Friday, May 18, 2018


Disclaimer: This post might well contain folk music.

May, both the day and the month, is big in british folk, with any number of songs relating to happenings in the the days thereof, many more specifically to actual individual days. Why not so April or June? I don't know, and there probably are examples in and of each, but I suspect it has to do with the whole pagan shebang of Mayday, a date long important before any international workers apprehended the date. Walpurgisnacht and Beltane vie with the Floralia for the earliest affectations, each being, broadly, celebrations of spring into summer.  Thus, and unsurprisingly, many of the songs set in May are based around sex and fertility, with, often, the snatched deflowering of maidens fair, overtly or in allegory.

This is one of my favourites, the initial amalgam of Shirley Collins, linnet voiced doyenne of the early 60s folk movement, and Ashley Hutchings, soon to be her husband, and the guv'nor of the whole  english electric folk-rock movement a near decade later, founding, in turn, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the various incarnations of the Albion (Country and/or Dance) Bands.
This first iteration of the Albion b(r)and was a remarkable mix, melding many of his chums from Fairport/Steeleye alongside such mavericks as Lol Coxhill, free jazz sax maven, and some of the champions of the unaccompanied choral song tradition, the Watersons.  (Shirley had earlier included the song on a recording with her sister, Dolly, in which the genesis of the version below is ever more apparent.)

This next version, an unashamed tribute to the first, to the extent of later royalties having to cross hands for the appropriation of the arrangement, was my first exposure to the wonderful and still extant 10,000 Maniacs. Short and simple, carried by the ghostly vocal of Natalie Merchant and the swell of keyboard in the instrumental middle eight, this was enough for me to give up my then immersion in only folk to explore the rest of their catalogue, as it appeared, in turn leading me on to the delights of the then not unassociated act, R.E.M. (Natalie and Michael Stipe were factionalised, or not, by their respective publicity machines into being a couple, 10k M often appearing as support to the more famous group, and Natalie sharing a vocal on 'Photograph', for a charity recording.) Whilst some of the sparkle may have dropped since Natalie left to plough her own furrow, 10k M forge on, with a thoroughly decent 2015 offering, 'Twice Told Tales', containing only songs culled from the trad.arr folk tradition, give or take a lyric by W.B. Yeats.

Sort of full circle, I guess, in the never more incestuous canon of the UK folk scene, Eliza Carthy, daughter of Martin, who appears on 'No Roses', as do her uncle and auntie, Mike and Lal Waterson. (Carthy is married to Norma, the 4th and final member of the celebrated Watersons.) Here she slows the song right down, and imbues it with a drama missing from the two earlier and jauntier versions, her voice retaining, however, the same degree of melancholia. 'Anglicana' was, arguably, her breakthrough solo recording, but she remains a powerful force on the circuit, with her Wayward Band.
As a footnote, the Watersons themselves were no stranger to May songs, with, strangely enough, this also turning up on 'No Roses.'

Keep it simple, get this, this and this. (Yep, all of 'em.)

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