THE SERVANTS’ BALL – The Servants’ Ball (D.Wink CD13)

The West Sussex Gazette, December 15, 1938

The Servants' BallThe other evening, I had the good fortune to be assigned by this paper’s editor to attend a performance given at the Whittington Village Hall by an ensemble of performers going by the name of The Servants’ Ball. Individually, they comprise banjulele (a sort of banjo and ukulele crossbreed) player and step dancer Ewan Wardrop, fiddler Ben Paley, Rob Harbron on concertina, Ben Nicholls playing upright bass with Julian Hinton at the piano and Evan Jenkins providing assorted percussion.

Their repertoire ranges wide across a number of popular musical style, some steeped in the folk traditions of this country, Europe and the plantations of America, others harking back to the days of Victorian music hall or reflecting such contemporary fashions as the current enthusiasm for ragtime music. Indeed, they are well versed in popular passions, opening their programme with an instrumental number entitled ‘Egyptian Princess’ reflecting the current craze for Egyptology, it’s snake-charmer rhythms prompting several members of the audience to engage in what is termed a “sand dance”, its strutting movements modelled on tomb paintings, emulating the famous comedy routine of music hall act Wilson and Keppel who, you may recall, enjoyed a successful run at the London Palladium as recently as 1932. Had Howard Carter been among the throng, I feel sure he would have joined in.

Their repertoire for the night intermingling such dance tunes with songs of music hall vintage, they proceeded to delight, Wardrop, a ukulele player to rival George Formby, singing ‘The Bird On Nelly’s Hat’, a turn of the century vaudeville cautionary comedy ditty composed by Arthur Lamb and Alfred Solman about a lovestruck lad being fleeced of all his money by the titular golddigger.

Returning to instrumentals, led by concertina, they had the audience taking to the floor for the polka-influenced ceilidh tune ‘Number One Dance Step’ on which Wardrop demonstrated his foot tap talents to great effect before drawing applause and roar of approval as Hinton launched into the well-known ‘Champagne Charlie’, the lyrics written by Birmingham factory worker Joe Sanders who, under his music hall stage name of George Leybourne introduced the song, sponsored by champagne firms, into his act in 1868, boosting his income to almost fivefold to £120 a week.

Returning to dance tunes, introduced with a roll on the drums, next up was ‘Sultan Polka’, composed by Charles Louis Napoleon d’Albert for Sultan Abdulaziz I of the Ottoman Empire, this was followed in turn by ‘Pretty Little Dear’, not, as you might think, the 1926 comedy number by Frank Crumit, but rather another concertina dance tune, this of Sussex origin, which I understand the ensemble learned from the work of the renowed Scan Tester from Horsted Keynes, whose Country Dance Band often perform at such local functions.

Allowing the crowd to take a respite from their lively footwork, it was back to music hall for ‘I’m A Man That’s Done Wrong’, or, to give it the full title, ‘I’m a Man That’s Done Wrong to my Parents’, a sorrowful lament of a ne’er do well spurned by his family, Wardrop singing “I once wronged my father and mother, Till they turned me out from their door, To beg, starve or die, in the gutter to lie, And ne’er enter their dwellings no more” dating back to the end of the 1880s and reputedly written in Dorsetshire by one H. Strachey.

Having had time to catch their breath, the revellers were then encouraged back on to the floor for ‘Wild West Gallop’, a lively tune encompassing fairground whirligig, minstrel rag and quadrille and, from there, bearing the time of year in mind, straight into ‘Winter Cotillions’ medley before, accompanying himself on piano, Hinton returned to sing ‘Beautiful Boy’, an amusingly far fetched Victroian tale of no known authorship about of how a young lad was forced to undergo any number of surgical procedures, such as stretching his mouth wider, to make him to look more attractive to the opposite sex,with some unfortunate side effects. Let us hope the medical profession never encourages such nonsense.

Coming to to the close of the evening, they had time for two further tunes, Harbron leading them in the bouncing along ‘Les Rats Quadrille’, composed in 1844 by Gervasius Redler for student dancers or “les petits rats”, and returning to the fad for all things Egypt, Egyptian Ballet, an adaptation from Ballet égyptie by the composer Alexandre Luigini’s. Finally, it was the turn of Nichols to lend his stentorian vocals for a lugubrious six-minute variation of the children’s lullaby of ‘Old King Cole’ with the lyrics revised to talk of the monarch summoning Paganini, Paulo Spagnoletti and the London-born Nicholas Mori to satisfy his predilection for trios, the mock serious song continuing to talk of his secretary declaring a mole on his face as “boding something would take place but not what that something would be” and how the musicians parted company when the king started snoring on page 44 of Giovanni Battista Viotti’s ‘Concerto in G’, their dozing alcohol-doused patron then setting himself alight with his pipe and exploding, the number finally ending by inviting listeners to view the records at the British Museum in Bloomsbury.

A perfectly agreeable night of dancing, laughter and merriment that sent the party goers home happy and humming the tunes, I would not be surprised if, in say 80 years, some similarly enterprising folk musicians didn’t reprise the programme to afford equal delight to their own audiences.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

A (possibly) serious video about The Servants’ Ball:

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Singing It All Back Home (Dusty Willow Records DWR005)

Singing It All Back HomeIt has been my experience that any record with Naomi Bedford’s name on it is worth listening to and adding Paul Simmonds to the mix practically makes it mandatory. With Singing It All Back Home they turn their back on their customary songwriting and present a set of Appalachian songs with roots in English and Scottish traditional songs. Despite their southern English backgrounds, Naomi and Paul sound authentically American particularly when they hit their harmonies.

Alone, they are just two voices and acoustic guitar but here they’ve assembled a cast of musicians who work together seamlessly well. Dan Stewart and Ben Walker, who co-produced the album, play banjo because you can’t have an Appalachian album without banjo and Ben also plays guitar and mandolin. Ben Paley plays fiddle, Rory McLeod adds harmonica and Lisa Knapp supplies hammered dulcimer. All of this comes over the engine room of Rhys Lovell’s bass and Billy Abbot’s drums and percussion.

The first few titles are the less familiar ones – Naomi and Paul have delved deep into the archives – but from the first notes you know what these songs are and where they are from. The first, ‘I Must And I Will Be Married’, begins in a Celtic style but when Walker’s slide guitar comes in you know that you’ve crossed the Atlantic. The melody of ‘The Fateful Blow’ sounds vaguely like ‘Johnny Todd’ but not quite and ‘A Rich Irish Lady’ surfaced later as the better-known ‘Pretty Saro’.

The first well-known track is a raucous ‘Hangman’ (‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ or ‘Gallows Pole’ if you prefer) and ‘Matty Groves’ needs no introduction but here there are rarely sung verses and variations I haven’t heard before. ‘The Sheffield Apprentice’ isn’t a song I expected to find here but I should have known that Hedy West recorded back in the 60s. Finally we have ‘The Foggy Dew’, a song well-known on both sides of the water.

If I must be critical, I would have liked notes about the origins of these versions. Not only is Singing It All Back Home a very enjoyable album, and it can be listened to on that basis, but also an important collection, particularly for someone like me – by no means a scholar but with a more than passing interest in the history of the songs.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Who’s That Knocking’:

McDermott’s 2 Hours announce final album with Nick Burbridge


When writers wax lyrical about the rugged Celtic beauty that came to fruition with The Pogues and Shane MacGowan, they often seem to suggest that time has stood still and that Irish music had been sitting, waiting since the mid sixties ballad boom of The Dubliners et al for something suddenly to connect the urgency of punk with the heart and soul of traditional music. But out in the rough and ready bars of Hamburg and a hundred other German hostelries a band was carving out and whittling  its  own take on the beauty of Irish folk music; adding fire, vitality and punk-style energy while handling the travails of fights and frolics, women, dark streets and the drink.

This was before it was trendy or cool to take Irish folk music and add a rock edge, long before Pogue Mahone turned it all upside down. The band morphed into McDermotts 2 Hours in 1986 (named after a wonderfully unexpected happening on pirate radio during the Battle Of The Bogside as recalled in Eamonn McCann’s War And An Irish Town) ‘being Irish and in the wrong place and at the wrong time’ – to paraphrase MacGowan. In the pubs and clubs of Brighton and London they built a reputation for their incendiary live performances that have become legend.

Among their wild and youthful admirers were a gaggle of friends who, a few years down the line, influenced by the spirit, fire and camaraderie of Nick Burbridge and McDermott’s 2 Hours, would strap on guitars and call themselves The Levellers. Those in the know realise that Nick Burbridge has been, and continues to be one of the best songwriters in the Anglo-Irish tradition. He fashions songs that as well as perfectly capturing the gritty underbelly of the Irish experience in 60s/70s mainland UK, they beautifully capture the longing for home and reality of the Troubles with all the evocative magnificence of Beckett or Joyce.

But that was then and this is now.

Besieged is not so much a final curtain as a magnificent encore.

Serving as the last installment of a magnificent career singer, songwriter, poet, playwright and frontman with folk, rock, roots and punk outfit McDermott’s 2 Hours, Nick Burbridge releases his final album with the band on 8 February. Besieged sees Nick again team up with members of The Levellers (Jeremy Cunningham and Simon Friend), Oysterband (Dil Davies and Al Scott), Ben Paley (son of the late folk music giant Tom Paley), plus Tim Cotterell and friends for the album’s twelve tracks. Released via The Levellers’ On The Fiddle Recordings, advance orders will also secure a bonus CD, Anticlockwise, featuring a fourteen-track ‘best of’ McDermott’s 2 Hours.

I left in the autumn and settled in Camden, Two in a room with a flute and accordion, Site-work was hard and the foreman a bastard, But we’d rakes in our pocket and hours our own, At the end of a long day we’d wander round Archway, Fit for the tunes and the women as well, When I called home I lied for now I knew why, I always believed I’d bid Erin farewell – ‘Erin Farewell’ – McDermott’s 2 Hours

Artists’ website:

‘Dirty Davey’ – one of the tracks on Anticlockwise:

Last but not least,’Fox on the Run’ – one of our favourites from The folking Archive:

JEFF WARNER – Roam The Country Through (WildGoose WGS425CD)

Roam The Country ThroughIf you haven’t yet heard Jeff Warner live, you have a rare treat in store. Jeff is the son of two of America’s foremost song collectors, Frank and Anne Warner and, as such, his knowledge is unparalleled. On stage he is relaxed and genial swapping between concertina, banjo and guitar – and sometimes jig-doll – and rarely have I so devoutly wished that a gig would never end. I do love Americana and Roam The Country Through is what I mean by that. This is the real thing.

All these songs are traditional except when they’re not and I probably should explain what I mean by that. Take the opening track, ‘Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel’. Most of us would consider it to be traditional but Jeff’s version owes much to Uncle Dave Macon who adapted a minstrel song written in 1853 by Dan Emmett who probably pinched an earlier song. OK, let’s call it traditional.

The seventeen tracks here mix traditional songs, some collected by the Warners and others by Cecil Sharp, twentieth century poetry, music-hall tunes and even a bit of gospel. The journeys that some of these songs have undertaken are quite remarkable. ‘Lass Of Glenshee’ is as Scottish as they come and was probably written in the late 18th century in Perth and the Warners collected it from an old logger in the Adirondacks in the 1940s. You can only imagine how it got there. From the same source came ‘Jamie Judge’, a real logging camp song. In complete contrast is ‘It’s My Lazy Day’ by Smiley Burnette who appeared in movies as Gene Autry’s sidekick.

So, we have a selection of songs than span more than 150 years, most with a well-documented provenance but as with ‘Lass Of Glenshee’ we can speculate on how ‘Gypsum Davy’ arrived in Tennessee. Jeff doesn’t need much support but he’s aided by Alice Jones on vocals, keyboards and whistle and the fiddle of Ben Paley and, all in all, this is a damn fine record.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Days Of ’49’ – live (an old recording of a song on this album):

MARK CHADWICK – Moment (On The Fiddle OTFCD020)

MomentMark Chadwick’s second solo album won’t disappoint fans but it may surprise one or two. It’s simple, direct and confessional and I enjoyed it from the off.

The sound is pared-down a little, based on acoustic guitar with Tom White’s piano and Ben Paley’s fiddle over the engine room of Graeme Ross and Alex White on double bass and drums. At first hearing I thought that ‘Christian And Pam’ was the key song. It’s the story of two, what shall we say, less privileged members of our society in a long-standing but rickety relationship that you just know isn’t going to end well. The last verse describes Christian being taken away in an ambulance covered in blood ‘the way Pam knew he would’. Mark describes the album as “an honest look at drink, life and love”. Nowhere will you read that he is an alcoholic but his relationship with the booze is a troubled one. ‘Waterfall’ is almost a song of praise for the drink, albeit a bitter one – ‘drinking makes the man, watch him crawl, watch him crawl’ – while ‘Bullet’ and ‘Killing Time’ are stories seemingly seen through a haze – you can put your own interpretation on them and I’m still working on mine.

‘Air’ is musically the most complex song with piano and fiddle heading into jazz territory while the closing ‘Last Night’ relates the insomniac’s early morning reflections on the night before. Some of these words are set to good, stomping tunes and I can hear the choruses of ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Bullet’ ringing out across a festival field from voices that haven’t fully understood what it is they’re singing. The duality of the music is reflected in the cover but that’s as much an illustration of the duality of human nature, particularly when the demons are released.

Not only is this a good album to listen to on the superficial level – you’ll find yourself singing along – but it also makes some difficult points in a readily accessible way.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Red Sky’, taken from the album, was Mark’s Record Store Day single:

Bonnie Dobson & Her Boys – new album: Take Me For A Walk In The Morning Dew

BONNIE-DOBSON-2-low-res-LAURIE-copy-spattered-205x300Hornbeam Recordings: June 2014

Record Store Day 7 inch Single, April 18th featuring ‘Come Dancing’/’Dancing Version’

Bonnie Dobson is one of the great voices of folk music and a veteran of the Greenwich Village scene in the early 60s. She was born in November 1940 in Toronto, Canada where she was raised. Her mother was Scottish and her father’s family was Irish. Folk music soon became an important part of Bonnie’s life inspired by witnessing Paul Robeson perform at Toronto’s Massey Hall as well as seeing the black-listed Pete Seeger play at summer camps. In the early 60’s she moved to New York and was one of a number of talented female singers to emerge in the folk revival. Time Magazine bracketed her, Joan Baez and Judy Collins as the three top female folk singers in America among others on the scene such as Maria D’Amato (later Muldaur), Hedy West, Karen Dalton and Judy Roderick who Bonnie shared an apartment with in St Marks Place.

Most of the girls began as interpreters of either traditional material or the work of contemporary songwriters but in 1961, Bonnie announced herself as a writer when she penned the song for which she’s most renowned, ‘Morning Dew’, making its debut on Live at Folk City in 1962. Inspired by seeing Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film of Nevil Shute’s novel On The Beach, ‘Morning Dew’ was immediately recognised as an anti-war classic; it graced the cover of Broadside #7 under the title ‘Take Me For A Walk’. ‘Morning Dew’ has since become as much a rock as a folk standard, covered by a host of artists including The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Fred Neil, Tim Rose, Rod Stewart, The Jeff Beck Group and Robert Plant.  Artists as diverse as Lulu, Clannad, Devo and Einstürzende Neubauten have recorded it. When Bonnie appeared with Robert Plant at the recent tribute to Bert Jansch at the Royal Festival Hall, the two of them sang ‘Morning Dew’ together.

Its ongoing popularity and a certain controversy surrounding ‘Morning Dew’ has resulted in it overshadowing most of Bonnie’s other compositions over the years. It was covered by Fred Neil on his 1964 Elektra album with Vince Martin, Tear Down The Walls, where Neil amended the lyric slightly. This was the version then recorded by Tim Rose in 1967. It became his signature song but he also claimed an unwarranted co-writing credit with Bonnie Dobson into the bargain. As she has pointed out, it’s entirely her song although if anybody else deserved a credit it would be Fred Neil, not Tim Rose.

Bonnie dropped out of college at the end of the 50’s and began touring the growing circuit of folk clubs in America and Canada in 1960 – her first tour was with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee no less.  She frequently played Gerdes Folk City where Dylan was impressed by her version of the traditional ‘The Ballad of Peter Amberley’, and used the tune and spirit of the Canadian folk song for his own topical song about Seattle convict Donald White; ‘The Ballad of Donald White’ also appeared in Broadside in 1962. ‘Peter Amberley’ is one of a number of traditional songs – alongside ‘Dink’s Song’, popularised by Dave Van Ronk, and Judy Roderick’s arrangement of ‘Born in the Country’ which Bonnie has re-recorded for her new album. There are two further traditional songs which she has never recorded before, French/Canadian folk song  ‘V’la L’bon Vent’ and the rousing old time band instrumental ‘Sandy Boys’.

Bonnie Dobson began recording in the early 60s, releasing four albums for Prestige, including an album of children’s songs – A Merry Go Round of Children’s Songs – also recording albums for Mercury, RCA, Argo and Polydor during the 60s and 70s as well as collaborating in 1968 with the New Lost City Ramblers on the soundtrack of the film Moving On for the United Transportation Union. Bonnie has always mixed her own songs with traditional material, and often the work of fellow Canadians such as Gordon Lightfoot and Ian and Sylvia but her compositions have often been overlooked. She revisits some of her finest songs on her new Hornbeam album; ‘I Got Stung’, ‘Rainy Windows’, ‘Winter’s Going’, ‘Come On Dancing’, as well as ‘Morning Dew’, plus a slew of originals recorded for the first time. These include stirring country rocker ‘Southern Bound’, the powerful ‘Who Are These Men?’, a breezy tale of our times ‘Living On Plastic’, and the simple, heart-rending ‘JB’s Song’.

Ambivalent about some of her earlier recordings where the production was given too much of a pop sheen and overly embellished with strings, these recent recordings may be the definitive versions – they certainly sounder fresher and completely modern in the present context, recorded in London with a full band (also her regular live outfit). Her boys include Ben Paley, fiddle, BJ Cole, pedal steel, Ben Phillipson, guitar, Felix Holt, harmonica, Jonny Bridgwood, double bass, Dave Morgan, drums, plus Ruth Tidmarsh, vocals.

It was back in 1969 that Bonnie made her British debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and that same year she moved from Toronto where she’d been living since 1965, to settle permanently in London.  She continued to tour throughout Europe but recorded only intermittently after 1976. Then in 1989, Bonnie played what she thought was to be her final concert in Chicago. She enrolled that year at London University’s Birkbeck College to study Politics, Philosophy and History, going on to become the Head Administrator of the Philosophy Department at Birkbeck. She was coaxed out of retirement for Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown festival in 2007 and these days plays regular live shows with ‘her boys’, her sweet soprano voice sounding warmer, perhaps richer than ever before. “She is still an impressively original lady,” commented Robin Denselow in The Guardian.

For more news about Bonnie and Hornbeam Recordings  visit