Nothing can better illustrate the nature of the present folk-song revival as compared to that of fifty years ago than the songs and singers on this disc.
No "folksy" background for Robin Hall and Jim Macgregor. Both are from that grimiest and most industrial of all grimy and industrial cities, Glasgow. Both are young — in their twenties: both are concerned with songs that come straight from the life around them: both are concerned with making folk-song live, and so they have not much truck with over-pretentiousness or pomposity in this field — listen to You Canna Shove Your Granny off A Bus.
Children's street songs are, I suppose, roughly divided into two categories. The first is for play or calls — skipping, chases, ball, and "peever" or "ba'beds". Here is used a variety, an astounding variety, of lost legend, tale and history. There Came Three Jews or The Golden City or Mary Queen Of Scots Had Her Heid Chopped Aff. These songs, though accents and names change, seem pretty common throughout Britain and — Dominic Behan tells me — in Ireland too. The others, and heaven preserve me from the massed weight of folk-lorists falling on me, seem mainly derisory: cocking a snook at authority, personal or institutional, and in the process building up the morale of the grimy urchin in the street. And surely nowhere is this more necessary than in Glasgow. Tall dirty black tenements, gaping close-mouths, cracked stair-heid windows: back "greens" of puddled asphalt, and broken wash-hooses. Communications conducted vertically — "Maw, fling us doon a piece" or "Come up here, till ah melt ye". Vertical description: "Murder, polis, three stairs up. The wumman in the middle door hit me wi' a cup". And all around, the enormous vertical heights of the cranes in the yards — Fairfield's, Harland & Wolffs and John Brown's. Yes, by God, the Glasgow wean needs his mockery, his irreverence, his derision if he is to survive. "Ham-feet, ham-feet, Fry the polisman" …
Three Craws: This could take you on a conducted tour of folk-lore if you wanted to embark on it. (Derision, aimed at death? Certainly to see a hoodie craw is still a fearful thing in many parts of Scotland where it is regarded as a portent of death.) Or just anti-pompous — to trap future folk-lorists?
If You Will Marry Me. Glasgow version of "Paper of Pins". Derisory — anti-Romantic.
Duke Street Jail, You Canna Shove Your Granny Off A Bus, The World Must Be Coming To An End. Almost classic derisionaries! The jile, death and "yer granny" — the three biggest threats that loomed over and directed any Glasgow wean's upbringing. The only things missing are the Pope and the Polis.
Johnnie Lad: The theme song of the folk revival in Scotland. Origins — Love-song. Line of descent (ascent?): drinking-song (maudlin), saved and jazzed up by the kids. Verses full of local patriotism (e.g., Polmadie), anti-authority and current comment. I recently heard a version entirely devoted to the Sputnik.
The Wee Magic Stane: First published by the Scottish Secretariat in a little booklet called Sangs O' The Stane. Of all the songs devoted to the acquisition of the Stone (not "stealing" — Edward I stole it), this song by Johnnie McAvey is most likely to survive and pass into the folk tradition. It exactly captures the amused anti-authority and derisionary delight that rippled through Scotland at the time.
The Means Test Man
Here we have a fragment of an old Music Hall song, which has 'a wee go' at this well known and heartily detested figure of the depression era. Today, of course, he is euphemistically referred to as the Public Assistance Officer.
An abbreviated version of a song which we know as typically Glasgow-Irish but which is found in various forms in most of Britain's larger industrial towns.
Two Heids Are Better Than Yin'
We asked a wee man busking outside a Glasgow cinema, if he knew any folksongs. When we showed enthusiasm for 'Two Heids', among such collectors' items as 'Kentucky Waltz' and 'Davy Crockett', he expressed his wonderment that "Two young fellas like youse wid want tae sing a' they auld fashint songs". "Auld fashint" or no, 'Two Heids' has become one of our favourites.
Glasgow is a barrack city, and the docks of the Broomielaw have seen the arrival and departure of generations of kilted Highland regiments.
With characteristic economy, the children of Glasgow use the same wee tune, and many of the same words to describe the seasonal appearance of the Irish Tattie Howkers' (Potato pickers).
The Calton Weaver
As many of our songs and stories show, the Scotsman has always been fond of his women and his 'dram', although in Glasgow we think the order might be reversed. This song tells the sad tale of the young weaver who gave up his job to be with his love; whisky. We feel that he didn't quite forget the girl he may have left behind, and perhaps the greatest compliment he could pay her was to call the drink by her name … Nancy … Nancy Whisky. Recorded at the City of London Studios, February, 1960.
Sky High Joe
Shortly after the coronation of Elizabeth II of England (1st of Scotland), the calm dignity of Edinburgh was temporarily shaken by a series of minor explosions. Gelignite was the means used" by one young man to erase the Historical inaccuracy of the gold painted "EIIR" on Edinburgh's shiny new coronation pillar boxes.
"Sky High Joe" is a collected version of two songs written by Thurso Berwick, a Glasgow schoolteacher whom we (and many other young singers) have to thank for stimulating our early interest in Scottish Folksongs. Thurso Berwick is a poet and song writer who was responsible for many of the songs written around the time of the removal of the "Wee Magic Stane".
The world wide reverence of Harry Lauder, late and great Scottish Music Hall artiste, is ignored by the Glasgow children, who take one of his best known songs, together with its traditional tune, and re-shape it almost completely, to their own ends. Only the tune, and the last line, "Mary me Scots' Bluebell", remain intact.
We sing here only a few verses, but the number of verses composed by many hundreds of Glasgow children, could probably fill this whole' record.
JIMMY MACGREGOR & ROBIN HALL
It is only comparatively recently that Robin and Jimmy teamed up. but since the issue of their previous volume of "Glasgow Street Songs" (Collector. JES 5), their popularity has grown very quickly. They now have several successful radio and television series behind them, and they have an enthusiastic following in London due to their personal concert appearances with many famous American singers. We hope you will enjoy their second record together.
Robin Hall (24) was born in Edinburgh. His mother had been an opera singer so it is no wonder that Robin was nurtured on a generous diet of classical music and also of music-hall songs.
As a teenager he played with a jazz band, studied classical piano and developed an interest in the folk-material of his native Scotland.
Jimmie Macgregor, a Glaswegian, learned to play the guitar and picked up a number of Scottish folk-songs while he was at the Glasgow school of art, but it was only after a visit to London's jazz and skiffle clubs that his enthusiasm for folk-music was really set in motion.
The songs on this album constitute only a very small part of their repertoire, which ranges through Glasgow children's ditties, ballads, student songs, to topical numbers.
BANKS O' SICILY was written by Hamish Henderson, the Scottish poet and folklorist. He wrote it while serving during the second World War and it expresses the feelings of men longing for home, yet bound to strange places.
THE TIREE LOVE SONG is one of the best known and most beautiful of the Western Isles love songs, familiar to Scots folk the world over.
WI' MY ROVIN' EYE is the boys' arrangement of a song from the great Scottish ballad singer, Jeannie Robertson.
They learned JUG OF PUNCH in Moscow from the Belfast folk-singers, the MacPeake family.
© 1960, THE DECCA RECORD CO. LTD., LONDON
CUMBAYA (traditional African)
Shirley Bland leads this charmingly simple song, which has its origin in Portuguese Africa. It has been treated in many different ways, undergone many changes in its journey across the world. We hope that you will enjoy this version by the Galliards.
MacPHERSON'S RANT (traditional, arr. Galliards)
James MacPherson, second in banditry only to Rob Roy MacGregor, is Scotland's answer to Robin Hood. He has the same legendary gallantry, the same incredible bravery; and where Robin has his picturesque long-bow, Jamie has the mighty two-handed claymore, which, we are told, no other man could wield.
If we are not quite certain of the exact proportion of his profits which were given to the poor, we may, at least, be reasonably sure that he did steal from the rich.
At the risk of making the hero of Sherwood look rather shabby, it must be said that James MacPherson was also reputed to be the finest fiddle player in Scotland. True to the egocentric tradition of the legendary hero, MacPherson, awaiting execution on the gallows, smashed his fiddle, so that no lesser man might play it after his death. On a day in November, 1700, as James MacPherson stood on a public gallows in Banff, a rider was galloping towards the little town, carrying his reprieve. It is said that the local authorities, determined not to be thwarted at the last minute, had all the clocks put forward a quarter of an hour, and hung MacPherson before the scheduled time.
It is also said, that all the clocks in the little town of Banff have been fast ever since.
ZAMAR NODED (Shemer, arr. Rosselson)
Zamar Noded was introduced to the group by Leon Rosselson, who learned it in Israel, where he played with some of the leading groups, learned the language, and spent a great deal of time studying the songs which are a part of everyday Israel life.
The song was composed by Naomi Shemer, a leading composer of songs in the folk idiom, and it was one of Israel's most popular songs of 1958. It is the song of a vagabond who has no need of a house with a garden; he is not interested in gold, or a lover, but wishes only to go his own way.
DOODLE LET ME GO (Yellow girls) (traditional, arr. Galliards)
The shanty is the work song of the sea, and in its traditional form, it has a lead singer, shouter, and an answering chorus. The leader sets the pace of the work and improvises the verses, so that no two singers would sing a shanty in the same way, and probably no-one would sing it the same way twice. The one permanent and essential feature had to be the swing of the song, to help along the work of hauling sails, weighing anchor, etc. We sing, in our own way, only a few of the dozens, or hundreds, of verses probably in existence. The song was sung by both English and American sailors who had visited South America, and been impressed by the 'Yellow Girls' (half-castes) reputed to be among the most beautiful girls in the world.
It was a very imaginative shantyman, indeed, who had the idea of making the Madame, her house, and all its inmates, constantly available by towing them all out to sea.