A Poacher’s Punishment

So here’s a first for us, we’ve done English, Scottish, Irish and American folk songs, and now we’ve taken a trip Down Under! This week we are doing an Australian folk song called Jim Jones at Botany Bay; as featured recently in Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight (although our version differs a bit!)

It tells the tale of Jim Jones who was convicted of poaching and sent to Australia on a convict ship and the misery that befalls them on the journey.  Throughout the first 2 verses Jim is rather miserable and wishing he was dead; dreading the fate that awaits him when they arrive at Botany Bay.  By the final verse however, he has developed a seed of rebellion.  He promises himself that he will get his revenge on his captors and escape into the Australian outback.

The song was first written down in 1907 by a man called Charles MacAlister who drove bullock-teams in New South Wales.  In his book Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South he mentions it was sung to an old Irish tune called Irish Molly, O.  Unfortunately there is more than one tune with this title so we don’t know for sure which one was the original, although the modern versions of Jim Jones actually uses the same tune as the Irish song Skibbereen

While the song wasn’t written down until 1907, it was definitely around much earlier than that and it is generally agreed that the song dates to around 1830 as it mentions Jim Jones’ wish to join Jack Donohue’s gang.  Jack Donahue was a real individual who was active as a Bush Ranger (escaped convicts turned outlaws) from 1825 until he was shot in 1830.

As with many of the songs we have performed so far, this tune has been tackled by many fantastic artists such as Bob Dylan, Martin Carthy, and our personal favourite by Jim Causley! We loved performing this one, Becca especially so as she loves a good story she can act out! We hope you enjoy it too 🙂

A Song For Dink

Our latest song choice is another from across the pond and goes by the name “Fare Thee Well”.  In many folk circles, however, it also goes by the name of “Dink’s Song”.  This refers to how the song was initially collected by the great John Lomax.  John, and his son Alan, were 2 of the most prolific collectors of American folk music in the 20th century; collecting everything from Appalachian tunes to prison worksongs.  This particular tune was first collected by John Lomax in 1909 when he heard a young woman called Dink singing it as she washed her man’s clothes down by a bank of the Greater Calhoun Bayou River next to a camp of levee builders near Houston, Texas.

The song has been done by many of the great revivalist musicians such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk as well as many modern musicians such as Oscar Isaac/Marcus Mumford and Jeff Buckley.

We’ve had Rob on vocals in a few videos already, but this time it’s been stepped up a notch and we decided to try harmonies between the two of us! Quite good fun really, might do it again on another video or 2…or we will if Rob can handle Becca when she gets in “Teacher” mode and starts yelling words like “ENUNCIATE!” 😉

We only discovered this song recently but very quickly fell in love with it; and the imagery of a woman singing the tune as she did her laundry by the river was just the icing on the cake.  We hope you enjoy this song as much as we do 🙂

P.S. We’ve got a few different gigs lined up for June and July, including a big one for Milton Keynes Fringe Festival! Head over to our Gigs page for details!

A Deadly Affair

Welcome to week #27 of our project! And we’ve started off the second half of the project with one of our all time favourites, in terms of songs, settings, and the fact that we got to spend time with our friend Anna Hester 🙂

We’d been rehearsing this song with Anna for a few weeks to make sure we did it proper justice and it’s a fair amount of words to learn! And when Sunday came we were so happy to wake up to such a beautiful day and have the opportunity to play some music in the sunshine!

The song we picked is called “Matty Groves” and we fell in love with a version recorded in 2009 by Alela Diane and Alina Hardin.  We’ve covered their version of the song as it just seemed to fit Becca’s and Anna’s voices so well that there was no need to play around with it.

The song is Child Ballad #81 and dates back at least as far as the 17th century; it was first published in 1658 but is also thought to have been published in a Broadside by Henry Gosson who published between 1607 and 1641 so it may have been even earlier.  The song has several variations and is known in other recordings as Little Musgrave, Lord Arland, Lord Barnard and many more.  The first recording (that I know of) is by John Jacob Niles in 1956 and has been recorded over the years by the likes of Joan Baez, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones and even Tom Waits.

We really hope you enjoy this one as we absolutely love it! And please check out Anna Hester online on FacebookTwitter and Soundcloud

An Unhappy Wife

This week we once again left everything to the last minute…you’d have thought we’d learn by now but apparently not! We had decided earlier on a song to perform (I won’t say which as it’ll be done later in the project) but we never got as far as rehearsing so we decided to find another song, short enough to learn in 3 hours!

Luckily we have a rather excellent little book called Classic English Folk Songs which has a great selection of old tunes.  Flipping through the pages we came across this great little comedy tune called “When I Was Young”.  The song dates back to at least the 18th century but it’s longevity is credited to it’s inclusion in an 1850 publication called 120 Comedy Songs Sung by Sam Cowell.

The song is from the perspective of a woman who bemoans her marriage to a pauper and yearning for the days where she had family wealth and freedom from her husband and her baby.

“When I was young I used to sport and play, but now I’m married and the cradle’s in the way.

Oh what a life, what a weary weary life! You’d better be a maiden as a poor man’s wife.”

We played around with the rhythm of the song a little to make it sound a bit more upbeat but otherwise we stuck pretty close to what was collected in 1920 by W. G. Whittaker when he heard it sung by a Mrs Moore in County Durham.

The song seems to have fallen a little out of fashion in recent years but we love it and hope that it has a resurgence soon!  So here you go, we hope you enjoy it as much as we do 🙂

A Favourite Shanty

We’re still alive! We’ve been having a little break recently for a little jaunt to the land of the rising sun! Japan is an absolutely beautiful country and really gave us the rest we needed, and now we’re back and ready to get going again!

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We headed off to Cambridge last weekend to catch the most excellent Bellowhead on their farewell tour, stopping off to visit our friend Anna Hester for a little rehearsal for an upcoming folk song (stay tuned, it’s going to be great!). We had such an amazing time at Bellowhead that we decided we had to do a version of one of their songs.  So, very much like when we went to see Bella Hardy, we ended up learning a song on the car journey home!  The song we decided on was one of the most famous sea shanties out there: Haul Away Joe

Haul Away Joe is a type of sea song known as a “Halyard Shanty” which basically means it was sung when hauling ropes for anchor or for sails as a way to coordinate the men involved. Halyards generally the simplest shanties with short lines and simple catchy tunes.  The history of traditional shanties is often hard to trace, and this one is no different.  There are wax cylinder recordings of the song from the turn of the century and there are various mentions of it from around the start of the 19th century, but very little solid fact remains as to where it began.

Performing a version of a shanty poses a few problems for us…mainly that we are only 2 people and not a naval crew!  So instead of trying to imitate the great boisterous versions of this song (e.g. Bellowhead and many others) we decided to slow it down and give the song a sweeter, more lyrical sound while still maintaining the original rhythmic feel.  We’re really rather pleased with how this one turned out, we hope you enjoy it too!