People have always loved to sing, probably for as long as there have been people. These days, despite most people still loving music, most of us are too self conscious to sing in front of others, especially unaccompanied. It wasn’t always this way. In the not so distant past, after the day’s work was done , a family would sit at the hearth together, listen to and tell stories, and sing. The songs were those handed down over generations, changed slightly in the repetition, or to suit the times. In my novels I try to reflect the presence of music and singing in people’s lives.
With my latest novel, Cold Blows the Wind, songs are sung at various points through the novel, often reflecting the the characters emotional perspective. The lyrics I used were drawn from 19th century sources and, in most cases, there were many versions to choose from. Unless you know the songs, when you read the lyrics you cannot hear the music, so I have collected recordings of them together here, courtesy of YouTube and the music lovers who loaded them.
Get Up and Bar the Door (found in Chapter 4 and sung by Grannie Woods) is a humorous Scottish ballad about a battle of wills between a husband and wife taken to ridiculous lengths.
Dabbling in the Dew (Chapter 10, sung by Harry Woods) is an English folksong that has been around in a variety of forms since the fourteenth century. It was very popular in the nineteenth. There are many versions of the song including a more down to earth version called Rolling in the Dew.
I have never managed to find a recorded version of Van Diemen’s Land (Chapter 10) sung to the lyrics I used in Cold Blows the Wind which I have written about here. These lyrics are even more powerful that those used in the more popular version which is, in parts, historically inaccurate. Both versions are cautionary tales. The popular version is usually described as an English folk song but I like this Irish version by the Ronnie Drew and the Dubliners.
The Dark Eyed Gypsy (Chapter 12, sung by Harry Woods) is a version of the Raggle Taggle Gypsy, a ballad from the Scottish borders – the tale of a woman who runs away from her husband to go off with her dark-eyed Gypsy lover. The Dark-Eyed Gypsy was popular in Ireland in the nineteenth century and probably explains why most of the recordings I could find are sung almost in the sean-nós style, although some do have accompaniment. The version below by Len Graham and Róisín White is particularly lovely with its combination of male and female voices sung at a slightly faster pace.
A lot of modern versions of The Dark-Eyed Gypsy squib it on the lyrics and have the lady as newly married so there are no children for her to leave behind – What do I care for my children O? The earlier songs are like the older folk tales with a harsher truth embedded in them. The most modern version of the lyrics is the Gypsy Rover/Whistling Gypsy, a song with all the pain and hardship removed and ending with the notion of happy forever after. Still, a lovely song sung by the Seekers.
John Barleycorn (Chapter 26, sung by Bill Thompson) is an old song drawn from English and Scottish folklore with John the personification of barley and the drinks made from it. It is a great song for singing together as it requires no great vocal skill.
Believe me if all these endearing young charms (Chapter 26, sung by Harry Woods) was written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore and set to a traditional Irish air. It was first published in 1808.
The Parting Glass (Chapter 26, sung by Beth Thompson) is a traditional Scottish song with strong connections to Ireland. It has often been sung at the end of gatherings of friends and refers to the final drink offered to a guest about to depart on their journey home.
Cold Blows the Wind (first sung in Chapter 29 by Bessie Thompson) is an English folksong, also known as The Unquiet Grave, and is believed to be fifteenth century in origin. It is a warning against excessive grief and speaks of the dead being unable to rest in peace because of the mourning of the lover left behind. Like most old songs there are many versions and I have included two here. Luke Kelly’s ends with the lines ‘So, make yourself content, my love,/Til God calls you away’, my preferred ending to the song. The other is a hauntingly beautiful cover of the version used in TV series Penny Dreadful (a series I only managed to watch five minutes of). There are many other versions out there. Joan Baez’s is worth looking for but I would give Steeleye Span’s a miss, it sounds a bit too upbeat.
And finally, as this post purports to be a soundtrack, here is some Tasmanian birdsong. All videos are courtesy of the Birds of the Huon Tasmania YouTube account.