Southern Songster

English Folk Songs from the Hammond and Gardiner Manuscripts

Francis Boutle ISBN 978 1 8380928 0 1

What looked like the final volume of this series, Southern Harvest: The Constant Lovers & The Foggy Dew appeared in early 2017 and in my review of it I concluded:

So it's a considerable pleasure to be able to tell you that 112 more English Folk Songs from the Hammond and Gardiner Manuscripts have now been published, as Southern Songster.  All are previously unpublished, though some are alternative versions of songs found in earlier volumes.

As one might expect, the Contents page lists: Introduction; he Songs; Chanties; Notes on the song; Notes on the Chanties; Biographies of the singers; Sources; Index of first lines.  Less expected is the fact that only the Introduction is stated as being the work of Nick Dow, and Tim Radford claims the 'Featured singers' section of the Biographies.  True, Nick tells us that Steve Gardham wrote the song notes and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne 'has helped to set the music' - but only if youve read the Introduction.  It was necessary to look in Mudcat to find a post from Steve Gardham saying that 'The selection from the mss was made by Nick Dow who provided more biographies of singers, and musical notes on such as mode ... This volume contains an unusually high percentage of Child Ballads'.  In fairness, much of this information is repeated on the book's back cover, but I would have thought it should have been inside the book.

Nick's Introduction is very good, and covers much the same ground as in the earlier books in the series - but is certainly not a 'cut'n'paste' job.  As to the song pages, these are beautifully laid out and easy to read (as with the preceding volumes) and account for 131 pages, while Steve Gardham's 60 pages of Song Notes are (as in the previous three volumes) exemplary.  They usefully supply the Roud numbers of all songs (for further research possibilities) and give not only 'versions from the tradition' on CD, but also in many instances 'modern versions'.

The Singers' Biographies are also very good, though many of the 'Featured singers' comprise little but information from the National Census - hardly surprising, given that little else appeared in the 'written record' of ordinary people.

One slight failing of the book is in terms of accessibility - a simple example being where Nick writes in the Introduction of 'the only Dorset version of The Daughter in the Dungeon' but I couldn't find it in the Index.  I had to look in Roud to discover that this version is actually called The Cruel Father and the Affectionate Daughter, but it is not given The Daughter in the Dungeon as the alternative name in the booki.  Similarly, the Singers' Biographies are not presented in alphabetical order so, if you are interested in a particular singer, you have to hunt through eight pages to find the person concerned.  A small gripe it's true - but little things can so easily detract from an otherwise exemplary piece of work.

I have looked, if briefly, throught the texts, and a good number of the tunes (see below) and can report that there are plenty of interesting examples of both ... no point in enumerating them, since your tastes will not mirror mine.

Finally, as a musical illiterate, I was interested to read in the Introduction to the last of these books, Southern Harvest that: There has been sterling work done by Laura Smyth at the VWML, placing MIDI files within the view of many of the songs [on 'The Full English' website].  Sad to say, I was not able to find them.  But I commented: 'If MIDI files of the songs in these books were to be made available, that would be a terrific help to many people interested in the songs but unable to read music.'

So it was a great pleasure to receive from Nick a We Transfer download of 112 MP3 files of all the tunes to the songs.  In a perfect example of the personal service that the Net makes possible these days, Nick has offered a similar download to anyone who'd like it when buying the book from him.  He's at:

All in all, this book represents a fine continuation of a great series of new editions - well worth £15.00.

Rod Stradling - 1.7.20

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