In a spirit of well-meaning folly, I'm currently recording an album of traditional songs that have never before been recorded. After all, it's not like the world needs more versions of Pleasant And Delightful. With a bit of luck, that will be coming out some time in the first half of 2018, but in the meantime, here are a few near misses, along with some alternative versions of well-known songs:
The Truth Sent From Above
Also known as The Shropshire Carol, this comes from one of my favourite songbooks, Cecil Sharp's English Folk-Carols. Sharp's tune is not often sung, but Ralph Vaughan Williams collected a very different version in 5/4 and made a choral arrangement which has been quite popular. Which is annoying, because I really wanted to include this on my album.
This song is Child ballad number 245. I had never come across a recording of it, but it turns out there is a version on a June Tabor live album somewhere! Who knew that you could bribe your bonny ship to ride out a storm?
The story behind this very affecting ballad can be traced back at least to the 12th Century. There are quite a few texts known from Scotland, most of them very beautiful but too long to sing, and not associated with tunes. This unusual and poignant American tune is given in Bertrand Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads.
(Interestingly, in this and most of the later versions, Lord Thomas is simply a nasty piece of work who treats poor Annie very badly; but in some of the earlier versions, it turns out that the real villains are Annie's family, who have cheated him out of his dowry, and that he's simply using her sister as a means of getting what is rightfully his.)
The Earl Of Errol
(A new version!) There are lots of texts of this ballad, and several tunes, but none of the tunes was collected with a full text, so I've abridged the words from a couple of different versions. The legal case that is the subject of this ballad was a real one, but the records have been lost. I hope it really happened like this.
There probably isn't a folk fan on the planet who hasn't heard Nic Jones' version of this, which is of course a marvellous thing. Not having heard many other versions, I was intrigued to find the same song on an album by Tish Stubbs and Sam Richards, sounding quite different even though both must have originated with Harry Upton. My version is closer to Tish and Sam's, because, well, you're onto a loser if you try to match Nic.
The Golden Vanity
This unusual Cambridgeshire version of The Golden Vanity -- actually the Valiantry in this case -- comes from the Garners Gay collection by Fred Hamer. This is the first outing for a strange old musical instrument found in my Dad's loft, with a banjo neck and a mandolin body. I brought it back to life but perhaps should have used some more expensive tuners, as it is a pig to keep in tune.