I was so busy in June that I almost forgot this particular link, one of Mike Harding’s best ever, in my humble opinion.
For those of you not in the know Mike Harding, an ex BBC employee and BBC Radio 2 Folk DJ, sacked almost disgracefully, for sheer ageism, but who confidently grasped the nettle of the current media age and fought back quietly, confidently and regardless. He is linked onto this site of Folk Club Bonn, because he certainly deserves it. I mistakenly thought that I perhaps know a bit, but Mike Harding, manages, quite rightly to place and order things in their very most rightful places, from a folk point of view. Probably more so than any other living mortal on this unique planet, that we coolly call earth.
This particular podcast is a classic case in point:
Mike Harding Podcast #305
Updated on date June 8, 2022
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Just over two hours of folk, roots and accoustic music at its very best, brought to you by Mike Harding, from a stone shed in the Yorkshire Dales.
Andy Irvine & Paul Brady are true stalwarts of Irish traditional folk music, but while respecting the „tradition“, neither have shied away from innovation in their own rights. Andy Irvine initially cut his spurs on the mandoline, before moving on to the bouzooki, both Greek and Irish varieties, and the mandola, and was instrumental in inventing the gouzouki an instrument strung like a bouzouki, but with the body shape and sound volume of a large „jumbo“ guitar. Andy is also a fine harmonica player and a living encyclopedia on the legend of all folk legends, Woody Guthrie, a couple of whose songs you will hear later on in this podcast. Paul Brady was also an innovator as well as a gatekeeper of the tradition, and he often borrowed open G tunings on the guitar used in classic Delta Blues and used these tunings extremely effectively in his own songs such as „Arthur Mcbride“ and infused these old Blues tunings seamlessly into mainstream Irish folk music.
The two of them playing together on this recording of the „Plains Of Kildare“ which was originally recorded in 1975, before being recently re-mastered, and this is a brief musical dissection of this song from Wikipedia:
Irvine opens the album with his arrangement of "Plains of Kildare": an instrumental intro in 6/8 time (jig) leads into the song, which is in 3/4 time for the first six verses until an elegant transition switches to an instrumental middle eight played in the Bulgarian rachenitsa rhythm of 7/8 time (2–2–3) which aptly suggests the gallop of racing horses, then back in 3/4, as the horses slow down for the final verse prior to the finale, again in 6/8. Irvine adapted the lyrics based on earlier versions from Eddie Butcher and A.L. Lloyd, while also using additional sources supplied by Frank Harte.
Quite! When the going gets hot, and the money’s on, not only „Stewball“ but Andy Irvine is also a genious! Also if you have to hear some nice violin towards the end of this wonderful modern remastering of an „old“ recording of the „Plains Of Kildare“, is none other than master fiddler Kevin Burke, one of the finest living Irish fiddlers.
The actual song itself deals with a horse in the mid 18th century named „Stewball“ a very real, although also very rare, as it could speak and discourse inteligently with its rider, a horse which had previously raced extensively in England and was sent to Ireland around that time. It was challenged by a local hero of a horse named the „Monaghan Grey Mare“ which was beaten unceremoniously by Stewball, the better of the two horses on the day, when a lot of money changed hands, with many locals in Ireland cursing the Monaghan Grey Mare.
On the second song one can almost smell the fisherman’s bait if one closes one’s eyes. „The Fish Gutters‘ Song“ aka „Come All Ye Fisher Lassies“ was written by none aother than Ewan MacColl, but like many of his songs is now regarded as „traditional“ already. It was in fact written in the 1960s for the BBC programme series „The Radio Ballads“ which Ewan produced. This is a particulary inspiring version played by young Anglo-Scottish folkers Janice Burns and Jon Doran from the North East of England and delights in both Janice’s singing and the interplay of her mandoline with Jon’s bouzouki. Wonderful, simple folk musical eloquence! Check this duo out again with „Glasgow Peggy“ on track 22 towards the end of this podcast.
There are many songs which are true gems on this podcast, but the next one that has particular significance for me is „The Chemical Workers‘ Song „ from Ron Angel, written in 1964 about I.C.I. in Billingham on Teeside.
I.C.I. Billingham at night, photo courtesy of Chris Rayner Darlo
A song which I have sung several times in Bonn Folk Club. I learned the song from Vin Garbutt in the 1970s. Like many young students in those days I used my summers to earn a lot of money in a relatively short time, by working intensively for most of the hours that God sent us in summer, in order to spend a few short weeks at the end of summer, pre-Brexit let it be known, travelling around Europe on Euro-Rail, and one such summer was spent at British Gypsum a works at the head of a gypsum mine near Tutbury* in Staffordshire. So we shovelled up the gypsum, and we lifted the one hundredweight sacks of gypsum, during the first eight hour production shift. During an eight hour shift three young men collectively bagged and lifted 180 tonnes of gypsum. Two were always at the end of the conveyor belt lifting between them every bag and placing it on the pallet. For a third of the shift one lucky one had merely to put the empty bags onto the nozzles which blew gypsum into the sacks until the scale automatically tipped the full bags down onto the thankfully long conveyor belt where two pairs of willing hands were waiting to lift them off the conveyor belt and load them onto the waiting wooden pallet. After completing a typical eight hour shift we’d volunteer for a further four hours of overtime „shovelling up the gypsum, that nigh on made us choke“ from the deep sauna-hot pits below the machines and bucketing it up to the top. This enabled the summer maintenance break on the machines to happen. Every fortnight the vermiculite lorry made deliveries. The vermiculite was packed in TWO hundredwight sacks, which sounds heavy, but anything to buy 15 minute’s relief from those hot sauna gypsum pits under the machines. We certainly did not have to plan to put any money aside for gym subscriptions in those days.
The song by the Teeside Fettlers entitled „The Hartlepool Monkey“ has apparantly no basis in historical fact. Something which makes me already a little sceptical. Legend has it that during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, a shipwrecked monkey was hanged by the people of Hartlepool, who having neither seen nor heard either a Frenchman, nor a monkey, believed him to be, in their minds, a bona fide French spy! To this day, people from Hartlepool are affectionately known as 'monkey hangers'. It cannot possibly be true, but it has been sung now so many times, that it has created its own aura of truth over the passage of time.
Regardless of where one was raised and grew up and to whence one has travelled in life, the idea of a fired-up lynching mob, „out on a mission“ should breath fear and trepidation and abhorence into the hearts of any law abiding citizens. Not least former US Vice President Mike Pence who almost fell victim to such a mob in the House of Congress in more recent times. Hanging was never a serious crime if the immediate witnesses present were safely „on side“.
The most famous Blarney Stone in Ireland is of course a block of carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, Blarney, about 8 kilometres from Cork, Ireland. According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the „gift of the gab“. The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. I never kissed it when I was there because I reasoned that if kissing the stone can endow the kisser with the gift of the gab, surely it could equally rob a person of that ability and gift, if the stone was to maintain any kind of equilibrium? In addition, in order to kiss the stone one normally looses all the loose coins in one’s trouser pockets. Old Bob Davenport who is now a nonagenarian and with his group „The Rakes“ Bob plays and sings „The Blarney Stone“ which describes how a young red haired Geordie visiting Ireland for the firt time happens upon a young colleen who tells him that she considers all Geordies to be artful rogues. From the tongue-in-cheek colleen we learn and discover that there is really not just the one Blarney Stone in Ireland, but there are many more everywhere, and other Blarney stones are scattered all around the island of Ireland, in fact they seem to be as ubiquitous as five-leaved clovers! Bob Davenport’s rendering of this song makes one realise that old Bob certainly has the gift of the gab himself and also doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth and refuse the chance of a kiss as the young lady tells him that despite there being a plethora of Blarney Stones all over Ireland, the one now in closest proximity is situated right under her nose, if he wished to kiss it !
Perhaps it’s only in colloquial Irish or indeed Scottish English that an eloquent person could call another person an „Eegit“, literally an „idiot“, but with it coming out as almost a compliment, but certainly an expression with an element of endearment, as „to err“, is after all, quite a common human frailty, but as Alexander Pope continued, „to forgive is divine.“ Two songs by John Devine and Garva, back to back, to do with father-son relationships and different levels of „Eegitisms“.
Van Dieman‘s Land is the old name for Tasmania the large island off the south coast of Australia which was used as a penal colony for Britain for sevaeral years in the 19th century. A settlement was first established in 1803 before it became a seperate colony in 1825 and in 1856 its name was officially changed to Tasmania. Many poor starving people in England convicted of stealing a loaf of bread, or in this case poaching game belonging to someone else, in order to feed their families in times of hardship, ended up in Van Diemen’s land as punishment. Amazing to imagine that in the early days of the penal colony the actual human convicts were literally yoked up amd pulling the ploughs themselves, due to a lack of draught animals such as horses or oxen. „Van Dieman’s Land“ is performed by the young English folk singer from Southampton, Dom Prag on a nylon strung guitar. Nothing fake, flash or contrived here as Mike puts it. A wonderful rendition from Dom! When are you planning to come over to Germany Dom? F**k the eegits who dreamt up Brexit, life must go on!
„This Land Is Your Land“ by Woodie Guthrie really needs no introduction and Mike Harding nods to this being the most appropriate national anthem for the USA ever written, and should be so, but in this case it actually does get an introduction here from fellow time traveller Will Geer on their combined album „Bound For Glory“. Will recites Woodie’s lyrics before Woodie sings the actual song. Neither Will nor Woodie succumbed to extreme contemporary presssure to tell on fellow people with ties to the communist party. Both Woodie Guthrie and Will Geer were blacklisted from working in Hollywood by the House Committee for Un-American Activities, for refusing to supply the names of others. A song truly inspiring awe in the „American Dream“ of equality for all, and freedom of speech.
Fellside Records are, quite rightly, held in very high esteem by Mike Harding and Linda Adams from the Fellside management team singing „The Witch Of The Westmoreland“ is a case in point, a wonderful narrative folk ballad penned by none other that Archie Fisher in 1976.
Who does not recognise Gordon Lightfoot’s classic song „In The Early Morning Rain“ after the first few bars? This time an early, relatively unsophisticated, recording by „The Woods Family“ earlier residents of the Bollington Folk Club, but none the worse for that at all. It is indeed, „what it is!“ One of the reasons that Mike Harding has such a deep knowledge of the English folk scene is that he was an integral part of it as a performing musician and singer for such a long time and in just one year alone performing a total of 300 gigs and travelling some 30,000 miles in the process.
„Arthur McBride“ is a seminal song written by Paul Brady from an amalgamation of several traditional texts, in open G tuning on the guitar. As in the very first song on this podcast he is admirably accompanied by Andy Irvine. Just like „Dinner For One“, starring Freddy Frinton, is an absolute TV viewing necessity in Germany on New Year’s Eve, this song should be compulsory listening throughout the British Isles on Christmas morning. One should never be propositioned to be unwillingly conscripted on a Christmas Day morning, no matter what the war. This song dishes out a large portion of that pie known as „humble“, for which we should all be forever grateful.
Here is a short film possibly portraying the coincidental occurrence on a Christmas morning:
Tiernan McBride's 1977 film of Paul Brady's song 'Arthur McBride'. A wonderful document of a wonderful song.
But Arthur is able to see the the trick of the recruiting sergeant and says Arthur, „I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes, for you’ve only the lend of them, as I suppose, and you dare not change them one night, for if you do, you’ll be flogged in the morning!“ Violence is never an ultimate answer to anything, but at least the initial discourse is both elequant and intrinsically charming from all parties concerned.
Here’s a chance to learn some of the history of this song in Paul Brady’s own words and to practise your gaelic, if you so wish.
„Do Re Mi“ are not only the first three notes of the major music scale but is the title to a song from the album „Bound For Glory“ from Woody Guthrie & Will Geer „Do Re Mi“ is also a synonym for the necessary cash, the greenbacks, which a lot of the early US settlers crossing the dust bowl states and originating from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee in the pre-WW II depression, and scuttling to the supposed western eldorado of California in overloaded cars, possesed only in quite insufficient quantities.
„1964 Catholic Total Isolation Blues“ by David Metcalfe will certainly strike a chord with any young schoolboy who has been placed and seemingly abandoned in a distant, albeit well reputed, boarding school in order to cut the parents some slack, and enjoy a more relaxed parenthood, whilst simultaneouly convincing themselves of somehow „doing their children some good.“ It seldom does,
Guitar virtuosso Tim Edey plays a haunting version of Phil Cunningham’s instrumental air „Eleanor of Usan“ which refers to Phil’s grandmother, the wife of a salmon fisher, from his album
„Live From T-Pot Studios Scotland“. I would defy any human being with a soul to be able to listen to this without smiling, and without, not feeling more “wellness“ at the end than at the beginning, especially after listening to the melodeon of Tony Croft joining in with Tim’s guitar, towards the end.
The song „Do Re Me“ for the second time on this podcast rounds it off. From John Mellencamp’s album „A Vision Shared/ The Songs of Woody Guthrie and Ledbelly“ This time a more up-tempo modern version than Woody’s own, with some lilting fiddle, but the moral is the same, whatever the trials and tribulations, having sufficient ready cash can often alleviate many problems of life an the road which strangers encounter. Just ask any refugee, you can get close enough to ask, just in case they are not waving, but drowning, or have premature rigor mortis due to the expensive safe „courier“ having set the carriage temperature in the reefer trailer to minus 20 o Centigrade and severely under estimated the journey time on the unaccompanied cross channel ferry.
There is still a very great need for so many songs of very great diversity, comprehending life and the very sancity of life. .
Thanks for the great work Mike, keep it up!
„You’re a cracker!“