Those of us (this is the Substitute Scribe speaking) who work at the chalkface are already getting twitchy at the thought of the approaching holiday, and the twitchiness was increased by the emergence of a theme relating to the teaching of and attitude towards folk music in school, along with recollections of teachers telling children with ‘distinctive’ voices to confine themselves to mime.
Songs sung in this category ranged from genuine, if bowdlerised, folksongs learned from BBC broadcasts, to dubious parodies. These included The Keeper [Roud 1519], Mrs McGrath [Roud 678], Green and Yellow [a version of Lord Randall, Child 12, much favoured by Pam Ayres], Life Presents a Dismal Picture [to the tune of Scarlet Ribbons, though often sung to Hark the Herald] – all by Mike – Soldier Soldier [Roud 489], Prickle Holly Bush [Child 89] and (whilst on the subject of schools) Keith Gregson’s Steelworks Song –all Derek.
At some point the school conversation ran to a mention of the ancient school celebration of Empire Day and precisely when it changed to Commonwealth Day. The change was actually announced in 1958, but only after that year’s celebration (24th May); so the first Commonwealth Day was actually in 1959 (changed to 3rdMonday of March). Our attempts to relate the change to that of the Empire/Commonwealth Games were doomed to complex failure since they were entitled the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1958 and 1962.
Whilst the school theme wended its way onward we were also entertained by:
Colin – Two Good Arms [Charlie King’s tribute to Sacco and Vanzetti], Chitterlings[Adge Cutler], Handsome Molly [Roud 454], Coalhole Cavalry [Ted Edwards] and, aided by Geoff and accompanied by the creaking sound of standards being lowered, a version of Mademoiselle From Armentieres which even Roud wouldn’t touch with a bargepole!
Geoff – King of the Road [Roger Miller], Memphis Tennessee [Chuck Berry], Pearl’s a Singer [Elkie Brooks], Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde [Mitch Murray/Peter Callander] and Seasons in the Sun [Jacques Brel/Rod McKuen].
Finally there was considerable discussion on the superstition of whistling aboard ship. I know it may lead to a thousand objections, but I want to state what I believe is correct in most cases:
Sailors were allowed, indeed encouraged, to ‘whistle up the wind’ when there was not enough wind to sail on.
Occasionally ships cooks were required to whistle while cooking to prove they were not eating the food.
At all other times sailors were banned from whistling, for two reasons: a) they might whistle up the wrong wind b) their whistles might lead someone to think it was the boatswain’s whistle giving an order.
All sailors knew the boatswain’s signals. On shore sailors, since they knew rigging, often worked in theatres and whistled the signals to each other. Actors became superstitious about whistling themselves in case a rigger thought it was a signal and dropped a flat on the unfortunate actor!
(4 present, 4 sang.)
On Friday 20th July we will have our usual session. There is the possibility of roadworks in the vicinity, so consider setting out a little earlier than usual.