Friday, March 11, 2022


 Every now and then I forget my audience (!?!) and revert to type, with arcane and counter-intuitive posts that, often, involve injudicious use of the F word. F for f***in' folk, FFS, catnip to dogs everywhere, and, what's more, not even in  the watered down transatlantic meaning of the word, being the full on, bang on of trad. So, gather round, enjoy.

A history lesson first. General George Monck, 1608 - 70, was quite the journeyman soldier, assiduously applying his colours to the prevailing flags of the day. Acclaimed as a brutally efficient suppressor of rebellion, he made his name crushing the Irish in 1641. Returning in time for the English Civil war, he, in turn, fought for the Royalists, was captured and spent two years in gaol, becoming then Cromwell's lead in Ulster and Scotland. When Cromwell died and his short lived republican Commonwealth was faltering, he reattached support to the Monarchy and, with the throne restored, Charles II rewarded him with senior position. The tale always told was that he satiated any conflicts of loyalty by purposefully marching his army so slowly int battle as to often miss the skirmish altogether. (Hmmm, a good man for NATO right now, then.....)

The tune, Monck's March, is a staple of the English Morris Cotswold tradition, emanating from the village of Sherborne. It celebrates the good general by offering a heel and toe step, sort of one step back for each two steps forward. I have it on good faith that this was the inspiration for Michael Jackson's "moonwalk", the entire Jackson family strong aficionados of English Country Dance. I suspect I have before mentioned my own forays into this energetic prelude to the drinking of much ale, thus delighted when the dance became absorbed into our repertoire. As a huge lifelong fan of all things Fairport, I had been drawn to the offshoot noodlings of Ashley Hutchings and friends in the Morris On project, followed up, in succession, by Son of Morris On, Grandson of Morris On and so on. It was a short step from dinner party dance time with napkins to actually join a side. My knees eventually called time on me, together with the gradual loss of other like minds: you don't ever see many Morris men under 60 these days, and so it is now a fond memory rather than much else. Thankfully, Mr Hutchings has never lost his enthusiasm, and Morris On, as a project, continues. Here is a clip from their live show, at Fairport's Cropredy Festival a few years back.

But there are other ways of presenting the tune. Here's a full orchestral version for Symphonic Wind Orchestra:

Lute, I think:

Or a medieval version, all sackbuts and crumhorns:

Finally a jolly country band version, that I can imagine going down a storm at a ceilidh.

Thanks for indulging me! 

Son of Morris On.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Marching: When The Saints Go Marching In

Although the month of March is named after the Roman god of war, Mars, while the English verb “to march” is derived a different source, the Old French “marcher,” meaning "to stride, march, walk," we here at SMM seem to insist on tying the two together, which is why most of the songs that would have marched into my consciousness for this theme already did so in prior years, leaving me not without options, but without options that I cared to write about. 

But one of the things about being among the last remaining regular writers on this site, which has gone through dozens since it started back in 2008, is that it is important to try to write at least once, if not more, for each theme, so I realized that Mardi Gras was just over a week ago, and therefore a discussion of “When The Saints Go Marching In” would work. And, in a tip of the hat to another of the other remaining regular SMM contributors (and recent birthday boy), Seuras Og, I’m going to model my post on one of his regular formats. 

Like many standards, the origins of the song are unclear. It seems that there were a number of gospel/spiritual songs with similar titles, but in 1923, the Paramount Jubilee Singers recorded a song similar to the one we all know and love, titled, “When All The Saints Go Marching In:”

Other recorded versions of the song, with varying lyrics, were recorded throughout the the 1920s and 30s, often becoming less hymn-like and more uptempo, but the song’s popularity really started when Louis Armstrong recorded a version in 1938, which also cemented the song’s identification with New Orleans:

There are probably thousands of covers of this standard, especially if you include every Dixieland or brass band that does it live (and on video....), but we will look at a few notable ones, in roughly chronological order: Here’s a peppy, folk approach from The Weavers in 1951:

Not surprisingly, Mahalia Jackson returned the song to its gospel roots in 1955:

Elvis Presley, and the rest of the “Million Dollar Quartet (Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash), did a loose rockabilly version that wasn’t released to the public until 1990:

In 1956, Sister Rosetta Tharp started turning “The Saints” into a rock ‘n’ roll song:

And Fats Domino finished the transformation in 1958:

Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli took a more pop approach when they performed the song in 1964:

The following year, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, not surprisingly, took “The Saints” in a bluegrass direction:

Jumping forward a few decades, here’s a traditional take by New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band from 1983:

In the mid-2000s, Bruce Springsteen regularly performed the song, in a pretty subdued arrangement, on his Seeger Sessions tour, with this version from 2006 being released on the Live in Dublin album:

Look, I could go on forever, and some of you may think I already have, so I’ll close this out with a version from New Orleans’ great Dirty Dozen Brass Band from 2012 that is pretty traditional (and a bit funky) and loads of fun: