Friday, 4 August 2017

Percy Grainger – Folk Song Collector

Grainger top middle – Joseph Taylor top right

Joseph Taylor was “merely” in his 70s when he recorded for Grainger. Grainger, as well as being hugely impressed with his singing, remarked that “though his age was seventy-five (in 1908), his looks were those of middle age, while his flowing, ringing tenor voice was well nigh as fresh as that of his son ... Nothing could be more refreshing than his hale countrified looks and the happy lilt of his cheery voice.”

In 1907 Grainger met the composer Delius for the first time, who was enthusiastic about Grainger's folk song settings and so impressed with the tune of Brigg Fair that he requested Grainger's permission to adapt it himself for orchestra - using Grainger's own harmonies as the basis for his well-known and much loved Brigg Fair - English Rhapsody. At its first London performance in 1908 at London's Queen's Hall, Joseph Taylor was an invited guest and the story goes that he stood up proudly to sing along with “his” tune as soon as the first strain was played by the orchestra.

1908 was special for another reason, in that Grainger persuaded the Gramophone Company of London to record for the first time a “genuine peasant folk-singer” singing twelve folk songs, of which nine were issued on seven 78 rpm records (at 3/6 or 5/6 each). All but two of the songs recorded, the earliest commercial recordings of English folk song, appear again on the 1972 Leader album Unto Brigg Fair: Joseph Taylor and Other Traditional Lincolnshire Singers, along with transcriptions of twelve of Grainger's original wax cylinder recordings from 1908 of the singers Mr Thomson, Joseph Leaning, George Gouldthorpe, Joseph Taylor (again), George Wray, and Dean Robinson.

As well as producing a number of British folk-song settings over the succeeding years, in 1940 Percy Grainger published what many consider to be his finest work, A Lincolnshire Posy, arranged both for wind band and for two pianos (four hands). This suite comprises settings of five songs from his collecting expeditions in Lincolnshire in 1905-1908, being Lisbon collected from Mr Deane in the Brigg workhouse (mistitled in some versions as Dublin Bay), Horkstow Grange from George Gouldthorpe, Rufford Park Poachers from Joseph Taylor, The Brisk Young Sailor (a.k.a. A Fair Maid Walking) from Mrs. Thompson at Barrow-on-Humber, Lord Melbourne (=Lord Marlborough) from George Wray, and The Lost Lady Found, for which the tune was collected by Lucy Broadwood from her old nurse, Mrs. Hill of Stamford.

Grainger dedicated A Lincolnshire Posy to “the singers who sang so sweetly to me” and elsewhere noted his anger at “the memories of the cruel treatment meted out to folksingers as human beings (most of them died in poor-houses or in other downheartening surroundings) and at the thought of how their high gifts oftenest were allowed to perish unheard, unrecorded, and unhonoured.”

Much later, the songs and singing style of Joseph Taylor and others inspired a whole new generation of folk-revival performers, from the 1960s onwards. Martin Carthy, in particular, appears to have had a fondness for Joseph Taylor's style and repertoire of songs, and has recorded fine versions of Creeping Jane, The White Hare, and other songs from the singing of Joseph Taylor. The Home Service have recorded stirring versions of both Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy and his Duke of Marlborough Fanfare on their 1986 album Alright Jack. And of course, the name of a character from George Gouldthorpe's song Horkstow Grange was adopted by one Ashley Hutchings for the name of the new, “traditional” electric folk group Steeleye Span formed shortly after leaving Fairport Convention in 1969.

Joseph Taylor sings Bold William Taylor
(recorded by Grainger on a 1908 wax cylinder)

I'll sing you a song about two lovers,
Who from Lichfield town they came.
The young man's name was William Taylor,
The maiden's name was Sarah Gray.

William Taylor he has 'listed,
For a soldier he has gone.
He has gone and left his own true lover
For to sigh and for to mourn.

Sally's parents did despise her,
Filled her heart with grief and woe;
And then at last she vowed and told them
For a soldier she would go.

She dressed herself in man's apparel,
Man's apparel she put on;
Then for to seek her own true lover
For to seek him she has gone.

One day as she were exercising,
Exercising one, two, three,
A silver chain hung down her waistcoat
And exposed her lily-white breast.

The sergeant-major stepped up to her,
Asking her what brought her there,
“I've come to search out my true lover
Who has proved to me so dear.”

“If you've come to seek your own true lover,
I pray you tell to me his name.”
“His name it is bold William Taylor,
O, from Lichfield town he came.”

“If his name be William Taylor,
William Taylor is not here;
He's lately married a rich young lady,
Worth ten thousand pound a year.”

“If you rise early in the morning,
Just before the break of day,
Why there you'll find bold William Taylor,
A-walking out with his lady fair.”

Then she rose early in the morning,
Just before the break of day;
And there she spied bold William Taylor
A-walking out with his lady fair.

And then she called for a sword and a pistol,
Which was brought at her command;
She fired and shot bold William Taylor,
With his bride at his right hand.

And then the captain stepped up to her,
Was well pleased at what she'd done.
He took her and made her a bold commander
Over a ship and all his men.

All in all, Percy Grainger noted or recorded 28 songs from Joseph Taylor between 1905 and 1908, and although many of the field recordings were damaged somewhat by the mere fact of repeated playing, the 1908 recordings made for the Gramophone Company represent a treasure-trove of authentic recorded folksong. On the 1972 Leader album Unto Brigg Fair, the booklet writer says: “Mr. Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All-Saints has pride of place on this record, and with justification. He was undoubtedly the finest of the many gifted performers that Grainger recorded.”

Bert Lloyd was very aware of Percy Grainger's insistence on the use of recording songs rather than the more usual method of quickly notating them in the field. Lloyd was himself a pioneer of early use of BBC outside broadcast equipment for field work, and he understood the value of being able to listen to a recording over and over again.

Joseph Taylor Recordings

1. Brigg Fair Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
2. Bold William Taylor Sung by Joseph Taylor as recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
3. Creeping Jane Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
4. Died for Love Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
5. Landlord and Tenant Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
6. Lord Bateman Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
7. Murder of Maria Martin Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
8. Rufford Park Poachers  by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
9. Sprig o'Thyme II Sung by Joseph Taylor as recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
10. Sprig of Thyme Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
11. The Gipsy's Wedding Day Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
12. The White Hare Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger
13. Worcester City Sung by Joseph Taylor recorded in 1908 by Percy Granger

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