I took myself to the library at Cecil Sharp House this morning, which is basically the beating heart of the British Folk scene. I wanted to track down some folk melodies about, or from, villages along the Thames, and almost as soon as I'd walked in, the incredibly helpful and knowledgeable librarian handed me a book called "Folk Songs from the Upper Thames," which had been collected before the Great War and published in the early 1920s. The collector, one Mr Williams, had done his bit for King and Country in the meantime and seemed rather apologetic about the fact!
Williams had written an interesting and unpretentious essay at the start of the book, outlining how he'd convinced a number of suspicious elders in villages along the Thames to share the precious songs which had been passed down from their grandmothers. Money occasionally exchanged hands, but more often than not it was down to patience.
He also wrote about how folksongs often falsely claim to be geographically specific, as is the case with Scarborough Fair, which is actually a Scottish melody. In crude terms, a travelling balladeer was more likely to sell sheet music for a song which mentioned a town close to where he was plying his trade than he was with a song about an alien world. So Whitby in a Yorkshire melody would be crossed out and replaced with Witney for the good folk of Oxfordshire.
Those who know me well will know I have a dear friend called Ellen Taylor who used to live in Finsbury Park (Islington) and recently moved to Manchester to write episodes of Coronation Street. Imagine my surprise when I found the following folk song nestling in the book:
All around the room I waltzed with Ellen Taylor,
All around the room, I waltzed till break of day;
And ever since that time I've done nothing but bewail her,
For she's gone to Manchester the summer months to stay.
'Twas at a ball at Islington, I first did chance to meet her... etc
How bizarre is that?
We went to Reading in the late afternoon. This isn't part of the folk song. This is fact. Our good friend Ian is playing the baddie in a production of Beauty and the Beast with the wonderfully preserved Vicky Michelle from the iconic Allo Allo. We had a lovely chat afterwards. She's very gracious.
I love a good panto, but felt incredibly uncomfortable sitting in an audience filled with Mummys and Daddys with no child of my own. The woman who sat down next to me gave me a proper once over with her eyes and I immediately felt like I'd done something wrong.
A rather intense smell of vodka started wafting towards me from her general direction, and for a moment I started feeling incredibly uncomfortable until I realised I was experiencing the remarkably similar smell of hand sanitizer! Before long the entire auditorium was smelling of the stuff...
Reading feels like a rather unpleasant place; all concrete, yellow 80s bricks and bargain stores like Wilkinson and Matalan. The 99p store sits next to The Pound Shop. I'm serious. I wondered how many people would diss the latter because it was too expensive!?
I spoke to one of the actors afterwards who was incredibly opinionated about the subject, urging me to always use the Pound Shop. "That extra penny," he said, "buys you the better brands..."