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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.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The stories behind the songs

Coffee Culture (photo: Simon Meeds)
Last Friday some flyers for Whitby Folk Week had arrived, so the first part of the evening involved a communal inspection of the leaflet. It seemed that many on the long list of performers were from the folk old guard, and so several stories, both fond and bitter were told. I won't recount any here for fear of accusations of libel.

The session proper was MCed by Colin who kicked off with Captain Coulston (Roud 1695).

The previous week's discussion of Eniskillen/Inniskilling Dragoon (Tommy Makem [this version], Roud 2185) was continued by Geoff. While I don't claim Wikipedia to be the fount of all knowledge, this article gives a little more information which seems plausible. And yes, Tommy Makem called the version in the linked video Fare Thee Well Enniskillen and refashioned it to describe the Peninsular War.

Derek's first song was The Newry Highwayman (Roud 490, Laws L12).

Simon had brought along some sets of words he hadn't carried with him for a few years and so there were a few first time renditions. I bet the expectation was that I would link Lonnie Donegan for Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight?) but no, here's the original Does The Spearmint Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight? (Billy Rose, Ernest Breuer, Marty Bloom) sung by The Happiness Boys (Ernie Hare and Billy Jones) in 1924. The words were changed in the UK to avoid a registered trademark and thus allow the song to be played in the BBC.

Inspired by Does Your Chewing Gum... and thinking of warnings given by parents, Derek started off one of his slots with a Max Miller story about a little girl who bit her finger nails, continuing with The Cruel Mother (Roud 9, Child 20) which I suppose was a link of sorts.

Mike's singing of Stormalong (Roud 216) followed on from his rendition of the similar Grey Goose Shanty two weeks before.

Simon caused some discussion by singing Proper Cup of Coffee or whatever exact title you want to use. It was suggested that it may have been written in the 1960s, possibly by a friend of Sydney Carter. But no, we have positive proof that it was written by RP Weston and Bert Lee in 1926, or at least that it was written no later than that, and was performed by Ernie Mayne. Simon got the song from his friend Mike Tierney and it appears that he in turn may have got it from John Foreman. Two reasons for this supposition are the inclusion of a final chorus about "proper pint of porter" and the coincidence that Mike T sings a couple of other songs recorded by John F. However, while the original version doesn't include the porter chorus, among other spoken sections it does include "...over there there's obviously a Son of Temperance, singing 'All I want is a half a pint o'Porter, and put it in a proper Pewter Porter Pot.". I found a recording of John F singing the song but despite having read that he sang the porter chorus and "his wife Gersha" rather than "his slave 'Oh, curse ya'", the recording used the original words... maybe that's because it was a recording for the BBC?

Mike sang Home Lads Home, supposed to be from a poem, Homeward by Cicely Fox Smith with music by Sarah Morgan. I say supposedly because I believe our friend Tom has challenged that. Nevertheless, the account by Morgan at the bottom of these linked words seems to confirm the official story.

Derek perplexed Colin slightly by singing A Bhirlinn Bharrach (Kishmul's Galley) in the original Gaelic. If only Geoff had sung Preab San Ól in the Gaelic too (check out those links; I'm quite pleased to have found the same singer performing the song in both languages), and if Colin himself had sung Die Gedanken Sind Frei in German the picture might have been complete.

I have to mention Strawberry Lane (Roud 12, Child 2) if only because after years of looking I have found a recording of something like Derek's version (yes, it's been hiding there all this time). Derek suggested that the song surely couldn't be a true Child ballad since no one got killed and there was no incest. Simon followed on tenuously linking to I Am A Rock (Paul Simon). Derek suggested that this song might be an inaccurate reference to Gibraltar since someone in authority had recently called the British Overseas Territory an "island".

Geoff completed the evening with Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis) and Colin complemented Derek on his accompanying singing on this American piece. Somehow it transformed into a discussion of Derek's musical heritage and to what extent he had once had an enthusiasm for American music before transferring his affections to "the music of these islands" as Mike Harding calls it.

Here's a selection of songs sung during this session.

(Number of people present - 5, of whom 5 performed)

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