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John Roberts & Debra Cowan | Ballads Long & Short

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Folk: Traditional Folk Folk: British Folk Moods: Type: Acoustic
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Ballads Long & Short

by John Roberts & Debra Cowan

Mostly traditional Anglo-American folksongs, some a cappella, duets and solo, some with banjo, concertina or guitar - please listen to the samples.
Genre: Folk: Traditional Folk
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Drive Dull Care Away
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
3:42 album only
2. The Broadside Man
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
3:01 album only
3. The Tailor's Breeches
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
3:21 album only
4. Fair Annie (feat. Bill Cooley)
Debra Cowan
8:31 album only
5. Garners Gay
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
4:23 album only
6. Combing the Mane
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
2:46 album only
7. The 'Cornstalk'
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
4:59 album only
8. The Bonny Hind
Debra Cowan
5:53 album only
9. Twa Corbies
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
2:45 album only
10. When Fortune Turns the Wheel
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
3:08 album only
11. Gypsum Davy
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
4:21 album only
12. Jim Jones
John Roberts
3:17 album only
13. Anderson's Coast
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
5:35 album only
14. Bold Riley
John Roberts & Debra Cowan
4:12 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
“It all started with a question in 2009: ‘How are you getting to Chicago?’ And with that, folk musicians John Roberts and Debra Cowan decided to team up for a series of small concerts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois before arriving as separately booked artists at the Fox Valley Folklore Society’s annual festival. The combination of car-pool and mini-tour was successful enough that John and Debra continue to do more performing together both in the USA and in 2011, with a successful tour in the United Kingdom.” That’s our story, anyway, and since we continue to perform together as often as possible we thought we ought to sing some of our songs together as well. So here’s a sampling of some of our favorites, ranging from the deadly serious to the just plain silly. Longand short, we hope you’ll agree that they are indeed the best of every sort.

The prolific songwriting team of John Conolly & Bill Meek, of Grimsby, wrote The Broadside Man, which gives us our title as well as a good chorus for an opening song in live performance (John Conolly is of course best known for his song Fiddler’s Green). Also with a good chorus, Drive Dull Care Away has only been found once in oral tradition: Sandy Ives noted it from Charles Gorman, on Prince Edward Island. Joe Hickerson sang and recorded it, and gave it a much wider circulation in the US. It is found in a few British broadside collections, though we haven’t been able to see a copy to compare texts.

It seems that tailors are rarely treated well in folklore. The Tailor’s Breeches, which the wearer manages to lose a little too enthusiastically, is no exception. This Dorset version is shorter than one known in the north of England, and was published by Frank Purslow in Marrowbones, his first selection of songs from the Hammond & Gardiner manuscripts. Moving to the north, John first heard The ‘Cornstalk’ from the singing of Derek Elliott of Barnsley, Yorks. Also known as The Christmas Goose, this is a hunt-supper favorite, with a hunting chorus that bears no relation to the storyline which proceeds inexorably to its conclusion. And from the light-hearted to the just plain silly, we bring you Combing The Mane, a ditty of swashbuckling on the “barbery” coast which Sid Kipper brought out after the untimely “death” of his father, Henry. Probably the less said about this one the better. But we do sing “real” chanteys, and on this recording we present Bold Riley, which was first given this more lyrical treatment by John Jones and the Oyster Band.

Of the ballads included in the Child anthology, Twa Corbies (Child 26), first published in Ravenscroft’s Melismata in 1611 as The Three Ravens, is perhaps the oldest. Morris Blythman (d.1981), a seminal figure in the development of the Scottish folk “scene,” set this Scottish version of the poem to a Breton tune, An Alarc’h (The Swan), and Norman Buchan included it in his 1962 collection, 101 Scottish Songs (the best Scottish songbook ever!). We have anglicized it slightly. Gypsum Davy is based on a Tennessee variant of Child 200, one of the most widespread of all the classic ballads, the one about the lady absconding with the gipsy, or gypsies, possibly under a spell. Collected in 1916 by Cecil Sharp, this one appears in his English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians as The Gypsy Laddie. Here, the lady seems set for life with the gypsies, but other versions end less happily.

This version of Fair Annie (Child 62) comes from the late Peter Bellamy but it turns out that many others have recorded it as well. We were given a bit of background from our good friend Nigel Schofield (who knows everything about everything) that surprised us: the original version of the story is a Lai by Marie de France, probably written around 1194. She was known in the court of Henry II, where the Lai de Fresne, which mirrors the Fair Annie story, was recited. She may have even been Henry II’s illegitimate half sister, exiled to France as a baby with her mother, in which case the original Lai has extreme irony. Who knew? Deb learned The Bonny Hind (Child 50) from the singing of the late Tony Rose. It’s a ballad that seems to have all the ingredients: siblings separated at birth, incest, suicide, riddles and an interesting metaphor towards the end.

Two Australian songs here, the first, Jim Jones, a bitter little song of transportation to the penal colony in Botany Bay. Mick Slocum, of the Original Bushwackers Band, wrote this tune for it which became much more widespread when the band toured England in the early 1970s. Even Bob Dylan recorded it! This ballad leads naturally into Anderson’s Coast, from the pen of John Warner of Sydney. It records the isolation of a convict marooned on the Gippsland coast after a group escape from the penal colony in Tasmania (still Van Diemen’s Land in the 1840s), stealing a boat to sail across the treacherous Bass Strait to the Australian mainland, with death the penalty for being recaptured. The story goes that a small band of explorers led by Count Strzlecki, close to starvation, came across the convicts living in a deserted stockade. These convicts fed the explorers, then guided them to Anderson, a local squatter, and safety. It is believed that the convicts were pardoned for their help. John learned the song from Danny Spooner, and it has changed a bit from John Warner’s original.

Fred Hamer was an avid morris dancer, and when he went blind in the early 1950s he turned his attention to collecting folk songs, particularly around his home in Bedfordshire and in other areas not well covered by others. He used Garners Gay as the title of his first published collection of traditional songs. It’s a version of The Sprig of Thyme, closely related to The Seeds of Love, embodying notions of the symbolism of flowers and herbs common in many rural English songs. The song has been a staple of the Roberts & Barrand repertoire for many years. When Fortune Turns the Wheel was a signature song of the late Louis/Louisa Jo Killen, who learned it from Alan Rogerson in the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland in the late 1950s. We sing it in memory of Louisa, with whom we shared many years of friendship, individually and collectively



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