William-Morris-Song-Book-Motif

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On this page are all eleven tracks of Disc 1

Notes to the songs on Disc 1

DISC ONE

The Cutty Wren (Trad. arr. Farrell Family)

A very ancient ritual song which may refer to the pagan custom of the sacrificial ‘King who must die’. According to folklorist A.L. Lloyd, during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 – the setting for A Dream of John Ball (‘John the Red Nose’?) – it was adapted by the rebels to refer to King Richard II. The rebels demanded that all Church lands be given to the people. Richard initially agreed to this, but of course once the rebels dispersed, he betrayed them. Vaughan Williams used the tune in his English Folk Song Suite.

Clerk Saunders (Child 69; Trad.)

As indicated, the Morris family loved to sing and play ‘Scotch Ballads’. The story of Clerk Saunders was painted both by Morris’s great friend Edward Burne-Jones, and by Elizabeth Siddal, wife of another painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and so is something of a pre-Raphaelite icon. Eddie learned this version from the singing of the great June Tabor, a piece of hubris he still regrets.

Ye Noble Diggers All (Gerard Winstanley, arr. Farrell Family)

A song from the ‘English’ Civil War of 1642-1649. The Diggers were a radical group who in 1649 occupied and began cultivating common land at St George’s Hill, Surrey and other places. Their manifesto (A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England) demanded that all common land be returned to the people, it having originally been stolen from them. The song is said to have been composed by the Digger theoretician and activist Gerard Winstanley. Ironically, today St George’s Hill is a gated community, and therefore most probably occupied by ‘oppressing lords of manors, exacting landlords and tithe-takers’.

The Mores (words by John Clare; tune arr. E. Farrell)

Eddie was looking for a song about the Parliamentary Enclosures (1760-1820) – when many poor people were driven off the land (and the big landowners made a fortune), and the English landscape changed radically, often overnight – and came across these verses by the poet John Clare (1793-1864), who witnessed many of these events at first hand. The melody is used for several songs well-known to traditional singers; in England Lord Franklin, and in Ireland, The Croppy Boy.

The Chartist Anthem (Anon, arr. Farrell Family)

Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain (1838-1848) which took its name from the People’s Charter of 1838 which demanded – among other things – universal adult male suffrage, secret ballots, no property qualification for being an MP, all MPs to be paid, all constituencies to be the same size, and perhaps best of all, annual parliaments. Now there‘s an idea.

The Durham Lockout (Tommy Armstrong, arr. E Farrell)

One of a number of ballads about nineteenth century life in the Durham coalfield by the pitman songwriter Tommy Armstrong (1848-1920). This one is about the great strike or more correctly great ‘lockout’ of 1892. By that time Morris had almost ceased campaigning politically, but had been to Northumberland to speak during an earlier strike (1887).

Willie McBride (‘The Green Fields of France’; Eric Bogle, arr. E Farrell)

Probably the finest anti-war (but not anti-soldier) song ever. Eddie remembers, when he was a boy, seeing ‘the old people’s’ mantelpieces with rows of photographs of young men in uniform, almost all of them dead. Now he’s one of the ‘old people’, the memory remains vivid. The song has been recorded many times, but again, never quite like in the version by June Tabor.

Two Good Arms (Charlie King, arr. E Farrell)

Eddie’s dad told him about the two Italian anarchists Fernandino Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed in 1927 for a murder and robbery they almost certainly did not commit: his dad called it ‘a true example of American justice’. During 1887-8, Morris was part of a campaign to free the earlier ‘Chicago Anarchists’, falsely convicted of terrorism, four of whom were also executed.

Hijos del pueblo (Trad, arr. E Farrell)

A song from the Spanish Civil War, popular with members of the anarcho-syndicalist militias of the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo (CNT). Eddie learned it from a modern-day cenetista, Ramon Muns i Andreu, a very fine Catalan singer he met in Barcelona on the fiftieth anniversary of the Spanish revolution in 1986. While recording it, he was struck by the similarity between the Spanish Anarchists’ vision of the Earth under socialism – ‘¡Bello jardin la tierra sera!’ – and Morris’s description of England in News from Nowhere; ‘… a garden where nothing is wasted and nothing is spoilt …’.

The D-Day Dodgers (Harry Pynn, arr. E Farrell)

Eddie’s dad also taught him parts of this song, and we filled in the rest ‘off the net’. Baroness Nancy Astor, the first woman UK MP to take her seat (although not the first to be elected) is said to have described Montgomery’s Eighth Army, at that time liberating Italy from fascism (and therefore not taking part in the Normandy landings of 1944), as ‘D-day dodgers’. Among the ‘dodgers’ were Major Denis Healey (beachmaster at the Anzio landings, and later ‘Labour’ Chancellor of the Exchequer), Staff Captain Richard Hoggart (author of that great book The Uses of Literacy), and Lance Bombardier Terence Arthur (‘Spike’) Milligan.

Plane Crash at Los Gatos (Woody Guthrie, Martin Hoffman; arr. Farrell Family)

Woody Guthrie heard about this plane crash – in which those killed were described as ‘just deportees’ – on the radio, and then Martin Hoffman set Woody’s poem about the crash to music. Conditions for migrant labour have clearly not improved since 1948, as witnessed by the death of the Chinese cockle-pickers on Morecambe Bay in 2004. Julie Felix popularised this song in the UK during the 1960s, which is when Eddie first heard it.

 

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