Shropshire Laddishness

This page consists of material imported from another of my blogs. Why? Because in recent years the amount of advertising – much of it looking somewhat scammy – that WordPress imposes on its free blogs has increased dramatically, or even traumatically. This blog, however, has been upgraded to a plan that leaves it free of unwanted advertising, and in any case it makes sense for material related to my settings of Housman’s poems to be on a music-oriented site.

N.B. Although some of this material refers to settings, sound files linked here are not necessarily the best or most recent recordings.


I have a longstanding interest in the poetry of A.E. Housman, largely expressed in terms of having generated an assortment of musical settings of his verse strewn over various blog sites. This is an attempt to get all the relevant material onto one site. Especially (obviously) the settings.

Housman can’t really be described as a Shropshire lad himself: he was born near Bromsgrove in 1859, attended university in Oxford, initially worked in London, and died in Cambridge in 1936. Many sources suggest that he may not actually have visited the Shropshire countryside of which he presented his own idiosyncratic vision until after he had published the collection, and that most of the poems were written while living in Highgate, London. (Oddly enough, I have a Highgate connection too: I helped run a folk club there in the 1980s.) On the other hand, according to Shropshire historian Dr. David Lloyd, when the death of his father in 1894 brought him back to Worcestershire, he spent a great deal of 1894 and 1895 visiting Shropshire, and Housman himself described the first few months of 1895 as his most prolific in terms of writing poetry.

I did not begin to write poetry in earnest until the really emotional part of my life was over; and my poetry, so far as I could make out, sprang chiefly from physical conditions, such as a relaxed sore throat during my most prolific period, the first months of 1895. (Letters, 329)

And in 1911 he told Sydney Cockerell that ‘nearly everything in the Shropshire Lad was written in the first five months of 1895 when he was 36, and the rest in 1894.’ (Cockerell’s diary, as cited in Norman Page’s A.E. Housman: a Critical Biography.) So while his residence at that time was Highgate, it may be that many of the poems were written much closer to the ‘blue remembered hills’. But Haber and Page both suggest that it’s unwise ‘to take Housman’s own chronological limits too literally.’ Certainly the mapping by Page and others of specific verses to specific events and emotions in Housman’s life are an indication that there was more to A Shropshire Lad than pastoral nostalgia, and much more than Housman himself was prepared to discuss publicly. Perhaps the original title of the collection – Poems of Terence Hearsay – is in itself a warning that not all within those verses is as it seems.

Be that as it may, his ashes are buried near St. Laurence’s church, Ludlow, five minutes walk from where I live at the time of writing.

Although I lived for the first 19 years of my life in Shrewsbury, none of my settings of Housman’s verse was composed in Shropshire either. I was living in Berkshire at that time, though the setting to Bredon Hill was composed while I was visiting my parents in Manchester, I think.)

The whole of ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is viewable from There are countless hard-copy volumes of Housman’s verse, of course, but my favourite is the 2009 edition published by Merlin Unwin with local photographs by Gareth B. Thomas (and a handful from the Shropshire Regimental Museum), an introduction by Prof. Christopher Ricks, and a brief biography of Housman by Dr. David Lloyd, a well-known name in Ludlow historical circles.  There is a freely available Gutenberg version of A Shropshire Lad.  Martin Hardcastle has a page that seems to include much if not all Housman’s ‘serious poetry’, as well as a few links to other Housman resources.

Other Housman settings have, of course, been composed by real and more celebrated composers like:

‘A Shropshire Lad’ CD: Michael Raven and Joan Mills

In an article about my own settings of some of Housman’s poems, I mentioned that I hadn’t come across any other folkie settings of his verse, but that it would be surprising if there were none. 

Eventually, I came across this page on the Mike Raven web site: a 1994 CD with 20 tunes played on the guitar by Mike (18 are traditional and two are composed by him), and 17 Housman poems set to music by Mike and sung by Joan Mills (with Mike on guitar). Most of the poems are from ‘A Shropshire Lad’ but three are from Last Poems. In most cases Mike has used a traditional tune, but the tunes for The Deserter and Is My Team Ploughing are Mike’s own.

There’s even a short sample: it turns out that for ‘True Lover’ he used a tune associated with ‘The Unquiet Grave’, as sung by Jean Ward on an LP by Mike and Jon Raven called Songs of the Black Country and the West Midlands. I used to have it on vinyl and perhaps still have, somewhere. A very pretty tune, as it happens, and nicely performed by Joan and Mike on the ‘Shropshire Lad’ CD.

(Personal reminiscence alert.) When I was a teenager in Shrewsbury, I remember frequently seeing the Black Country Three on local television early in the evening, along with others like Lyn and Graham McCarthy, John Renbourn, and even Roger Whittaker before he started having hit singles. Later on, I met Jon Raven at a gig in Berkshire and disgraced myself by asking for a song that was one of Mike’s.

Later still, I found myself in a scratch band accompanying Jean Ward on a song at somebody’s farewell gig, though I think I was there to play guitar with Bob and Mary Hands. I have no idea what any of us actually sang: it was a very long time ago. And much later still, I seem to remember that Mike Raven and I both had regular gigs at a wine bar in Kensington, but on different nights, so I never met him there. I believe he was playing flamenco at that venue. Except that by another of those flukes and serendipities that sometimes arise from too much time browsing the web, I subsequently discovered that the 1960s DJ who also went under the name of Mike Raven at one time also played flamenco guitar in London, so maybe that’s who was playing that wine bar gig.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that the guy who played that venue was yet another Mike Raven. For years, various book sites and distributors were convinced that my book ‘Viruses Revealed’ was written by – or, bizarrely, with – a completely different author by the name of C. David Harley. There are very few totally unique names in the world…

Sadly, it turns out that Mike Raven the Midland musician died in 2008. And the other ‘Mike Raven’ (real name Austin Fairman) died in 1997.

However, I subsequently acquired a copy of the CD, and have had a great deal of listening pleasure from it: beautiful singing from Joan, and super guitar playing from Michael. It’s an object lesson in how good a no-frills, no-overdubs, no-edits recording can be.

The album consists of a generous 33 tracks (a running time of just under 80 minutes): 17 settings of Housman poems are interspersed with 20 Welsh guitar pieces (some of the instrumental tracks consist of two pieces played back to back). All the Housman lyrics are from ‘A Shropshire Lad’, except for The DeserterIn Midnights of November and Half Moon, which are from ‘Last Poems’. The Welsh tunes are all traditional except for Galaru and Rhoslan Reel, which were composed by Michael Raven. (And yes, he was born in Cardiff, so I guess they certainly also qualify as Welsh!) Nearly all the settings use traditional tunes: according to the notes, Michael wrote the tunes to The Deserter and Is My Team Ploughing, though the tune to The Deserter sounds to my ear pretty close to a well-known tune associated with Henry Martin to me.

Setting and singing Housman is harder than you might think. The form of so many of his poems does lend itself to strophic folk-  or folk-like melody, but make no mistake: Housman was a scholar and a very adept craftsman in terms of his writing, and though his style lends itself very well to art song – hence, the number of settings by Butterworth, Vaughan Williams et al. (there are some links here) it would be easy for some of his lyrics to come over as somewhat stilted and self-conscious if set unsympathetically.

Fortunately, both the singing and the settings here are very sympathetic. Even where a well-known melody has been used (Brigg FairGeordie and Lord Gregory for example) the performers have not been afraid to alter the melody and metre to fit the words if necessary. To the extent that I’ve been getting additional value from the CD playing a little game of ‘Name That Tune’ (“Is that Kate of Coalbrookdale?”) Nevertheless, the poems themselves have also been altered where deemed appropriate. For example:

  • The verses of Bredon Hill (XXI) have each lost a line (I probably wouldn’t have noticed had I not also set that poem to music – the omission doesn’t seem to harm the song)
  • Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree has acquired a repeat and a half to the last line
  • The fairly lengthy Come Pipe a Tune has been cut down considerably and without disrespect to the full length poem as printed, it probably works better in its abbreviated form as a song.

To paraphrase Phil Ochs* – who is probably remembered  nowadays (if at all) as a ‘protest’ singer, though he was much more than that and also composed several excellent settings to poems by Poe, Noyes et al – it’s not unreasonable that ‘the discipline of music’ should sometimes modify and shed a different light on an existing poem as it develops into a song.

True Lover, on the other hand, uses the same tune and arrangement as Cold Blows The Wind (a version of The Unquiet Grave) recorded in the 60s on an LP by Jon and Mike Raven with Jean Ward. It’s an inspired choice: there is a distinct echo of the revenant theme of The Unquiet Grave in Housman’s lyric, while a passing resemblance in the phrase “So take me in your arms a space Before the cast is grey” to the refrain of the very different Blow the Candle Out gives it an added edge, though that may purely serendipitous.

All that said, this isn’t the most ‘folkie’ of albums. That’s not a criticism: I’m no purist.  Joan’s singing style sounds well-trained but not operatic, making fluent use of folkie ornamentation. Michael’s guitar style as an accompanist and soloist is eclectic, reflected in his use on various pieces of classical, flamenco and steel-strung acoustic guitars. Not that you’ll find much in the way of flamenco staples like rasgueado or golpe here, but the brighter tone of the Ramirez flamenco guitar gives Come Pipe a Tune in particular an almost Mediterranean flavour. Rather than the open tunings, drone notes and linear melodic lines of, say, Martin Carthy, his approach to the steel-strung guitar is more a matter of rhythmic attack and variations in picking style. Perhaps Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree is the closest to that school of guitar, though I think it’s more a matter of convergent influences than an attempt to emulate that school of guitar playing (of which I remain an aspirant member, by the way). On the left hand, I note some techniques you don’t usually find a classical guitarist using, even the occasional ‘blue-d’ note and some slightly jazzy hard sliding chords in Good Ale.  In general, though, his work here features a complex blend of melody, and countermelody, chords and bass, that sometimes recalls Renaissance lute music, sometimes mediaeval music. If you enjoy John Renbourn’s incursions into those areas, you may well enjoy the solos here.

There is too much here for a track by track description, but here are a couple of tracks I particularly wanted to explore in a little more detail.

Is My Team Ploughing? is sung unaccompanied, and the tune is credited to Michael Raven. It’s kind of interesting to compare it to the Butterworth setting, Whereas the dialogue between the dead and the living in the Butterworth setting is marked by a change of melodic line from high and ethereal to a vigorously delivered line with a more aggressive piano part, Joan Mills has to use the same tune for both sides of the dialogue. She establishes the contrast by delivering the ‘dead man’ side of the dialogue forcefully whereas the ‘live man’ is gently delivered, suggesting a reluctance to reveal that he has taken his place: “I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart – never ask me whose.” Both work equally well: in fact, I’d find it difficult whether I prefer this version or the rendering by Pears and Britten of the Butterworth setting.

When I was one and twenty (A Shropshire Lad XIII), sung (very beautifully and also unaccompanied) to the tune of Brigg Fair, resolves a small problem for me. Some years ago I set A Shropshire Lad XVIII, of which there is no setting here, to a tune you can find here, if you care to: Oh when I was in love with you. More recently, I realized that the same tune would work for When I was one and twenty, and wondered whether to use it for that instead. However, I won’t. Though I can’t sing it as well as Joan, the tune better known as Brigg Fair makes a perfect companion for this lyric, with its hint of young love gone bad reminiscent of Yeats’s Down By The Sally Gardens (itself based on a folk song).

[Added later: I subsequently had some thoughts about the similarity in theme and form – you could quite easily use the same tune to carry both lyrics – between Sally Gardens and One and Twenty. This dabble with ethnomusicology is at Housman in the Salley Gardens.]

In case you haven’t noticed, I like this recording a lot, and it’s now sitting comfortably on both my iGadgets. In fact, it’s the first time in over 20 years that I’ve had the urge to review a recording (and it’s probably the first music review I’ve ever done that wasn’t commissioned). There is also a companion book with full staff and tablature notation: I haven’t seen it, as my sightreading and tablature skills are at best minimal.  There is more information on the CD and book on the Michael Raven web site – ordering information here.

And finally, a track listing for the CD.

  • On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble (Shropshire Lad XXX1)
  • Megan’s Daughter (guitar solo)
  • Bredon Hill (Shropshire Lad XXI)
  • Rhoslan Reel (written by Mike Raven)
  • Half Moon (sung unaccompanied: Last Poems XXVI and XXVII)
  • White Rose of Summer (guitar solo)
  • New Mistress (Shropshire Lad XXXIV)
  • Galaru [composed by Michael Raven]/The Blackbird (guitar solos)
  • Along the Fields (Shropshire Lad XXVI)
  • Long Live Mary (guitar solo)
  • Is My Team Ploughing? (Unaccompanied: Shropshire Lad XXVII)
  • Bard’s Dream (guitar solo)
  • Ludlow Recruit (Shropshire Lad III)
  • Megan who lost her garter (guitar solo)
  • Come Pipe a Tune (Shropshire Lad LXII)
  • Lady Mine/Gogerddan (guitar solos)
  • Midnights of November (unaccompanied, Last Poems XIX)
  • Rising of the Lark/Weep not for me (guitar solos)
  • True Lover (Shropshire Lad LIII)
  • Beside the Seashore/Good Ale (guitar solos)
  • Goldcup Flowers (Shropshire Lad V)
  • Where are you going? (guitar solo)
  • The Deserter (unaccompanied, Last Poems VIII)
  • Clover (guitar solo)
  • Loitering with a vacant eye (Shropshire Lad LI)
  • Lady Owen’s Delight (guitar solo)
  • Farewell to barn and stack and tree (Shropshire Lad VIII)
  • My lady is more fair (guitar solo)
  • Wenlock Edge (Shropshire Lad, XXXIX)
  • Snowdon (guitar solo)
  • When I was one and twenty (unaccompanied, Shropshire Lad XIII)
  • Farewell to Llangyfelach (guitar solo)
  • Shrewsbury Jail (Shropshire Lad IX)

*Oddly enough, I was reminded of Ochs by a line in The Deserter – “And, call it truth or call it treason” – which was echoed by Ochs, quite possibly deliberately, in I ain’t marching any more: “…Call it peace or call it treason, call it love or call it reason, But I ain’t marching any more…”

A Shropshire Lad XXI (Bredon Hill) [demo]

Words by A.E. Housman, set to a tune by David Harley. All rights reserved. 

Not to be picky, but though this is from ‘A Shropshire Lad’, Bredon Hill is actually in Worcestershire. Housman himself was from that county, so was no doubt fully aware of that fact.


In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.0

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
“Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.”
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
“Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.”

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon
And still the steeples hum.
“Come all to church, good people,”
— Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

* Pronounced Breedon.

Summertime on Bredon

[Previously published on Shropshire Blues]

It’s possible that Housman hadn’t visited Shropshire when he wrote most – if not all – of the poems that make up ‘A Shropshire Lad’ but then, when I set Bredon Hill (A Shropshire Lad XXI) to music in the 1970s, I don’t think I quite knew where Bredon Hill is. It isn’t actually in Shropshire at all, but in Worcestershire – Housman himself was from that country, so was no doubt fully aware of that fact.

So, finding myself in the Cotswolds , how could I not actually visit Bredon? The photograph above was taken looking approximately South past Kemerton.

The photograph below was taken looking West towards Bredon from Kiftsgate Court.

towards bredon

A Shropshire Lad XVIII and XIII [demo]

I wrote the tune for A Shropshire Lad XVIII (Oh when I was in love with you) back in the 80s (and always sang it unaccompanied). Much more recently, I noticed that the same tune fits just as well for XIII (When I was one-and-twenty).

Poem by A.E. Housman, set to a tune by David Harley. All rights reserved. 

The lyric from XVIII is available from the Housman Society.


Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by,
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again.

The Housman Society also has the lyric for XIII.


When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

Housman in the Salley Gardens

After I wrote my earlier 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 GardensThe 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. 🙂

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.

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.

You know, I enjoy writing about this stuff much more than I do writing about security*.  It’s a pity no-one is ever likely to pay me to do it. 😉 But then, as someone I worked with on a drama project once pointed out, the best way to kill your enthusiasm for a hobby is probably to start doing it for a living.

*Well, I did that for about 25 years, so it’s easy to get blasé.

A Shropshire Lad VIII

(which I call Farewell to Severn Shore for want of a catchier title).

Words by A.E. Housman, set to a tune by David Harley. All rights reserved. 

          "Farewell to barn and stack and tree,
           Farewell to Severn shore.
          Terence, look your last at me,
           For I come home no more.

          "The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
           By now the blood is dried;
          And Maurice amongst the hay lies still
           And my knife is in his side."

          "My mother thinks us long away;
           'Tis time the field were mown.
          She had two sons at rising day,
           To-night she'll be alone."

          "And here's a bloody hand to shake,
           And oh, man, here's good-bye;
          We'll sweat no more on scythe and rake,
           My bloody hands and I."

          "I wish you strength to bring you pride,
           And a love to keep you clean,
          And I wish you luck, come Lammastide,
           At racing on the green."

          "Long for me the rick will wait,
           And long will wait the fold,
          And long will stand the empty plate,
           And dinner will be cold."

Bartleby has the poem here.

A Shropshire Lad XLVII (The Carpenter’s Son) 

Words by A.E. Housman, set to a tune by David Harley. All rights reserved. 

An old unaccompanied version of my setting of Housman’s poem.

There’s an instrumental version with guitar and bouzouki on Soundcloud here.

`Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.

`Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.

`Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I left but ill alone.

`Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So ’tis come from ill to worse.

`Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same’s the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.

`Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.

`Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.’

An afternoon on the Clun

In ‘In Valleys of Springs and Rivers’, Housman (quoting a local rhyme) tells us that

“Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.”

(Don’t worry, this isn’t one I’ve put to music!)

In Shropshire at least, it’s not unknown to hear a variant version in which they’re described as “the drunkenest places under the sun.” If Housman had used that version, it would have put a whole new spin on the next verse, describing that part of Shropshire as ‘the country for easy livers’ I suppose.

I can’t answer for the drinking habits of the current inhabitants of those delightful villages, but I can certainly vouch for their being both quiet and picturesque, having been in those parts with Jude a few weeks ago.

Here’s Clun’s Packhorse Bridge, and part of the castle (complete with swifts):


clun castle

Jude’s take on that afternoon, with more photographs and description, is here: Just Back From… crossing the border.

Another Shropshire Lad

Being in the mood to avoid work – there’s nothing like an imminent deadline to generate distraction activities – I just found among my cassettes ‘Banana Blush’, an album of readings by John Betjeman recorded with Jim Parker’s music in the 70s, and rather enjoyed hearing it again.

I have a vague recollection that there’s a footnote to ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (JB’s, not Housman’s) that says it should be read in a Midlands accent, but his own reading is more reminiscent of The Last of the Summer Wine.

An excellent musical setting, though: I’m not surprised that it sometimes turns up among folkies actually sung to that tune. If I ever have access to a brass band, I might sing it myself.

The Shropshire Lad in this instance is Captain Matthew Webb, born in Dawley, mostly remembered as the first person to swim the English Channel, and according to family legend a distant relation of mine. (Unlikely!) He drowned in 1883 while attempting to swim Whirlpool Rapids, on the Niagara river. He apparently leapt in from a boat near the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge. That bridge isn’t there any more, but the Whirling Rapids Bridge in the photo below was built to replace it and built around it so as to minimize disruption. (The bridge behind is the disused Michigan Central Railway Bridge.)

whirlpool rapids bridge lite

Believe it or not, the photo (taken from the Canadian side) doesn’t do justice to how wild that stretch of river actually is (maybe the next two give a slightly better impression), yet apparently Webb made it as far as the entrance to the whirlpool, but was dragged under and hit his head on jagged rocks. Believe it or not, there used to be a trolley line (the Great Gorge Route) that ran along the gorge on the American side. Actually, there were trolley lines both sides of the gorge, but the one on the US came right down to water’s edge for part of the journey, with (reportedly) amazing views of the whirlpool.

niagara2 niagara3

Here are a couple of shots around the whirlpool itself, though again they don’t really do justice to how impressive – and frightening – it is. The first one shows the Aero Car, which would probably have given us a better shot of the whirlpool itself, but we didn’t have time if we were to catch the train back to Toronto!

whirlpool rapids whirlpool rapids 2

Betjeman’s poem suggests that Webb’s ghost visited Dawley ‘while swimming along to heaven’. I don’t know if it was intentional, but there’s an echo there of the story of how after he swam the channel Webb was ceremoniously escorted from Wellington station to Dawley. There is a story of how a pig put its front trotters on the sty wall to watch the procession go by accompanied by the Shifnal Brass Band. It’s hard to imagine that Jim Parker wasn’t aware of the ‘Pig on the Wall’ story when he put together that very brass band-like arrangement for the Banana Blush album.

Housman – jazzing it up

When I was putting together an article about Betjeman’s not-very-Housman piece ‘A Shropshire Lad’ and the setting by Jim Parker, I came in passing upon a reference to an album by Jacqui Dankworth and New Perspectives that includes five Housman settings.

While on this page I tend to focus on my own settings of Housman’s verse, I also referenced some settings by ‘real’ composers like Butterworth and Vaughan Williams, and mentioned that I was unaware of other ‘folkie’ versions. I subsequently spent a lot of time talking about Mike Raven’s settings as recorded with Joan Mills, but I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of a jazz setting.


Roland Kirk gigging at Powis Castle*

The settings on the album are actually each by a different composer: John Williams (the Shropshire saxophonist, not the guitarist or the film composer), John Dankworth (the singer’s father), Patrick Gowers, Andrea Vicari, and Dick Walter. More like the sort of stuff her mother Cleo Laine has done from time to time, listening to some samples. It also includes some more ‘traditional’ jazz fare like On Green Dolphin Street and Creole Love Call, as well as a version of Villa-Lobos’ Bach-ish Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.

I quite like it, but a post on the folkie forum refers to the album as ‘very difficult’ and compares it to the music of a jazz composer ‘who wrote music for T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”‘. I’m not familiar with any such setting, and wonder whether he might actually have been thinking of Stan Tracey’s ‘Under Milk Wood’?  But I’m not a jazz buff, and the fact that I can’t find a reference to such an Eliot setting by no means proves that it never existed.

David Harley

*OK. You’re right. It isn’t.

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