Gwilym Davies

Catch it, Bottle it, Paint it Green
Songs from the Gwilym Davies Collection

Musical Traditions Records MTCD379

Two Hornpipes – Lemmie Brazil. Woodchester Wassail – Billy Buckingham. Jan's Courtship – Archer Goode. The White Cockade – Charlie Hill. Andrew Bergine - Colleen Cleveland. She Was a Lady Gay - Phyllis Marks. Three Brothers in Fair Warwickshire - Danny Brazil. Three Little Babes - Spencer Moore. Three Men Went a Hunting - George Privett. Schottishe Hornpipe / Jack the Lad - Jimmie Cooper. Down by the Bramble Bushes - Esther Johnson. The Leaves of Life - Gordon Hall. The Wild Wild Berry - Ray Driscoll. My Schoolmaster's Son - Danny Brazil. Shurdington Wassail - Dick Richards. The Devil and the Farmer's Wife - Dick Parsons. The Shooting Gallery - Arthur Baker. The Streets of Minturno - Don Mitchell. Bonny Bon Boy - James Cleveland. The Bedmaking – Bob Arnold. Lamkin – Tony Lloyd. The Gloucester Blinder – David Gardiner. John Barleycorn - Charlie Milam. Around Her Leg - Gwilym Davies. The Pompalerie Jig - Ray Driscoll
Gwilym Davies first began song collecting in the 1970s when he was living in Hampshire.  According to the booklet notes to this CD, '(Gwilym) decided to find out if there were still folk singers "out there" separate from the folk revival scene' and three of his Hampshire singers, Arthur Baker, Charlie Milam and George Privett, are included here.  Arthur Baker's slightly risqué The Shooting Gallery is a bit of a rarity, one that has seldom been collected, which is a surprise because it did appear on a few 19th century broadsides.  On the other hand, there are numerous recordings of John Barleycorn and Charlie Milam's somewhat fragmented version is included because this was the first song that Gwilym ever recorded.  Three Men Went a-Hunting, here sung by George Privett, is also relatively well-known, it's been on the go for some five hundred years and George gives us as good a version as any that I have heard.

In 1972 Gwilym moved to Gloucestershire where he continued to seek out source singers and musicians, such as Bob Arnold, Danny Brazil, Billy Buckingham.  Lemmie Brazil, David Gardner, Archer Goode, Tony Lloyd, Dick Parsons and Don Mitchell.

Bob Arnold was well-known as the gamekeeper 'Tom Forrest' in the long-running radio series 'The Archers'.  He was born in 1910 and was brought up in his father's pub in Asthall, near Burford, where he heard his first songs sung in the bar.  The Bedmaking was one such piece, learnt from an old lady who apparently had little, if any, money but who would sing in the bar in exchange for a drink or two.  It is a lovely song, one that is seldom heard today, unlike The Gloucester Blinder, here sung by David Gardner, which has turned up all over the place, with titles such as ' The Yorkshire Blinder', 'Bungay Roger' or 'Mudley Barracks', to name but a few.

Over the years Gwilym has noted a number of Wassail songs, two of which are included here.  These are The Waysailing Bowl originally from Woodchester and here sung by Billy Buckingham, and a similarly titled piece from the southern parts of Cheltenham sung by Dick Parsons. 

Archer Goode's Jan's Courtship was picked up by Archer from the singing of the Ilmington Morris dancer and singer Sam Bennett .  Although there are 18th century texts, Archer appears to have been the only singer to have recorded the piece.  And the same is probably true of Don Mitchel's World War Two song The Streets of Minturno which opens with this verse:

The song recounts events that occurred in May, 1944, when American forces, under 'Operation Diadem',  relieved the British 5th Division at Minturno in Italy.  As Gwilym points out in the booklet notes, although the song implies that this was a British victory, in fact the battle only succeeded because of American help.  Unfortunately, the song was recorded in a crowded and noisy bar and at times it is difficult to make out some of the words.

A further three Gloucestershire tracks feature the Gypsy melodeon player Lemmie Brazil and her brother, the singer Danny Brazil.  The Brazil family had a huge repertoire of songs and tunes, many of which can be heard on the Musical Traditions 3CD set The Brazil Family – Down By the Old Riverside (MTCD345-7).  Here Danny sings two of the songs which can also be heard on the Brazil Family set, Three Brothers in Fair Warwickshire and The Schoolmaster's Son.  Both songs are extremely rare in oral tradition.  The first, detailing a crime which occurred in 1818, can be traced to a contemporary broadside.  Further details can be found in the book Traveller's Joy.  Songs of English and Scottish Travellers and Gypsies 1965 – 2005(London, EFDSS.  2006.  pp.  111-13).  Danny's version of The Schoolmaster's Son can also be found in this book alongside the note that Cecil Sharp had collected a melodically-garbled version of the song from a lady in Herefordshire in 1921.

The final song from this part of the world, is a version of the ballad of Lamkin as sung by Tony Lloyd.  Apparently, Lloyd learnt the song from a Gypsy called Joe Jones.  Gwilym's recording is not the first to have been made of Lloyd singing this song.  There is a previously collected text in the magazine 'Folklife Traditions' - number 60, January, 2019 -; which shows a considerable number of variants in Lloyd's two performances.  Then there is the tune , better known as Green Bushes.  Much of the song uses just the first two lines of the tune, only occasionally using all four lines, and to my ears I have to say that melodically this version seems to owe much to Ralph Vaughan Williams rather than to the way that traditional singers usually sing this melody.  I would love to know more about this singer.

One singer who came from a singing family was Gordon Hall of Sussex.  Gwilym is right when he says that 'Gordon was …an avid collector of broadsheets and supplemented his knowledge of songs by extra verses from these broadsheets'.  In fact, Gordon was happy to find additional verses to his songs from any source, not just broadsheets, and I do wonder just how much of The Leaves of Life was originally in his family repertoire.  His tune is very similar to the one collected by Fred Hamer from the Shropshire singer May Bradley in 1965.  Did Gordon know of this recording?  Over the years I spent a lot of time talking to Gordon and I have no recollection of him having listed The Leaves of Life as being one of his family's songs.

Another singer with an eclectic repertoire was Ray Driscoll.  Born in rural Ireland, Ray was brought up in Shropshire but was living in London when Gwilym started to record him.  His song The Wild, Wild Berry, a form of the ballad of Lord Randal, whose origins remain unclear, has now become well known on the revival scene.  But The Pomalerie Jig is also something of a mystery.  Ray had the song from an Irishman that he met in Wigan, and it tells of the treatment of the army veterans following the Battle of Waterloo.  It appears to be unique to Ray.  This is the final verse:

Fast forward to 2021.  Substitute 'nurses' for 'veterans' and think of the 1% pay offer to people who have just come through a year of hell.  'Twas ever thus!

Of the four remaining English tracks, two are from Devon and two are either by Gwilym himself, or else by his granddaughter, Esther.  Devonian Charlie Hill's version of The White Cockade was learnt from a member of the well-known Gypsy Penfold family, although, as Gwilym points outs, it is closely related to a version once published by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould - he of 'Onward Christian Soldiers' fame.  There are also a couple of Hornpipes played by Jimmie Cooper, a friend of Bob Cann.  Gwilym first met Jimmy at the Dartmoor Folk Festival in 1979, subsequently visiting Jimmy's home to record some tunes and song fragments.  Gwilym can also be heard singing Around Her Leg, a song that he picked up years ago when he was a schoolboy, while his 7 year old granddaughter gives us a lovely version of the children's song Down by the Bramble Bushes.

In 1997 and '98 Gwilym Davies spent six months working in North America and he was able to visit a number of singers and storytellers either in Upper New York State, or else in parts of Appalachia.  (The title for this CD actually comes from a story told to Gwilym by one of the New York State performers that he met.)  Five recordings, all of Anglo-American songs and ballads, are included on this CD.  There are four Child ballads, Andrew Bergine, Three Little Babes, The Devil and the Farmer's Wife and a version of Lord Randal, here titled Bonny Bon Boy, as well as a version of the song Marrowbones, which the singer called She Was a Lady Gay.  In all, Gwilym collected some 140 songs, tunes and stories whilst in America and you can read about his time there in the Musical Traditions article Across the Blue Mountains (Article MT024).

Andrew Bergine and Bonny Bon Boy, sung respectively by Colleen Cleveland and her nephew James Cleveland are songs that their grandmother, the renowned singer Sara Cleveland used to sing.  Sarah's Folk-Legacy LP, recorded by Sandy Paton, was an inspiration for many would-be singers and when Sarah sang at Folk Festivals a young Colleen would be at her side, learning the family songs.  Dick Richards, another New York State singer, was recorded singing a version of the popular ballad The Devil and the Farmer's Wife.  Interestingly, when Scottish Traveller Duncan Williamson sang me a set of this ballad I realized that it was the version originally sung by the Appalachian singer Estil C Ball.  It turned out that Duncan had picked it up from the singing of his wife, who was an American.  She Was a Lady Gay comes from the singing of Phyllis Marks, a West Virginia singer who became a frequent Festival singer towards the end of her life.  Perhaps the most interesting track here is that of Spencer Moore's Three Little Babes, also known as The Lady Gay.  I say interesting, because Spence, who was recorded in the late 1950s by Alan Lomax, is trying to sing what is essentially a modal tune to a guitar accompaniment.  In theory the guitar chords just don't work.  But to hell with theory!  It's a great track.

Things have changed since Cecil Sharp collected his first folk song in 1903.  During what we might call the 'second revival', from the 1950s onwards, some source singers attended a number of folk clubs and festivals, where they picked up new songs to add to their repertoire.  Some singers, Walter Pardon for example, added extra verses to complete songs which he had never previously learnt in full.  At one point in the 1960s I started listing the 'new' songs which were entering Fred Jordan's repertoire.  Gordon Hall was another singer who was constantly on the look out for new songs or extra verses.  I suppose that Cecil Sharp and his Edwardian colleagues would not have approved of this practice.  But, as I say, things and conditions have changed and we should not be surprised to find singers learning new songs.  They are after all singers, and that is what singers do.  Nor should it be a surprise that a version of a song collected, and then altered, by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould should re-enter the tradition via one of Baring-Gould's publications.  It came as no surprise when Gwilym Davies recently mentioned to me that Ray Driscoll's version of the ballad Queen Jane was almost identical to a set collected in the Appalachians by Cecil Sharp. 

If you want to know more about Gwilym and his collecting odyssey, then why not look out for his book - Catch it, Bottle it, Paint in Green.  Tales of a Folk Song Collector - which has recently been published by Pegasus Publishers.  It is a great read and this accompanying CD, which contains only a small fraction of the songs that Gwilym has collected over the years, is well worth a listen.

Mike Yates - 7.3.21

Top Home Page MT Records Articles Reviews News Editorial Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services   Updated: 30.5.20