Most Saturdays – at any rate when I’m at home – I spend the hours between 12 and 2pm listening to Ian Semple’s radio show on Coast FM (Facebook page here). While Ian plays a great deal of local music, his tastes are wide-ranging: today, for instance, his playlist included Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Seasick Steve, Wilde Roses, and Ry Cooder, as well as more local names like Baldrick’s Plan and Julie Carter. And this was a track of mine that he played today. 🙂
My friend Vic Cracknell, who among other musical activities runs open mike nights around Surrey, where I lived for several years, often used to introduce me as ‘someone who plays authentic blues.’ As a result of which, I got used to introducing this along the lines of: “This is a traditional blues. However, it differs from most traditional blues in that it was written on the platform at Chalk Farm Tube station after an evening at the Enterprise folk club in 1983.”
In recent years, I’ve usually played this on electric guitar. This version, though, was recorded on domestic equipment (or maybe a Fostex X-15) in the 1980s, with quite a different arrangement (and on acoustic guitar). I think I might try for a better recording using the same(-ish) arrangement in the near future. But in the meantime, this isn’t too bad considering it was taken from a cassette.
I was enormously pleased and encouraged to have some tracks played today (April 1st 2017) on Ian Semple’s show on Coast FM (96.5 and 97.2 FM or via the web). An excellent performer in his own right, Ian includes a lot of local music in his show between 12pm and 2pm on Saturdays and I listen in whenever I can. Thanks, Ian, for the exposure and for the kind words!
The tracks were from a gaggle (or is that gabble?) of CDs I’ve been working on in the past few months when I haven’t been able to get out much. All vocals and instruments are me: I can’t blame anybody else… Words and music (apart from the Housman poem) copyright David Harley. All rights reserved.
[Revised notes and added to this blog on 15th May 2016 after Ian Semple kindly included this recording on his Radio Penwith show. That’s the only Cornish connection, though I expect I’ll continue to sing it now I live down here. NB this replaces the demo I posted on my song site in July 2014. It’s still a demo, but it’s nearer the way I now hear it in my head. Whether it’ll ever get as far as a commercial recording is a different issue.]
Not one of my songs, of course. This demo is an interpretation of a song I learned many years ago from Michael Cooney by way of banjo player (well, multi-instrumentalist) Merrion Wood. Oddly enough, Bert Jansch also recorded a slightly similar ‘Weeping Willow Blues’ using a 12-string. I’ve never heard Michael Cooney’s recording, but I seem to remember that he also played it on 12-string when I heard him play it live. Just to be awkward, I play it slide, so it’s probably not that close to either version.
I think Michael did tell me at the time (I guess it was in the early 70s) where his version comes from – I heard him sing it at the old Shrewsbury Folk Club. (A post on Mudcat suggests that it came from Leadbelly: it does somehwhat resemble Roberta.) However, he kindly responded to a recent email as follows:
I first heard the song sung by Guy Carawan; I believe he sang it in a minor key. I added a verse or two from other blues songs and worked out that arrangement. I play it in D with the E string tuned down to D, AND I used to (back then) tune the whole guitar down so when I played it in “D” it was really in C# or even C.
Michael recorded the same song on an LP called ‘Singer of Old Songs’, and it turns out that it’s on the CD of the same name he’s released on his own label. I plan to acquire a copy sooner rather than later: apart from being curious to see how far my version has changed from his, I always enjoyed his sets back in the 70s and I look forward to hearing some of those songs again.
The ‘Sometimes I think you’re too sweet to die…’ verse is close to one associated with Rabbit Brown’s ‘James Alley Blues’, widely known through Judy Roderick’s rewrite ‘Born in the Country’.