THE NEWslETTER OF TIGERFOLK
Did you listen to the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards? Oh, you as well? I have to admit that I was too engrossed in some long overdue guitar practise and didn't tune in until half way through but I have to say that what I did hear didn't give me anything to moan about. I caught Paul Brady's magnificent rendering of "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender"; a Lifetime Award went to a school for Uilleann Pipers and while I am no great champion of The Young'Uns it was reassuring to see that unaccompanied harmony singing is still recognised.
Apart from the usual “never heard of any of the winners” the only other grumble of which I was aware was the Lifetime Award which was given, many years posthumously, to Nick Drake and these were along the lines of “what has he got to do with folk music?” I have to admit that I have given scant attention to the work of Mr Drake over the years; he was a most reclusive character and didn’t perform live very often before taking his own life at a very young age. I was also about to say that I didn’t own any of his stuff until I remembered the Island Records sampler double album “Bumpers”, a must have record back at the turn of the sixties although it must have been around 1989 when I picked mine up on a vinyl stall at a local Christmas Fayre, which contains his song "Hazey Jane 1"
However I was aware of him right from the release of his first album “Five Leaves Left” which I thought from the title was all about environmental issues which were coming into vogue at that time in the sixties before the Melody Maker explained the meaning and I felt a bit embarrassed; I was a full on cigarette smoker back then but I had not got round to seriously rolling my own at that juncture. Equally naïve I thought the title of another album of the same period, by a young singer/songwriter/guitarist Ralph McTell, “Eight Frames a Second” referred to snooker!!!
This is all back to my record store browsing days and both of these LPs would be found in the FOLK section thus making it a very interesting exercise to find who or what was considered folk in those days. I think around 1965 Bob Dylan might have shifted across to the more mainstream music on offer but his fellow performers Patrick Sky, Mark Spolestra and one Paul Simon were still in the folk box. More perplexing where the inclusions of the Benjamin Britten & Peter Pears arrangements of English Folk Songs which would have been better served had they been with the classical music albums. Then there were the really bizarre offerings such as collections of Rugby songs probably ruthlessly expurgated at that time in history but still the total antithesis of folksong as we know it. Along with these came collections of “Bawdy Barrack Room Songs” from both UK and USA. More palatable for those of a sensitive nature were albums by The Singing Postman and a few offerings of comic songs by well - known comedians who wouldn’t know a folk song if it bit them on the bum.
You certainly had to fight your way through a lot of dross in those days to find the gems on offer from MacColl and Lloyd or the early recordings by Martin Carthy, Bob Davenport, Nigel Denver, The Watersons and Shirley Collins. The days of Leader and Trailer were still on the far horizon!!
One really exciting discovery was the few stores which stocked the Elektra label which was then featuring some really exciting artist coming out of USA in the wake of Dylan. Tom Rush and Tom Paxton were just two who made their first recordings there but the one who captured my imagination was Spider John Koerner whose debut album “Spider Blues” boasted the best LP sleeve I think that I have ever seen. Only thing was that as imports they cost something in the region of 37/- (thirty seven shillings/ £1.17s 0p) which was almost a third of a week’s wages so I never did obtain that prized object. Looking on Amazon a couple of weeks ago I can now get the CD for the giveaway price of £19 while the LP is nearer £90!
And they say anything goes in folk clubs these days!!!
SUNDAY 6TH may 2018
Sunday 8th April 2018
Writing from landlocked Belper – yes, we’ve got the Derwent, but not Trentside Long Eaton/Sawley’s profusion of canals – it is indeed a delight to have experienced, and now to write about, a tour of matters maritime with submariner-singer Tom Lewis.
Rather than go through Tom’s performance chronologically, I’ll concentrate on certain stand-out features. The first of these is the autobiographical element: Tom’s current gigs are tagged as “75 years in 75 minutes” and hence there was plenty of context provided, although you need the article in Living Tradition 121 to go back as far as his Belfast grandfather working on the Titanic (“it was alright when it left here” was grandfather’s comment). Coming more up to date and back to Tigerfolk, not only did we have plentiful stories and songs of ‘a sailor’s life’ (of which more shortly), but also some interesting material about Tom’s later stint in Canada. Tom and his wife had a long spell in Salmo, British Columbia – not one of Canada’s larger population centres, shall we say - and a shorter one in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The song Happy Landlocked Sailor comes from this period. The ideas in that song connect to one of the other major themes: that of the ex-sailor, the person who we now know to describe as having “swallowed the anchor”. Down At The Sailor’s Rest was the item that captured this topic most poignantly. In respect of Halifax, Tom mentioned the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic where, as he put it, he fell in love with the convoy escort vessel, HMCS Sackville. (Do check out the museum’s website if you’re interested: maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca)
The aspect of Tom’s collection of songs and stories that I found most striking, however, was the fact that it looked at experiences of the sea from the ‘inside’ (the autobiographically linked content) and from the ‘outside’ (those with families at sea, those who dreamt of going to sea but had not done so, wider phenomena such as pollution of the oceans – and of course the situation of ex-sailors). This combination of perspectives was very effective and it’s something that more performers might think about in constructing sets of songs: I am sure there are singers who have, for example, paired a song about the joys of alcohol with one about alcohol-related domestic abuse or poverty, but this multi-perspective approach doesn’t crop up often enough, I suggest.
Tom’s particular contribution in this regard is summed up best with reference to two songs from his first long set: The Widowmaker (a song about the fears of Grimsby trawlermen’s wives), and the (almost) self-explanatory Nobody Showers On A Submarine. You can’t get a more ‘insider’ song than one about ‘personal care’ on a submarine! (There is probably a limited market for a concept album titled Songs of Naval Hygiene, but I’m sure its audience would learn a lot, as indeed we did.) It’s also worth noting that the song that came in between these two was an acknowledgement of the work of Cyril Tawney – a nice touch. More could be said about the sailors’ knowledge we picked up, but if you want to know what ‘bully in the alley’ means, assuming you don’t already know, you’ll have to ask someone who was there on the night.
Credit as ever to the residents and floor singers, especially to the sequence after the first interval, with Phil Hinds (Let Union Be), Dave Walters (Snow Falls) and Bill Wilkes (One More Pull) establishing a strong chorus singing element to the evening (prefigured by John Bentham’s earlier Farmer’s Boy, and hopefully not too spoiled by me ‘almost knowing’ the tune to Stranger in London). We had two items each from John and Sheila, and from our glamorous MC (Tigerfolk MCs are glamorous by definition), Dave Sutherland, who included the sometimes-contentious The Gypsy’s Answer (from a 1964 Radio Ballad, Ewan MacColl of course). A nod, too, to indisposed absent friends (Corinne Male and Steve Plowright) – hope to see you back soon.
This was a distinctive and very enjoyable evening, and I’ll finish by just adding that Tom’s performance included a good infusion of singable choruses alongside the body of more reflective material. All told, damned good stuff.
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Last month at the club I sang “Farmers Boy”. Now I normally have a reason for singing a song and often that is included in my introduction but on this occasion, as those of you who were there might recall, I said that you would have to wait for the next edition of TATTERS to find out why. So if you are interested, read on………. Peter Hubbard was a big raw-boned man standing over 6ft with size 13 feet and hands like shovels. In short, typical of his breed a man of the soil, a man of the land, a farmer. I first met him when he was 45 and it was on the 25th March 1980 and how can I be so precise, well that was the day that Sheila, Sarah and myself took over the tenancy of The Windmill Inn in Wymeswold and Peter was our neighbour. Not only Peter but his mother Mabel and sister Elsie for they had moved into their house only a matter of weeks before. So it was all a bit new for all of us but more so for the Hubbards because this was the first time in their lives they had neighbours. For the past 30 years they had been farming down the Vale of Belvoir and before that on a farm just out of Wymeswold. If you wanted the real “Archers, an everyday life of country folk” then there they were living right next door. Floors were scrubbed on hands and knees, no mops in this house, pork pies were handmade, all vegetables eaten came from the garden, socks and jumpers were all hand knitted. Up until that time and for at least another 2 decades none of them had been to the sea, in fact, they never had a holiday. Elsie once went to Worcester with the local WI and Peter had spent one night out of his own bed when he and “Calfy Bill Collington” caught the wrong train back from their annual visit to the Smithfield Show in London! Their garden was always immaculate, no flowers ‘cos you can’t eat flowers and not a weed dare show its face; "Hoe where you don’t see weeds and you won’t get weeds” was the adage. To keep this plot in this wonderful state, plenty of cow muck was invested which was delivered by Calfy Bill, one trailer load at a time. In folk museums and in archival films you may see big, heavy, old wooden wheelbarrows and that was what Peter used to move those great piles of muck up the steep slope at the side of their house up to the enormous vegetable plot. Strong as an Ox. Sarah was a toddler then and with a big garden to tootle about in she was in her element. Even more so when Peter would lift her over the dividing chestnut paling fence and let her go in his green house to try the different varieties of tomatoes or anything else that was there for that matter, she had the run of Peters’ patch and was the apple of both Elsie’s and Peter’s eye. Needless to say, she was spoilt something rotten In his youth Peter had been handy at both cricket, football and, by all accounts, a good all round sportsman, so when we started up a couple of darts teams in the pub, well, he was keen to be in. For on a Saturday night, drinking his shandy, he didn’t do much chalking for games of darts, he was too good and once on the oche with his clinical finishing, he was hard to beat. During the summer and winter Tuesday night was darts night for Peter playing for the Windmill in one of the local leagues, At the end of the season at the league trophy presentation night who won “The most 180s scored during the season” cup, you’ve guessed it. If he didn’t win he was in the top three. During the summer he would often pass the time in an evening chatting to people using the garden of the pub. But the leaning over the fence and watching became more frequent when our burgeoning Petanque teams played and it wasn’t long before he gave Boule a try. Needless to say he was soon a regular and playing every Wednesday night. Again with his natural ability and wicked sense of humour to wind up the opposition, he became an invaluable part of one of the teams. There was no side to him and good sound advice was readily proffered and a helping hand given if requested. He rubbed along with everyone. Wymeswold had a creamery producing both White and Blue Stilton and Peter worked there until he retired. When we gave up the tenancy of the pub I worked alongside him until we moved out of the village. Cheese making is hard work on your arms, hands and especially your wrists what with the actual process of making the cheese but also because every maturing cheese and they would number up to a thousand or more, had to be turned every day. But to Peter it was easy. “When you go ploughing with the horse, then that’ll get your arms goin’” he used to say. In fact, when his father was thinking of getting a tractor it was Peter who wanted to continue working the horses and for many years, when farming down the Vale Of Belvoir, the trip to Melton on market day was done by horse and trap. No hunt was allowed across their land. On hunt days with a loaded doubled barrelled shotgun crooked and resting on his arm, he would “Remind Them” of that. Amiable most of the time but a man of principle. When we left the village we would still go back and visit Elsie and Peter and what with their two dogs fussing round you, barking excitedly with tails a wagging, the television blaring and conversation taking place over the commentary of a football match on the radio it was quite a surreal experience until you got used to it! But you were always made welcome with banter and laughter being the order of the day. But time has taken its toll and on the Friday prior to our night with Tom Lewis at the club we said goodbye to that long striding country man. His elder sister, Elsie, insisted that after the funeral service and laying Peter to rest, everyone should repair to The Windmill. It was a very different place to when we were there and meeting up with old customers and acquaintances, many were the conversation reminiscing about the old days, quite a few along the lines of the above. Sarah has some recollections of the pub but hadn’t been back since we left so a few bits of information and descriptions of alterations that had taken place led onto some of the customers she got to know and the dogs we had etc., etc., We took a stroll outside, up the garden and looked over into next doors’ garden where Elsie still lives at the ripe old age of 93, it was another moment of memories and reflections for the both of us but mainly for Sarah. A conversation went along the lines of “When we moved here I was only 14 months old and only knew parents and grand-parents, but I used to love going over into next door, into the garden with Peter. He was the first friend I ever had.” His wasn’t an unusual life for lads of his age growing up and working in the country but they are a dwindling breed and no doubt, many of you know or have known men like my old mate. But there some people that you count it a privilege and a pleasure to have known and to have enjoyed their company and friendship. We as a family were indeed privileged to have known such a man, Peter Hubbard. A real “Farmers Boy”.
SEE YOU AT THE STUMBLE INN!