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GUEST,Karen Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues (285* d) RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues 19 Nov 17


Steve Gardham

Good question about who St James was. I had only got as far as finding out there was more than one. Not big on saints, myself.

Brian Peters

You might be interested to get hold of Robert Harwood's book: he covers the ground you went over, though well done on your own research; it is how I knew about the Fess Williams version and so on. It is also how I know that the tune and similar songs were around before Primrose put in his copyright of his version, and that there was a trial about the ownership to the words St James Infirmary Blues. It appears to have been played by a number of bands criss-crossing the continent. There are musical similarities with a song called 'Dying Crapshooter's Blues' attributed to Porter Grainger and recorded by several artists in the 20s and apparently covered by Blind Willie McTell eg using death marches/type music for comic effect. You can get versions of this in itunes and spotify.
I like the Fess Williams version and also the Martha Copeland, especially the musical jokes eg the Charleston bit.

Re Cecil Sharp

He collected the version with St James in the words in Dewey, within walking distance of a railway station, which is how he got there himself. On the same trip, he collected a version of Loredo/Cowboy's lament in the Appalachians, and this seems to me proof that this area was not cut off musically from the rest of the country, however far inland it may have been.

You can read his diaries for the year here:

https://www.vwml.org/browse/browse-collections-sharp-diaries/browse-sharpdiary1918#recordnumber=2

The original notes for the words are online, but I can't find the link just now. It was Maud Karpeles who took these down: Sharp was the one who took down the music.

On Lenihan

Although Tom was a deep well of all sorts of folklore, he was primarily known as a singer. ?In addition to songs of Irish origin he performed old ballads derived from European tradition, along with local ditties and music hall songs; all were grist to his unbiased mill.? (Munnelly)


Although Tom was a deep well of all sorts of folklore, he was primarily known as a singer. ?In addition to songs of Irish origin he performed old ballads derived from European tradition, along with local ditties and music hall songs; all were grist to his unbiased mill.? (Munnelly)

The social occasions on which dancing and singing took place were weddings, American wakes, parties for returned emigrants in the summer or at Christmas.

I believe I was criticised for suggesting that County Clare was not a musically isolated community, but I made this suggestion on the basis of publicly available information, some of it directly related to the person in question.


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