College Cambridge/Philip Ledger: ‘Orlando Gibbons: Tudor Church Music’
  12. Mark Knopfler: ‘The Ragpicker’s Dream’
  13. London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis: ‘Handel’s Messiah’
  14. Maddy Prior: ‘Seven for Old England’
  15. Jean Ritchie & Doc Watson: ‘At Folk City’
  16. Red Tail Ring: ‘Mountain Shout’
  17. Stan Rogers: ‘Northwest Passage’
  18. Kate Rusby: ‘Ten’
  19. Martin Simpson: ‘Kind Letters’
  20. Sting: ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’

Anyone else like to share their top twenty?

The Blind Harper

This is a light rewrite of the old Scottish folk song ‘The Blind Harper’. The earliest version in Francis James Child’s ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. IV’ (1890) dates back to 1791, but there are many other versions. Emily Smith sang the song in 2005 on her CD ‘A Different Life’. She says in her liner notes:

Another song from my home region of Dumfries and Galloway. This version dates back to the 1500s and tells the tale of a harper, in some versions a blind harper, who stole the King of England’s best horse, the ‘wanton broon”

Nic Jones did a rewrite of the song for his 1978 album ‘From the Devil to a Stranger’, anglicizing the Scottish brogue and shortening the story a bit. I’ve worked from Nic’s version but have also consulted some of the older versions, added some lines from then, and written a few of my own as well.

The biggest change is that all the older versions, including Nic’s, refer to King Henry’s horse as his ‘wanton brown’, but ‘wanton’ today means something different from what it meant when the song was written: ‘playful, frolicksome’. I’ve chosen ‘headstrong’ as a near equivalent that fits the lines well. Here’s my version (my changes from Nic’s version are in red):

The Blind Harper
Have you heard of the blind harper,
How he lived in Lochmaben town?
How he went down to fair England,
To steal King Henry’s headstrong Brown.

He thought him hard and thought him long,
And then unto his wife did go,
“One thing”, said he, “will make this work-
We’ll need a mare that has a foal”.

Said she, you have a good grey mare,
She’ll run o’er hills both low and high,
Go take the halter in your pack,
And leave the foal at home with me.

He’s up and off to England gone,
He went as fast as fast could be,
And when he got to Carlisle gates,
Who should be there but King Henry?

“Come in, come in you blind harper,
And of your music let me hear”,
But up and said the blind harper,
I’ll need a stable for my mare”.

The king looked over his left shoulder,
And said unto his stable groom,
“Go take the poor blind harper’s mare,
and put her beside my headstrong brown”.

Well then the harper played and sang;
‘til all the lords fell sound asleep,
Then quietly took off his shoes,
And down the stairway he did creep.

Straight to the stable door he’s gone,
With a tread as light as light could be,
And when he opened and went in,
There he found thirty steeds and three.

He took the halter from his pack,
And from his purpose did not fail,
He slipped it over the brown’s long nose,
And tied it to the grey mare’s tail.

He let her loose at the castle gates
O’er hill and dale she found her way,
And she was back with her own colt foal,
Three long hours before the day.

The harper’s wife rose up from sleep
Said she, “What do my eyes behold!”
“Upon my word!” then said the lass,
“Our mare has gotten a great big foal!”

King Henry’s groom rose with the dawn,
But at the stable he did stare,
“King Henry’s headstrong brown’s away,
And so is the poor blind harper’s mare!”

“And oh and alas”, said the blind harper,
“And ever alas that I came here!
In Scotland they only stole my foal,
But in England they did steal my mare!”

“Oh, hold your tongue!” King Henry said ,
“You have no cause to curse and swear;
Here’s thirty guineas for your foal,
And three times thirty for your mare”.

Again he harped and again he sang,
The sweetest music he let them hear,
He was paid for a foal he never lost,
And three times for the good grey mare.

Have you heard of the blind harper,
How he lived in Lochmaben town?
How he went down to fair England,
To steal King Henry’s headstrong Brown.

Here is Nic singing his version of the song, with a little instrumental added to the end.

Happy birthday Nic Jones

A very happy birthday to one of my great musical heroes Mr. Nic Jones. Here’s a traditional song from his magisterial 1980 CD ‘Penguin Eggs’.

Note: If you like this music, please buy it to support the artist.

Penguin Eggs at Molly Music (Nic and Julia’s company)

Penguin Eggs at iTunes

Penguin Eggs at Amazon.ca

To find out more about Nic, go to his website here. Interesting biographical information is here and here. I would also highly recommend the new documentary ‘The Enigma of Nic Jones‘.

More information about ‘Courting is a Pleasure’ (also called ‘Meeting is a Pleasure’ and ‘Handsome Molly’) here and here.

Nic Jones: Master Kilby

I know I’ve posted this before, but this is the inimitable Nic Jones at his best, with a superb live recording of his take on the traditional song ‘Master Kilby‘. I believe this recording is taken from the compilation album ‘Unearthed‘; if you enjoy it, please buy it!

I can’t say too many times how much I’ve been influenced by Nic; he’s one of the main reasons I sing traditional songs today.

Oh, and for a shameless plug: if you’d like to hear my take on ‘Master Kilby’, from my CD ‘Folk Songs and Renovations’, you can do so here.