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October 2008 at Courtfield Studios, Ashford, Kent.
OYSTER GIRLS & HOVELLING BOYS
1 The Oyster Girl
by Pete Castle
Price Including P&P £12
our 3rd compilation of folk songs from and about Kent. Like the previous two
it contains a mixture of very old traditional songs and some recently composed
songs. If there is any slight difference in material it is that whereas much
of the material on the previous albums was about specifically Kentish subjects
this time there is a predominance of general songs and ballads which are known
throughout the English speaking world but in versions which were collected in
Kent—The Dark Eyed Sailor, A Sailor Cut Down in His Prime, Love Is Pleasing.
That said the album is topped and tailed on the North Kent coast with the Oyster
Girl and the Whitstable May Song and both Bob and Marian contribute songs about
By chance the majority of the songs in this set were collected by Francis Collinson, a BBC radio producer in the 1940s, who came upon a few songs by chance and then made it his life’s work to find as much more material as he could.
The ’cast’ on this CD has the same core as the previous ones—Pete Castle, Andy Turner, Bob Kenward; but this time they are joined by the Millen Family from the Bethesda area who have been singing their songs for generations, Marian Button from Ashford who has built up a fine reputation around the folk festival scene and poet Dave Mason who contributes his take on a typical folk song lyric.
The CD insert notes are very short so here is some additional info:
1 The Oyster Girl: collected by Francis Collinson from Mr Baker of Maidstone. Both Mr and Mrs Baker were sources of good songs. On the Keys of Canterbury CD Bing Lyle sings Mr Baker’s Death & the Lady and on Apples, Cherries, Hops & Women Andy Turner does a great version of the Sergeant in the Wagon Train from Mrs Baker. This song was often used by 19th century Music Hall comedians. Later Burlesque performers and strippers took on the persona of ‘the oyster girl’, an idea used by Sarah Waters in her novel Tipping the Velvet (and the ensuing TV series). Oyster girls obviously supplemented their earnings in other ways—and perhaps the oysters helped!
2 The Deal Hoveller’s Song: (Words & Music: Bob Kenward) As Deal had no natural harbour, great naval ships anchored in the channel known as the Downs. Many locals made a living by 'hovelling' - running small boats from the shingle to the moorings. They took passengers awaiting a favourable wind ashore, replenished, dredged, and in times of storm rescued many drowning souls from the Goodwin Sands. The Maritime Museum displays their prayer: 'God Bless Ma & Pa, and send them a Good Hovel'.
3 The Dark
Eyed Sailor: collected by Francis Collinson from Mrs Ethel Apps in Sissinghurst.
A variant of the very popular 19th century British broadside ballad Fair Phoebe
And Her Dark-Eyed Sailor. ‘Broken token’ ballads were very popular
and modern singers/writers have often expressed incredulity that the fair maid
did not immediately recognise her true after his seven year absence. We must
remember that he went to sea as a youth and returned a man and that she would
have had no pictures to remind herself of his looks.
4 In Yonder Old Oak collected by Francis Collinson from the Batt brothers. In Yonder Old Oak (Come, Come my Pretty Maid) is a local version of 'the Nightingale'.The Batt brothers were relations and neighbours of the Millens with whom Victor and Basil Millen used to trade harmonies in the 1930s. There are 5 of the extended Millen family performing here. For more info see:
5 General Toast/The Rose/Black Joke: None of the tunes in either of Andy’s sets are specifically Kentish. The Rose and the Black Joke are best known as Cotswold Morris tunes. However they are all included in a collection put together in 1799 by William Mittell of New Romney. Andy learned them from either the book “William Mittell His Book” edited by Dave Roberts, or from the Village Music Project Website. ( http://www.village-music-project.org.uk/index.htm ) As those who have heard the previous two CDs know Andy is also a fine singer but at the time we recorded this album he was recovering from voice problems so limited himself to playing. Find out more from Andy's web site: http://www.magpielane.dsl.pipex.com/andyturner/
6 A Sailor Cut Down in His Prime: Collected by Francis Collinson from Mr W. Newport at Broughton Aluph. This is one of the major British folks songs which appears in numerous versions all over the English speaking world. Sometimes he is a sailor, sometimes a soldier. In America he became the dying cowboy of the Streets of Laredo which gave birth to St James Infirmary and hence the House of the Rising Sun. The earliest versions describe a young rake dying of syphilis, an idea which is suggested here by the fact that the ‘flash girls of the city’ rue their role in his demise. (Although how St Albans inserted itself into the song though, I can’t imagine!)
7 The Kentish Woman’s Way (poem) Dave Mason Dave is the resident poet at Tenterden Folk Club. This is his take on a folk lyric.
8 Chalk and Cheese: Bob Gates arr Marian Button. A contemporary song written by Bob Gates of Whitstable.
9 The Straggling Bine: Words & Music: Bob Kenward: Every September the Southern Railway brought hundreds of Londoners to pick hops from the bines among the oasts of the Garden of England. Women and children undertook most of the work, whilst working husbands travelled down to see them on Sunday on 'hop-picker specials'. For many boys and girls this was the only holiday they knew—and for many of the wives...
10 The Old
Owl: This is typical of the 'glees' which would have been part and parcel of
the old Catch Club repertoire and so of village entertainment in the 19th century.The
first verse was written by Thomas Ravenscoft in his 'Deuteromelia' (published
1609).The extra verses were conjured up from the collective memory of the group.
It has been in the family repertoire for several generations.
11 Aldridge’s Allemande/The Charming Fellow: Source as track 5. The Charming Fellow is a version of Corn Rigs, usually thought of as a Scots/Northumberland tune. Aldridge’s Allemande is one of several tunes thought to be named in honour of the Irish born stage dancer, Robert Aldridge, 'a famous pantomimist and dancing master' and a familiar performer in the theatres of London and Dublin in the 1760's and 1770's.
12 Love is Pleasing: Collected from a Gypsy called Joe Saunders at Biggin Hill, Kent. I had heard Keith Kendrick sing this song no end of times without realising it came from Kent. (It’s on his Me ’umble Lot CD) When I mentioned that we were doing another CD of Kentish material he reminded me of it.
13 Whitstable May Song: This was sung as part of the May Day parade in Whitstable until 1912 when someone deliberately set fire to the costume of the Jack in the Green who traditionally led the procession. After that there were no more parades! (Although there have been recent revivals.) Both the words and tune are very similar to Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire versions and I wonder whether this was an import? In those counties May Day traditions—particularly that of girls taking May Garlands round from house to house, continued until well into the 20th century. The only mention I’ve found of a similar tradition in Kent was girls taking a decorated doll’s pram around in Ashford in the 1950s.
A note re Francis Collinson:
JAMES MONTGOMERY COLLINSON (1898-1984) was born in Edinburgh and became a professional
musician and musicologist. In 1941 he became musical director of the BBC rural
affairs Country Magazine programme with Francis 'Jack' Dillon as its overall
editor. Collinson lived in Old Surrenden Manor near Bethersden. The story goes
(although it is uncomfortably similar to how Cecil Sharp discovered folk music!)
that one day Dillon heard his gardener singing and summoned Collinson to hear
too. That sparked the whole idea of regularly using a singer and ‘the
old songs’ on the programme. Collinson was hooked and travelled the whole
of south-east England seeking out singers and collecting the songs. He then
arranging the music for performance by the baritone Robert Irwin with the Wynford
Reynolds Sextet. Bob and James Copper from Sussex and Harry Cox from Norfolk
were amongst his 'finds'.
In 1951, when Edinburgh University established the School of Scottish Studies, Collinson was invited back as the first musical research fellow, concentrating on the collection, study, and transcription of traditional song in both Scots and Gaelic. Most of his collection, including the Kent material, is in Edinburgh.
(We must thank George Frampton for passing it on to us.)
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