There will probably be a more ambitious version of this here at some point, but at the moment I like this one-take version.
Words and music (c) David Harley
Originally published as a poem in Vertical Images 2, 1987. I waited 30+ years for the melody to turn up, and finally did a make-it-up-as-you-go-along job earlier this year. The vocal here needs work – and I need to learn the words – but the arrangement is much better.
And yes, I know that it’s unlikely that M’Lord fought both at Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). While the Black Death subsided in England from about 1350, outbreaks continued beyond the first half of the 15thcentury. I’m not sure how likely it was that M’Lord slept on silk sheets, but it’s a metaphor, not a history lesson…
When M’Lord returned
To his sheets of silk
And his gentle lady
Of musk and milk
The minstrels sang
In the gallery
Their songs of slaughter
The rafters roared
With laughter and boasting
Goblets were raised and drained
The heroes of Crécy
Or the madness
Of some holy war
The hawk is at rest
On the gauntlet once more
Savage of eye
And bloody of claw
Famine and fever
Are all the yield
Of the burnt-out barns
And wasted fields
The sun grins coldly
Through the trees
The children shiver
The widows grieve
And beg their bread
At the monastery door
Tell me then
Who won the war?
Words by Thomas Hood, tune a variation on ‘Andrew and his cutty gun’. Oddly, putting the two together was an idea that came out of a security workspace discussion. 🙂
Something rather more whimsical than the last couple of songs posted here. Strictly a demo: when the lightbulb lit up, I just sang it straight into the microphone.
I’m not sure yet how well it works without the printed words: I’ll have to try it live, I suppose, and maybe consider some editing. Might fit as light relief into a press gang set with darker songs like ‘On board of a man of war’ or ‘All things are quite silent’. The lyric is a poem by Thomas Hood (1799–1845). The tune I’ve used is (more or less) the A-tune to ‘Andrew and his Cutty Gun’ with a twist of ‘False Sir John’.
YOUNG BEN he was a nice young man,
A carpenter by trade;
And he fell in love with Sally Brown,
That was a lady’s maid.
But as they fetched a walk one day,
They met a press-gang crew;
And Sally she did faint away,
Whilst Ben he was brought to.
The boatswain swore with wicked words
Enough to shock a saint,
That, though she did seem in a fit,
’T was nothing but a feint.
“Come, girl,” said he, “hold up your head,
He ’ll be as good as me;
For when your swain is in our boat
A boatswain he will be.”
So when they ’d made their game of her,
And taken off her elf,
She roused, and found she only was
A coming to herself.
“And is he gone, and is he gone?”
She cried and wept outright;
“Then I will to the water-side,
And see him out of sight.”
A waterman came up to her;
“Now, young woman,” said he,
“If you weep on so, you will make
Eye-water in the sea.”
“Alas! they ’ve taken my beau, Ben,
To sail with old Benbow;”
And her woe began to run afresh,
As if she ’d said, Gee woe!
Says he, “They ’ve only taken him
To the tender-ship, you see.”
“The tender-ship,” cried Sally Brown,
“What a hard-ship that must be!”
“O, would I were a mermaid now,
For then I ’d follow him!
But O, I ’m not a fish-woman,
And so I cannot swim.
“Alas! I was not born beneath
The Virgin and the Scales,
So I must curse my cruel stars,
And walk about in Wales.”
Now Ben had sailed to many a place
That ’s underneath the world;
But in two years the ship came home,
And all her sails were furled.
But when he called on Sally Brown,
To see how she got on,
He found she ’d got another Ben,
Whose Christian-name was John.
“O Sally Brown! O Sally Brown!
How could you serve me so?
I ’ve met with many a breeze before,
But never such a blow!”
Then, reading on his ’bacco box,
He heaved a heavy sigh,
And then began to eye his pipe,
And then to pipe his eye.
And then he tried to sing, “All ’s Well!”
But could not, though he tried;
His head was turned,—and so he chewed
His pigtail till he died.
His death, which happened in his berth,
At forty-odd befell;
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton tolled the bell.
[Slightly amended from a post on Sabrinaflu, since not many people in this region are likely to travel to Shropshire for a gig.]
Last night I caught up with our recording of Cornwall’s Native Poet: Charles Causley, screened a little while ago on BBC4. It’s actually a cut-down (60 minutes) version of a 90-minute film produced by Jane Darke, and my wife recorded it for me, knowing of my long-standing interest in Causley’s verse. (No, it isn’t only Housman’s verse I read…)
I wasn’t aware of Jim Causley until I moved here to Cornwall, and learned that apart from being a highly-rated interpreter of traditional songs, he had set some of Charles Causley’s verse to music. So for me, one of the highlights of the documentary was hearing Jim’s musical settings: it turns out he is indeed a really good singer (and a sympathetic setter of other people’s words to music as well as his own). So now I need to get to one of his live performances.
[This is the bit I’ve changed slightly from the post for Sabrinaflu.] Since I don’t live in Ludlow any more, it’s unlikely that I’ll get to his appearance at The Song House at the Blue Boar on December 15th 2017, and if you’re reading this article, you probably won’t either, but if you do happen to be in the area and aren’t familiar with his work, I recommend that you give him a try. [End of amended bit.]
Here’s an article from the Poetry School on How to Put on a Poetry Reading flagged by my friend Jean Atkin, who puts on regular readings in Ludlow at which I’ve occasionally been allowed to assault the ears of an audience. (If you’re in that part of the world, I include poetry events on the Sabrinaflu blog as well as folkier stuff.)
It’s a bit London-centric, but worth a look if you’re planning a poetry event. Come to think of it, some of those tips are applicable to musical events too.
Which all reminds me that I haven’t visited any poetry events around Penwith yet. Oh, Cornwall, what a treat you have in store. 😉