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Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The Song Book

If by chance I loose this book 
If by chance you find it 
Remember Kathleen is my name 
And Clayton comes behind it. 
 
The News Chronicle Song Book 1931
 
Around 1960, my father came home with a copy of The News Chronicle Song Book given to him by an acquaintance who lived in the East Riding village of Asselby. It was in a terrible state, but he stuck it back together and fitted a brown paper jacket on which he wrote: “This book was paper backed and repaired on a wet Thursday afternoon February 25th 1960 by [him, me and my brother]”. A father on his half-day off keeping his two children occupied during school half-term.
 
The introduction suggests:
Singing together is a form of amusement and delight. It is a glorious way in which we can, in large bodies, express something which we could not tell in any other way. But the love for Community Singing should be started and finished in the home. … With this Song Book the “News-Chronicle” hopes to encourage and bring back singing in our home. The Community Singing will take care of itself.
I wholeheartedly agree but have never been much of a community singer. Despite a good sense of pitch, I find it difficult to hear my own voice in groups. At home, though, yes. What fun it gave us. No one played an instrument, we just turned the pages and sang. 
 
The cover gives an idea of what it contains. Looking again now turns up some great favourites: 
  • Dashing Away With a Smoothing Iron 
  • Come Lasses and Lads 
  • Billy Boy 
  • David of the White Rock 
  • Ye Banks and Braes
  • Marching Through Georgia 
  • Camptown Races 
  • Go Down Moses 
  • A Roving 
  • Eternal Father 
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful 

Wow! How long a list can get I away with? All two hundred? I feel a sing-song coming on. 

‘Twas on a Monday morning … me Nancy kittl’d me fancy … doo-dah doo-dah … to trip it up and down … tell old Pharoah to … bring me the harp I adore … I’ll go no more a roving … in peril on the sea. 

                                                *                          *                          *
 
We have a tape recording from 1963 of one of my dad’s unselfconscious performances. His granddad had been a sea captain which, he said, conferred upon him an inherited natural aptitude in the delivery and interpretation of sea shanties. 
 
“And now from my sea shanty series,” he announces, his tongue in a twist, “the old song book page one hundred and twenty four: Bound for the Rio Grande.”
 
Two children mutter and snigger in the background. 
 
“One moment please.” 
 
Struggling to keep a serious demeanour and in tune, he begins to sing: “I’ll sing you a song of the fish of the sea ...” 
 
That must be one of the daftest opening lines of any song, ever, and it defeats him. A hesitant pause is followed by a total breakdown into helpless laughter. All three of us. 
 
 
I suppose the lyrics of some of these songs are questionable these days, but not as questionable as the lyrics we used to sing on guitar nights in Leeds where I lived after leaving school, where familiarity with these songs gave me malign influence. Imagine four twenty-ish-year-old lads in a shared house with guitars and bottles of beer.  
 
Tavern in the Town became a song about the television rent collector who was a creep, and what he did with sheep. So did Camptown Races with the “doo-dah”s changed to “dildo”s. They are stuck in my head forever, and, of course, unrepeatable. Except for the one to the tune of The Ball of Kirrimuir about the owner of the house who knew we would never do any cleaning so did it all himself in return for us doing his washing up: 
Dave does all the cleaning, and that’s a job he hates, 
And so to appease him we have to wash the plates. 
… possibly the only case where our version was less deplorable than the original (although you won’t find any such words in the book). 
 
The News Chronicle Song Book 1931

The book has given sixty years of pleasure and continues to do so (perhaps that’s for a later post), more than twice as long as the original owner assuming she got it new when published in 1931. Who was she, I often wondered, the girl who misspelt “lose”? I never thought to ask. The wonders of internet genealogy reveal she was born in 1924, married someone called Roantree in 1951, moved in later life to Bridlington and died in 2010. By the time her book passed to us, she had three children of her own. I never knew them despite being of similar age and from the same area. She must have written the inscription in the nineteen-thirties. Did she ever think of it again? 
 
I don’t know if anything remains of Sycamore Farm. All I remember of Asselby is a village on a road to nowhere, on a tongue of heavy mudstone between the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Derwent, where there was once an awkward bend through a disused railway crossing. I went once or twice to the Black Swan pub there but preferred the Kings Head at the end of the road in Barmby-on-the-Marsh. They had a better dartboard.
 

58 comments:

  1. I love the sea shanty snippet, both the singing and the laughter! My sister and I used to sing together for fun all the time as kids. One of the favourite songs in our repertoire was the Canadian folk song "Riding on a Donkey," delivered with much gusto!

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    1. "Donkey riding, donkey riding." We sang that one with our own kids, from a more recent book of children's songs. I'll post about that at some time too.

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  2. How wonderful that you have the book along with all the wonderful memories! The recording of your Dad singing with you and your brother giggling is a priceless family memory to be passed down in the family! I would give anything if I had an audio or video recording of my parents. I would make a few copies of the recording and keep them in different places in case something happens to one.

    Books such as that one are an important part of history since they contain so many songs that were passed down for many years. I have an old song book from the 50's that has many of the old folk songs that you rarely hear today. I enjoyed this post!

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    1. It always makes me smile. That tape goes on and on - it's so embarrassing. My wife had the 1927 Daily Express song book which we also still have. It's interesting to look at the different musical arrangement.

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  3. What a great post this one little old song book made for, let alone the sixty years of pleasure you mention! Yes, it would be nice to know whether Miss Clayton ever thought of her book again.
    I love singing and in my teens was in two choirs, our school's and in church. At school, we loved the spirituals and gospels most; Swing Low is still a favourite of mine, but Go Down Moses comes a close second. For our church choir's performances, I liked the oldest pieces of music the best. The German language works quite well with solemn, serious lyrics.

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    1. PS: Your Dad sounds like a wonderful father! That inscription about the "wet Thursday afternoon" and what you say about the recording that ends with all of you in stitches says a lot about his sense of humour.

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    2. I don't even know whether my dad got the book from the lady herself or from her parents. It seems a shame they no longer wanted it but it went to a good home.
      Go Down Moses in German - that sounds great. I'm going to see if I can find it on the internet. It's a powerful song. I suspect experts would tell us it uses some unusual musical scale.
      My dad liked to write dates and little notes in everything - there's a book he bought on a cold day in Scarborough, and one when he visited Thomas Hardy's cottage when he notes my mum stayed outside waiting in the car. I've inherited the practice.

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    3. We sang the gospels and spirituals in English - I don't even know if German versions of them exist at all.

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and listening to a recording from so long ago. You have made me look out the equivalent from my childhood which was "Popular Songs for Community Singing" September 1938. It's only a 23 pages but there were plenty for singing around the piano.

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    1. Thank you. Many more people used to play the piano in those days, and many more people had them. Better than television, and the scores are not particularly easy ones. Most of us sit on our own now looking at screens.

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  5. That's the best sea shanty I have heard.

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    1. It's one of the best sea shanties but there are much better performances. A-Roving is pretty good too. And Drunken Sailor. I could go on.

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  6. Your dad sounds like a nice man. My dad was like that. I had a song book and we sang all the folk songs at prep school and I still know the words. I gave it to a charity shop a few years ago. I frequented the folk club circuit in Newcastle for 8 years. Sea shanties came up now and again. We have sea shanties in abundance here originating around the north and east Norfolk coast. They are an acquired taste best heard in a pub.

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    1. I don't think we realised at the time how lucky we were. He kept his sense of fun all through. His sister was the same. It was amusing to hear them talking.
      Sea shanties helped people work (and drink) together. I also liked the tales of the herring gutters who followed the shoals down the coast as far as Yarmouth. The annual influx of wild Scottish women must have been quite something. They had a good tradition of songs too.

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  7. Such a grand post. All the memories contained in one songbook--music can cast that spell. So evocative. The recording of your father breaking down in laughter--a priceless gift.

    Community sings can be so powerful. One of the songs in your book, Eternal Father Strong to Save, heard and sung many times myself. But it was unbelievable powerful when I heard sung by midshipmen in the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis during a funeral. All those young men's voices harmonized in remembrance. A memory not forgotten. Even thinking about it now, decades later, brings tears to my eyes.

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    1. It's funny (literally) how hearing others laugh often provokes a similar reaction.
      I wanted to list some of the content but it was difficult to keep it reasonably short. Eternal Father had to be included as possibly my favourite hymn. I particularly love the rising sequence of notes that usually goes underneath the words "strong to save".
      As mentioned in an earlier reply, there is loads of stuff on the tape recorded at different times. Some of it such as my unbroken voice and childhood accent is just so embarrassing.

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  8. I had to get out my super-duper new bluetooth hearing aid gizmo to listen to your recording. It was worth it

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    1. Has it been in the drawer since you posted about it three weeks ago? I'm glad to have provided cause to use it.

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  9. I covet your Song Book for the spirituals, plantation songs, sea shanties and Christmas carols. Kathleen Clayton's dedication is perfect, I wish I had a poster copy of it. Asselby, the village to nowhere, is just the place I wish to visit ... There is a Happy Land far, far away.

    Remember the Stephen Foster song Beautiful Dreamer? There's a YouTube clip of a black and white movie in which it's sung by Clint Walker, star of TV's *Cheyenne* which ran from 1955-62. Walker had a to-die-for baritone voice.

    The biopic of Stephen Forster's life, from rags to riches to rags, is also on YouTube or was last time I looked. I saw it at the age of six.

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    1. He wrote a lot of songs. The book has a small number - a quick glance finds Old Folks At Home (Swanee River), Old Black Joe, My Old Kentucky Home and Camptown Races. Other very well known ones such as Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair, Beautiful Dreamer and Oh! Susanna are not. It goes to show that even with 200 songs it hardly scratches the surface. Beautiful Dreamer is interesting in that it is in 9/8.

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    2. Yes, 9/8 time: Irving Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Lerner (Duke Ellington?) did it too. I am reading the autobiography of Richard Rodgers, which I found in a used bookstore. His doctor father enlisted him at the music academy in New York for four years.
      Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair: Al Jolson recorded it, but Swanee River and Old Black Joe would be offensive now. I bought an Oxford paperback edition of *Uncle Tom's Cabin* because on the cover there is a portrait of a young woman with the most beautiful very black skin. The portrait of a poor girl in South African, name unknown.

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    3. I'm sure there are those who would take offence at many of the songs in the book these days. I don't believe they were intended to be offensive any more than writing a Scottish or Yorkshire accent. Or should I call you Home Will Do Me Friend?

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    4. A number of people say to me, accusingly: *You don't have a Glasgow accent, do you?*
      At a school reunion in 1987 my English teacher said: *You've acquired an accent since the last time we met in the 70s.*

      So I am trying for a William McIlvanney accent (YouTube) which I find quite difficult. He had a very honest and compelling voice, and loved football, *the Beautiful Game* as he called it.

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    5. It didn't take me long when I lived in north-east Scotland to start rhotazing my 'R's and blowing my 'Wh's. It started after I asked a question in a supermarket and heard this awful English accent - words that slide so smoothly out of your throat you realise they cannot say anything that is worth saying at all (you'll know where that's from).

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    6. Ah, the plasticity of the vocal self! Didn't know you lived in north-east Scotia. Will I ever hear anyone using the word *rhotazing* again? Of regional accents I like Geordie, Liverpudlian, Brummie, West Country, North Walian, and West Riding. I can still hear J.B. Priestley being interviewed on BBC2. *I don't think I'm a genius,* he said, *but I'm stuffed with talent.*

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    7. I meant it was my own English accent. After that I was *rhotacising* and saying 'dae nae ken' and 'fit' along with the rest of the Lewis Grassic Gibbons.

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    8. I once spent the night in Welwyn Garden City, where Lewis Grassic spent his last years. I thought how brief a writer's fame is, and his was just a moment. BBC did a worthy adaptation of Sunset Song and its sequel with Vivien Heilbron, who is a star unknown. The dramatist caught *the Speak of the Mearns* splendidly, which Terence Davies lost in his brutally honest screen version.
      Aberdeenshire's other literary star was novelist Jessie Kesson, who lived in London and was a laugh-a-minute in conversation.

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  10. What a precious memory you have shared! My Dad and Mom loved to sing (they met in the church choir) and sometimes when we were on family trips in our green station wagon, we would all sing along together. Thanks for reminding me about that!

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    1. It's fun to sing at home or on a journey as a family. I suppose I shoud be less proud of one of those more deplorable versions sung with friends at Christmas leaving the Barmby Marsh pub mentioned in the post, about to cross the river bridge in the nearby town of Selby which in those days was a toll bridge, with six rather merry young lads crammed in a Ford Anglia singing to the tune of Jingle Bells: "We're in Neville's car, approaching Selby Toll, And if he wants some money he can shove it up his ---".

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  11. Tasker how I enjoyed your post today - I remember that songbook so well and the fun we had singing from it in the old days when there was not much rt so in the evenings out in the country. I played the piano and we had hilarious evenings. Thanks for stirring up the memories.

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    1. Thank you. They are really good songs and yes such fun to sing. We also have my wife's Daily Express book. I'd post the whole of the tape but it's too embarrassing.

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  12. the second wave is starting and in a pandemic it is usually the 2nd wave that kills the majority of people. You baby boomers are all going to die of corona-virus and finally the world will be able to make progress when you boomers are all dead

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    1. Oh dear! Who will cook tea for you, and do your washing and make your beds?

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    2. Hey Anonymous, what kind of world will it BE when we Baby Boomers are brown bread? All of the social and community values that we held dear will die with us. Globalisation will have wiped out your communities. Neo-liberal ecomonics knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. You will be wage slaves without a pension to look forward to.

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    3. No wonder you prefer to remain anonymous, Anonymous. Such unjustified nastiness is indeed something one would not wish to attach one's name to.

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  13. My father was the headteacher at Barmby-Marsh between 1950 and 1952. I was born the following year after he had been promoted to a bigger village school at Leven. Of course a good number of Barmby's scholars came from Asselby. To say it was the road to nowhere is insensitive. By the way do you remember "Singing Together" with William Appleby? Perhaps "Rhythm and Melody" too?

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    1. I remember you posting something about that and wondered whether he would have had any Claytons in the school, but Howden is nearer than Barmby so I would have thought they would have gone there in the days when they had to walk. Barmby was at the end of the road!
      I don't think we had Appleby at primary school, it would have come out after those days, but I remember we sang along to a schools radio programme.

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    2. Yes. It was a radio programme. Mr Appleby played the piano. Asselby is much closer to Barmby than Howden. That is why Asselby children DID attend Barmby School which was on the eastern edge of Barmby-on-the-Marsh.

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    3. I can't argue with facts. Thank you. I am imagining them before school buses walking along that road in all weathers like something out of Laurie Lee.
      Just checked the Radio Times archive and yes Mr. Appleby was playing his gigs on the Home Service in the 1950s, so it may have been his programme we sang along to, or it could have been Rhythm and Melody with Gladys Whitred. It's interesting you remembered at least one of their names.

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    4. O to be on the eastern edge of Barmby-on-the-marsh, now that November's (nearly) here!

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  14. Fantastic recording of you two and your Dad. I very much liked his voice!

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    1. Oooh! That's good. My cousin thinks I sound exactly like him (except I can sing in tune).

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    2. "Ye Banks and Braes o' bonny Doune". I love that song so I am going to request that you post a recording of it - with you singing. Then - apart from anything else - your loyal visitors can compare your singing voice to your father's. Think of this request as a gauntlet being thrown down by a noble knight.

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    3. A woman behind the counter in a sandwich shop I often used said, unsolicited: "I think you've got a wonderful speaking voice."

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    4. I always hoped Sinatra would record Ye Banks and Braes as well as Aye Fond Kiss and Then We Sever.
      Tasker would just need to speak the words to have that Sandwich Girl getting goosebumps. I imagine him with the voice of James Mason, who was born in Yorkshire. Ever see that great movie Mason was in, *Spring and Port Wine*? Susan George was his daughter.

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  15. Performing onto a reel to reel tape recorder was always a great family entertainment, whether singing or making up little plays. Something that is lost these days.

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  16. Tasker, I LOVE this post and have laughed as much as your father, you and your brother. We often sang in the car, usually rounds. Sometimes they went well, but often ended, like your family, in confusion and laughter.

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  17. You gave me a lovely memory reading this: we had a music teacher (Named Mr. Horn!) who traveled around to the elementary schools, and taught music, one class at a time. I remembered being in a classroom singing together with Mr. Horn leading us, at our old wooden desks with the shiny hard wood floors and the black chalkboard and the green shutters which made a rattling noise when the wind blew through the big wide open windows. Thank you.

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    1. We sang quite a lot of the songs at school too. One of my favourites was Cargoes - dirty British coaster ..., but that's not in the book.

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    2. The words were a poem by John Masefield:

      Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
      Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
      With a cargo of ivory,
      And apes and peacocks,
      Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

      Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
      Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
      With a cargo of diamonds,
      Emeralds, amethysts,
      Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

      Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
      Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
      With a cargo of Tyne coal,
      Road-rails, pig-lead,
      Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

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    3. Thanks for this, Tasker. I must memorise it. George Steiner said he learned poems by heart throughout his life, because it strengthened the muscle of memory.
      I am a big Masefield fan: *The Box of Delights* deserves five stars, *Dead Ned* is his masterpiece.

      Muriel Spark's book about Masefield the poet is still in print. Hunter Davies interviewed him and included him in his book, Hunting People.
      The way he juxtaposes the exotica of Quinquireme of Nineveh, Spanish galleons and topazes with that grubby coaster, coal and pig-lead is why I loved poetry as a child.

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    4. *Cheap tin trays* is a cheeky final touch !

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  18. EARTH TO TASKER! EARTH TO TASKER! COME IN PLEASE! THE BLOGOSPHERE IS MISSING YOU. WHERE ARE YOU? YOU ARE COMMANDED TO RETURN TO ORBIT. OVER.

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