Saturday, 16 July 2011

Traditional music making in Felsham

I have recently come across a book by John Howson called: "Many a Good Horseman..."  The book is a survey of traditional music making in Mid-Suffolk and includes a section on Felsham.

Felsham Six Bells PH

John Howson reports the words of a local man - Frank Smith - who tells how music was an important feature of life in the village centred on the Six Bells pub.

Now in Felsham Bells, we used to have a club there, and they called that "The Jolly Boys," and we didn't have to pay much for it. There was a big room up some stairs, and you were right out of the way, and at that time of day they used to swim in beer - they could bloody drink it. That was good stuff then, but I'm talking about 50 years ago. The "Jolly Boys" stopped when insurance became cheaper, but on the yearly share out, they'd have this do.
There'd be an old boy called George Witton, he must have been 100 when he died, and his son, who was also called George, he's retired now.  Well, he would getup and sing, so would his father. They lived in Thorpe Morieux. Well, the old boys would sit round with their hands leaning on their sticks, and if there was any noise, they'd grunt, "Order!" Well, you could hear a pin drop.  "The singer's on his feet", they'd holler, and he'd be up singing and he'd forget a line, and an old boy would say, "Never mind, boy. Many a good horseman has turned round in a field."

Many of the songs that may have been sung in the past in Felsham appear on a CD entitled SONGS SUNG IN SUFFOLK [Veteran]

Some of the songs which feature on this excellent CD are sung by Cyril Barber.  Cyril is now 87 and still lives in Felsham.
An extract from the beginning of "Hail the dewy morning" can be heard here.
Hail the Dewy Morning

I went out one May morning to see what I could shoot,
I there a-spied a fair pretty maid a-rowing in a boat.

Chorus: Singing hail the dewy morning,
Blow the winds high-ho,

Clear away the morning dew,
How sweet the winds do blow.

We both strolled on together 'til we came to some cocks of hay,
I said 'Young lady it's a very nice place for you and I to play.'

I put my arms around her and tried to lay her down,
She said 'Young man this dewy grass will spoil my new silk gown.'

'If you come down to my father's house there you may lay me down,
And take away my maidenhead, likewise ten thousand pounds.'

We strolled down to her father's house, where she quickly locked me out,
She said 'Young man I'm a maid within, and you're a fool wthout.

One of the earliest English versions of this song is 'Blow the Winds i-o' (1609). It has been found all over the British Isles; Cecil Sharp collected many versions, and it has been collected under a variety of titles including: 'The Shepherd Laddie' (and 'The Shepherd's Son'), 'Yonder Comes a Courteous Knight', 'Blow Away the Morning Sun' and 'The New Mown Hay', but is normally classified under the title 'The Baffled Knight' (Child ballad no. 112). It was printed in the 19th century by, amongst others: Pitts of London, Bebbington of Manchester and Forth of Pocklington. It was a popular song in East Anglia and Sam Larner's (of Winterton Norfolk,) version is worth hearing (TSCD511). Cyril learned this from his father and it is unusual in that the 'fair maid' is found rowing in a boat.
Song transcribed by John Howson/Song notes: John Howson 
Cyril was born into a large family in 1922 and his three brothers Sonny, Rip and Royal all played, danced and sang. The eldest brother, Sonny, was first to have an accordion. As Cyril said, "When he was out of the way we'd all steal a tune on his music." Many of Cyril's songs he grew up with, as both his mother and father sang. The family home was Wingfield and it was around that area he first started to sing, play and step dance. He told me, "Yes there was a lot of singing in the pubs around Wingfield. There was one old man who lived to be a hundred and he used to sing about 'shot and shell flying across the battle field' from the 1914 war. The folk used to sit there and tears came into their eyes."
He would often keep company with the Whiting family, "Old Charlie Whiting, he could dance and sing a song!" and favourite pubs in those days would have been the Hoxne Swan and the Ivy House at Stradbroke.
Cyril worked mainly on the land and he moved around quite a lot to find farm work, including a period in Cambridgeshire. In the sixties he moved to Felsham and worked for the council before retirement. In these later years he had almost stopped playing and singing: "Nobody wanted to hear those old songs any more" he told me. I'm pleased to say that many people are still interested in the old music and Cyril is always pleased to oblige with a tune, a step or a song. (John Howson at )

There is more information about Cyril Barber in an article from 1984 at MusicalTraditions.
The article includes a photograph of Cyril playing his accordion.
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