John Roberts & Tony Barrand

English Folksongs collected by Percy Grainger

Playlist   |   Technical Info   |   CD Notes   |   Song Notes   |   Order

1.Brigg Fair1:27 WAV - MP3
2.Seventeen Come Sunday2:58 WAV - MP3
3.Creeping Jane3:36 WAV - MP3
4.Turpin Hero3:02 WAV - MP3
5.The White Hare2:23 WAV - MP3
6.Rufford Park Poachers5:23 WAV - MP3
7.Lord Bateman6:19 WAV - MP3
8.The Gypsy's Wedding Day1:51 WAV - MP3
9.A Fair Maid Walking2:48 WAV - MP3
10.The Lost Lady Found3:11 WAV - MP3
11.Sprig of Thyme2:00 WAV - MP3
12.Riding Down to Portsmouth2:55 WAV - MP3
13.Horkstow Grange2:53 WAV - MP3
14.The "Rainbow"2:37 WAV - MP3
15.William Taylor4:24 WAV - MP3
16.Lord Melbourne3:05 WAV - MP3
17.Lisbon3:24 WAV - MP3
18.Died for Love0:58 WAV - MP3
Lyrics for each song can be accessed by following the links in the playlist above.


All selections traditional, arr. John Roberts & Tony Barrand, except Rufford Park Poachers and A Fair Maid Walking, arr. Lisa Preston. Special thanks to Lisa for help and advice with several of the other arrangements.

We are particularly indebted to Patrick O'Shaughnessy, whose four songbooks, Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk-Songs, More Folk Songs from Lincolnshire, and Yellowbelly Ballads, Part One and Part Two, made this project feasible; and to Bill Leader for Unto Brigg Fair (Leader LEA 4050), an LP release of some of Grainger's original recordings made in 1908.

Recorded and mixed at Soundesign, Brattleboro, VT
Recording engineered by Billy Shaw.
Mixed by Pete Sutherland; Al Stockwell, engineer.
Produced by John Roberts & Tony Barrand.
Photography: Robert McClintock
Photos of Percy Grainger courtesy of Robert Simon.
Cover Design by Geoffrey Deihl
Notes by John Roberts & Tony Barrand
1998 Golden Hind Music


A few years ago we were invited to take part in a weekend festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the School of Music at Salem College was hosting a festival honoring the memory of Percy Grainger. Participants included Frederick Fennell, founder and former director of the Eastman School of Music Wind Ensemble, a longtime popularizer of Grainger's compositions; Stewart Manville, archivist of the Percy Grainger Library in White Plains, New York; Nigel Coxe, a concert pianist with an all-Grainger recording among his credits; and Barbara Lister-Sink, also a pianist, and Dean of the Salem College School of Music. Our role was to present a program of some of the folksongs Grainger collected in England during the early 1900s, many of which he subsequently used in his own arrangements and compositions. This recording is an extension of that project.

In his day Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was an enormously popular concert pianist, and a highly original composer. His talent was recognized early on in his native Australia, and in 1895 his mother took him to Germany to study in Frankfurt, then on to England six years later. Influenced by some of the English colleagues he had befriended in Germany and by English composers such as Vaughan Williams, Grainger developed a keen interest in folksong. In the search for an English national style, many among the musical avant-garde considered traditional folksong as something of a Holy Grail. They felt that, while other countries in Europe had their own "national" music, most English composers were imitating German, French or Italian styles in their works. Indeed, Handel, England's most famous composer, had been German by birth and disposition. As a remedy for the situation, the old folksongs which had been passed down through successive generations of the English peasantry were viewed as a stimulating new source of musical inspiration. But these songs seemed destined for rapid extinction. The ways of the industrial revolution had replaced those of the stable, rural, agrarian society. The chain of oral transmission had been broken, and what remained of the once-vibrant folksong tradition was apparently preserved only in the fading memories of a few aged and unlettered rustics. The race was on to visit the workhouses where these repositories of the communal memory were closing out their lives, and to note down the songs before they disappeared completely.

Grainger espoused the cause of English folksong with his characteristic energetic enthusiasm. Along with Frank Kidson and Lucy Broadwood, both folksong collectors and stalwarts of the Folk Song Society, he attended the North Lincolnshire Musical Competition Festival of 1905 in the market town of Brigg. Among the events was a folksong competition won by Joseph Taylor, who was to become the best of Grainger's source singers. Grainger noted a number of songs in Brigg, some of which were published in the next issue of the Folk Song Journal. The following year, not satisfied with the simplified "on-the-fly" notations he was making on the spot with paper and pencil, Grainger purchased an Edison wax cylinder recorder and resolved to start afresh. In July of 1906 he returned to Lincolnshire with his recording equipment and collected extensively in the Brigg area; hiking through the countryside with his cumbersome load, he recorded as much as he could find.

Grainger felt that the use of the phonograph, which made possible more precise and accurate notations, would lead to a more scientific approach to the study of folksong melody. He published some of his new transcriptions in the Folk Song Journal of 1908. These were extremely detailed and attempted to capture on paper as many different aspects of the performance as possible. Where other collectors published a simple melodic line for one verse only, Grainger transcribed the whole song with precise grace notes, melodic and rhythmic variations from verse to verse, and even phonetics to indicate subtleties of accent and dialect in the text. However, the results of his efforts were not received as enthusiastically as they might have been, and some society stalwarts even viewed him as a bit of an eccentric. Grainger was always a man ahead of his time. Today, thanks to his labors, not only do we have his detailed notations revealing so much about folksong style and performance, but we also have his recordings enabling us to experience these performances for ourselves.

At the outbreak of World War I, Grainger moved with his mother to America, where he was received enthusiastically as a concert pianist. When America joined in the war, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a bandsman, consequently scoring many of his compositions for wind band ensemble. Grainger saw himself primarily as a composer rather than as a pianist; he used his career as a performer more to support his composing rather than as an end in itself. He continued to use the folk material he had collected: his all-time best-seller, Country Gardens, is a piano arrangement of an English Morris Dance tune. His best-known composition for band, the Lincolnshire Posy (1937), uses six Lincolnshire folksongs as its thematic material.

Grainger's main published contribution to folksong scholarship is in the Journal of the Folk Song Society, No.12 (1908). This contains his transcriptions of a number of the Lincolnshire songs and of several shanties, as well as a detailed rationale for collecting with the phonograph and character sketches of some of his singers. In this article he proposed the rudiments of a theory of modal folk-scales, that singers tended to sing in "one single loosely-knit modal folk-song scale" rather than casting their songs in separate and distinct modes. The powers-that-be were sceptical: "The Editing Committee, in considering Mr. Grainger's theories which are based on most careful observations, wish to point out that the general experience of collectors goes to show that English singers most rarely alter their mode in singing the same song."

A good selection of Grainger's and the Gramophone Company's original recordings, remastered for LP record, can be heard on Unto Brigg Fair, Leader Records LEA 4050 (1972), one side of which is devoted entirely to the singing of Joseph Taylor. This record also has excellent notes.

There have been a number of biographies of Percy Grainger. For a fascinating introduction, we recommend Percy Grainger: The Pictorial Biography by Robert Simon (SD Publications, Winston-Salem, 1987). This also contains a good bibliography.

All of the songs we sing here can be found in the series of books edited by Patrick O'Shaughnessy: Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk-Songs, More Folk Songs From Lincolnshire (Oxford University Press 1967, 1970) and Yellowbelly Ballads, Part One and Part Two, (Lincolnshire & Humberside Arts, 1975). Mr. O'Shaughnessy did a magnificent job editing these volumes, in which most of the songs come from Grainger's collection. We have drawn heavily on the thorough and painstaking research that went into these works, both in the presentation of the songs and in their annotations. We cannot recommend these books highly enough.

One of the major characteristics of folksongs is their constant state of change. As folksingers, we have not tried to duplicate the performances on the original cylinders. We are singing songs here that over the thirty years we have been performing together have become part and parcel of our repertoire. Some of them we have known and sung for almost all of that time; others we have learned more recently. In making our choice of material from Grainger's extensive collection, we decided to include all the songs featured in the Lincolnshire Posy (Rufford Park Poachers, A Fair Maid Walking, The Lost Lady Found, Horkstow Grange, William Taylor, and Lord Melbourne). Apart from that slight constraint, we have chosen the songs that we like to sing, done in the way that we like to sing them. This is not an archive recording of songs sung just for their folkloric significance: it is a reflection of our belief in the vibrancy, character, and immediacy of these songs, gathered together here in an attempt to express our debt to Grainger for saving them the way he did, and for giving us the opportunity to hear them in much the way as he heard them from their original singers. In Grainger's preface to the score of Lincolnshire Posy he dedicates that work "to the old folksingers, who sang so sweetly to me. Indeed, each number is intended to be a kind of musical portrait of the singer who sang its underlying melody-a musical portrait of the singer's personality no less than his habits of song." Grainger's efforts in the field of folksong have profoundly affected our habits of song, and we fondly dedicate this musical portrait to his memory, and to those who strive to keep that memory alive.

In a 1926 Success Magazine article, Grainger wrote:

"in the folk-song there is to be found the complete history of a people, recorded by the race itself, through the heartoutbursts of its healthiest output. It is a history compiled with deeper feeling and more understanding than can be found among the dates and data of the greatest historian"

Here, then, is our selection of these "heartoutbursts," as Grainger termed them. Characteristically, even in his language he broke new ground to express the poignancy and eloquence of these old songs, which he strove to preserve as a lasting testament to the spirit of mankind.


Brigg Fair
After the folksong competition at Brigg (April 11, 1905), Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All-Saints sang this in private, remembering only two verses. The additional verses come from his granddaughter whose version, collected and arranged by Francis Collinson, was published in sheet music form in 1953. Mr. Taylor had learned the song from a gypsy. Grainger published a setting of it in 1911, adding two of the same extra verses which he took from another song he had collected. Delius also used the tune in his English Rhapsody, Brigg Fair. The story goes that Mr. Taylor, having been invited to a performance of this work, upon hearing his tune raised his voice and joined in.

Seventeen Come Sunday
Common as a broadside as well as in aural tradition, the "amorous encounter" song was more popular with singers than with collectors, who often considered such lyrics unfit or unworthy of publication. This one became well known to Grainger aficionados through his 1912 chorus arrangement. It comes from Mr. Fred Atkinson of Redbourne, 1905.

Creeping Jane
This song won Joseph Taylor first prize at the Brigg competition in 1905. Grainger noted it there, and phonographed it the following year. Mr. Taylor, well into his seventies, had learned it as a boy, "from an old woman in Binbrook."

Turpin Hero
From Mr. David Belton, blacksmith, at Ulceby, July, 1906. Dick Turpin was perhaps the most famous of England's highwaymen, thanks in good part to a 19th Century novel, Rookwood, which recounts the famous ride to York on his horse Black Bess. This reputedly provided him with an alibi good enough to satisfy a jury. There is a lesser-known but more accurate song which relates this same tale with its proper hero, Nevison, who was hanged in York in 1685, twenty years before Turpin was born: Grainger also phonographed a set of Bold Nevison from Joseph Taylor. Jack Ketch, mentioned in the last verse of the song, was public executioner during the reign of Charles II. He gained notoriety for his clumsy dispatching of Lord Russell in 1683 and of the Duke of Monmouth two years later, for whom Ketch needed five strokes with the axe and even then had to finish the beheading with a knife. His name became associated with executioners, including hangmen, for over two hundred years, and at times the condemned man would indeed pay the hangman, in hopes of a tidy job.

The White Hare
A hunting song from Joseph Taylor. This was on one of the seven discs he made for the Gramophone Company. Grainger had recorded one stanza in 1906. It is interesting to note that Mr. Taylor's memory of texts was not his strong point, and in many instances he could recall few, if any, verses to a song. Fortunately this failing did not seem to extend to his memory for tunes, which, almost without exception, are among the finest ever recovered in English tradition.

Rufford Park Poachers
This is another of the songs Joseph Taylor recorded for the Gramophone Company, though it was not issued. Grainger used it in Lincolnshire Posy as "'Rufford Park Poachers' (Poaching Song)." Indeed, it tells a dramatic tale of an event that took place in 1851, when Mr. Taylor was a young man. A gang of thirty or forty poachers was attacked by ten gamekeepers, one of whom was mortally wounded during the battle. Four of the poachers were tried for his murder, found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. Mr. Taylor remembered only three verses of the ballad, and Patrick O'Shaughnessy, who discovered a broadsheet giving an account of the trial, completed the text.

Lord Bateman
Grainger recorded a number of versions of Lord Bateman, all quite similar, from the singing of Joseph Taylor, George Wray, Joseph Leaning, and Mr. Thomson. It was one of the most popular of all the ballads, well known among traditional singers on both sides of the Atlantic. It's certainly a good tale, and it's nice to have an occasional long ballad that doesn't end in tragedy and death for all the protagonists.

The Gypsy's Wedding Day
I first heard this years ago in an American version, with refrain, sung by Dallas Cline. I was surprised to find later that her song was so closely related to this set from Joseph Taylor. The song was in the repertoire of several of Grainger's source singers, and was known as a broadside. When Grainger published it in the Journal, Lucy Broadwood commented: "I doubt its being 'country-made,' or of any great age." Anne Gilchrist added, comparing it to The Nutting Girl, "Neither of them have the appearance of genuine folk-airs." What is a folksong? The debate still continues.

A Fair Maid Walking
The "broken token" theme is well known, and many versions of this particular story line exist. Grainger recorded this one in 1906 from Mrs. Thompson at Barrow-on-Humber. It appears in Lincolnshire Posy as "'The Brisk Young Sailor' (who returned to wed his True Love)."

The Lost Lady Found
This is the one ballad presented here that Grainger did not collect himself, though he published a vocal setting of it and he also used it as the finale of the Lincolnshire Posy-"'The Lost Lady Found' (Dance Song)." It does have a Lincolnshire provenance, as Lucy Broadwood collected the tune from her old nurse, Mrs. Hill, a native of Stamford. Grainger arranged it with a text he had collected from Mr. Fred Atkinson in 1905, and we have used that pairing here.

Sprig of Thyme
A number of related laments share the symbolism of thyme as virginity, the rose as true love, the willow as false love, and so on, The Seeds of Love being perhaps the best-known. This version is from Joseph Taylor.

Riding Down to Portsmouth
Though the motif of a chance liaison followed by the contraction of a social disease was a familiar one, folksong collectors in Grainger's time tended not to publish it or even collect it, except in disguised form. The Saucy Rambling Sailor is perhaps the best known example of the genre. This one was phonographed from George Wray in 1906. Mr. O'Shaughnessy characterizes "gallus," in the last verse, as "deserving the gallows." It is perhaps a dialect corruption of "callous."

Horkstow Grange
"'Horkstow Grange' (The Miser and His Man-a local tragedy)" was sung to Grainger by George Gouldthorpe, and tells a somewhat ambiguous story of a local happening. Grainger wrote in his manuscript: "John Bowlin' was a foreman at a farm at Horkstow, and John Steeleye Span was waggoner under him. They fell out, and J. S. Span made these verses." Often, these particularly local songs would be written as parodies of other folksongs, in much the way that Woody Guthrie, for example, wrote a great deal of his material. Even if not immortalized by this particular song, the name of Steeleye Span lives on! (Folk Rock historians take note).

The "Rainbow"
Also known as The Female Captain or The Female Warrior, this tale of a heroic woman taking command of a beleaguered warship came to Grainger at Brigg in 1906, from George Orton of Barrow-on-Humber.

William Taylor
Here we have a woman disguising herself as a man and enlisting in the army in order to search for her "true love" who has abandoned her. (In other variants he has been press-ganged, often on his wedding day). This story was very popular, and the song has been collected with several good tunes. This one comes from Joseph Taylor; Grainger had a very similar version from George Gouldthorpe.

Lord Melbourne
In Lincolnshire Posy this is categorized as "'Lord Melbourne' (War Song)," where it is given a fanfare-like, almost arhythmic treatment. The song is better known as Lord Marlborough, to whom it properly refers. John Churchill (1650-1722), 1st Duke of Marlborough, soldier and statesman, is perhaps best known for his "glorious victories" against the French at Blenheim and Ramillies. He was a meticulous planner, and was also known for his consideration of the welfare of his soldiers, which is perhaps why he became so popular in balladry. He was also an ancestor of Winston Churchill, whose elder brother Charles became the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1892.

"'Lisbon Bay' (Sailor's Song)" opens the Lincolnshire Posy suite. Grainger had it from Mr. Deene, at Brigg Union Workhouse. Mr. Deene had a weak heart, and became so emotional remembering the old song that the workhouse matron would not let him complete it. Grainger returned a year later with the phonograph, and, though Mr. Deene had been injured in a fall and claimed he was too weak to sing, started to play him some of his recordings of other singers. At that he proclaimed that he would sing, and did so with much pleasure. As Grainger puts it in his notes to Lincolnshire Posy, "I thought he might as well die singing it as die without singing it."

Died for Love
This poignant little song comes from Joseph Taylor. It is closely related to laments such as O Waly Waly, The Butcher Boy, I Wish I Wish, and, in a lighter student vein, There is a Tavern in the Town.

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