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Danny Spooner: Brave Bold Boys

brave bold boysDS010, 2008

Bold Thady Quill
The Foggy Dew
Nothing's Had without Money
Marlborough
Our Jack
Brown Adam (Child 98)
Joseph Baker (Pete Coe)
Lord Willoughby
John O'Grinfilt
Johnny Stewart, Drover
John Maclean's March
The Banks of the Bann
The Streets of Forbes
John Ball
As I Came in by Fisherrow
Thornaby Woods

Danny Spooner - vocals, concertina & guitar

People have always created heroes. Sometimes they are figments of our imaginations, sometimes honorable souls deserving of praise. Often they are class heroes like the bushranger, or the poacher who was seen to be standing up for the rights of ordinary people against an oppressive authority. It might be a great warrior, sporting idol or the defender of an ideal. Whatever the case, the folksong tradition has a record of that person's place in the minds of the people. This CD is a small reminder of how important heroes are to us all. We can all recall a role model or someone we wanted to emulate. In this instance they are bsrave bold boys (it would be just as easy to record a female equivalent), and songs, all long time friends of mine, which will, I hope, give your imagination a chance to wander.

1. Bold Thady Quill 3.25
Probably from the early nineteenth century, this is a fun song full of life and Irish blarney. Bold Thady was said to have lived in the Mushra Mountains near Macroom in County Cork. Whether he did or not doesn't stop it from being a grand song to sing when a group of well-oiled voices get together. Muskerry in County Cork was once famous for hunting and such sports; no doubt Thady excelled in them all.

2. The Foggy Dew 2.57
This beautiful old English song was given the 'nod, nod, wink, wink' treatment by Peter Piers the counter tenor in the 1930s, which reduced a tender, loving folksong to the joyless bawdry of a late-night rugby club and it did the rounds of the Melbourne folk revival in the 1960s. Fortunately, the folk tradition also kept the song alive in this glorious version that I learned from the singing of Dave Fletcher and Bill Walley, two fine English singers. Most areas of the British Isles boast a variant of this song.

3. Nothing's had without money 4.45
This broadside appears in Evan's Old Ballads, the tune is Stingo sometimes known as Oil of the Barley. The popular tune was regularly used by broadside publishers to carry their latest effusions. As well as being a tour of 18c London with its pleasures and traps for the unwary, the ballad reminds us that everything comes with its price, even the singer's verses.

4. Marlborough 3.17
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was the son of Sir Winston Churchill an English MP and the forebear of Sir Winston Churchill the British Prime Minister during WW2. The hero of this piece of jingoism, he was regarded as one of England's greatest ever army commanders and strategists. Entering the army in 1667 he quickly rose through the officer ranks, enjoying a spectacular career until, due to some questionable dealings, he fell from royal favour in spite of his spectacular victories at Blenheim and Ramillies. He was re-instated by George 1, one of his greatest admirers, but in 1718 was incapacitated by a stroke and resigned. While staying at Windsor Lodge he suffered another stroke and died on the 26th of June 1722. There are versions of this song in many collections. I got it from the singing of an English mathematician, Eric Gooding.

5. Our Jack 3.50
This little urban gem was collected by Joy Durst and Ron Edwards in August 1956 from a Mr R. Ure of Gembrook Victoria. It reminds me of some of my old mates in the East End of London. I guess some people never learn, or is it just the thrill that urges them on? Two versions of this appear in Ron Edwards' Great Australian Folksongs.

6. Brown Adam 4.45
A characteristic of the traditional ballads is to jump into the action, and give little or no information about the background of the story and Brown Adam is no exception. We are given no clue as to why our hero is banished and has had to set up house with his lady in "the gude green wood." Professor Child included this song in his immense collection and suggests that a sixteenth century Danish Ballad Den Afhugne Haand is a similar tale except that it is the father who saves the girl by cutting off the hand of her oppressor. A version of Brown Adam also appears in Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy but he omits the second verse which suggests that Brown Adam was a blacksmith. I have often wondered if Brown Adam was the genesis for The Ballad which is included in Scott's epic poem The Lady of the Lake.

7. Joseph Baker 3.32
I first heard this song introduced as a 19c broadside. In fact it was written by Pete Coe in late 20c England. However, I'm sure Pete would have felt quite pleased about such an introduction. It reminds us of the simple pleasures and pastimes some people enjoy and the renown it might bring. At the end of WW2, 1 was sent to Birmingham and I remember a number of local heroes whose feats of strength, sporting prowess or good voices gave them great kudos in the community.

8. Lord Willoughby 2.48
Peregrine 'Bertie', Lord Willoughby of Eresby, distinguished himself in the Low Countries 1586 (the English armies of Elizabeth 1 were supporting the Protestants against Catholic Spain during the Netherlands War of Independence). On the recall of Lord Leicester, Elizabeth's favourite, Willoughby became her commander in the Lowlands. The tune became popular both in the Netherlands and England long after his death in 1601. In Queen Elizabethan's Virginal book, there is a beautiful minor key version of this called Lord Willoughby's Return.

9. John O'Grinfilt 2.56
At the time that this broadside was made conditions in the British Army would have been pretty awful, but for the factory fodder of the Industrial Revolution, the army would have been a blessing. At least they would get fed and clothed and have a bit of money in their pockets. The jingoism of the song only highlights the appalling conditions of many factory workers, and also their susceptibility to the recruiting party that promised the earth until the victim signed up by taking the shilling and kissing the book.

10. Johnny Stewart, Drover 4.48
Chris Buch came to Australia from London in 1967 seeking the Australian Legend. He found it in 1981 when he was encouraged to join Johnny Stewart droving fifteen hundred head of cattle from Rocklands down along the Georgina River across the Diamantina River to a station on the Cooper River, a journey that took Johnny thirteen weeks. Chris joined the drove for ten days but the experience was enough to create this cracking song about an Australia which is sadly passing into history.

11. John Maclean's March 3.04
Written by Hamish Henderson to a pipe march of the same name the song honours a great fighter for human rights. In the early 20c, Clydeside's John McLean, a teacher, was imprisoned and tortured for anti-war activities and trying to teach socialism in schools. He was elected to parliament while in prison. A master orator, he urged men not to fight, because "there is a worker on both ends of a bayonet." He died as a result of his ill treatment in prison and it is said that one hundred thousand followed his funeral through Glasgow.

12. The Banks of the Bann 3.39
First heard this as a kid in the East End of London. A very poor emigrant Irish couple would walk our street singing such songs in the 1940s hoping to be given the odd copper or two. Their plight and their songs made a strong impression on me then and still do. My Uncle Sid would always ask me to sing it for him when I visited from Australia.

13. The Streets of Forbes 3.40
Collected by Joy Durst, the song is said to have been written by Ben Hall's brother-in-law John McGuire who in 1865 witnessed the bizarre police procession of the bushranger's body through Forbes in NSW. Ben Hall was regarded as a gentlemanly bushranger, like Robin Hood, He never robbed a needy man/His records best will show. His history was a travesty of injustice. Hunted from his farm by authorities, betrayed by his wife, his 'banker' Mick Conolly, and by a black tracker and one-time school mate Bill Dargin, the bushranger was riddled with bullets as he lay sleeping. His body was then paraded through the township as a warning to would-be lawbreakers.

14. John Ball 2.30
John Ball was written in 1981 by Sidney Carter to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381. John Ball was a priest and follower of Wycliffe, in whom he saw the hope of an egalitarian England. Ball was accused of "perversa dogmata and insanias falsas" (perverse doctrine and false ravings). His studies of Wycliffe's English translation of the Bible had led him to believe that nowhere did it advocate monarchy or aristocracy. He was imprisoned for preaching these ideas but was released by the peasants as they marched on London. Unfortunately, the rebellion was defeated and John Ball died for his beliefs. His attitude towards a hierarchical nobility was summed up in a beautiful couplet which he wrote:
When Adam dalf,
and Eve span,
Wo was thann a gentleman?

15. As I came in by Fisherrow 1.30
Fear of the public denunciation by the kirk - such as having to mount the cuttie-stool for a number of Sundays - nor the worries of the creaking wooden (timmer) stairs, which might wake her parents, were enough to deter this ardent suitor from courting his dearie after his day's work was over. I like the reference to the fact that had they been wealthy they could have paid their way out of the punishment. The song appears in Folksongs and Ballads of Scotland, compiled and edited by Ewan MacColl (Oak 1965) where he notes that it was first published as early as 1733.
I learned the song from Gordon Mclntyre with whom I sang with for many years.

16. Thornaby Woods 4.20
Taken from the Hammond and Gardiner collection Marrow Bones, selected and edited by Frank Purslow, a 1965 publication of the English Folk and Dance Society, the song shows one of the many ways the poor managed to supplement their earnings in times of rural change and poverty. It should be remembered that poachers were often admired by both sides of the social divide for their skill, cheek and ability to supply good cheap game. While poaching was a crime for which one could be transported to Van Dieman's Land, our hero has no intention of mending his ways.

Rainlore's 'review'


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