Today I have a traditional English murder ballad for you. I am familiar with many different versions of it, but this one is the first that I have ever heard. Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy are mother and daughter from Yorkshire who are both very prominent English folk singers. This song comes from their first collaborative album called Gift.
Norma started her career in a group called The Watersons that she formed together with her siblings. Later, she married folk singer and guitarist Martin Carthy who also became part of the band’s line-up. Over time, the Waterson-Carthy family have become such influential musicians that they earned themselves the title of the English folk dynasty, with Norma (who passed away last year) considered its matriarch. Their daughter Eliza is also a great singer and a very skilled fiddle player.
I was introduced to the music of both women through this collaborative album, and I think this is my favourite track from it. Like this song alone, the whole album is also rather dark and sombre overall and the topic of death is quite prevalent throughout it. This ballad is also better known as the Cruel Brother.
Today I have an English folk ballad for you, sung by a Scottish singer. It’s another one on this blog that is quite murky and tells the story of a murder, in this case we don’t know if it’s inspired by true events or not. This song is included in the Roud Folk Song Index and was first recorded by A.L. Lloyd. Lyrics in traditional songs like this tend to vary from one version to another, but Rachel Newton recorded her version with the same lyrics as A.L. Lloyd’s. It comes from her 2016 album “Here’s My Heart Come Take It”.
A very interesting song I have for you today. I got first fascinated and hooked on British folk rock I guess some time in 2015 and it was around then that I first became familiar with this couple’s music, both what they have recorded together and separately. My favourite British folk rock artist from the 70’s is unquestionably Sandy Denny (who almost managed to become one of my major faza people but even though it didn’t happen due to Vreeswijk still standing strong in the dominant faza position I still love her music very much) and thus all of the bands that she was a member of. One of those bands and probably one with which she’s most strongly associated was Fairport Convention, through which I’ve also become acquainted with Richard Thompson’s music, as he was one of the founders of the band, as well as the lead guitarist and songwriter for it. I think he’s a really good lyricist and there are a fair few songs by him that I like mostly because of interesting or otherwise captivating lyrics.
This is one of the very first songs by them as a duo that I’ve ever heard, thanks to Last.fm where I’d made my first British folk rock discoveries, and aside from appreciating Linda’s vocals and the arrangement in general, I got intrigued immediately by the lyrics and every time I listened to these lyrics afterwards I kept wondering, did she jump, or was she pushed? 😀 I don’t like crime novels, detective fiction books, I don’t even read a lot of mystery, I think a lot of it is horribly overrated and just not my thing, but I like lyrics which are like stories. Then later on I was wondering whether “she” was someone specific so I did a bit of research, and no, she’s not, I don’t think so, although in one interview Richard Thompson said that, after writing this, he realised that
or some other people he knew. He didn’t say specifically that it IS, and I doubt he had a clear intention of writing a song about her specifically, also I haven’t heard of her death ever being suspected to be a murder, but, thinking about it in general, the similarity is a bit eerie. Sandy Denny had a lot of mental health issues, a lot of it sounds like she could be bipolar, and one way in which she regularly self-harmed, or, as some people say, tried to get attention, was by throwing herself down from stairs, which was supposed to be something like a party trick. She also abused alcohol and drugs so she experienced a lot of accidental falls due to that as well. One time she hit her head on concrete when falling down a staircase during holidays in Cornwall. She had a lot of headaches afterwards and was prescribed a painkiller which can potentially be fatal in combination with alcohol. In April 1978, she stayed at her friend’s house alone, and was eventually found unconscious at the foot of the stairs. She went into a coma due to brain haemorrhage and died in hospital a few days later. So upon discovering this connection, albeit so dark and eerie, between this song and Sandy, I grew to appreciate it even more.
This song comes from the couple’s last collaborative album before their breakup – “Shoot Out The Lights” – and is the only song on the album and I guess also the only or one of very few songs of the duo to which the lyrics weren’t written solely by Richard but co-written with his then-wife.
If there was an actual reason for that – absolutely yes! – I don’t like when people make such foolish declarations “I love you so much that I could die for you” when there is totally no need for such radical acts, and even less so for empty words like that. But if someone I loved a lot, like my Mum or anyone in my close family or my online friends, or perhaps even Misha (although why would anyone want to kill or shoot Misha, and who would be capable of doing this, I have no clue? The only reason I can think of why someone might even consider that is if they somehow really hated me passionately for some reason and were desperate to make me miserable, and I am not aware of having such desperate enemies) or maybe even people whom I not necessarily love but who are somehow important to me and who I care about, or whose life I think is very important, if any of them were in danger where their life could be at risk, and my death could make the situation better in any way, then hell yeah, I’d do that, although it surely would be scary. I think it wouldn’t be quite as scary though as living the rest of my life with a consciousness that I could help save the life of someone who was dear to me in some way or who needed it, but did not do that. It would be more difficult if it was a shot that would only impair me in some way, as that would have some longer consequences for me and I’m not sure how I’d deal with that my whole life, but I’d try to think about how I was able to help someone through that and I suppose that would be at least a bit of comfort for me to know that I somehow helped their cause. My Mum recently asked me what would I feel like living in a country where Christians are persecuted in a major way, where their lives may be in danger because of their faith, and how I’d feel like about giving my life up for Christ, because she read a book about Christians in muslim countries and that made her think about it hard. Now this is such a difficult thing to think about. When you read about the martyrs in ancient Rome for example, and the ways they were tortured, I’m really not sure I would be able to deal with that and keep being faithful. On the other hand, it’s not really these people’s merrit entirely that they were strong and brave enough to go through it but they were supported by God’s grace, I don’t think anyone would willfully agree to such suffering and not give in at some point without some help. But I think I would at least try my best if I was in such a situation and try to have as much courage as possible. And in the case of this question, if I was in such a situation that I would have to take a bullet for Christ, I feel that would be easier than the fancy tortures people had to endure ages ago, so I would take the risk, I think.
Today I have a folk song for you, a beautiful English ballad. Well, this performance is English, but the song is actually known in many European countries, like a lot of folk ballads. I’ve heard different versions, both in terms of plot, melody and language. From English, to Scots, to Hungarian… But I think I am right to assume that it originated in the British Isles. Sometimes it’s known as “Cruel Sister”, but Emily Portman’s version is called “Two Sisters”. It’s a murder ballad – somehow I’ve posted a lot of those, well, I guess they must be really good. –
So, as I said, Emily Portman is English, and the song comes from her album titled “Glamoury”, which was made in cooperation with a harpist Rachel Newton (I haven’t heard her own music but from this album I think she must be a great harpist and I really like her harp play) and another singer – Lucy Farrell – I like that, since it’s said in the song that after the younger sister’s death, a harp was made of her breast bone by a minstrel, this song, in Emily’s version, actually contains harp. A lot of harp. The whole album contains quite a lot of harp, though I can be never satiated. Here goes, I hope you like it.
I wanted to show you another of my favourite Fairport Convention’s songs today. This one was written by Richard Thompson, who is another important figure for English folk-rock. Before I heard this song sung by Sandy Denny, I knew this song in Eilis Kennedy’s arrangement, she is an Irish singer from Dingle and although she isn’t very widely known, and maybe because of that too, I really like her. I found the lyrics very interesting too, so when I’ve got to know Sandy’s and FC’s music I liked this song even more.
Oh, how I love English folk ballads! I could listen to them… don’t know for how long, there are still other brilliant kinds of music, but anyway I just love them. I like folk ballads in general, but British have something special to them. I could actually even put them among one of my smaller interests, I had the stage in my life, when I was reading Child and Roud ballads all the time and comparing different contemporary version of them. Because of both these collections – Child’s and Roud’s – British ballads are very popular among folk artists, even not British, and they can be truly inspiring, beautiful, weird, magical, and so on.
This one is very interesting and amazing and picturesque. It is a murder ballad. About a mother killing her children, so the topic may seem a little bit scary. But the song is wonderful, and I chose my favourite version, sang by English artist, Bella Hardy.