Welcome to the Dragon Folk Club

Welcome to the official blog of the Dragon Folk Club, which meets for a singers night every Friday at The Bridge Inn, Shortwood, Bristol. Everyone is welcome whether you sing, play or just listen.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Benjamin Britten's gardener

Bob Hart
It looked as though we were going to be particularly thin on the ground this week, causing Mike to joke that it may "come round" once or even twice... every ten minutes. His scepticism was however put to bed when three further people came though the door - not a huge crowd but certainly enough to make a good do of it.

The three welcome latecomers were Carl, now almost a regular, who brought his brother-in-law, Derek (we'll call him Derek 2 to differentiate from our regular traditional singer of Suffolk origin with the same name), and Alison, whose arrival was somewhat sudden and startling but whose presence and singing were definitely more soothing.

Mike started us off with a newly "discovered" Bristol version of Outward bound a sea song, which he had explained on a previous occasion is not a shanty because shanties are either outward or homeward bounders, whereas this song mentioned both directions.

Derek's main tale of the evening concerned a story he had heard recently of Benjamin Britten. He didn't seem sure whether or not it was true but who lets that get in the way of a good yarn. Benjamin Britten lived in Suffolk and wanted to write an opera based in Suffolk: Peter Grimes. He wanted to include a character singing a Suffolk folk song. Rather than ask one of the traditional singers operating in the area at the time, he seems to have gone to his local library and looked up the Burl Ives song book. As far as Derek can remember, his father didn't tell him of a wondering American of that name trawling deepest, darkest East Anglia for songs. What's more, apparently, at that time, Britten was employing a gardener called Bob Hart, who happened to be (in Derek's opinion at least) the best male traditional singer to come out of his native county. Derek sang one of Bob Hart's songs: Australia (Roud 1488).

As occasionally happens, Derek laid down a challenge for me. He sang a song about a doffer. He didn't know where he got it from, but maybe from Bertha Brown. This page about Tom Brown does indeed mention her and a song called The doffing mistress. But if that is this song, it is not the one Derek sang. This is in fact the song Derek sang or at least the first verse of his three. It doesn't quite end there though because there is another recording on YouTube. I warn you that it is a bit strange but it does include Derek's second and first verses (in that order); here goes if you have a strong constitution.

Carl swore that Derek 2 could play the guitar but he steadfastly refused to borrow the instrument, preferring to sing unaccompanied this evening, or sing to Carl's playing. Carl's first contribution was his version of St Louis Blues. Derek 2 thought he could fool the assembled crowd by singing a song of which, he said, few people knew the verse. While I didn't know the verse I had quickly guessed the song, but others were already singing along to My old man (said follow the van) (Fred W Leigh and Charles Collins). They got together next time round with  Derek 2 singing to Carl's guitar interpretation of Autumn leaves (Joseph Kosma and Johnny Mercer). Derek 2 went on to sing Flanders and Swann's The gasman cometh. On the final round of the evening Carl played his own guitar composition, Sophia. Derek 2 sang The ballad of Bethnal Green (Paddy Roberts).

Alison, though not expecting to sing on her first visit made some fine contributions, perhaps buoyed by finding two familiar faces in Steve G and Colin. Her first song was Let no man steal your thyme (Roud 3). Alison returned with a song from Cornwall: Maid in Bedlam (Roud 605).

Colin caused a little confusion when he sung When I was a lad. Mike said it had been sung by the Tannahill Weavers but not to quite the tune Colin used; maybe it was the folk process working through Colin?

The session was finished off by Simon singing Jake Thackray's Isobel makes love upon national monuments.

We thought that was the end of it but when the room door was opened there stood two youngish lads. I didn't hear exactly the conversation but it seemed that one said his friend was the best guitarist in the place. This was said to Carl, who is an accomplished blues guitarist. Despite protests from Maggie, Carl challenged the newcomer to play his guitar in the two minutes remaining before he left the premises. The chap asked for a capo; I was about to offer one, but Carl insisted he play without - he had been in this situation many times before and wanted to let it play out. The challenger began to play, his full beard making him look rather like a Mennonite (nothing wrong with that, just an observation), and at least in Carl's and my view, he was pretty good. He had an unusual voice, maybe made more so by singing in a register lower than accustomed due to the lack of a capo. Maybe they will join us earlier in the evening another time, or more likely we will never see them again. His parting shots were that he is in a duo, and has thousands of pounds worth of guitars: a Taylor, a Martin, and a...

Here's a selection of these and other songs sung during the session.

(Number of people present - 9, of which 7 performed)


  1. Gotcha!

  2. Sorry not too have made it on Friday I was intending to come but my blood pressure dropped suddenly on Friday morning (pills kicking in) and my Doctor advised me to rest for a few days. I'll be back once festivals are over- off to Towersey next week.