Mudcat Café message #3879946 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3879946
Posted By: Jim Carroll
03-Oct-17 - 03:38 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: Lyr Add: GUM SHELLAC
Sorry Steve I had that the wrong way round, not you
I thumbed through Holloway and Black last night and found there to be very few songs that have entrered the tradition - a few that could have had they not been so ham-fisted
Ironically, the few that I know to have been sung around the revival were the ones taken up by singers usually disapproved of by academics - Bert had a couple and I spotted two sung bt Critics Group members
I'm off to hospital for a hip operation of Thursday so I'm only going to be able to take tis so far, so I'm going to cover some of the important bits of our findings - ignore me or indulge me
THe Irish Travellers were the first group we recorded in 1973 - they had a living tradition, a fairly large spread repertoire of native rural Irish, political, own-made songs with English and Scottish ones thrown in
It turns out from ours and Tom Munnelly's experiences that they were major players in singing and passing on Child ballads and they were the most important group to distribute songs by selling them at the fairs - almost exclusively a Traveller occupation
The first man we recorded was "Pop's" Johnny Connors, from Wexford
He came from a singing and musical family and was related to the piper, Johnny Doran
He was a Traveller activist, fighting for sites in England alongside Gratton Puxon - he had been imprisoned in Birmingham for his activities in the late sixties and it was there he first learned to read - he wrote an autobiographical piece that was included in Jeremy Sandford's 'Gypsies'
He had leeaned his songs largely from family members - his Uncle made songs about his trade of catching and skinning rabbits and selling them for their fur
His brother-in-law, Little Bill Cassidy, was one of the most stylish singers we ever recorded (I'm pretty sure Brian has heard Bill)
One of the earliest songs he sang for us was the Traveller version of Edward - 'What Put the Blood' - he called it 'Cain and Abel'
He introduced it with this remarkable statement:
"I'd say the song, myself, goes back to.... depicts Cain and Abel in the Bible and where Our Lord said to Cain.... I think this is where the Travellers Curse come from too, because Our Lord says to Cain, "Cain", says Our Lord, "you have slain your brother, and for this", says Our Lord, says he, "and for this, be a wanderer and a fugitive on the earth".
"Not so Lord" says he, "this punishment is too severe, and whoever finds me", says he, "will slay me, "says he "or harass me".
"Not so", says Our Lord, says he, "whoever finds Cain and punishes or slains (sic) Cain, I will punish them sevenfold".
And I think this is where the Travellers curse come from.
Anyway, the song depicts this, this er....
1 call it Cain and Abel anyway; there never was a name for the song, but that what I call it, you know, the depiction of Cain and Abel."

He described Travellers singing style at length, which he referred to as 'the Yawn':

(tune sung) That's the 'yawn' in the voice, dragged away, the yawn in the voice.
The 'yawn' is in the pipes, the uilleann pipes, which is among te oldest instruments among Travelling people, or among the world, is the pipes.
The breeding generation belonging to me, the Dorans, the Cashes, its all traditional musicians, this is in history.
Denis Turner Can you give us an example?
P J C. I gave you an example a few minutes ago, but I'll give it again.


The song he refers to he called 'The Green Shades of Yann' - an English language version of the Irish language The Brown Thorn An Droighneán Donn, which has been completely 'Travellerised' and set among the caravans and ponies rather than the usual rural setting.
Johnny was typical of the singers we questioned about their songs, knowledgeable, articulate and with strong opinions about them - not the passive "song birds" who learned songs from print and parroted what they'd heard uncritically - his main difference was that, up to a few yeears earlier ha=e was totally unable to read a word.
He also made songs, as did many Travellers na put stories to sme of them, like the description of a feud between two families, 'Poor Old Man' which can be heard on our CD 'From Puck ot Appleby'
His best song was a pride-filled evocation of the Travellers, Gum Shellac - here with note

Gum Shellac
(Roud 2508) 'Pop's' Johnny Connors, Wexford Traveller


We are the travelling people
Like the Picts or Beaker Folk,
The men in Whitehall thinks we're parasites
But tinker is the word.
With our gum shellac alay ra lo,
Move us on you boyoes.

All the jobs in the world we have done,
From making Pharaoh's coffins
To building Birmingham.
With our gum shellac ala lay sha la,
Wallop it out you heroes.

We have mended pots and kettles
And buckets for Lord Cornwall,
But before we'd leave his house me lads,
We would mind his woman and all.
With our gum shellac alay ra la,
Wallop it out me hero.

Well I have a little woman
And a mother she is to be,
She gets her basket on her arm,
And mooches the hills for me.
With our gum shellac alay ra la,
Wallop it out me hero.

Dowdled verse.

We fought the Romans,
The Spanish and the Danes,
We fought against the dirty Black and Tans
And knocked Cromwell to his knees.
With our gum shellac alay ra la,
Wallop it out me heroes.

Well, we're married these twenty years,
Nineteen children we have got.
Ah sure, one is hardly walking
When there's another one in the cot.
Over our gum shellac alay ra lo,
Get out of that you boyoes.

We have made cannon guns in Hungary,
Bronze cannons in the years BC
We have fought and died for Ireland
To make sure that she was free.
With a gum shellac ala lay sha la,
Wallop it out me heroes.

We can sing a song or dance a reel
No matter where we roam,
We have learned the Emperor Nero
How to play the pipes
Way back in the days of Rome.
With our gum shellac ala lay sha la,
Whack it if you can me boyoes.

Dowdled verse.

Note
'Pop's' Johnny Connors, the singer of this song, is also the composer. He was an activist in the movement for better conditions for Travellers in the 1960s and was a partici¬pant in the Brownhills eviction, about which he made the song, The Battle of Brownhills, which tells of an unofficial eviction in the Birmingham area which led to the death of two Traveller children. An account of part of his experiences on the road is to be found in Jeremy Sandford's book Gypsies under the heading, Seven Weeks of Childhood. This was written while Johnny was serving a prison sentence in Winson Green Prison in the English Midlands. He said that further chapters of an intended biography were confiscated by the prison authorities and never returned to him on his release.
Gum shellac is a paste formed by chewing bread, a technique used by unscrupulous tinsmiths to supposedly repair leaks in pots and pans. When polished, it gives the ap¬pearance of a proper repair but, if the vessel is filled with water, the paste quickly disintegrates, giving the perpetrator of the trick just enough time to escape with his payment.

I've taken too long over this, but I think it important in the context of how I believe a living tradition worked - gathering, singing, passing on old songs and making new ones
I know this happened in Ireland, but she is our nearest neighbour and has been influenced by us for 8 centuries ? I see no reason why we can't take what happened here as a guide for what could well have happened in the English countryside
Jim Carroll