The Critics Group

The Female Frolic


  • The Female Frolic
    • 1968 - Argo DA 82 LP
    • 1972 - Argo ZFB 64 LP
  • Side One
    1. The Doffin Mistress - All
    2. Girl Of Constant Sorrow - Peggy Seeger
    3. The Blacksmith - Sandra Kerr
    4. My Husband's Got No Courage In Him - Frankie Armstrong
    5. The Generous Lover - Frankie Armstrong
    6. The Whore's Lament - Peggy Seeger
    7. Geordie - Frankie Armstrong
    8. Come Me Little Son (MacColl) - Sandra Kerr
  • Side Two
    1. The Female Frolic - Frankie Armstrong
    2. Children's Sequence - All
      1. All The Boys In Our Town
      2. I Built My Lady A Fine Brick House
      3. Collier Lads
      4. Broken Hearted I Wander
      5. The Lady From Leigh
      6. All Around The Shoe Round
    3. An Old Man Came Courting Me - Peggy Seeger
    4. Miner's Wife - Frankie Armstrong, Sandra Kerr
    5. The Factory Girl - Sandra Kerr
    6. Lowell Factory Girl - Peggy Seeger
    7. The Broomfield Hill - Sandra Kerr
    8. The Housewife's Lament - Peggy Seeger

  • Musicians
    • The Critics Group: Peggy Seeger, Sandra Kerr and Frankie Armstrong (Vocals)
    • Peggy Seeger: Guitar, Autoharp, Concertina, 5-String Banjo
    • Sandra Kerr: Tin Whistle
    • Jack Warshaw: Guitar
    • John Faulkner: English Concertina
  • Credits
    • © 1968,The Decca Record Company Limited, London

Sleeve Notes


The doffer was the girl who removed the full reels of cotton from the spindle and replaced them with empty ones to receive the newly spun thread. The doffers were often very young and the doffing mistress supervised their work. Constant bending over the machines often produced a spinal deformity giving these girls the appearance of hunchbacks and reducing their height. It is possibly with gratitude that they sing of Elsie Thompson putting her coat on the highest pin, leaving the lower ones for those who could reach no higher.

Despite the fact that spinning and weaving sheds produce an excruciating noise and that much of the inter-communication amongst workers is done by lip-reading, the textile industry has produced many songs such as this. John Mclaverty, the Belfast singer, remembers this being sung in the streets when he was a boy.

GIRL OF CONSTANT SORROW (American) — Peggy Seeger, with autoharp

This fine song was made by Sarah Ogan (Gunning), one of the most outstanding of the woman bards to come out of the southern mining communities in America in the 1930's. That period of severe depression, poverty and starvation produced many good songs, a number of them using traditional tunes and motifs as their basis. The song "Man of Constant Sorrow" is a well-known traditional love song among white singers in the south, and in taking the lead-line of the song, Sarah Ogan has rooted her new piece in the already existing tradition. Such songs not only solidified the organisation of the industrial community but left for us, in the succeeding generations, a record of those hard times.

THE BLACKSMITH (English) — Sandra Kerr

Until the end of time … until the seas run dry … the rocks melt in the sun … always … forever … lover's words. Betrayed … jilted … lover's words. Such is the essence of so many of the poignant love songs, especially the southern English and the American Appalachian love songs. "The Blacksmith" could be said to be "typical" in its form — the history and particulars of the courtship, the disappearance of the lover, the accusation and denial, culminating in the final realisation of betrayal. The same old story, but so personal, so different from all the rest. (Collected from Mrs. Powell, of Weobly, Herefordshire.)

MY HUSBAND'S GOT NO COURAGE IN HIM (English) — Frankle Armstrong

In spite of culinary encouragement, the man is not a husband. "The difference is wide that sheets will not decide." The sheets have decided, however, and the sooner the coward is replaced by a real man the better. This song is a collation of two texts, one from George Wyatt and the other from John Vincent at Priddy, printed in THE IDIOM OF THE PEOPLE.

THE GENEROUS LOVER (Irish) — Frankie Armstrong

The story is timeless, the situation could occur as easily today and yet how intimate and specific is this song, painting with delicate poetry the feelings of a girl turned out by her family because of her love for a man whose inferior status makes him "unsuitable".

The singing is from Mary Hackett of Limerick, the text is part collated from The Irish Folk Song Journal. A.L. Lloyd collected the song from Mary Hackett in Dublin in 1947. Although variants of the tune have turned up since in Ireland, no other set of the words has been found.

THE WHORE'S LAMENT (American) — Peggy Seeger

In the late 18-century there was a very popular street song about a young man who, having sown his grain widely and without discretion, was dying of an unmentionable, ailment. The song caught on and, under the generic title of "The Unfortunate Rake", has spread over most of England and to many parts of America. Chameleon-like, it has changed its hero (sailor, trooper, soldier, young girt, cowboy), its location (St. James's Hospital, The Street of Laredo) and in many cases the disease has become mentionable : the victim is the target of a bullet, of too much gambling, alcoholism, etc. Most of the versions despite their extraordinary diversity, maintain an almost martial chorus, a ritual funeral and an attachment of blame to high living. The song does not seem to be limited to the English-speaking world — there is a Czech broadside on the same theme printed in 1762. The unusual outspoken version on this disc is from the singing of Mrs. Sally Hubbard, of Salt Lake City, Utah.

GEORGIE (English) — Frankie Armstrong

In 1967, Sally O'Connor, a London Welfare worker, was visiting Mrs. Janie Butcher (85 yrs.), an old lady living in a council flat in Brentford, Middlesex. In the course of conversation it was discovered that Mrs. Butcher's mother's people had been punnett makers and that she had heard many songs and stories from them as a child.

The old woman was convinced that "no-one is interested in hearing these songs, nowadays", but nonetheless she was delighted when a tape-recorder was brought in. She recorded twenty songs and her repertoire is still only partly tapped. "Georgie" is one of the finest of her contributions. It is, of course, a very well-known and widespread ballad, appearing as No. 209 in Professor Child's definitive collection of ballads. One of the earliest printed texts suggests that the original Georgie was George Stoole of Northumberland, who was executed in 1610: Like many folk heroes, he seems to have been a lover of the hunt, of women, of adventure, and the story of his life and death has spread throughout many a southern English county, to Scotland and to North America.

COME ME LITTLE SON (contemporary English) — Sandra Kerr, with Peggy Seeger, autoharp, Jack Warshaw, guitar

This is a song from the BBC radio-ballad on the building of the M1, SONG Of A ROAD. Written by Ewan MacColl, to a traditional Scots-Irish melody, it expresses the life of loneliness to which so many families are condemned by the absence of their men, who, to escape the poverty of their own country, go abroad to seek work. The M1 was largely built by such transient workers, a preponderance of whom were. Irish, but with a supporting cast of Scots ex-fishermen, English land-workers. Indians, Pakistanis, West Indians. The Irish found it was possible to get back home to see their families on an average of once a year, or only when a job was finished. This is not a new phenomenon: the folksongs are full of separations of this sort, sailors pressed to sea, soldiers to the army — and the folksongs have yielded many a lament from the women left behind.

THE FEMALE FROLIC (English) — Frankie Armstrong, with Peggy Seeger, concertina, Jack Warshaw, guitar, and Sandra Kerr, whistle

OR: An Account of a young Gentlewoman, who went upon the Road to rob in Man's Cloaths, well mounted on a Mare, etc.

Our first record of women taking to the highway for the purpose of robbery and crime is from the 14th century. Since the late 16th century, writers and street poets have been intrigued with the roaring girls, the Moll Cutpurses and those women who disguised themselves as sailors or soldiers, to follow their lovers or to avoid the more mundane cares of women. This kind of piece was probably to the 16th and 17th centuries what the cowboy films have been to our time — the wilds of Hampstead or Highgate were exotic and unmapped. Each heath or highroad had its denizens, and if the denizen was a woman so much the more exotic. This humorous song, known variously as "The Female Highwayman", "The Female Robber", was taken from the Pepys collection of broadside ballads. It is also printed in Alfred Williams' FOLKSONGS OF THE UPPER THAMES.


It is part of the rearing of young girls to imitate the rituals of love, courtship, marriage and domestication, in order to prepare them for duties as adults. They have been clothed in miniature adult styles, they dress up in their mothers' clothing, play with toy pots, pans, houses, dolls, prams, and are expected as soon as they are capable to take part in the housework. The inevitability of their role as wives and mothers is ever-present in their songs and games—some songs are purely and simply accompaniment for games, such as "Shoe Round". Other songs, like "The Cruel Mother", are essentially adult songs. The children listen to these and distill the essence of the conflict out of them to make songs for themselves. The violence and passion of grown-up life is all there, the realism as well as the disappointments of life and love.

  1. ALL THE BOYS IN OUR TOWN: A rope-skipping piece.
  2. I BUILT MY LADY A FINE BRICK HOUSE: A small fragment from Texas, for singing to a ring game.
  3. COLLIER LADS: A North Country fragment, characteristic of little girls' speculation on whom they will marry. This must have come from a mining community.
  4. BROKEN-HEARTED I WANDER: A Scots fragment of a love song, involving the love token which Is broken between lovers upon parting.
  5. THE LADY FROM LEIGH: A children's version of the ballad "The Cruel Mother" collected in 1961 from Mrs. Sherriff, living in the Guinness Foundation Flats, Brixton, London.
  6. ALL AROUND THE SHOE ROUND: A southern American ring game.

AN OLD MAN CAME COURTING ME (Canadian) — Peggy Seeger

This is a perennial joke in folksong, one not only accompanied by guffaws of laughter but often with real pathos. Most of the sympathy usually goes to the young girl whose ambitious mother has perhaps pushed her into marriage, or whose young lover hasn't enough wherewithal to marry. Very often in such songs the old man is rich — he has been saving up all his life in order to marry, only to find that he has paid for it with his manhood. Needless to say, this is a fruitful situation for song and story of all types. Our version is from the singing of O. J. Abbot, an Ontario (Canada) singer.

MINER'S WIFE (contemporary English) — Frankie Armstrong, Sandra Kerr, with Peggy Seeger and Jack Warshaw, guitars

While being interviewed in 1960 by a BBC team, an ex-miner's wife was asked why she had persuaded her husband to leave the pit. Her comment was simple: "I couldn't stick that knock on the door". This fear is shared by most miner's wives. Any and every knock could mean news from the pit that her man was injured or dead, or in the older days, it could preface the bringing of the body into the little kitchen to be bathed and laid out for burial. One Co. Durham woman recalls her husband's body being brought home in a sack in a wheelbarrow, and left at the doorstep. This small song, written by Ewan MacColl tor a BBC radio-ballad, THE BIG HEWER, captures the dread, the constant war of nerves in which these women live.

THE FACTORY GIRL (Irish) — Sandra Kerr

In songs prior to the Industrial Revolution, a squire might set his fancy on a shepherdess or milkmaid and, through her sense of class pride and her consciousness of the consequences in social terms, he might be rebuffed. This theme has extended itself into industrial song — it is a kind of sense of fitness and knowledge that certain class attitudes would never mix even in the marriage bed. Although "The Factory Girl" is primarily a love song, it is also an expression of this declaration of independence, i.e. that a woman, no matter how poor or humble, is still her own master and needn't marry to have money or peace of mind. The first printed version of this song was called "The Country Girl", published in 1843. The text here, however, is probably earlier than 1843. And is from the singing of Mrs. Cunningham of Annalong, Co. ' Down, verse 4 and the melody is from Robert Butcher of Downhill. Co. Derry.

LOWELL FACTORY GIRL (American) — Peggy Seeger

With the exception of mining, no industry has produced as many songs as the textile industry. Much of the labour in these mills in both America and Britain was made up of women and small children. The beginning of the textile industry in America can be pinpointed at 1798, when a yarn-making mill was erected in Pawtucket by Samuel Slater, an English emigrant. Local labour soon began to drift in from neighbouring farms. The whole economic process of women entering the mills was soon forced, and return to the farms was impossible after 1837, a year which wiped out many New England small farmers. The rural haven disappearing, the urban labour communities began to solidify and become dependent on the mills. As the average weekly earnings of New England cotton operatives in 1830 was roughly the equivalent of nine shillings, we could say that this song dates approximately from 1820-1840.

The song is not as widespread as the idea — there are many pieces expressing the heartfelt wish to get away from the mill. It is not quite clear if "Lowell" refers to the Massachusetts' textile town, or to the mill named after Francis Lowell, a man who was instrumental in mechanising the industry in 181 5. This particular text is printed in John Greenway's AMERICAN FOLKSONGS OF PROTEST.

THE BROOMFIELD HILL (English) — Sandra Ken, with John Faulkner, concertina

A young man lays a wager with a young girl that she will not meet with him alone in the forest and return home a maid. She takes up the challenge; he arrays himself richly and lies down to await her, first placing a bunch of broom (a sure protection against evil spirits) at his feet. Unfortunately, broom is also a powerful soporific and he falls asleep. She arrives, walks around him three times, kisses him three times, and because three is a witching number, she succeeds in keeping him asleep. She then leaves a token as proof of her presence and departs, the winner of the wager. This is a very old ballad, a very old theme in our folk tradition, and versions of it are found in many parts of England and America. This particular version is from the singing of Mrs. Powell of Weobly, Herefordshire, collected in 1910,

THE HOUSEWIFE'S LAMENT (American) — Peggy Seeger, with two guitars

This song was copied from the diary of Mrs. Sara A. Price of Ottawa, Illinois. She had seven children and lost them all. Some of her sons were killed in the American Civil War. Thus, this version can be dated about mid 19th-century. It sounds like a composed song, written in the United States, and Ireland, although the tradition is that of Irish topical ballads. It was probably popular on music-hall and minstrel platforms. It has been variously titled "Life is a Toil" and "Housekeeper's Lament".

A woman is an angel at ten, a saint at twenty,
A devil at forty and a witch at fourscore.
(traditional proverb).

There can be no doubt that the above saying was coined by a man, and most men would cheerfully agree with it, without thinking that with a little re-writing it could apply equally well to themselves. The battle of the sexes has been raging throughout human history and shows no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future. Indeed, life would be very dull if it did. In individual skirmishes, honours are probably more or less equally shared between the two sides, but on the larger social scale, men have usually succeeded in keeping women in a state of subjugation, despite gallant forays mounted by shock-troops as various as the Suffragettes and Lysistrata and . her determined band of Athenian beauties. How long men can continue to maintain their supremacy is a matter for conjecture.

Great writers from the time of Aristophanes to the present day have drawn inspiration from the sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious incidents of this battle and so also have the innumerable and mostly un-named poets of the folk tradition. It is with the attempts of this latter group to delineate some of the many aspects of woman's life that this record is concerned.

In the late 1950's. the British folk song revival grew out of the craze for American skiffle and, at first, singers tended to base their repertoires on the folk-songs and blues of North America. However, in searching for the origins of Appalachian music, they turned their eyes back across the Atlantic and rediscovered the ballads and songs of their own islands. The singers of the British folksong revival, who originally thought their native music dowdy and unexciting, were astonished to find a rich treasury of song waiting to be explored. Men and women alike chose their repertoires with little consideration towards their sex. For example, it was not uncommon to hear pretty and solemn young girls performing songs from the abouring industries such, as mining, or singing tough and lusty sea shanties in voices that would have been reduced to inaudibility by the gentlest of Atlantic zephyrs: It would have appeared from a folk club programme that men were predominant amongst traditional singers.

This certainly was not so for singers in the oral tradition. Many of the finest traditional performers have been women and in many instances it has been the sole responsibility of the female to carry the songs and traditional style of singing to the next generation. This is especially true of our nomadic people, the gypsies and tinkers, for it is their women who carried some of the great song masterpieces into our time. A few that spring to mind are Jessie Murray of Frazerborough, the Stewarts of Blairgowrie and Queen Caroline Hughes, a travelling woman with a great fund of traditional songs and a brilliant singing style who was recorded for the first time outside Poole, Dorset in 1964. Cecil Sharpe, who collected songs in the early years of this century, found that a great number of his informants were women, one of the finest being Mrs. Overd of Langport in Somerset, who gave him over 200 songs. Sharpe said of her "Probably every generation has produced a small percentage of singers like Mrs. Overd and to her special gifts must be attributed many of those musical qualities which are the glory of folksong". Writing songs also is a field which women have not left untouched; the 1930's produced a proliferation of female song-writers in the U.S.A., Fanny Sellins, Sarah Ogan and Aunt Molly Jackson among them.

Frankie Armstrong, Sandra Kerr and Peggy Seeger are all members of the Critics Group, which meets regularly to discuss and explore the art of folksong and how best these arts can be applied in the revival. They felt that there was a need for a record to trace the Woman's constantly changing position in terms of traditional folksong and to try and open up the large and varied repertoire available to the female revival singer.