Isn’t It Grand?


h1 August 1st, 2012

This is an old English music hall song making fun of death and funerals. I turned 70 on July 13, 2012. People were shocked! So was I. That’s why I decided to record this song for the Folk Den on July 14. Last night, July 31, my Brother Brian called to tell us that my mother Dorothy had passed away just three days after her 102nd birthday. We’d spent the day with her in Tucson where my grandson James and I had played guitars and sung her favorite songs to her.

When we got the sad news, Camilla wrote this blog post:

Now we’ll have a bloody good cry.
And always remember: The longer you live
The sooner you’ll going to die

Lyrics:
Look at the coffin, with golden handles
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody-good cry
And always remember: The longer you live
The sooner you’ll going to die

Look at the flowers, all bloody withered
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody-good cry
And always remember: The longer you live
The sooner you’ll going to die

Look at the preacher, a bloody-nice fellow
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody-good cry
And always remember: The longer you live
The sooner you’ll going to die

Look at the widow, lovely young female
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody-good cry
And always remember: The longer you live
The sooner you’ll going to die

Jacob’s Dream


h1 July 1st, 2012

Painting by William Blake c. 1800

This is a variation of the spiritual “Jacob’s Ladder” There have been many versions of this, some used to organize unions by changing the lyrics. The description of Jacob’s ladder appears in Genesis 28:10-19,
“Jacob left Beersheba, and went toward Haran. He came to the place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it [or "beside him"] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

I’ve used six key modulations in this, starting in B and ascending to the octave B

Lyrics:
Jacob’s dream beheld a ladder X 3
Glory to the Lord

Its top reached all the way to heaven X 3
Glory to the Lord

Holy angels were ascending X 3
Glory to the Lord

Behold the Lord God stood above it X 3
Glory to the Lord

And the Lord God spoke a blessing X3
Glory to the Lord

I am with you and will keep you X3
Glory to the Lord

Jacob woke up from his sleeping X3
Glory to the Lord

When Jones’s Ale Was New


h1 June 1st, 2012

This marks the 200th song in the Folk Den!

“When Jones’s Ale Was New” is a popular drinking song from Olde England, circa 1594. The first printed version was entered at Stationer’s Register in 1595, “a ballet intituled Jone’s ale is newe’, entered by John Danter. It appears in Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy,1707 edition, vol III, no. 133, and in Vol V in 1719, as The Jovial Tinker, with the tune. William Chappell quoted this introduction, from a broadside collection in the Bodleian Library: All you that do this merry ditty view.
 Taste of Joan’s ale, for it is strong and new.

The full title was: “Joan’s ale is new; or a new, merry medley, shewing the power, the strength, the operation and the virtue that remains in good ale, which is accounted the mother drink of England.”

Also know as: When Johnson’s Ale Was New / When Jones’s Ale Was New

[ Roud 139 ; Ballad Index Doe168 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang “When Johnson’s Ale Was New” in 1956 on his Riverside album English Drinking Songs. He commented in the sleeve notes:

“Here and there at Easter time, the “Jolly-boys” or “Pace-eggers” go from house to house, singing songs and begging for eggs. They wear clownish disguises: the hunch-backed man, the long-nosed man, the fettered prisoner, the man-woman etc. Johnson’s Ale (or John’s or Joan’s) is one of their favourite songs. Whether the drinking song comes from the pace-egging version or the other way round, we do not know. It is an old song. Ben Johnson knew it and mentioned it in his 16th century Tale of a Tub. Its qualities are durable, for it has altered little in 350 years. It appeals most to those who are most elevated.”

Some say this song derives its name from the pub owner, Davy Jones, who would put drunken sailors into his ale locker and sell them as crew to passing ships; hence the phrase “Davy Jones Locker.”

Or it could possibly refer to good natured Paul Jones, director of ibiblio.org UNC Chapel Hill.

Lyrics:
[C] Come all you honest labouring men that work hard all the day,
And join with me at the Barley Mow to [Dm] pass an hour [G] away,
Where we can sing and drink and be merry,
And [F] drive away all our cares and worry,
[C] When Jones’s ale was new, [Am] my boys, when [G] Jones’s ale was [C] new.

And they ordered their [G] pints of beer and bottles of sherry
[F] To carry them over the [C] hills so merry,
When Jones’s ale was new, [Am] my boys, when [G] Jones’s ale [C] was new.

The first to come in was the Ploughman with sweat all on his brow,
Up with the lark at the break of day he guides the speedy plough,
He drives his team, how they do toil,
O’er hill and valley to turn the soil,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

And they ordered their pints of beer and bottles of sherry
To carry them over the hills so merry,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

The next to come was the Blacksmith his brawny arms all bare,
And with his pint of Jones’s ale he has no fear or care,
Throughout the day his hammer he’s swinging,
And he sings when he hears the anvil ringing,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

And they ordered their pints of beer and bottles of sherry
To carry them over the hills so merry,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

The next to come in was the Scytheman so cheerful and so brown,
And with the rhythm of his scythe the corn he does mow down,
He works, he mows, he sweats and he blows.
And he leaves his swathes laying all in rows,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

And they ordered their pints of beer and bottles of sherry
To carry them over the hills so merry,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

The next to come in was the Tinker and he was no small beer drinker
And he was no small beer drinker to join the jovial crew,
He told the old woman he’d mend her old kettle,
Good Lord how his hammer and tongs did rattle,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

And they ordered their pints of beer and bottles of sherry
To carry them over the hills so merry,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

Now here is Jones our Landlord a jovial man is he,
Likewise his wife a buxom lass who joins in harmony,
We wish them happiness and good will
While our pots and glasses they do fill,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

And they ordered their pints of beer and bottles of sherry
To carry them over the hills so merry,
When Jones’s ale was new, my boys, when Jones’s ale was new.

Down In The Valley


h1 May 1st, 2012

This song had an influence on Kurt Weill
Down in the Valley: An Appreciation
by Mark N. Grant

Kurt Weill couldn’t convince any of his usual collaborators to write a libretto, so Stonzek and well-known conductor Lehman Engel suggested Arnold Sundgaard (1909-2006), who had already had two plays produced on Broadway and had co-written the book for the Fritz Kreisler operetta Rhapsody produced on Broadway the preceding season. He had studied playwriting with Eugene O’Neill’s teacher George Pierce Baker at Yale Drama School. His 70-character play about syphilis, Spirochete, created a sensation in 1938 as a Federal Theatre Living Newspaper production. Sundgaard’s long and varied career included teaching and writing children’s books, and he wrote librettos for Douglas Moore and Alec Wilder.

“When I had lived in the mountains of Virginia in 1939-40,” Sundgaard recalled late in life, “among the songs I heard was ‘Down in the Valley.’ I felt that song suggested the kind of story we could write.” The song–a traditional Ozark ballad about a condemned prisoner and the woman he loves, set to a deceptively serene tune–first appeared in print collections in the 1910s. It also appeared under the titles “Bird in a Cage,” “Birmingham Jail,” and “Down on the Levee.” The lyrics varied from version to version, but the following composite gives a good idea of the raw material from which Sundgaard constructed the plot.

Down in the Valley bears a superficial resemblance to an opera for students that Weill wrote in Germany, Der Jasager (1930), but the musical styles of the two works differ considerably. In this American folk opera, a short, eminently performable 35-minute work, the composer sought sheer lyricism in melody, harmony, choral writing, and orchestration more unabashedly than perhaps anywhere else in his oeuvre. It is, simply put, one of Weill’s most beautiful scores.

Lyrics:
[A] Down in the valley the valley so [D] low
Hang your head over, hear the wind [A] blow
Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind [D] blow
Hang your head over, hear the wind [A] blow

Roses love sunshine, violets love dew
Angels in heaven, know i love you

Write me a letter, send it by mail
Send it in care of, the Birmingham Jail
Birmingham Jail love, Birmingham Jail
Send it in care of, the Birmingham Jail

Build me a castle, forty feet high
So I can see you, as you ride by
As you ride by Love, as you ride by
So I can see you, as you ride by

Down in the valley, the valley so low
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow

Let My People Go!


h1 April 1st, 2012

One of the greatest spirituals, just in time for Passover and Easter!

Lyrics:
When Israel was in Egypt’s Land
Let my people go
Opressed so hard they could not stand
Let my people go.

Chorus:
[Gm] Go down, [Cm] Moses
[Gm] Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ [Cm] Pharoah
[D7] Let my people [Gm] go.

Thus saith the Lord, bold Moses said
Let my people go
If not, I’ll smite your first-born dead
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

No more shall they in bondage toil
Let my people go
Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

The Lord told Moses what to do
Let my people go
To lead the Hebrew children through
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

O come along Moses, you’ll not get lost
Let my people go
Stretch out your rod and come across
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

As Israel stood by the waterside
Let my people go
At God’s command it did divide
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

When they reached the other shore
Let my people go
They sang a song of triumph o’er
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

Pharaoh said he’d go across
Let my people go
But Pharaoh and his host were lost
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

Jordan shall stand up like a wall
Let my people go
And the walls of Jericho shall fall
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

Your foes shall not before you stand
Let my people go
And you’ll possess fair Canaan’s land
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

O let us all from bondage flee
Let my people go
And let us all in Christ be free
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

We need not always weep and mourn
Let my people go
And wear these slavery chains forlorn
Let my people go.

Chorus:
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s Land.
Tell ol’ Pharoah
Let my people go.

Paddy West


h1 March 1st, 2012

A.L. Lloyd sang Paddy West in 1960 on his and Ewan MacColl’s Tradition Records album Blow Boys Blow. He commented in the sleeve notes:

“Mr West is a redoubtable figure in the folklore of the sea. He was a Liverpool boarding-house keeper in the latter days of sail, who provided ship captains with crews, as a side-line. He would guarantee that every man he supplied had crossed the Line and been round the Horn several times. In order to say so with a clear conscience, he gave greenhorns a curious course in seamanship, described in this jesting ballad. It was a great favourite with “Scouse” (Liverpool) sailors.”

Paddy was a resourceful fellow who, with his wife, ran a home school for novice sailors. His methods were rather crude (like having his wife throw a bucket of water on their students to provide ‘sea spray’) but together they created a simulation of real conditions that could instill a sense of confidence in the lads that would most likely help them on an actual ocean voyage.

I accompanied myself on my Martin HD-7 seven string guitar and an English concertina that my wife Camilla gave me.

Lyrics:
[G] As I was walkin’ down [Am] London Street,
[D] I come to Paddy West’s [G] house,
He give me a dish of [C] American [G] hash;
And he called it Liverpool [C] scouse,
[G] He said “There’s a ship and she’s [C] takin’ [G] hands,
And on her you must [C] sign,
[G] Ah the mate’s a tyrant, the [Am] captain’s worse,
[D] But she will do you [G] fine.”
Chorus:
[G] Take off yer dungaree [C] jacket,
[G] And give yerself a [C] rest,
[G] And we’ll think on them cold [Am] nor’westers
That we [D] had at Paddy [G] West’s.

2. When we had finished our dinner lads,
The winds began to blow.
Paddy sent me to the attic,
The main-royal for to stow,
But when I got to the attic,
No main-royal could I find,
So I turned myself around,
And I furled the window blind.
Chorus:

3. Now Paddy he pipes all hands on deck,
Their stations for to man.
His wife she stood in the doorway,
A bucket in her hand;
And Paddy he cries, “Now let ‘er rip!”
And she throws the water our way,
Cryin’ “Clew in the fore t’gan’sl, boys,
She’s takin on the spray!”
Chorus:

4. Now seein’ she’s headed south’ard,
To Frisco she was bound;
Paddy he takes a length of rope,
And he lays it on the ground,
We all steps over, and back again,
He says to me “That’s fine,
If they ask you were you ever at sea
You say you crossed the line.”
Chorus:

5. There’s just one thing for you to do
Before you sail away,
Step around the table,
Where the bullock’s horn do lay
And if they ask “Were you ever at sea?”
Say “Ten times ’round the Horn”
And they’ll think you’re a natural sailor lad
From the day that you was born.
Chorus: X 2

Titanic


h1 February 1st, 2012

When the Costa Concordia capsized last month, people described the panic and chaos during a rather unruly evacuation as reminiscent of the pandemonium on board the Titanic as it sank nearly 100 years ago. I remembered hearing this song in the Harry Smith Anthology of American Music and decided it would be fitting for the Folk Den’s February release.

There are many versions of this. I combined the two that I liked best.

Lyrics:
Riff in A

On a Monday morning, just about nine o’clock
Great Titanic began to reel and rock
Children weep and cry, yes I’m going to die
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down
Husbands and wives little children lost their lives
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

When that ship left England, making for the shore
The rich had declared they would not ride with the poor
They put the poor below they were the first to go
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down
Husbands and wives, children lost their lives
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

They threw the life boats over, in the dark and stormy seas
The band began to play “O Give Thy Soul To Thee”
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down
Little children wept and cried as they left their mother’s side
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down
Husbands and wives, children lost their lives
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

People on that ship, a long long way from home
Friends all around, didn’t know their time had come
Death come riding by, sixteen hundred had to die
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down
Husbands and wives, children lost their lives
Wasn’t it sad when that great ship went down

Eddystone Light


h1 January 1st, 2012

Camilla and I have been sailing on the Queen Mary 2 for the past two weeks. There are posters on board of various light houses. The one depicting the Eddystone Light reminded me of this song. I recorded it in our stateroom and sent it up via satellite.
Lyrics:

[C] Me father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light
And [F] courted a [G] mermaid [C] one fine night
From this union there come three
A [F] porpoise and a [G] porgy and the [C] other was me

[Dm] Yo ho ho, the [G] wind blows free
[F] Oh, for the life on the rolling [C] sea

One night, while I was trimming of the glim
Singing a verse from the evening hymn
A voice from the starboard shouted, “Ahoy”
And there was me mother, a-sitting on the buoy

Tell me what has become of me children of three ?
Me mother she then asked of me
One went on tour as a talking fish
And the other was served on a chafing dish

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea

Then the phosphorous flashed in her seaweed hair
I looked again me mother wasn’t there
Her voice came echoing out of the night
“To the devil with the keeper of the Eddystone Light”

Oh, yo ho ho, the wind blows free
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea

Me father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light
And courted a mermaid one fine night
From this union there come three
A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlmen


h1 December 1st, 2011

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as described on Carols.org.uk

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was first published in 1833 when it appeared in “Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern,” a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys. The lyrics of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen are traditional olde English and are reputed to date back to the 15th century although the author is unknown.. It is believed that this particular carol was sung to the gentry by town watchmen who earned additional money during the Christmas season. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen continues to be enjoyed. The lyrics to this simple carol are reputed to be one of the oldest carols.

I recorded the vocals and acoustic guitar at the Lee’s “Farm Niente” over Thanksgiving 2011. When I got home I overdubbed the Rickenbacker 370/12/RM JETGLO which Bill Lee graciously gave me.

Lyrics:

[Dm] God rest ye merry, gentlemen
 let nothing you dismay

Remember, Christ, our Saviour
 was born on Christmas day

[Gm] To save us all from [Dm] Satan’s power 
when we were gone [C] astray

[Dm] O tidings of comfort and joy,
 comfort and [C] joy

[Dm] O tidings of [C] comfort and [Dm] joy



In Bethlehem, in Israel,
 this blessed Babe was born

And laid within a manger
 upon this blessed morn

To which His Mother Mary 
did nothing take in scorn

O tidings of comfort and joy,
 comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy



From God our Heavenly Father
 a blessed Angel came;

And unto certain Shepherds
 brought tidings of the same:

How that in Bethlehem was born
 the Son of God by Name.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
 comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy



“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
” Let nothing you affright,

This day is born a Saviour
 of a pure Virgin bright,

To free all those who trust in Him 
from Satan’s power and might.
“
O tidings of comfort and joy,
 comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy



The shepherds at those tidings
 rejoiced much in mind,

And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:

And went to Bethlehem straightway
 the Son of God to find.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
 comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy



And when they came to Bethlehem
 where our dear Saviour lay,

They found Him in a manger,
 where oxen feed on hay;

His Mother Mary kneeling down,
 unto the Lord did pray.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
 comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy



Now to the Lord sing praises,
 all you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood
 each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas
 all other doth deface.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
 comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

The Cobbler


h1 November 1st, 2011

This is a traditional Irish song that I first heard at the Chicago folk club The Gate of Horn sung by Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. The lab stone was a stone held in the cobbler’s lap, used for beating materials into shape.

Lyrics:

[D] Oh, his name is [A] Dick Darby, he’s a [D] cobbler
He served his time at the old [C] camp
[D] Some call him an [G] old [D] agitator
But now he’s [A] resolved to [D] repent

Chorus:
With me ing-twing of an ing-thing of an i-doe
With me ing-twing of an ing-thing of an i-day
With me roo-boo-boo roo-boo-boo randy
And me lab stone keeps beating away

Now, his father was hung for sheep stealing
His mother was burned for a witch
His sister’s a dandy house-keeper
And he’s a mechanical switch

It’s forty long years he has traveled
All by the contents of his pack
His hammers, his awls and his pinchers
He carries them all on his back

Oh, his wife she is humpy, she’s lumpy
His wife she’s the devil, she’s cracked
And no matter what he may do with her
Her tongue, it goes clickety-clack

It was early one fine summer’s morning
A little before it was day
He dipped her three times in the river
And carelessly bade her ‘Good day’