There probably isn't a folk fan on the planet who hasn't heard Nic Jones' version of this, which is of course a marvellous thing. Not having heard many other versions, I was intrigued to find the same song on an album by Tish Stubbs and Sam Richards, sounding quite different even though both must have originated with Harry Upton. My version is closer to Tish and Sam's, because, well, you're onto a loser if you try to match Nic.
The Golden Vanity
This Cambridgeshire version of The Golden Vanity -- actually the Valiantry in this case -- comes from the Garners Gay collection by Fred Hamer. This is the first outing for a strange old musical instrument found in my Dad's loft, with a banjo neck and a mandolin body. I brought it back to life but perhaps should have used some more expensive tuners, as it is a pig to keep in tune.
The Little Room
This is a Shropshire folk carol collected by Cecil Sharp. The original version is incredibly long! The Shropshire carollers, apparently, sang from a book called A Christmas Box, so perhaps remembering all the words wasn't an issue. The full version would probably take fifteen minutes to sing all the way through.
The Earl Of Errol
There are lots of texts of this ballad, and several tunes, but none of the tunes was collected with a full text, so I've abridged the words from a couple of different versions. The legal case that is the subject of this ballad was a real one, but the records have been lost. I hope it really happened like this.
The Downs (The Middlesex Flora)
As far as I can tell, this song hasn't been recorded before. It features in a few folk song collections from the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and this is one of several versions collected by Greig and Duncan in Scotland.
There was actually a Middlesex Flora, and she was really wrecked at Dundrum in Ireland. I don't know how much of the rest is true.
The Death Of Parcy Reed
To judge by this ballad, medieval Northumbria must have been a pretty wild place. Parcy Reed aka the Laird Trowend makes a stand against the bandits, and pays with his life.
Banks Of Green Willow
One of the things I love about folk music is the way that time and oral transmission erodes songs, so that they no longer have a coherent narrative, instead becoming enigmatic collections of fragments. This song presumably started life as an English version of 'Bonny Annie' (Child 24) but what remains of the story has become hopelessly tangled. The tune, collected by Vaughan Williams, is one of the most unusual and haunting melodies I've come across.
The Wanton Seed
I have no idea about the origin of this song, except that it's English and a bit rude. But that's folk music all over really.
Streets Of Forbes
An Australian folk song lamenting the death of the outlaw Ben Hall. The words were apparently written by Hall's brother-in-law. June Tabor recorded a fine version on her Ashes & Diamonds album, which is where I first heard it.
Wi' My Dog And Gun
No-one seems quite sure whether this song is Scottish or Irish in origin. It has more of an Irish feel to me, but who knows.
The Flanders Shore
A haunting fragment of a ballad that was originally much longer, this song was rediscovered by Nic Jones and recorded on his classic Penguin Eggs album. I've, um, taken it in a different direction.
Dives & Lazarus
I collect old microphones, and recorded this to test a stereo ribbon mic from the Sixties. This is a version first printed by Lucy Broadwood and J. A. Fuller Maitland in 1893, collected from A. J. Hipkins of Westminster. I'm not quite sure why Bronson relegates this tune to an appendix in his Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, as it clearly belongs to 'Dives & Lazarus' proper rather than the American 'Lazarus' ballad.
This has a good claim to be the single darkest song in the English folk tradition, though it has its roots in events that took place in Ireland. I read somewhere that Martin Carthy stopped singing this song because he thought the protagonist was probably guilty after all. The last line almost hints at an admission.
The Heir o Linne
I have a weakness for obscure Child ballads like this one, number 267. There are a couple of traditional tunes recorded, but I couldn't make them work, so I wrote my own.
The Ballad of Peter Lely
This is not in any way traditional. In fact I wrote it myself. But I shall claim that it counts as folk, since (a) it's about things that happened in the seventeenth century, (b) it's in DADGAD, and (c) I sang it through a beard.
The first 'proper' book of folk songs I got my hands on was Cecil Sharp and Olive Dame Campbell's English Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians. This version of Lord Randal is one of my favourites.
Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies
Another song from Sharp and Campbell, somewhat buggered about with in the learning.
The Knight's Ghost
Child #265 is even more obscure than #267. Bertrand H Bronson found one traditional tune and describes it as 'pointless', but I rather like it. Again the tune is one I wrote.
Nell McLeod sings and I play guitar. This is an interesting and rather lovely song, made up entirely of 'floating verses'.
Chris's No 1
Nell McLeod plays the melodeon. Rather nicely.