An English Rogue

There was a small Twitter discussion last week where we decided to do a song focussing on a more “hard” character.  The Pretty Drummer boy was suggested and will certainly be done by us soon.  But we decided to focus on Dick Turpin: the famous highwayman.  The song is called Turpin Hero.

Myself and Becca heard this song being performed on a BBC documentary about Highway men called Britain’s Outlaws: Highwaymen, Pirates & Rogues.  The song was performed by presenter Dr Sam Willis and folk musician Jim Causley and we loved the feel of the song so made a snap decision to quickly learn it.

The song is number 621 in the Roud index and first seen in print as an 1850s broadside (see below)


Image taken from (efdss)

The song starts with Turpin meeting a lawyer on the road and tricking him into telling him where he has hidden his gold (stitched into the seams of his cloak) and ends with his final demise after being arrested for shooting a fighting cock in a drunken rage.  We have kept the style of the song that Willis & Causley had with it (as well as a recent recording by Jake Bugg); adding only a slightly quicker tempo and a second set of vocals, that’s right, I’m bloody singing!!


Hope you enjoy this week’s song, and our fancy new setting 😉

A Cruel Woman

This week sees us tread triumphantly into double digits! This week we recorded episode #10 of our Folk Song A Week project.  So first of all we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has been watching and sharing our videos, when we first started we honestly thought it would just be us watching them!

So for this week we thought we’d do a classic traditional ballad, and we went for Barbara Allen.

Barbara Allen; also known as Barbriellen, Barb’ry Allen, Cruel Barbara Allen and various other names, is Child Ballad #84 and is first seen referenced in print in the diary of Samuel Pepys in his entry of 2nd January 1666 where he references hearing a Mrs Knepp singing it at a New Years party.

The song has been done by several big acts in the past such as Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel and even Billie Joe Armstrong (of GreenDay fame)!  As with our version of Long Lankin, we decided for this ballad to strip it right right back and create our own arrangement of it.  We opted for giving almost a circus-style tune to the guitar line and adopt a minor key for it instead of the major versions that are more common.  We have gone for the more modern version of the lyrics instead of the traditional ones; although there are so many variants of the lyrics it’s hard to say what is original and what isn’t! The closest I can find in print is this 1885 broadside of two versions of the song.

barbara allen

So here we are, our version of the classic folk tune: Barbara Allen.  Enjoy 🙂

A Surprise Visitor

So this week we had been rehearsing another classic traditional English tune and were all ready to record it.  But last minute my sister came up for a visit from London, and as she has an amazing voice we thought we’d rope her in to do a session with us!

Aside from our Folk Song A Week project, myself and Becca are part of an acoustic group called Tantallon with my sister and her boyfriend.  We thought as Rachel was up we should do an original song that we’d written as part of this group.  So we’ve set aside the traditional tune for another week in the future, nice to have one in the bag ready to go!

The song is called Winter King; it’s a story of a child having to grow up very fast after the passing of their father and having to take on great responsibilities that they aren’t prepared for.  I wrote the basic outline for the lyrics a few years ago but hit a brick wall with regards to the music.  I decided to show it to Rach and Becca and they both ran with it, creating some truly gorgeous harmony lines!

We always have great fun playing and singing with Rach and I think it shows in this video, focussing more on making each other laugh than on the song itself! We have other collaborations planned for the near future and hopefully we’ll be able to rope Rach back in for another session!

So here is our Folk Song A Week, Winter King: an original song.  Enjoy 🙂

A Hymn to the Occupy Movement

This week we have struggled to get the time to learn a new song as we spent the majority of the week up in Glasgow and then this weekend at a spa hotel for a bit of R&R (even folkies need a hot tub every now and then!).  So this week we did another car journey rehearsal, and as we recently celebrated November 5th we went for a protest song.  This is a modern folk tune written by the amazing Karine Polwart.

Karine is a multi award winning folk singer/songwriter from Scotland and won “Best Original Song” at the 2013 BBC R2 Folk Awards for the song we chose to perform: King Of Birds.

In mythology the King of Birds is the tiny Wren; who shocked the mighty eagle by beating him in a flying competition which was convened to decide who would be the next King.  In this song the “Wren” character is a metaphor for Sir Christopher Wren and his designing of St. Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire Of London.

The song is split into 3 periods of history: the construction of the Cathedral in the 17th Century where the tiny king of birds flutters down to build a citadel.  In this verse she uses the cathedral as a symbol of hope for London after such a devastating period of history.  This symbolism continues into the 2nd verse which is based in London during The Blitz.

Here again we see London enduring a time of great strife (“Through the siren’s scream the heavens burn again”).  And once again St. Paul’s is used as a beacon of enduring strength in a dark period.

The 3rd verse shows London enduring a very different peril.  This time it is the current capitalist elite that are the great evil to be faced by London; depicted as “the towers of smoke and mirrors”. Here the cathedral is shown as a mecca for those of the Occupy Movement; who gathered in solidarity and protest against the current economic situation that the majority of Londoners find themselves in.

The song was written by Karine in honour of this Occupy Movement who, in her words, “rang the bells that needed ringing”.  It’s a beautiful song, filled with amazing imagery and a wonderful story.  We also loved the idea behind the song that even the smallest bird can change the world (and Rob enjoyed having an electric guitar to play with!). We were completely knackered when we recorded this one but even so we thoroughly enjoyed playing it, and will keep it in our repertoire for a long time to come.

So here is our latest Folk Song A Week: King Of Birds by Karine Polwart, hope you all enjoy it 🙂