On a Facebook page that I moderate – Folk Music of the British Isles – I frequently post articles about and videos of artists that I admire. In selecting items to post there I began to notice a decided bias toward fingerstyle guitarist/folk singers who have influenced my own music. The first of these is John Renbourn￼. This is not intended to be a full biography – rather it is his musical history through my experience of it. I bought my first John Renbourn album only about thirteen years ago!. Although I was vaguely aware there had been a group called Pentangle￼ in the 1960s, I can’t recall ever actually hearing their music or knowing the names of any of the members. I came to that album, 1977’s A Maid in Bedlam, through my interest in the music I was hearing at renaissance festivals. Knowing I was a guitarist, one of the faire musicians recommended it as a place to start exploring traditional British folk. I was instantly enthralled by Renbourn’s guitar artistry and by the singing of Jacqui McShee. herself a former member of Pentangle. Three songs from that album were regularly performed at faire, and they, along with a fourth – Black Waterside – are still part of my repertoire today. The John Renbourn Group also recorded a live album in 1981 – Live in America – which contained many more song gems to be mined, particularly The Trees They Grow High, which had been recorded by Pentangle and which I recorded with Wyldefyre on our album All’s Faire. This song is known by various titles – The Trees They Do Grow High, Daily Growing, Bonny Boy, etc. According to Roud and Bishop (British folk song cataloguers and historians) “Judging by the number of versions gathered in the major manuscript collections and later sound recordings, this song has been a firm favourite with singers in Britain, Ireland and North America for a long time, the wording varies surprisingly little across the English versions and the story is always the same, and these probably derive from nineteenth-century broadside printings, of which there are many.” Although the song is found much earlier, two verses having been discovered in David Herd’s manuscript collection dating from the 1770s, it may have been based on an actual arranged marriage from 1634! But I digress… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwlRqTk3ir8 After being led to those first albums, I have gone through Renbourn’s back catalog. His teaming with fellow guitarist Bert Jansch in Pentangle is now deservedly legendary and his solo work and later collaborations shine with unparralled creativity and technique. Renbourn’s interest in early and renaissance music was in evidence on his solo album Sir John a Lot (1968) and his Celtic influences shone on later solo outings such as The Hermit and The Nine Maidens, which featured, among others, tunes by the legendary Irish harper/composer Turlough O’Carolan. In the mid-1980s Renbourn earned a degree in music composition from Dartlington School of Arts in Devon (now part of University College, Falmouth – how’s that for trivia?). Over the years he has had many lucrative musical collaborators, among them Stefan Grossman, bard Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band), the aforementioned Jacqui McShee and many more. He’s recorded a series of video lessons for aspiring guitarists, contributed to film soundtracks and much more. In 2011 he released Palermo Snow, a collection of instrumental guitar solos also featuring clarinetist Dick Lee – adding to the more than fifty albums which bear his name and his superb fingerstyle guitar. Talking of which, Martin Guitars have just issued the John Renbourn Signature Model. Now aged 69, John Renbourn has continued to record, tour and conducts guitar workshops all over the world including England, France and, recently, Crete! Attending one of these would be a true busman’s holiday for me.
The Child Ballads are a collection of 305 folk songs from England and Scotland which were compiled by Francis James Child in the mid to late 1800’s. In researching “folk songs of the British Isles” to be included in my performing repertoire, I found that I already knew (and played) a great many of them. Not surprising, in that they are the “standards” of the genre.
I’m preparing a new album, and inquired of the friends on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MartynWyldeMusic) if any of them had suggestions for material. One friend recommended four songs – three of which were Child Ballads. My own selections for the album already included three others.
So I have now taken a slight detour from the album I had planned to make, and am in the process of recording several of the Ballads, probably to be released on their own. These are the songs I’ve selected:
Broomfield Hill, Willie’s Lady, Fair Annie, The Daemon Lover, The Wife of User’s Well, Willie of Wimsbury, Jock O’Hazeldeen, Tam Lin.
In addition, my band Celtic Mayhem, have already recorded a Child Ballad (Twa Corbies) for our new album!
Part of my research of the Child Ballads led me to a CD by the duo of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, who earlier this year released an album titled Child Ballads. The seven songs are simply arranged primarily with two acoustic guitars and little other instrumentation, but with wonderful two part vocal harmony. This is one of my favourite albums of the last several years. Here’s a link if you’d like to give it a listen (while waiting for me to finish my album): Child Ballads.