Documentary: “In Search of English Folk Song”

Famed filmmaker Ken Russell tours the countryside in search of the roots of the English folk song in this eye-opening documentary. His travels reveal the history of the form, its remnants in modern music and the ways it evolved as it was carried to Ireland and the New World. Performances and interviews with Donovan, Fairport Convention, June Tabor and other artists help illustrate the changing face of English folk music through the centuries.

Give Us a Tune: “Wally, Wally”


Oh, waly, waly up the bank and waly, waly down the brae,
And waly, waly up burnside where I and my love used to go.
I was a lady of high renown that lived in the North country;
I was a lady of high renown when Jamie Douglas courted me.

And when we came to Glasgow town, it was a comely sight to see,
My lord was clad in the velvet green and I myself in cramasie.
And when my eldest son was born and set upon his nurse’s knee,
I was the happiest woman born and my good lord, he loved me.

There came a man into our house and Jamie Lockhart was his name
And it was told unto my lord that I did lie in bed with him.
There came another to our house and he was no good friend to me;
He put Jamie’s shoes beneath my bed and bade my good lord come and see.

Oh woe be unto thee, Blackwood, and an ill death may you die,
You were the first and the foremost man that parted my good lord and I.
And when my lord came to my room this great falsehood for to see,
He turned him round all with a scowl and not one word would he speak to me.

“Come up, come up, now Jamie Douglas, come up the stair and dine with me,
I’ll set you on a chair of gold and court you kindly on my knee.”
“When cockleshells turn silver bells and fishes fly from tree to tree,
When frost and snow turn fire to burn it’s I’ll come up and dine with thee.”

Oh woe be unto thee, Blackwood, and an ill death may you die,
You were the first and the foremost man that parted my good lord and I.
And when my father he had word my good lord had forsaken me,
He sent fifty of his brisk dragoons to fetch me home to my own country.

O had I wist when first I kissed that love should been so ill to win,
I’d locked my heart in a cage of gold and pinned it with a silver pin.
You think that I am like yourself and lie with each one that I see,
But I do swear by Heavens high, I never loved a man but thee.

‘Tis not the frost that freezes fell, nor blowing snow’s inclemency,
‘Tis not such cold that makes me cry, but my love’s heart grown cold to me.
O waly, waly, love is bonnie a little while when first it’s new,
But love grows old and waxes cold and fades away like morning dew.

June Tabor on decorating in the bathroom

Some of the most refreshing music to be heard around the clubs in the past autumn was provided by a new dynamic duo in posing boots, June Tabor accompanied by Martin Simpson. Shortly after their initial run of dates together, June came down to Southern Rag Towers to take part in another of our series of mildly scurrilous interviews with people The Sun has never heard of.

After strapping her firmly into a chair still bearing marks of struggle from last issue’s Nic Jones encounter, Ian Anderson and Maggie Holland did most of the talking whilst Caroline Hurrell applied more subtle methods of persuasion in the form of rather too many bottles of red wine. The latter method proved more fruitful!

he first time I met you would have been around 1967 when you came down to Bristol with the New Modern Idiot Grunt Band. What were you doing in folk clubs in those days, were you already singing or just an audience person?

No, I sang the first time I ever went to a folk club, would you believe? I got taken along to one just opened in Leamington, I’d been known to sing all sorts of things at school. I went along with a school friend when I was about sixteen, and we walked in and she went straight up to the organiser and said “My friend sings, will you put her on?” I was hiding at the back thinking “Oh my God, what shall I sing? I don’t know any folk songs”. And my first public appearance in a folk club I sang Kumbaya and Michael Row the Boat Ashore, because that was all I knew. I’d been watching the Hallelujah programme on television, so I got up and sang and I’ve been doing it ever since. I got friendly with the resident group and started going round with them, and started to get hold of records and things and learn traditional songs.

How early on did you get interested in traditional songs, because at that time the clubs were fairly heavily into Bob Dylan and Bert and John?

June Taber and Martin Simpson

Well the club I went to regularly, the resident group were very much into Irish stuff, Clancy Brothers, that kind of thing, but fairly soon after I started going I went into Dobells and acquired an Anne Briggs EP; that would be after about a couple of months of going to folk clubs, and I learned everything off that. I used to drive my mother mad by sitting in the bathroom learning how to decorate! And if you remember that particular Anne Briggs EP, it was the one with My Bonny Boy and Rosemary Lane and things like that; very, very highly decorated singing, so I learnt how to do that by copying Anne Briggs, and then I found out about Topic by getting that EP and I acquired the Belle Stewart (The Stewarts Of Blair) so my style evolved from a mixture of things, Irish decorated style and Scots tinker style.

That’s interesting because you must be one of the few people who went straight into singing British traditional songs rather than starting off in something else and then delving deeper into things. The next time I remember meeting you, you were at Oxford at the Heritage Society. I gather that had quite a marked effect on you. Was this where you ran across the old singers for the first time?

Yes, apart from the odd albums I’d picked up by looking in the Topic catalogue and picking out things that had female singers on, Lizzie Higgins, Jeannie Robertson, that sort of thing. Because the people I’d been mixing with up to that time had been very Irish orientated, or people like the Grunt Band doing blues and all that sort of stuff, then to go to Oxford and actually find this immense band of people who were really very much into Traditional with a capital T music and sitting in a pub playing tunes and English music. that was tremendous, I’d never come across anything quite like that before. And of course Peta Webb was at the same college as I was, and she was a leading light in the club at the time.

Continue at FROOTS: June Tabor on decorating in the bathroom – fRoots Magazine

June Tabor: An Introduction to June Tabor


There will be many who have collected June Tabor’s recorded work over the years but for those who are perhaps less familiar with her work, this introduction is a grand way to discover one of the best voices of her era.

An Introduction to June Tabor

Topic Records – Out Now

It is hard to believe but June Tabor has been part of the British folk music scene for a little over 50 years since making her early appearances at the Heart of England Folk Club, in the Fox and Vivian pub in Leamington Spa. So this release is a welcome addition to Topic Records ‘An Introduction To’ series.

Once described by Elvis Costello as “The great voice of English folk music”, this compilation covers her work for the Topic Records label between 1976 and 2011, some 13 albums in all, some solo but others in collaboration with the likes of Martin Simpson and Maddy Prior who, together, found fame as The Silly Sisters. But it is a solo performer upon which this collection concentrates, albeit with some help from her friends [ . . . ]

Continue at FOLKRADIO: June Tabor: An Introduction to June Tabor | Folk Radio