Loveliest of Trees

Words by A.E. Housman (A Shropshire Lad II), tune traditional arranged and adapted by David A. Harley. It’s more or less the A tune from the reel ‘The Rose Tree’. At some point I’ll probably combine it with a version of the reel. Though since I’ve already exceed my three-score-and-ten, maybe not…

Taster for an album.


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

David Harley

Jack in the Box

Down in the workhouse when I was a lad
No tongue can relate all the pleasures we had
Dry bread, and Bastille soup by the bowl
And a flogging or two for the good of our souls x2

A tale I recall of those happy times
And an orphan lad always to mischief inclined
He was ever in line for a kick, at the best
And the poor workhouse master could scarcely find rest

Till came the day one of the other lads died
“Aha!” says the master, “I’ll settle your pride!”
He shut up the lad in the dead-house to stay
Alone with the coffin until the next day

But what should Jack do but open the box
He takes out the corpse, and with it swaps clothes
Props it up on the rail at the top of the stairs
Then he hops in the box and the winding-sheet wears

And when it grew dark, the master came up
With a plate for Jack, some victuals to sup
Holds it out to the corpse on the rail
Who says not a word, but stands stiff, cold and pale

“Well, take it!” the master says in surprise
“I should think you’d be starving by now, damn your eyes!”
Then up leaps Jack, who was lying so still
And says “If he wunna eat it, I will!”

When the master heard this he got such a fright
He let go of the plate, and turned whiter than white
Gave a terrible shriek, such a fright did he get
Fell back down the stairs and near broke his neck

Wasn’t that a sad fall for a man such as he
So kind to his charges, with his boot so free?
So pity the poor who must live on the roll
And think on the guardians and pray for their souls

A half-written song of mine based on a story of Knighton workhouse from ‘An idler on the Shropshire borders’, by Ida Gandy. Told to her by Ellen Hughes (nee Jordan) 1864-1940 also known as Granny Hughes. Many thanks to her granddaughter Denise Lewis of the Memories of Shropshire FB group for the information and photograph.

The song doesn’t doesn’t have a tune yet.

(c) David Harley

Llanfair Wakes

There was a man, long years ago, lived up in Skyborry
David ap-Evan was his name, a farmworker was he
Those days in Llanfair Waterdine each year they held a fair
And David dearly wished to go and see the wonders there.

“Gaffer, today is Llanfair Wakes; I’d dearly love to see
The doings that I’ve heard of there, if you can just spare me.”
Said farmer, “Not this year; why, mon, myself I have to go.
While I’m away, you must stay and scare away the crows.”

So David went down to the field, though he thought it wunna fair
And while he stood and grumbled, he saw a stranger there.
“David, it’s the Wakes today: why aren’t you at Llanfair?”
“Cos gaffer says to stay home, these ruddy crows to scare.”

Says the stranger, “Come with me, for I mean you no harm,”
And straightaway he called the crows and shut them in the barn.
So David went down to the Wake, and coming to Llanfair
He’d scarce been minutes in the place when he met the farmer there.

When he told the farmer what had passed, the mon began to rail:
Says he, “You think I’m simple, but I’ll not believe that tale!”
So back they went together, and the farmer said no word
Till they opened up the old barn door, and out flew all the birds.

“David, this is Devil’s work,” said farmer with a frown.
“I think you’d best be on your guard next time he comes around.”
Sure enough, before too long back the owd devil did roll,
A-tempting him to this and that till he feared for his soul.

One day as he was sowing wheat, the Devil told him straight,
“David, you must let me have half your crop of wheat,
So tell me which is my share, and you may keep the rest.”
“Why, take the roots!” said David, and so he came off best.

And sure enough the Devil came by as he was planting spuds.
Surely thinking this time he’d do himself some good.
“I’ve a mind to try some tater pie” says he, being cute,
“And I’ll not be caught out twice, me lad, so this time you’ll take the roots.”

Says David, “Twice I’ve bested thee, and third time pays for all:
But there’s a job you’ll do for me, if you mun take my soul.
Fetch me water from Llanfair up here to Skyborry,
And for summat to carry it in, this owd sieve I’ll give to thee.”

Owd Joseph tried, and tried his best, but no water could he bring.
“Third time pays for all,” said David with a grin.
“Uncle Joe, I’ve bested thee: you’d best be on your way,
And if you call this way again you can bring some tater pie!”

In course of time old David died, and when they read his will
It said “When I die, fling my heart onto the owd dunghill.
A raven and dove will fight for it, and then by that you’ll know:
If the dove wins, I’m for heaven; if the raven, for Uncle Joe.”

“And when my corpse you come to take, dunna go by the door,
Nor yet by any window, nor by any path or road.
And when you come to bury me, you’d best be on your guard:
Be certain not to lay me in church, or in churchyard.”

So they took some slates from off the roof to lift him through the gap,
And carried him along the dykes, and not by any path.
They laid him with his head in church, his feet in the churchyard,
And there he lay until at last Llanfair church was restored.

This is based on another story from ‘An Idler On The Shropshire Borders’, by Ida Gandy, told to her by a Mr Powell from Treverward, about halfway between Clun and Llanfair Waterdine. I’m not sure yet whether to put a tune to it or leave it as a recitation – poem seems a bit too grandiose a name for it. 🙂

According to Wikipedia,  “Skyborry” is an anglicisation of the Welsh for barn – ysgubor”. Llanfair or Llanvair means St Mary’s Church, while Waterdine denotes a place by the water.

(c) David Harley

CDs by Mal Brown

Some years ago now, I reviewed for Sabrinafu an excellent CD by Mal Brown called Sharp Stones and Tender Hearts.

He recently sent me a couple of his earlier CDs. Rule Changer is another music CD, and it’s just as good as the later album, with a generous 19 tracks, most of them written by Mal (including his setting of Walter de la Mare’s ‘Trees’ and the co-written ‘Johnny Jones’ Rabbit’, plus the traditional ‘Angels’. Mal’s excellent lyrics are supported by some fine tunes, some sounding almost traditional, some leaning towards music hall, but all good singable songs, with some sympathetic instrumental backing and classy harmonies.

Poems, Pies and Peas is a collection of poems and monologues, mostly without music. Not usually my thing, but this includes some hilarious content. I was particularly gratified to learn the real story of the Mona Lisa. 🙂

Prices and contact details as follows.

1CD – £10
2CDs – £15
3CDs – £20

Plus post and package.

  • Email –
  • Phone – 01743 861159.

David Harley

Podcast – A Solstice Garland

Here’s another podcast project: a slightly mildewed Christmas/Solstice garland of music and verse, much of it mine. (Sorry!)

Here are the details of what’s featured, not in strict order.

‘The Holly’ is a traditional carol from Canadian band Atlantic Union. Used by kind permission of the band. “Christmas in the Harbour”, from which the track is taken, is available here and my Mixcloud review of Atlantic Union’s CD “Indulgence” is to be found here.

‘The Fatal Glass of Beer’ is usually credited to Charlie Case, who died in 1916.

‘On Bredon Hill’ is my setting of a poem by A.E. Housman from ‘A Shropshire Lad’. I know it starts “In summertime on Bredon…” but it does get to Christmas eventually, if somewhat tragically.

‘Carpentry’ is an instrumental version of my setting of ‘The Carpenter’s Son’, also from ‘A Shropshire Lad’.

The poems (to put it more politely than literary critics are likely to) ‘Warm-up’, ‘Charade’, ‘Performance Poem’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ are mine, and can be found with other shaggy doggerel at this site.

‘I Heard a Bird Sing’ is by Oliver Herford (1860-1935), and my review for of the album by Hanz Araki and Kathryn Claire is here.

The project will probably get its own page eventually.

David Harley

My Boy Jack

My setting of the poem ‘My Boy Jack’ by Rudyard Kipling: I was looking at a couple of projects to coincide with the centenary of the ending of the Great War, but this is the only one that’s actually been heard in public.

It’s often assumed that the poem refers to the loss of Kipling’s son John, presumed killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915. The confusion was probably increased by the TV adaptation of David Craig’s play, which missed out the 3rd Act and finished with Kipling reciting the poem. However, while Kipling’s own grief did, no doubt, contribute to the overall tone of the poem, it was first published at the top of a series of articles on the Battle of Jutland, in which the British fleet sustained heavy losses, and it seems to me (and others) that, given the importance of ‘the tide’ in the poem, that the name Jack probably reflects the more generic ‘Jack Tar’. (While the earlier ‘Tommy’ has a very different tone, it does use the generic name ‘Tommy Atkins’ in a somewhat similar way.)

The guitar is a Nashville-strung Baby Taylor. I think the final version of this might have include some double- or triple-tracked vocals. Even if it doesn’t, the vocal needs work.


‘My Boy Jack’

“HAVE you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide. 

Kipling demos revisited [1]

After hearing Baldrick’s Plan sing (very well indeed!) ‘Big Steamers’, a Kipling poem set by Peter Bellamy to a variation on a well-known tune to ‘Henry Martin’, I thought I’d revisit a couple of my own settings of Kipling verses. (I have a rough setting of ‘Tommy’, too, but I’m rethinking that.)

Does the world really need my settings to three poems that Peter Bellamy had already added to his considerable armoury of Kipling settings? I’m not sure about that, at the moment. But here, for what it’s worth, is one of them.

I’m sure I remember at least one other setting of ‘A Smuggler’s Song’ apart from mine and Peter’s, but I quite like this tune. I could repurpose it, I suppose.

A Smuggler’s Song


Song of Chivalry revisited

There will probably be a more ambitious version of this here at some point, but at the moment I like this one-take version.

Words and music (c) David Harley

Originally published as a poem in Vertical Images 2, 1987.  I waited 30+ years for the melody to turn up, and finally did a make-it-up-as-you-go-along job earlier this year. The vocal here needs work – and I need to learn  the words – but the arrangement is much better.

And yes, I know that it’s unlikely that M’Lord fought both at Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). While the Black Death subsided in England from about 1350, outbreaks continued beyond the first half of the 15thcentury. I’m not sure how likely it was that M’Lord slept on silk sheets, but it’s a metaphor, not a history lesson…

When M’Lord returned
To his sheets of silk
And his gentle lady
Of musk and milk

The minstrels sang
In the gallery
Their songs of slaughter
And chivalry

The rafters roared
With laughter and boasting
Goblets were raised and drained
In toasting

The heroes of Crécy
And Agincourt
Or the madness
Of some holy war

The hawk is at rest
On the gauntlet once more
Savage of eye
And bloody of claw

Famine and fever
Are all the yield
Of the burnt-out barns
And wasted fields

The sun grins coldly
Through the trees
The children shiver
The widows grieve
And beg their bread
At the monastery door
Tell me then
Who won the war?

David Harley

Faithless Sally Brown [demo]

Words by Thomas Hood, tune a variation on ‘Andrew and his cutty gun’. Oddly, putting the two together was an idea that came out of a security workspace discussion. 🙂

Something rather more whimsical than the last couple of songs posted here.  Strictly a demo: when the lightbulb lit up, I just sang it straight into the microphone.

I’m not sure yet how well it works without the printed words: I’ll have to try it live, I suppose, and maybe consider some editing. Might fit as light relief into a press gang set with darker songs like ‘On board of a man of war’ or ‘All things are quite silent’.  The lyric is a poem by Thomas Hood (1799–1845). The tune I’ve used is (more or less) the A-tune to ‘Andrew and his Cutty Gun’ with a twist of ‘False Sir John’.

YOUNG BEN he was a nice young man,
A carpenter by trade;
And he fell in love with Sally Brown,
That was a lady’s maid.

But as they fetched a walk one day,
They met a press-gang crew;
And Sally she did faint away,
Whilst Ben he was brought to.

The boatswain swore with wicked words
Enough to shock a saint,
That, though she did seem in a fit,
’T was nothing but a feint.

“Come, girl,” said he, “hold up your head,
He ’ll be as good as me;
For when your swain is in our boat
A boatswain he will be.”

So when they ’d made their game of her,
And taken off her elf,
She roused, and found she only was
A coming to herself.

“And is he gone, and is he gone?”
She cried and wept outright;
“Then I will to the water-side,
And see him out of sight.”

A waterman came up to her;
“Now, young woman,” said he,
“If you weep on so, you will make
Eye-water in the sea.”

“Alas! they ’ve taken my beau, Ben,
To sail with old Benbow;”
And her woe began to run afresh,
As if she ’d said, Gee woe!

Says he, “They ’ve only taken him
To the tender-ship, you see.”
“The tender-ship,” cried Sally Brown,
“What a hard-ship that must be!”

“O, would I were a mermaid now,
For then I ’d follow him!
But O, I ’m not a fish-woman,
And so I cannot swim.

“Alas! I was not born beneath
The Virgin and the Scales,
So I must curse my cruel stars,
And walk about in Wales.”

Now Ben had sailed to many a place
That ’s underneath the world;
But in two years the ship came home,
And all her sails were furled.

But when he called on Sally Brown,
To see how she got on,
He found she ’d got another Ben,
Whose Christian-name was John.

“O Sally Brown! O Sally Brown!
How could you serve me so?
I ’ve met with many a breeze before,
But never such a blow!”

Then, reading on his ’bacco box,
He heaved a heavy sigh,
And then began to eye his pipe,
And then to pipe his eye.

And then he tried to sing, “All ’s Well!”
But could not, though he tried;
His head was turned,—and so he chewed
His pigtail till he died.

His death, which happened in his berth,
At forty-odd befell;
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton tolled the bell.

Jim Causley & Charles Causley

[Slightly  amended from a post on Sabrinaflu, since not many people in this region are likely to travel to Shropshire for a gig.]

Last night I caught up with our recording of Cornwall’s Native Poet: Charles Causley, screened a little while ago on BBC4.  It’s actually a cut-down (60 minutes) version of a 90-minute film produced by Jane Darke, and my wife recorded it for me, knowing of my long-standing interest in Causley’s verse. (No, it isn’t only Housman’s verse I read…)

I wasn’t aware of Jim Causley until I moved here to Cornwall, and learned that apart from being a highly-rated interpreter of traditional songs, he had set some of Charles Causley’s verse to music. So for me, one of the highlights of the documentary was hearing Jim’s musical settings: it turns out he is indeed a really good singer (and a sympathetic setter of other people’s words to music as well as his own). So now I need to get to one of his live performances.

[This is the bit I’ve changed slightly from the post for Sabrinaflu.] Since I don’t live in Ludlow any more, it’s unlikely that I’ll get to his appearance at The Song House at the Blue Boar on December 15th 2017, and if you’re reading this article, you probably won’t either, but if you do happen to be in the area and aren’t familiar with his work, I recommend that you give him a try. [End of amended bit.]

Meanwhile, I have his CD Cyprus Well on order. 🙂 And if you want to check out the documentary, it’s available on iPlayer until 31st October 2017.

David Harley