Bluebert

A guitar solo I used to play a lot when I was living in London, though I think I was living in Bracknell when I wrote it. Actually, this version has some sections that suggest I was intending to come back to it and add a second guitar, which explains why it’s so much longer (too long!) than when I played it out in the wild. But clearly I haven’t. Yet.

The title has nothing to do with Bert Jansch, by the way. I’m flattered when people tell me what I do reminds them of him, but I don’t really see a resemblance, though I did listen a lot to his first album when I first started to learn the guitar. But if anything, I was more influenced by John Renbourn. And there are bits here that sound as if I was trying to be both of them at once. But to get back to the point, the title refers to the fact that for much of my life I was known as Bert rather than as Dave or David.

Played on a cheap and cheerful Kimbara acoustic – actually, it was a very decent little guitar – and recorded on domestic equipment.

alternative version:

Backup:

David Harley

Down by the Salley Gardens

I’ve heard too many gorgeously sung versions of this to add my own indifferent vocals to the pot, but I do want to include it in a recording project, so this is a sketch for an instrumental version. It needs work, of course – it’s much too busy at the moment – but I think there are possibilities here. It fits because I’m planning to include a couple of my own Yeats settings. However, the well-known melody used here doesn’t need replacing by any tune of mine. 🙂

Backup:

After I wrote a review of the CD ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (by Michael Raven and Joan Mills), in which I specifically mentioned that Michael had set When I Was One and Twenty to the tune better known as Brigg Fair, I had a thought. I mentioned in passing in that article that the theme of the poem is not dissimilar to that of the Yeats poem (based on an imperfectly remembered folk song) Down By The Salley Gardens. The Yeats poem was published in 1889, and A Shropshire Lad was published in 1896, so it’s very likely that Housman knew the Yeats poem, though for all I know, he may have written his own poem before he came upon Salley Gardens. I’m not sure it matters all that much: I’m not doing a PhD thesis. 🙂

Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.

In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.

Anyway, a quick turn around the fretboard demonstrates that the melody Maids of Mourne Shore, the one most commonly associated with Down By The Salley Gardens since Hughes used it for his setting in 1909, would also work with When I was One and Twenty. As would any of the other tunes associated with or set to the Yeats poem, I guess. Oddly enough, the melody to The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, usually assumed to be the song that Yeats was trying to recreate, probably wouldn’t work so well, at any rate without some modification to accommodate the length of the lines. According to the music historian A.V. Butcher, Butterworth‘s setting to One and Twenty was related to a folk melody, but which one is unknown. Certainly the setting doesn’t ring any bells with me.

David Harley

The water is wide

The world is not short of recordings of this very popular song. This is a variation on an instrumental version I recently rediscovered, having performed it quite a lot in the 70s. I plan to use a more polished version in a forthcoming project.

Backup:

David Harley

 

South Wind

Also known as Southwind, The Southern Breeze, An Ghaoth Andheas, and so on. Has also attracted quite a few sets of words. Recently crossed my radar when working up some material with a ceilidh band, and I couldn’t resist trying it out. I may well vary the instrumentation for the ‘real’ version, but I quite like it with just guitar (though I’ve overdubbed here).

Sometimes attributed to O’Carolan, but I don’t believe there’s any proof of that, though Greg Clare tells me that it’s often performed along with Planxty Fanny Power (which I believe is O’Carolan) or Planxty Irwin (which is on my to-do list). The Fiddler’s Companion attributes it to Domnhall Meirgeach Mac Con Mara (Freckled Donal Macnamara) and includes Gaelic words and translation as well as much more information.

Backup:

David Harley

Staffordshire hornpipe

I find myself in an unusual position. (Steady! Not that sort of position.) I’ve played guitar and/or bass with ceilidh bands from time to time since the 1970s, but have never rehearsed with one until recently.

Which got me thinking that one or two tunes might fit quite nicely into a recording project I’m hatching. This is a sketch only for one possibility. It includes far too many guitars (probably one part would be a bass with just one second guitar to put in some sparse countermelodies) and the actual tune gets buried at some points: it’s just that this has some bits I wanted to keep for reference. I believe the tune was originally recorded in 1909 by Cecil Sharp from John Locke in Leominster. This interpretation is based on a vaguely-remembered recording from the 60s by Jon and Mike Raven. I think this was the record (with Jean Ward): SONGS OF THE BLACK COUNTRY AND THE WEST MIDLANDS.

I’m tempted to buy it, but then I’d have to learn the tune properly. 😉

Mastered:

Backup:

David Harley

 

Adventures in Video – Vestopol

 

audio capture:

Backup:

Vestapol (even the name has variant spellings, almost as many as the tune) has a fascinating (if slightly confusing) history. Henry Worrall (1825-1902), an artist and musician who taught guitar at the Ohio Female College, composed a guitar piece apparently inspired by the siege of Sebastopol (1854-1855) and sometimes called ‘The Siege of Sebastopol’ or ‘Sebastopol: Descriptive Fantasie’, or – according to the printout of the sheet music I have in front of me – just ‘Sebastopol’.

Sadly, I can’t read music – well, maybe if it’s simple enough that I can play it on recorder, but that’s about as far as I can go, so I don’t know how close that piece is to the tune I’m interpreting in this video. Compared to this version, played by Macyn Taylor on parlour guitar, not very. That said, this version, played by Brian Baggett “interpreted from the original manuscript…in collaboration with the Kansas Historical Society” is just about close enough to suggest that my version does derive ultimately from the older piece. As does the resemblance of the naming of the later piece, and, even more, the fact that both pieces use the same open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) tuning, often referred to by blues musicians as ‘Vestapol’ or ‘Vastapol’ (or similar) tuning.

It’s worth noting at this point that Worrall also published an arrangement of a popular piece called ‘Spanish Fandango’ – which, though it’s not without charm, to my ear resembles a ‘real’ fandango rather less than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ resembles the work of Václav Tomášek – which uses an open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). While I’m not aware that Worrall’s ‘Fandango’ has had anything like the same popularity or influence among blues/ragtime/folk musicians that ‘Sevastopol’ has, it’s notable that this open G tuning is often referred to as ‘fandango’ tuning. And certainly Elizabeth Cotton, who also played ‘Vestapol’, had a very similar tune called ‘Spanish Flang Dang’.

But – returning to ‘Vestapol’ – how did a formal piece apparently intended for the genteel parlours of the US get to my genteel home office/recording studio in the Wild West of Cornwall as a blues-y, train-y, ragtime-ish, clawhammer picking piece?

Stefan Grossman, who put together a three-part video to teach his own version, kind of skates over the issue as barely explainable, though a contributor to a thread on Mudcat points out perfectly reasonably that blacks and whites worked together and blacks worked as servants in the homes of white people: “They heard, they liked, they learned.” And adapted, making the work of other musicians into something of their own. So by the time John Fahey recorded the tune he still called ‘The Siege of Sevastopol’, it had developed into something significantly different Worrall’s tune, and acquired words – Robert Wilkins’s ‘Poor Boy (a long way from home) and ‘Prodigal Son’, later kidnapped by the Rolling Stones.

In fact, I sometimes follow Grossman’s lead in combining ‘Vestapol’ and ‘Poor Boy’ – he was the first person I heard do that, back in the late 60s or early 70s – or tack it onto the end of one of my own songs as with ‘Highway Fever’ here. Or ‘Castles and Kings‘, but not available as a recording right now.

However, on this occasion I decided to quit while I was ahead and just do the instrumental. And hope that it doesn’t measure up too badly to the many fine musicians who’ve taken their own shots at this well-worn but well-loved music.

David Harley

 

Pipe Talk

Rough sketches for a possible instrumental track.

Backup:

Alternative take:

Backup:

David Harley

Videos with photos

I don’t actually feel that video is my natural home. I get frustrated by the rough patches in my live videos, and I don’t have the resources or the skills to put together a professional non-live video. Still, there are a few videos up now where a reasonable audio version has been combined with some appropriate photos, and (a few) people seem to like them. I’ve added them to a page on this site here as part of my ongoing tidy of the site, and if I do any more, that’s where I’ll add them. But here are the ones that are there already.

[Tracks 1 and 2, words and music (c) David Harley. Tracks 3 and 4, music (c) David Harley. Track 5, words by David Harley based on an article by Ron Nurse; music by David Harley.]

[All vocals and instruments by David Harley. Photographs and artwork (c)  David and/or Judith Harley.]

  1. Wrekin – a song about Shropshire, with particular reference to the section of the Marches Line that runs through it. Much more information here. 
  2. Cornish Ghosts – a song about the part of Cornwall in which I live.  More information here.
  3. Painting the Desert – a slide instrumental accompanied by photos from a trip to Arizona and thereabouts.
  4. Moonflow III – another instrumental, this time with multi-tracked guitars (no, that’s not a real sitar). Photos from Stonehenge and York.
  5. Thomas Anderson (actually a podcast rebuilt with photographs of Shrewsbury, where most of the events of the song took place.) More information on the song and historical background here. 

David Harley