Friday, February 12, 2016

Songs of Courtship — February 2016

Songs of Courtship is the theme for the February 2016 episode of The Golden Biscuit Hour. Your hosts are Jeni Hankins, coming to you from Hudson, Florida, and Greg Hankins, coming to you from Mount Gilead, North Carolina. 

We started the show with I Am Aglow, from Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer. Harmer was nominated for a Juno Award for writing that song, and the album on which it appeared — I’m a Mountain — was nominated as Best Album. 

Not only is Harmer an accomplished songwriter, she’s an accomplished environmental activist, having successfully campaigned against gravel mining on the Niagra Escarpment, helping protect wilderness areas along the 560 mile Bruce Trail — which she and her band hiked, playing gigs in towns along the way.

 After I Am Aglow, we heard The Bonnie Gateshead Lass from Bob Fox and Stu Luckley. It's on their album Box of Gold

Fox, who handles the lead vocal on that track, hails from the Northeast of England, where both the natives and the dialect are called "Geordie." Fox's partnership with Stu Luckley produced two acclaimed albums, the first of which, Nowt So Good’ll Pass, was voted Folk Album of the Year.

Fox has had a storied career, including teaming up with Benny Graham for a wonderful album of coal mining songs called How’re You Off for Coals? He’s performed as the Song Man in the National Theatre’s production of Warhorse, and has just released a new CD that I desperately want to get my hands on called The Pitmen Poets, a quartet that includes Fox, Benny Graham, Billy Mitchell and Jez Lowe

And we followed The Bonnie Gateshead Lass with Archie Fisher’s The Flower of France & England, from his album Will Ye Gang, Love. Fisher was born in Glasgow into a family full of musicians.

His sisters Ray and Cilla both had successful careers during the folk revival. Cilla eventually moved away from folk music and became one half of the Singing Kettle, a long-running Scottish children’s show. Archie hosted the BBC Scotland radio show Travelling Folk for 27 years.

We then turned to a song about courting in the Land Down Under: The Free Selector’s Daughter from Gerry Hallom’s album Undiscovered Australia II.

Hallom is an English folk singer whose career began in the 1970s in Australia. He moved back to England in 1979 and toured in both the US and Canada before returning to school and ultimately becoming a lecturer in sociology.

Before it was a song, The Free Selector’s Daughter was a poem, written in 1891 by Henry Lawson, one of Australia’s most famous poets — famous to the degree that he was given a state funeral when he died and was featured on the Australian ten dollar bill and a postage stamp.

We then heard from Carthy Hardy Farrell Young, a collaboration of four British fiddlers: Eliza Carthy, Bella Hardy, Lucy Farrell, and Kate Young. Their CD Laylam was released in 2013, and the foursome were a featured ensemble on the UK festival circuit after its release.

Lead vocals on Chickens in the Garden were handled by Eliza Carthy, the daughter of two stalwarts of the folk scene: Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. The Watersons recorded Chickens in the Garden for their 1975 album Four Pence and Spicy Ale. Legend has it that they heard the song at a shepherd’s meet in the Lake District in 1974. Beyond that, its origins are unknown.

Aberdeen, a touching remembrance of a relationship that didn’t quite happen, can be found on Kirsty McGee’s beautiful album Contraband.

McGee is a hugely talented singer-songwriter from Manchester who seems to thrive on collaborations with other artists and performs in ensembles ranging from a duo to a ten-piece orchestra. Her latest record is called Those Old Demons.

Botched Courtship

So far, we’ve heard some reasonably happy songs of courtship, but, alas, things do not always go so well — especially when the person you are pursuing is not much interested in you!

Recording Lulu Wall in Nashville
That would be the case with Lulu Wall, which we heard from Jeni & Billy. Jeni learned Lulu Wall from a Carter Family recording and taught it to Billy.

That version came from the original 2007 Nashville Jewell Ridge Coal recording session at Oceanway Studios with Grammy-winning producer, Bil VornDick. Most of those recordings were archived when Jeni & Billy took the album in a direction more focused on songs about Jewell Ridge.

LuLu Wall will be the song of the month on Mawmaw’s Golden Biscuit Club on Patreon. So, if you would like to be able to download that rare track for your Jeni & Billy collection, you can join up.

After Lulu Wall, we heard Courting too Slow from Spiers & Boden's album Bellow. They are, without question, Greg's favorite interpreters of traditional British songs. The duo includes Jon Boden on fiddle and lead vocals, with John Spiers on anglo concertina or melodeon (which is what the British call a diatonic button accordion). In addition to touring as a duo, the pair created the folk orchestra Bellowhead. Both the Duo and the orchestra, alas, are disbanding.

Spiers & Boden borrowed Courting Too Slow from the great Peter Bellamy, a seminal figure in the English Folk Revival of the 1960s. It appears on his album Fair Annie. Bellamy found the lyric on an antique broadside — a single sheet printed on cheap paper sold in the streets of British towns and cities for a penny or two. Broadsides were commonplace in the 16th and 17th centuries and often contained a song lyric, a wood cut illustration, and a bit of news or gossip. The broadsides contained lyrics, but not tunes. Bellamy himself composed the tune for Courting Too Slow.

That set included two Jeni & Billy recordings, Lulu Wall and their version of Henry Lee, which can only be found on a little EP called Pretty Fair Miss. They created the lyric by listening to several versions of the song, including Peggy Seeger’s and Dick Justice’s from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.

They added an extra verse at the end that turns the bird into the storyteller — which always makes Jeni smile. she always liked animals that talked in Children’s books, like the characters created by Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit or Arnold Lobel’s Frog & Toad. Actually, the news is that there is a new Beatrix Potter story coming out soon called Kitty in Boots and illustrated by renowned British Illustrator Quentin Blake.

Jeni & Billy recorded Henry Lee, the Scotland Man in a borrowed cabin in Western North Carolina and made a video of the unusual recording process. They actually sang into a couple of large metal food cans taped together.

The final song in that set was The Ace, by North Carolina’s own Red Clay Ramblers. The Ramblers have been around since 1972, with an ever-shifting cast of characters, not only making records and playing concerts, but mounting theatrical productions with the likes of Sam Shepherd and the Carolina Opera.

The Ace, released in 1978 on the seminal Ramblers recording Merchants Lunch, was written by founding members Mike Craver and Tommy Thompson. Thompson is no longer with us, but Craver is still performing — though not as a part of the Red Clay Ramblers.

Ironically, he and another founding member, Jim Watson, currently perform around the state with Joe Newberry and Bill Hicks as Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry, and sometimes as just the “Ramblers,” without the Red Clay. Back in November, they were featured on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.


One thing two lovers can count on is interference from one direction or another. Here are some songs on that very theme, beginning with Kathy & Carol singing A Maid in Bedlam from the album Keepsake by a duo from the west coast of the USA, Kathy & Carol.

Kathy & Carol made a record in 1965, but then went their separate ways, Kathy becoming a visual artist and Carol becoming a performer who played with folk icons like Mimi Farina. Carol has also been a guitar teacher in the San Francisco Bay area for several decades. In 2010, they reunited as a musical duo to record Keepsake and they play from time to time mainly in the Bay area. Jeni & Billy had a chance to see them in 2010 and fell in love with their harmonies right away.

A Maid in Bedlam was followed by Nic Jones’ version of The Drowned Lovers. It’s found on his album Penguin Eggs, the crowning achievement of a not quite twenty year career cut short in 1982 by a tragic auto accident that left Jones unable to perform. He returned for some brief appearances in 2012. Penguin Eggs is an unbelievably good album that has served as a starting point and roadmap for generations of young would-be folk singers and guitarists since its release in 1980. If you don’t have a copy, you should. 

The Drowned Lovers, also known as Clyde’s Water, is Child Ballad 216. All of Child's traditional sources of the ballad were found Scotland, as of course, is the River Clyde.

Jones’ arrangement, with its clacky melodeon accompaniment, is a bouncy, happy thing, but the story itself is a fairly devastating tale of parental interference on both sides of the relationship of poor Willie and May Margaret. As Martin Carthy, who also recorded the song, put it: "Clyde's Water is an astonishing song of iron parental control. There is no question of the iron fist being encased in a velvet glove—the glove too is made of iron. I don't think I have ever heard a song so relentless."

Annachie Gordon, one of the saddest ballads in folk music, comes to us from the great Irish singer Sinead O’Connor. This recording comes not from a Sinead O’Connor record, but from Sharon Shannon, an Irish fiddler and accordionist, whose 1991 album, Sharon Shannon, still stands as the best selling record of all time in Ireland. Shannon collaborates with several notable singers on the album Libertango where we found this song.

Annachie Gordon is one of the Child Ballads, number 239, and has been sung by everyone from Lorenna McKennitt to Nic Jones to the Unthanks. But this performance is our absolute favorite.

Here's the great Mary Black singing Annachie Gordon -- an interpretation that may be the source of Sinead's version.

Bob Davenport sang Edmund in the Lowlands on Melodeon player Simon Ritchie’s album Squeezebox Schizophrenia. Davenport is another veteran of the 60s folk revival; he performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 at the invitation of Pete Seeger. He hails from the Northeast of England — “My Northeast is Durham and Northumberland,” he told a newspaper reporter.

He performed for forty years with a four-piece traditional band called The Rakes. It’s great stuff.

Doubt & Warnings

Courting is often fraught with doubt and warnings. Here’s another duo, Jess & Richard Arrowsmith, to get us started on some songs about being wary of and worried about love, with their version of Single Girl’s Lament from their CD Customs & Exercise.

The Arrowsmiths hail from Sheffield in South Yorkshire. Jess plays fiddle, Richard plays melodeon, and both sing. They have two delightful children’s albums out, and perform with Nancy Kerr and James Fagan as the Melrose Quartet and with the Ceilidh band Hekety. That’s Nancy Kerr singing harmony vocals on Single Girl’s Lament. The Arrowsmiths have gigs lined up March through May, so check their website.

The Arrowsmiths were followed by Julie Henigan of Missouri, a folksinger, songwriter, player of banjo, guitar, fiddle, and dulcimer, who holds a Masters in folklore from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and and PhD in English Literature from the University of Notre Dame. Henigan’s work has focused traditional Irish and Southern American music, and her lone album, American Stranger, has her singing in both English and Gaelic.

Henigan told Greg that she learned Blue-Eyed Boy from her friend Anne MacFie, a Kentucky-based traditional singers, who had in turn learned it directly from Lily May Ledford, founder of the Coon Creek Girls,  who we will hear later this hour.

After Blue-Eyed Boy, you heard ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle singing Wagoner’s Lad. Elizabeth comes from Rural Retreat in the Southwest Virginia just over the mountain from where Jeni & Greg were born. We love to hear her sing because her voice takes us back home.

Billy and Jeni met up with Elizabeth and her duo partner, Anna, at the Orwell Bluegrass Festival in Britain last May. This recording comes from one of Elizabeth's solo records — which are very fine listening — but she and Anna also have a new record, simply called Anna & Elizabeth, on Free Dirt records. Wagoner’s Lad is one of the songs that Jeni learned to sing with North Carolina ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams. Elizabeth also spent time singing with Sheila Kay, but certainly has a style all her own.

The Wagoner’s Lad was collected in 1908 by Olive Dame Campbell, who worked with Cecil Sharpe to collect songs in the Appalachians. Beyond her songcatching, Campbell established the John C Campbell Folk School in 1925 in Southwestern North Carolina. Jeni studied clawhammer banjo and autoharp at the Folk School and made a Trip Around the World Quilt there, too. It’s a magical place where you can learn everything from cooking in an open hearth to making a dulcimer.

We ended that set with Young Men are False from Pilgrim’s Way, found on their 2011 album Wayside Courtesies. It was a brilliant inaugural effort by the foursome fronted by fiddler and vocalist Lucy Wright. Edwin Beasant, Tom Kitching, and Jon Loomes round out the group.

Wright recently completed a PhD in ethnomusicology, specialising in Northern Carnival traditions and costumes. The band was nominated for a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk award in 2012. They don’t appear to have been touring much lately, but that may be about to change. A new CD called Red Diesel is expected in mid March. That is one Greg plans to acquire right away.

The Country Side of Folk with Billy Kemp

Billy chose three of his favorite "heart” songs for this month’s edition of The Country Side of Folk, staring with Chuck Berry's 1964 recording of Nadine.

The song was recorded in Chicago at Chess Records and Chuck brings the rock and the roll together. When you listen to the recording it sounds like there were a number of musicians, a drummer, a bassist, a pianist, a couple of guitars, and some horn fills. Berry's style of rock-n-roll featured the simultaneous rhythms of straight eighths and swing eighths, with the rock represented by the straight and the roll by the swing.

The singer goes through different modes of transportation to "catch" the girl, Nadine. He starts on a bus, next on foot pushing his way through a crowd,  and then finally in a yellow taxi. His countryish sliding guitar intro starts the record off and we follow his pursuit of Nadine for four verses.

Probably the most famous story about courting and interference is William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and one of Billy's favorite recordings from Dire Straits was their Romeo and Juliet from the album Making Movies recorded in 1980.

The song includes one of Billy's favorite Mark Knopfler lines: "all I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme.” And the riff he plays finger style  on his National Resophonic is one of those riffs you want to hear over and over. You can hear Mark Knopfler talk about the guitar lick in Romeo and Juliet here.

Before that we heard Roger Miller's Reincarnation recorded for his second studio album, The Return of Roger Miller recorded in 1964. One of the singles released from that record, King of the Road, became a huge crossover top ten hit.

Reincarnation  finds the singer so in love with the girl that he imagines if he was a bird and she was a fish, that they'd have to hope to come back as a boy and a girl through reincarnation. This was the middle of the sixties and eastern religion was finding new followers in the US and obviously Miller, the consummate funny man, was taking it seriously.

Billy got to perform two shows with Roger Miller in the mid-1980s when he was touring with country singer, Terri Gibbs. The first time was in Santa Anna, California at the Crazy Horse and Roger performed solo, just him and his guitar. The second time was at the Hunter Mountain Music Festival in New York where he had an ensemble of musicians with him that included a guitarist Billy knew from Washington D.C. named Danny Gatton.

Tragic Romance

We’ve come to that part of romance and courting where things seem to go sideways — and what better song to begin than Tragic Romance sung by Tim & Mollie O’Brien. Tim has just finished up a tour in Britain. 

His version of Tragic Romance comes from the album Away out on the Mountain. This song of tragic misperception has been recorded by a whole host of folks. Among the earliest were Hank Snow, Cowboy Coppas, the Stanley Brothers, and Grandpa Jones.

Jones is often credited with writing the tune, but it may actually have been written by Zeke and Wiley Morris — the Morris Brothers — from Old Fort, North Carolina. Together and separately with other bands, the brothers played on radio shows all over the Carolinas in the 1930s, before they retired from the music scene to open an auto repair business.

Second in that group of songs, we played Snow Dove by Jake and Sarah Owen from their very hard to find lone recording called Jake & Sarah Owen. Jeni & Greg saw Sarah and Jake at Merlefest back in 2002 and fell in love with them right away. Jake played a gourd banjo that he had made and Sarah talked about how she was no brilliant player of banjo, but when she picked up the fiddle, everything came together for her musically.

With several children to raise, Jake and Sarah are not on the touring scene as much as fans like us would like. But we are consoled by their gorgeous record which you can still find used on Amazon and here and there. Snow Dove is their version of the familiar song which is also known as the Butcher’s Boy or The Railroad Boy. It’s right up there with Annachie Gordon as one of the most tragic songs in folk music. It also inspired Jeni's song The Hoot Owl which is an Appalachian re-interpretation of that tale. Hearing Jake and Sarah Owen was one of the events that inspired Jeni to become a songwriter and performer.

Snow Dove was followed by Omie Wise, sung by Tim Eriksen, one of our best American ballad singers, who also happens to play a zillion instruments. It's from his CD Northern Roots.

Billy and Jeni met Tim when they worked on the Help Me to Sing project with bluegrass artist Jim Lauderdale. Help Me to Sing is a collection of Sacred Harp Songs interpreted by contemporary artists.

Tim leads quite a lot of Sacred Harp “Sings” and he’s also an ethnomusicologist who consulted on the music in the movie Cold Mountain. Tim has toured Britain many times and, last year, he collaborated with the rather famous British fiddler and singer Eliza Carthy, who we heard from earlier in the show, on a record called Bottle

Susie, Lily Mae, & Rosie Ledford
Pretty Polly was performed by the Coon Creek Girls from the album Lilly Mae, Rosie & Susie. The Girls were an old-time string band created for radio — for the Renfro Valley Barn Dance on WLW-AM in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The personnel of the band changed from time to time, but it was built around banjo player Lily May Ledford, from Pilot, Kentucky and her sister Rosie. They played barn dances with their Brother Cayen until a talent scout recruited Lily May to appear on WLS-Chicago’s Barn Dance. She eventually became a regular, until a producer reunited the sisters and moved the group to Cincinnati, where they performed for fifteen years.

More Tragic Romance

The list of tragic romance songs is rather long so we did another group just in case there are folks out there who need warnings about poisonings and such.

Carter & Ralph Stanley
We started with Little Glass of Wine, by the Stanley Brothers. You can find it on the Complete Columbia Collection. Ralph and Carter Stanley were born just a county away from Jeni & Greg in the Southwest part of Virginia.

We love to hear them sing because we can hear the vocal inflections of Jeni's great grandmother, Narcie Smith, and the people of the Friendly Chapel Church in their voices. Ralph Stanley is a primitive Baptist and as such he travels to different host churches each Sunday. One of those churches is way at the end of Smith Ridge, where Jeni & Greg both grew up. Ralph Stanley lives on a different Smith Ridge in Dickenson County near Clintwood. Not only does he have a superb museum there in Clintwood, but he also has a festival on his Smith Ridge, the Ralph Stanley Memorial Festival, during the last weekend of May every year. 

Julie Henigan
After the Stanley Brothers, we heard Julie Henigan's John Randolph, a variant of Child Number 12, Lord Randall, that Cecil Sharp collected in Virginia.

The young man in question has been poisoned by his sweetheart, though, if you’re not listening carefully, you might miss that fact in this version. Most variants foreshadow the death of the young man by dispatching his hawks and hounds in a early verse, often noting that they have shared his supper of eels. But all the variants collected in Virginia, whether by Sharp or others, omit those verses.

In this one, we only discover the young man has been poisoned when, in the last verse, we hear that he would will to his sweetheart a cup of strong poison.

This seems like an appropriate time to bring up the fact that, although we didn't mention in the show, Greg loves eels, both as a fascinating creature with a strange and somewhat mysterious life history, and as an ingredient in sushi. He has not, however, tried eel soup with vinegar. He has, in fact, read Richard Schweid's wonderful book Consider the Eel, and suggests that you do the same.

Henigan told Greg that she learned John Randolph while still in high school, after her English professor father gave her a paperback with selections from the Sharp collection, a testimony to the value of fathers. She sang the song in English folk clubs while living and doing research in that country.

We then heard the unmistakeable Martin Simpson with the tragic tale of Little Musgrave, whose visit to church turned out poorly for both he and his fair lady. Its found on Simpson’s 2007 release Prodigal Son.

Simpson released his first album in the mid 1970s, lived in the US for a decade or two, and has been nominated nine times as Artist of the Year in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, having won that honor twice. Last year saw the much praised release of Murmurs, his collaboration with Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr, which is highly recommended by the Biscuit Hour.

Here is Simpson doing a solo version of Bright Swift and Dark Swallow from that album.


Thanks so much for joining us this month on the Golden Biscuit Hour. Next month, we’ll be bringing you the songs of the drinking because that’s pretty much what people are apt to do when they’ve been cooped up in the winter months so long!

Here’s a song Jeni & Billy wrote called The Mystery of You and Me to send you on your way. Jeni's lyric was inspired by one of the great novels about courting, Emma, by Jane Austen. Great friend and fiddler, Craig Eastman, plays a solo that sounds just like Emma running down the steps to greet her true love, Mr Knightley. And here's a stop motion animation video that Jeni made for that song! Enjoy!


The Golden Biscuit Hour is produced by Jeni Hankins & Greg Hankins. It’s edited, mixed, and mastered by Billy Kemp.

We use Evernote to keep our cloudcast notes in order, because "an elephant never forgets."

We use Dropbox for our record collection, to trade big files, and to keep them organized, because when Mom says the attic is full, Dropbox is there for you.

We record the Golden Biscuit Hour on our handy Zoom H2 portable recorders, because you never know where the music might take you.

Our Golden Biscuit Hour theme song was written and is performed by Jeni & Billy and our end credit theme song – Greg & Marcy’s Song – was written and composed by Billy Kemp.

And remember, if you have a song in your pocket, take it out and let it shine.

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