John Clare and the Folk Tradition

Sweet William's Ghost

In 1971 George and keyboard player Marion Ross were spotted whilst performing at Cambridge Folk Festival and signed to Transatlantic Records. Their album "Sweet William's Ghost" was released on the XTRA label (XTRA1130) in 1972. I have included a link below to one of the tracks: Holsworthy Peter's Fair. A second track: The Devonshire Farmer's Daughter" is available on the compilation album The Best of English Folk: ESCD 770 and on Anthems In Eden: Sanctuary Records CMXBX 1030C (where, bizarrely, it is classified as "Acid Folk". You can also find it on ITunes.

From the sleeve notes:

The performers

GEORGE DEACON: vocal and guitar

MARION ROSS: collapsible harmonium, harpsichord, bowed psaltery, chorus on "Fiddlers hill"




Chorus: Filigree (Roger, Christine, Pat and Pete) Barbara O'Meara, and David Oberle (of Gryphon).

George Deacon and Marion Ross began to work together in November 1969, when Marion was persuaded to play and write arrangements for a collapsible harmonium that George had restored. By May 1970 they were a full-time professional act. Prior to this,George had, at various times, been an accountant, a lifeguard and a roadie, and had sung on the TV series "Give us a Song". At that time regarded as more of an entertainer than a serious musician, George has since become more involved in the English folk tradition, and is currently researching legends in folk song, and also working through the Ravenscroft arrangements, one of which is featured on this album. Musically, the Duo is aiming towards a more flowing and lyrical interpretation of folk song, placing a particular emphasis on Marion's harmonium arrangements, which use the instrument as a second voice. They are now incorporating a bowed psaltery with the harmonium and George's guitar. This, then, is the first album from George Deacon and Marion Ross' Steve Mann, October 1972

Track Listing

The Devonshire Farmer's Daughter: one of a family of songs including "The Highwaymen Outwitted" and "The Crafty Maid's Policy". This version was collected in Hambridge by Lucy Broadwood. The expressions "shaking and bavering" and "home in her white" are nice reminders of the colour that contemporary standard English has lost.

Accompaniment: harmonium, guitar. (3.30)

The Astrologer: this song is from the Hammond and Gardiner manuscripts. It is a rare dig at a trade that is not seen to figure in many songs.

Accompaniment: harmonium. (2.20)

Holsworthy Peter's Fair: this story of Peter's fair was collected by Peter Gaskell of Sticklepath who wrote the song. The pretty maid custom, instituted 130 years ago, is still carried on, although the fair is no longer a hiring fair, or held in October. It is said that Thomas Pikeman's blood can still be seen on the rocks of Holwill Moor.

Accompaniment: bowed psaltery, 2 guitars. (4.35)

To listen to the track click link below:

Three Morris Tunes:

(a) Wheatley Processional

(b) Twenty-ninth of May

(c) Brighton Camp.

Harmonium. (2.55)

The Bitter Withy: the legend of Christ and the bridge of sunbeams was widely known; it apparently appears in a fresco in an Italian church. This ballad was probably the first popular ballot to be collected after Child's monumental work on English and Scottish popular balladry.

Accompaniment: guitar (3.51)

Sweet Williams Ghost: a text based on one in Ramsay's ‘ Teatable Miscellany’ combined with an adaptation of a Newfoundland tune collected by Miss M Karpeles. The crowing of the cock is the signal for the young man to return to his grave and is common in most ‘visitation’ songs.

Accompaniment: harmonium

The Three Ravens: this arrangement by Thomas Ravenscroft, first published in 1609, is the earliest known version of this song. Many composers have tried to a range English folk song but rarely as successfully as this sympathetic setting for one of the saddest, yet most beautiful of English songs.

Accompaniment: harpsichord (6.04)

The Broomfield Hill: in many versions song opens with a wager, but in only a few of the texts does a witch offer advice to save the young maiden’s virginity. The use of a magical flower to keep a man asleep is common in folklore. This tune from Herefordshire, collected by Vaughan Williams, we have collated with the text from Scott's "Minstrelsy".

Accompaniment: harmonium, guitar (3.40)

The Press Gang: collected from Winterton in Norfolk this song explains the cruelty and lies of the system by which crews were assembled. It is strange that the great British maritime tradition was founded on such a system.

Accompaniment: harmonium (2.10)

The Mountains Adieu: the battle this song describes is difficult to place although Corunna has been suggested as the most likely. A more complete text would perhaps explain things more fully but sadly none has survived.

Accompaniment: harmonium, tenor viol, violone (2.14)

Fiddler's Hill: a legend in song set to a traditional tunes by Peter Bellamy. Stories of secret passageways from priories and the like are legion,some based on fact, some on hearsay. We do not know whether such a bolt hole existed at Walsingham but certainly the bones of a man and dog were found during recent excavations for road widening. You can find this recording occasionally on podcasts or web broadcasts such as . The recording starts at about 1.20.0.

Accompaniment: bowed psaltery, two guitars (6.00)

All arrangements, except "The Three Ravens" by Marion Ross and George Deacon