1. Sussex Polka / Fred Pigeon’s No.1 / The Girl with the Blue Dress on
Three good old English dance tunes to kick the set off. The first learned from an old ‘Posh Band’ album : there are other tunes called ‘Sussex Polka’ so I guess its real name is something else and it’s, well, a polka from Sussex. The second two are from Dave Townsend’s English Country Dance collection Vol.1 (still available – a web search will find a supplier).
2. When the Green Man Walks the Forest / the Blackbird
Teesside songwriter Graeme Miles’s powerful evocation of winter on the North Yorks Moors. Then the forest bursts into leaf as the ‘Green Man’ sweeps through deciduous woodland. He arrives in the form of a traditional Irish tune in three variations : air, step-dance and reel (learnt from a Bothy Band album in the ’70s). The blackbird is one of ten species of bird that appear on this album.
3. Cherry Blossom / the Harper’s Chair
Two slip jigs by Irish harper Maire ni Chathasaigh.
4. A Proper Sort of Gardener
Maggie Holland’s song introduces us to a less mythical ‘Green Man’, her childhood role model Mr Harding who, unlike the owner of the Garden of Eden, she considers a ‘proper sort of gardener’. The bedtime stories conflate the mythical garden of Genesis 3 with prophecies in Isaiah 11 & 65. Mr Harding will reappear later on.
5. Jns Lars fars Bodapolska / Majas Brudvals / Hjortingens Polska
Three Swedish polskas. The beauty of the tunes only really shines through once you’ve got your head (and, I suppose, feet) round the strange and complex time signatures. The first two, if I recall, are from a Swedish album entitled ‘Springsparet’. The third is in Ben Paley’s ‘Swedish Fiddle Music : an Anthology’ (no longer in print).
6. Morning has Broken
Eleanor Farjeon’s 1931 poem, mistakenly thought of as a children’s song, is a complex evocation of the Garden of Eden restored. In Vs 2, the ‘Green Man’ whose feet cause the grass to grow suggests the newly-risen Jesus whom a grieving Mary Magdalene mistakes for a gardener in John’s Gospel. The ‘one light’ in Vs 3 is the primordial ‘light’ on Day One of creation in the Genesis story, not the light of the sun (which is created on Day Four) – hence “Mine is the sunlight . . born of the one Light Eden saw play”
The traditional tune ‘Bunessan’, named after the village of that name on the Isle of Mull, was first published in Lachlan Macbean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael (1888).
7. The Contrefatte / Trip to Highgate
My dance band, Traction, has settled on these tunes for the Circassian Circle dance. They’re both from the Apted country house collection and dated 1777. They have that English country house Jane Austen period feel of spirited gentility.
The Rum Elk Ceilidh Band that I used to belong to called the first tune ‘The Diet Dance’. In the Apted collection it is set to a dance called ‘The Trip to Dublin’, and for that reason my current ceilidh band Traction know this set as ‘The Trips’.
8. A Place Called England
Maggie Holland’s powerful assertion of what does (and doesn’t) constitute Englishness. The ‘Green Men’ (and women) celebrated here are the gardeners and allotment-holders of England, and Mr Harding makes a brief reappearance in the last verse. A real Green Anthem.
9. If it wasn’t for the ’ouses in between
A very different sort of ‘Green Man’ here, wearing a milkman’s nightshirt, using bad language and imagining a rural idyll from the back yard of his East London terrace. An 1890s trademark song of the great Cockney music hall star Gus Elen; written by Edgar Bateman with music by George le Brunn. The ‘pip’ and the ‘morf’ are diseases of chickens and rabbits respectively. My brother Nick adds clarinets.
10. Money in Both Pockets / the Mount
Two traditional jigs from the north west of England. I’m certain that the ‘mount’ is a horse. I found these in ‘A Northern Lass : Traditional Dance Tunes of North-West England’ compiled and edited by Jamie Knowles.
11. Pretty Penny
Singer/songwriter Steve Tilston saw what the economists didn’t : he wrote and recorded this song in 2008, before the dodgy and unregulated casino that is the global ‘investment’ industry started to collapse under its own lack of management and greed. As Steve wrote it, it is a fairly up-tempo number in G major. Here it is slowed right down, put into the minor, and interspersed with five other musical quotations. Brother Nick on sax and Eb clarinet.
12. The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
Casinos again : another music hall favourite, this one popularised by Charles Coburn, written in 1892 by Fred Gilbert. (He walks along the “Bois Boolong” – the Bois de Boulogne.) The loyal British subjects of today who (with the taxman’s active encouragement) use Monaco as a tax haven probably dodge more in UK tax than Mr Coburn could ever have won at the casinos.
13. the Linhope Lope / Robbie Hobkirk’s
Two robust step-hops : the first from my days with the Rum Elk Ceilidh Band in Coventry, the second introduced by Tom & Dulcie Millar to the English music session that has been running for many years at the Cherry Tree in Steventon, Oxfordshire.
14. Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy
Traditional, from the singing of the Copper family. I’m intrigued by the way he whinges about the hard life at sea, dreams of returning home, then ‘boldly’ goes to sea again. I repeated the last line in such a way as to make him sound not so sure.
15. Ymdaith yr hen Gymry / Nyth y Gwcw / Coleg y Brifysgol Abertawe
(Old Welsh March / Cuckoo’s Nest / University College Swansea). A set of three Welsh tunes that Ed Pritchard — who guests on fiddle here — brought to the aforementioned Cherry Tree sessions.
16 & 17.
Aha! A mystery item, added late in the day. Only those that buy the CD get to find out what it is.