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Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues

DigiTrad:
LOCKE HOSPITAL
ST. JAMES HOSPITAL
ST. JAMES INFIRMARY
THE UNFORTUNATE RAKE


Related threads:
Lyr Req: St. James Infirmary (25)
(origins) Tune Req: St. James Infirmary Blues (25)
Help: The Unfortunate Rake (116)
(origins) Origins: Der Treue Husar and the Unfortunate Rake (25)
Lyr/Chords Req: St. James Infirmary (26)
Lyr Add: The Unfortunate Lad (#350 / Rake's Lamen (8)
Help: St. James Infirmary - by Rolling Stones? (41)
Tune Req: St. James Infirmary (12)
Lyr Req: Bright Shiny Morning (9)
St. James Infirmary (from Josh White) (2)
Chords Req: St. James Infirmary (6)
Lyr Add: St. Jude's Infirmary (Parody for Spaw) (15)
Lyr Req: St James Infirmary (request only) (4) (closed)
Chords/Tab Req: St. James Infirmary (5)
Tune Req: St. James Infirmary (7)


Stilly River Sage 25 May 20 - 12:39 PM
GUEST,Guest 10 Dec 19 - 09:36 AM
Jack Campin 10 Dec 19 - 08:32 AM
GUEST,Guest 10 Dec 19 - 07:34 AM
GUEST,Guest 09 Dec 19 - 09:24 AM
Jack Campin 08 Dec 19 - 05:35 PM
GUEST,Guest 08 Dec 19 - 05:08 PM
Jack Campin 08 Dec 19 - 04:48 PM
GUEST,Guest 08 Dec 19 - 03:48 PM
GUEST,Guest 08 Dec 19 - 03:36 PM
Jack Campin 08 Dec 19 - 01:03 PM
GUEST,guest 08 Dec 19 - 12:05 PM
Lighter 08 Dec 19 - 11:43 AM
GUEST,Guest 08 Dec 19 - 08:13 AM
Jack Campin 07 Dec 19 - 04:05 PM
Kevin Werner 07 Dec 19 - 02:30 PM
GUEST 07 Dec 19 - 08:33 AM
Big Al Whittle 25 Nov 17 - 10:04 AM
GUEST 25 Nov 17 - 09:26 AM
GUEST,Karen 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 04:05 PM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 03:25 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 02:50 PM
meself 22 Nov 17 - 02:27 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 02:09 PM
GUEST,Karen 22 Nov 17 - 01:55 PM
GUEST,Karen 22 Nov 17 - 01:49 PM
GUEST,Karen 22 Nov 17 - 01:47 PM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 01:38 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Nov 17 - 11:57 AM
meself 22 Nov 17 - 11:45 AM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 11:43 AM
Brian Peters 22 Nov 17 - 07:57 AM
Big Al Whittle 22 Nov 17 - 05:52 AM
Brian Peters 22 Nov 17 - 05:36 AM
meself 21 Nov 17 - 09:20 PM
GUEST,Karen 21 Nov 17 - 08:38 PM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 17 - 07:04 PM
Richard Mellish 21 Nov 17 - 05:20 PM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 02:53 PM
meself 21 Nov 17 - 02:31 PM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 01:43 PM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 17 - 01:25 PM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 17 - 12:20 PM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 17 - 12:08 PM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 11:49 AM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 11:36 AM
Steve Gardham 21 Nov 17 - 11:15 AM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 08:24 AM
Lighter 21 Nov 17 - 08:23 AM
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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 25 May 20 - 12:39 PM

Since Jed started this thread few of us would have envisioned the events of 2020 and the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. This week a song appeared on my Facebook page, it's a sad parody of St James Infirmary/Streets of Laredo that I would like to see fully recognized in the various places where it would best appear in discussions. A friend described crying all the way through and begged me to find it on YouTube so it could more easily be shared.

Here it is on YouTube: The Streets of Manhattan, copyright May 2020 by Jonathan Talbot and Lynette Hensley. Someone should easily transcribe these lyrics.

If there was ever a song that deserved to "go viral," this is it. I can easily imagine people like Joe Offer and Dan Schatz adding it to their regular set lists.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 09:36 AM

Thanks for your ideas. Much appreciated. Shows what a wonderful place Mudcat can be. Thanks again. I'll be listening to them all again.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 08:32 AM

There is a very distant connection between that Lloyd tune and the "Banks of the Devon" family - "The Arran Boat" is not that far removed, though it postdates Forde's 1790 source. But with "Streets of Laredo" itself, no way.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 07:34 AM

Jack

This is the tune Lloyd sings, and I cannot for the life of me see any resemblance to the Streets tune I learned when young. But maybe you can?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=51&v=1aQd99zfIRo&feature=emb_logo

By the way, I think Lloyd wrote this version himself. It's the first of (at least) three differing sets of words he produced.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 09:24 AM

Jack
So much food for thought. Thanks. Do you have a link for Wayfaring Stranger?

Have you heard this:

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=charleston+cabin&&view=detail&mid=63369176501A7EFD1E9063369176501A7EFD1E90&&FORM=VRDGAR

Does the tune ring any bells? Fascinating stuff isn't it?

Lloyd uses a tune from a publication by Joyce.


I hope at least one of these links works.

https://www.itma.ie/joyce/book/old-irish-folk-music-and-songs-part-3

https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/itma.dl.printmaterial/joyce_microsite/pdfs/oldirishforde.pdf


Joyce got it from the papers of a man called Forde. So it's in the pdf on the Forde collection, page 249, entry no 442.

Hope you enjoy looking at it!

Thanks again


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jack Campin
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 05:35 PM

Streets of Laredo is basically the first part of Banks of the Devon. In the Kerr tune that part is mangled almost beyond recognition, but the second part (not used in any song of this family) is mostly intact. The tune for Saint James Infirmary is unrelated. I can't remember what Lloyd sang.

The tune for StJI is (at least at the start) almost the same as the one for Wayfaring Stranger - more than once I've started playing one of them and had people join in with the other. How did that happen?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 05:08 PM

That's really kind of you. :)

Do any of these sound to you like The Streets of Loredo? Or St James' Infirmary? Or the tune Lloyd sings his Unfortunate Rake to?

Because I am struggling to see it. I though of putting them all in the same key in a chart or table underneath eachother like I saw in that Bayard piece.

But it's probably just me. :(


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jack Campin
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 04:48 PM

Here's the Kerr one - bastard to enter on a mobile phone -

X:1
T:The Unfortunate Rake
B:Kerr's MM bk 1 p 38 no 27
M:6/8
L:1/8
K:EMin
EBB BAG|FEF AGF|EBB BAG|FAF E3 |\
EBB BAG|FEF AGF|EBB BAG|FAF E3:|
%
Bee efg|fdB AGF|Eee efg|fdf e3 |\
Bee efg|fdB AGF|EBB GBd|AGF E3:|


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 03:48 PM

But I think I have found Holden, if this site is accurate.

https://tunearch.org/wiki/Unfortunate_Rake_(1)_(The)

Holden is the other one Kidson referred to.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 03:36 PM

Re Crosby: I haven't looked at the rest of the book, and wouldn't feel competent to judge.


I need to find Kerr. Is that online anywhere?

Thanks again


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jack Campin
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 01:03 PM

Crosby's tune looks like an utter mess. It's recognizably in the "Banks of the Devon" family, but the mode is weird - dorian/minor hexatonic with sharpened leading note would be normal enough, but he sharps the seventh in descent. And there's a chromatic slide in the second part that seems out to lunch. I haven't looked through the rest of the book, does he ever display signs of competence?

The tune in Kerr is much more normal - first half stays in a minor pentachord, secold part is dorian/minor hexatonic. Modally simplified to the max. Kerr's market was dance musicians and it shows here.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,guest
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 12:05 PM

Lighter: yes this is the one I had seen. Thanks for putting up the link.

I really like this tune. Maybe the unusual mix of major and minor is what makes it distinctive? What do you think?

Does my memory serve me right that more than one tune went under the name 'Unfortunate Rake'?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 11:43 AM

Crosby:

https://archive.org/details/crosbysirishmusi00lond/page/158

Evidently the air was already in circulation under the "Rake" title by ca1808.

This is recognizably a variant of the jig tune, but set here to a slow, romantic lyric.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 08:13 AM

Hello Jack

Interesting post.   

Frank Kidson, writing about The Unfortunate Lad in 1904 gave two sources for the tune The Unfortunate Rake: Crosby's Irish Repository (c1808) and volume ii of Holden's Irish airs.

As far as I can discover, Kidson was the first to suggest that the tune and the lyrics might have been linked at some time. But this is his conjecture, he doesn't offer it as a fact.

I haven't seen Holden, not that I remember. But you can download Crosby. The tune is in two parts. I like it. It's unusual as it has a minor third but a major seventh, which means it isn't in a standard mode eg mixolydian. Also it doesn't seem to be in a 7 note scale, (there is no c where you would expect a sixth). I cannot find out what name might attach to the scale it does use! I don't think either part is at all like Streets of Loredo to be honest.

Can you enlighten me at all regarding this tune and how to describe it? I know that hexatonic scales are sometimes said to be used in Irish music, but I know more or less nothing about that.

Not sure if it is the same or similar to the one you have in Kerr.

Any thoughts gratefully received.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jack Campin
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 04:05 PM

I had a look at the earliest source for "The Unfortunate Rake" tune. It's in the Irish Jigs section of Kerr's Merry Melodies volume 1, probably published in 1878 but definitely no later than 1880, i.e. significantly before Ryan.

It's a "Banks of the Devon" variant but has drifted a long way from it in the A part. The B part is more like the original, but that's the part that didn't make its way into "The Streets of Laredo". I can't see how it could have anything to do with any of these songs.

Gore's index lists a 12/8 "Unfortunate Joak" tune in Rutherford's dance tune collection of 1750, but the theme code says it's totally unrelated.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Kevin Werner
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 02:30 PM

When I saw this thread I figured I could share the youtube playlists I made with several recordings of "The Unfortunate Lad/Soldier Cut Down" song family and a couple of lesser known variants of the "St. James Infirmary Blues/Gambler's Blues" here.

Here is my collection of Unfortunate Lad variants:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_oro_umJjk&list=PLVDpl8vHMkO9MAfPTkoJCjGpz4AQbX

And here are a couple of St. James Infirmary variants:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0K1XZhsZITA&list=PLVDpl8vHMkO-8Z1KlgUXyzIkA3ihap

This should give interested people an overview of traditional variants of the broadside ballad. I have ignored the many sailor and cowboy variants for now, there are many, many recordings of those and a lot of redundancy, it would've made the list too long.

When I began looking for recordings of this song family I was hoping to find something that resembled Bert Lloyd's song, I did not know that he recreated it at the time.

Many of the American/Canadian "young girl" texts have strayed far from the broadside text. I wonder how they came to be.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 08:33 AM

Reviving this thread because there is a new piece on it, by Richard Jenkins. Katharine Briggs Memorial Lecture 2018, also published by 'Folklore'.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0015587X.2019.1585711

Jenkins references this thread.

Abstract reads as follows:

Abstract
This lecture explores the history of the British and Irish song family widely known as the ‘Unfortunate Rake’—which includes North American songs such as ‘Streets of Laredo’—from its earliest identification in 1911. Focusing on the contributions of Phillips Barry, Alan Lomax, and A. L. Lloyd, three widely-accepted elements of the folkloristic narrative about these songs are shown to be dubious, if not incorrect: first, the name itself, ‘The Unfortunate Rake’, is a misnomer; second, the ascription to the song of an eighteenth-century origin in Ireland rests on flimsy evidence, at best; and third, this song family almost certainly has no direct connection to ‘St. James Infirmary’. In closing, the implications for folkloristic knowledge and scholarship of the ways in which this misleading tale was constructed and the reasons why it became conventional wisdom are examined.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 10:04 AM

many versions

Dave Berry , the Chesterfield /Sheffield lad had a pop hit.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 09:26 AM

Jazz band at my funeral:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3qKntEq9po


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM

Earl Hines


Thanks for the link; had not heard this version.

Wonderful.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 04:05 PM

"not the sort of technique that you write poetry within the Eng Lit sense."
Thanks be to god - as they say over here
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 03:25 PM

yes i can see that. like i say, though its not the sort of technique that you write poetry within the Eng Lit sense.

its a different sort of aesthetic.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 02:50 PM

Al
There's an Anerican version of The Golden Vanitee which has the lines:
Some were playing cards, some were playing dice
And some were standing 'round giving good advice"
That's vernacular poetry at its best.
I served my apprenticeship on the docks in Liverpool; in the dinner breal the electricians would play chess while the the rest of the scruffs - fitters, labourers.... would play draughts or crib.
THe fist time I heard that verse my mind sprang back to every game I watched during those dinner breaks That's high poetry.

There's an Irish folk tale which sums up what I'm trying to get at perfectly

"What is the finest music in the world?" asked Fionn of his son Ois?n.
"The cuckoo calling from the tree that is highest in the hedge," he answered.
They went around the room and each told what music they believed to be finest. One said the bellowing of a stag across the water, another the baying of a tuneful pack of hounds heard in the distance, and others believed the finest music to be the song of a lark, the laughter of a happy girl, or the whisper of a moved one.
"They are good sounds all," said Fionn
"Tell us," one of them asked him, "What do you think"?
"The music of what happens," said Fionn, "that is the finest music in the world."
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 02:27 PM

There's nothing to say the speaker is NOT a pimp - my point is simply that he is not necessarily a pimp.

**********

For many years, the only version I knew of this song was that recorded by Earl Hines, which is probably the Armstrong one, which I still haven't gotten round to. Anyway, it's stripped down to four verses (I went down; Let her go; When I die; I want six crap-shooters). I find it powerful poetically - at least as much so as many poems that have the academic seal of approval.

Earl Hines: St. James Infirmary Blues


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 02:09 PM

"however I can't see much wordcraft in The Streets of Laredo, or St James's Infirmary."
Can't speak too much about American versions Al as I'm not familiar with th vernacular, but the idea of a dying man instructing how a funeral should be conducted is poetic enough for me, as is the terms set out in the confession of sins by many of the characters in the various versions
Most folk songs are based on vernacular speech, which can be as poetic in the extreme wherever it occurs
By the way the "border ballads" are just a fraction of the Child canon (don't think any I mentioned were included)
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:55 PM

Sorry Here's the Gammon link again

http://eprint.ncl.ac.uk/file_store/production/1115/53B11C61-0F97-4A46-A0AE-C28A2320DA87.pdf


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:49 PM

Everything said, I think I may have some sympathy for some of Jim Carroll's agenda.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:47 PM

Hello.

* On the pimp question.

As has probably been said, this is about a verse in the Armstrong version which appears to have been added, almost like a 'floating verse' might be in both the folk tradition (on some accounts) and the blues tradition (on most accounts).

If I am right, in the Armstrong version, the verse is as follows:

Let her go, let her go, God bless here
Wherever she may be
She may search the whole world over
She'll never find another sweet man like me.

Many people have commented on how odd it makes the song feel - a dead girl searching the world for another 'sweet man'. I think Harwood in his book comments on the narrator's 'pathological self regard'.

Harwood found what a version of this verse in a turn-of-century Harvard Song Book. It comes from a completely different song, which has various names (we are getting used to this!).

Something similar appears in the Sandburg book American Song bag, which was widely used as a source by Tin Pan Alley songwriters.

The verse in question, from a song set in St Joe's Infirmary is

Let her go, let her go God bless her
Wherever she may be
There'll never be another like her,
There'll never be another for me.

As usual, there are various versions of the 'original song', but not all of them include the words 'sweet man'. One title of the original is 'Dear Companion', which can be looked up in the Fresno Song Index. That song starts like this:

They say true love is a blessing,
But the blessing I never could see,
For the only girl I ever loved
Has done gone back on me.

She’s gone, let her go, God bless her,
For she’s mine wherever she may be,
You may roam this wide world all over,
But you’ll never find a friend like me.

So it is possible that the words 'sweet man' were introduced deliberately. If you look at the content of the funeral request from the Armstrong version, and in one of the Sandburg versions, the jazz band, chorus girls and gambling context and the booze all refer to the underworld of the 1920s. This was the era of prohibition, after all. It is like a St Orleans jazz funeral mixed up with a big gangster funeral of the time.

It is said that the word 'sweet man' is underworld slang for a pimp.
I don't have a dictionary of Black American slang but I did find an online one which said that this usage was known in the Caribbean.

Given this piece of information, and the contextual information about the smart dressing character, I think the pimp interpretation is a valid one, though who knows what was in the mind of whoever threw together the lyrics for the Armstrong recording.

I don't think this line of thought can be dismissed as a 21st century bit of academicism: have a look at the character portrayed by Cab Calloway here. Shiftiness incarnated, and a brilliant interpretation/characterisation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcXSbCXxGzw

As it happens, on the actual words of St James' Infirmary, I can find no explicit hints about 'clap'. I think perhaps we are reading this into the song because we have decided it comes from The Unfortunate Lad.

* On Shakespeare being 'humble son of a glove maker': I like the assonance and rhythm here. Nicely put. But his father was middle class, and so was Shakespeare. (Ben Elton's latest brilliant comedy notwithstanding)

A well-to-do glover and whittawer (leather worker) by trade, Shakespeare was a dealer in hides and wool, and was elected to several municipal offices, serving as an alderman and culminating in a term as bailiff, the chief magistrate of the town council, and Mayor of Stratford in 1568, before he fell on hard times for reasons unknown.[3] His fortunes later revived and he was granted a coat of arms five years before his death, probably at the instigation and expense of his playwright son as well as his contributions in civic duty.

* On sheath and knife as 'brilliant sexual metaphor': well, yes if you were, for example, writing a first-person noire thriller narrative. Otherwise &ZZ%^$£^*&*&XX!

* On the relationship between oral and print traditions: I'm not certain one can make too many broad generalisations, but I did find this an interesting outline of some of the issues. I've come across several discussions of this sort, with various positions taken. It may be 'donnish 'but it is interesting. And peer reviewed. What he says about the blind man and the elephant is spot on, I thought.

Intro to Vic Gammon

But probably all that should be for another thread?

Thank you for reading this far.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 01:38 PM

well yes, of course theres lyricism in the border ballads and various folksongs,

however I can't see much wordcraft in The Streets of Laredo, or St James's Infirmary...cold as the clay in fact.

This aspect of songwriting i first saw pointed out by Stephen Sondheim.

If you started a short story "It was a beautiful day" Your creative writing teacher would say how hackneyed, can't you express that more powerfully?

And yet.... at the start of Oklahoma, when the young cowboys steps out from the backdrop cornfield and the painted backdrop and sings Oh What a beautiful morning!. Its powerful theatrically. It takes the audience right there.

Songwriting is a different craft to poetry and verse writing.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 11:57 AM

"The words aren't really poetical, in the way that someone like Ewan MacColl with great awareness of language."
I don't think you could be more wrong about this Al - MacColl was one of the great advocates of the poetic power of the vernacular speech which went into the making of our folk songs and ballads

"I saw the new moon yestereen wi' the auld moon in its Arms" - a beautiful description of a haloed moon
Or this brilliant example of black folk humour
"O laith, laith (loath, loath) were our gude Scots lords
Tae wet their cork-heelt (heeled) shuin (shoes);
But lang or aw the play wis done
They wet their hats abuin. (above) "
"I once was fu' o' Gil Morrice as the hip is of the stone" - was there a more powerfully beautiful description of pregnancy than comparing it to a rose hip berry with its huge stone and its wafer thin layer of skin?
Even songs like Van Dieman's land with its simple description of a view from aboard a ship in the middle of the ocean, "all around us one black water and above us one blue sky"   
"It?s I would sleep in Jimmy's arms, though his grave was growing green ? magnificent!
"Sheath and Knife? " a brilliant sexual metaphor
This is vernacular poetry at its very finest.

MacColl's very best songs (in my opinion) were those lifted directly from vernacular speech; Freeborn Man came from hours of actuality recorded from Travellers (I have many of the original recordings, but you only have to listen to one Radio Ballad to see what I mean)
'Shoals of Herring' - straight from the words of Sam Larner and fellow East Anglian fisherman, Ronnie Balls - Sam Larner found the song so convincing he once said he'd been listening to it all his life though he couldn't remember ever hearing it sung by anybody
'Shellback' taken directly from the words of merchant seaman Ben Bright, who served under sail, jumped ship to join The Wobblies and was discovered working as an escapologist's assistant on London Bridge
'Tenant Farmer' based on an interview with Scottish border formers who had been evicted from their farms to make room for the Multinationals and Forestation.
'Freeborn Man' taken from the interviews with Minty Smith, Belle Stewart and Gordon Boswell.
This is why I believe the suggestion that our folk songs originated on the broadside presses to be utter nonsense - the city-based hacks would have to have been fully conversant with vernacular speech, folklore, social history and rural and maritime work practices to create such poetic gems

Having said that, I do believe that there is always a danger of these discussions taking flights of academic fantasy
Typical is Phillips Barry's notorious note to one of the most beautiful descriptions of a local drowning tragedy in the repertoire, Lake of Col Finn, where, by the use of metaphysical gibberish he turns the death of a young man into a mystical tale of water-sprites, magical islands and malignant seaweed.
There are some signs that this is beginning to happen here; this is simply a song of a young man or woman dying of the clap; everything else is charactarisation.
These songs are basically straightforward stories presented in the language of the day (wherever and whenever that "day" may be.

MacColl always insisted on comparing the language of our folk songs and ballads to that of Shakespeare - there's a great deal of evidence to support that
Shakespeare (simple son of a glove-maker) borrowed liberally from contemporary folklore and custom; why not vernacular language?
One of the things we were encouraged to do in the Critics Group was to analyse the songs and learn to use every aspect of their construction in our performances
Returning to those songs after decades of not having sung them, I am now realising the value of having adopted that practice, my songs work as well for me now as they did forty or fifty years ago, if not better
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 11:45 AM

So, Al, what is 'donnish': the use of the term 'sensationalism' or the criticism of the groundless and irrelevant insistence that the 'voice' is that of a pimp? Or is it that only someone as far removed from reality as a 'don' would think that there could be something 'sensationalistic' about trying to bring a pimp into the picture? Please clarify.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 11:43 AM

ah! good point Brian! crudely sensationalist to a train spotter is a train with the wrong number on it. for the rest of us its the train leaving the station and the woman's skirt is stuck in the train door and gets whipped off, but no one notices because an atom bomb goes off.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 07:57 AM

"The whole tone of this conversation is donnish in the extreme."

Donnish conversations between music nerds is one of the reasons for Mudcat's existence. Like I said before, it doesn't interfere at all with enjoyment of songs for their own sake. Their 'significance to modern listeners' is an element I would always want to discuss at events like the Lewes Ballad Forum in ten days time.

Much of it is doggerel set to a catchy tune.

Some of it is. Some of it is real poetry and, even though the tunes may once have been merely catchy, they often sound strange and even magical to modern ears, as witness the many beautiful modal tunes to 'Unfortunate Lad / Lass'.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 05:52 AM

Sensationalism! The whole tone of this conversation is donnish in the extreme.

Personally I find the modern manifestations of these songs, and their significance to modern listeners and readers - really more interesting, because you CAN take a guess at what people who are living are experiencing. I don't really have any idea of how these songs were experienced by people in history.

Fascinating also that the potency of the piece lies in the compound of the words and music. The words aren't really poetical, in the way that someone like Ewan MacColl with great awaremness of language.

Much of it is doggerel set to a catchy tune.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Nov 17 - 05:36 AM

"I can see at most three common features between the St James Infirmary / Gambler's Blues family and the Unfortunate Rake family, and two of those are tenuous. The only strong one is the funeral requests. But we are quite familiar with floating verses that crop up in songs that are otherwise distinct. Drawing the line is tricky with songs that consist mostly of such, but (for example) we don't say that every song with a verse about a rose entwining with a briar must really be a version of Barbara Allen. So the description of the desired funeral could be borrowed and re-used in a song that is otherwise entirely separate, not a descendant.

The "St James" name seems to belong in only a very few "Unfortunate Rake" versions, and again could have been borrowed.


I can see you are a sceptic on this issue, Richard, but I take issue with several of those points.

1. We have at least three 'Unfortunate Lass' (my shorthand title) variants mentioning St James (there's an additional one from Ontario claimed on the Folkways LP), plus Maynard's account (see Lighter above) that this was the usual opening line. If anything, the link between 'St James' and 'Gamblers Blues' is the more tenuous (since it seems to have been added for copyrighting reasons) and might conceivably have arisen independently from a hospital in Orleans. Though that would represent quite a coincidence.

2. There is no comparison here with the 'rose and briar' motif. 'Fair Margaret & Sweet William' and 'Barabra Allen' each has a lengthy and coherent tale to tale, with two stanzas' worth of 'rose/briar' tagged on at the end. The funeral isn't just tagged on to the song in the present case, it is the song.

3. Comparable funeral arrangements crop up in the 'Wild and Wicked Youth' song family, but again in that case they are an addendum to what is a coherent song in its own right.

You mention 'three common features' and believe that all are arguable. But let's leave out 'St. James' for a moment, and compare the essentials of the jazz version with the plot as related in English versions of 'Unfortunate Lass':

1. The narrator visits a hospital

2. There a young woman is seriously ill (and 'cold')

3. A doctor has been summoned, but is unable to help

4. A funeral is planned

5. The coffin is to be accompanied by six mourners of each sex

6. Alcoholic refreshments will be served ('a glass of brown ale' in Adams)

Add to that the elements turning up in the jazz version that are present in the cowboy version (which is indisputably a descendant of the British ballad) such as the 'bar-room' setting and the detail that the male pall bearers are 'gamblers', and also the fact that at least one 'Gamblers Blues' has flowers scattered on the coffin as per the English texts.

There is also the recurring suggestion (albeit subliminal in some cases) that prostitution is involved, which recalls the fate of the Young Sailor back in England.

I don't necessarily see a linear progression from Sailor / Young girl through Cowboy and thence to Gambler. It's more complicated than that, and to me the jazz song looks like a composite (in which, incidentally, the storyline is not coherent) possibly drawing on both strains.

Although we don't have a silver bullet yet, there are more links than I could explain away as coincidences.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 09:20 PM

"Our gambling man is a pimp."

He may well be - but to insist that he is smacks of sensationalism. Clearly, his life involves barrooms, booze, box-back coats, high-roller hats, twenty-dollar gold-pieces, crap-shooters, chorus girls or 'whore-girls', etc. - but there is nothing to suggest is a pimp per se, and it hardly matters.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: GUEST,Karen
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 08:38 PM

Brian
20th Nov 8.55
Agree that some people have used 'blanket' titles, as you say. Obviously not a mortal sin, but if you aren't aware of this, maybe because they aren't explicit, it can cause confusion, and I say this on the basis that I have been confused. It's a good point to flag up, as you did.
Another thing that can get confusing is when people don't specify whether they are referring to a tune or to words, or, perhaps to both. I think there is some confusion in discussion online (not necessarily this thread) because, I am realising, one and possibly more than one tune called "The Unfortunate Rake" was used for/with unrelated lyrics.


******

Nice point made above about uncertainty and the mystique of folk.

*****
It is true that various unrelated songs end with funerals.

There are also some unrelated old songs about 'clap'. I think there was one in Samuel Pepys' collection of ballads. A US uni, forget which now, but it could be googled, has indexed these and digitised some.

At this point I will hazard a 'theory' as opposed to constitional scepticism, happy for it to be shredded, maybe we have so many late 19th century lock hospital songs because of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which were passed, I believe because the military was losing so many sick days to it. It was a big issue in the Crimean war. At first the laws allowing them to forcibly take in prostitutes only applied in selected towns with barracks, including I think, but this could be checked Cork and Dublin. I think there were some hospitals created at the time. I'm guessing most folk tried to buy over the counter quack cures,even if they were sure what they had. Hospital cost money and many would not let infectious people in. Not claiming the song did not exist prior to that, but it seems to have been printed all over at the
I conjecture only.

I wonder whether this would have been sung by the squaddies of those times, who no doubt sang all sorts when 'in their cups'?

Another marginal point is the pipe and drum: these were mainly battlefield signalling instruments, the pitches suitable to carry over noise. I know you get them in marching bands. I don't think you were allowed a military funeral for dying of the pox. Somebody mentioned the death march, and you guessed it, several composers wrote one.


I have certainly got some new and interesting ideas from this discussion.

Thank you


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 07:04 PM

****Drawing the line is tricky with songs that consist mostly of such, but (for example) we don't say that every song with a verse about a rose entwining with a briar must really be a version of Barbara Allen.****

Hi, Richard, I will be raising this very point on Saturday at the Sheffield Broadside TSF meeting.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 05:20 PM

I've now read the Harwood book, apart from the appendices, but it has left me pretty confused, partly because a lot of the information seems very peripheral, if relevant at all, such as the words of some entirely unrelated songs. Maybe I'll do better if I read it again.

Harwood does offer one suggestion for making sense of the "Let her go" verse, but I can't tell how seriously. He points out that the clothing requested for the funeral was characteristic of two types of men, gamblers and pimps. So he combines them: "Our gambling man is a pimp. His baby, so sweet, so pale, and so dead, was one of his girls. He, of course, is the best of pimps. He cares for his women. He keeps them off the streets. And though they might search far and wide, they'll never find a sweeter pimp than he".

I can see at most three common features between the St James Infirmary / Gambler's Blues family and the Unfortunate Rake family, and two of those are tenuous. The only strong one is the funeral requests. But we are quite familiar with floating verses that crop up in songs that are otherwise distinct. Drawing the line is tricky with songs that consist mostly of such, but (for example) we don't say that every song with a verse about a rose entwining with a briar must really be a version of Barbara Allen. So the description of the desired funeral could be borrowed and re-used in a song that is otherwise entirely separate, not a descendant.

The "St James" name seems to belong in only a very few "Unfortunate Rake" versions, and again could have been borrowed.

And there is the frame, where someone (the singer) goes somewhere (a bar room, an infirmary, The Royal Albion, The streets of Laredo / etc) and sees a son/daughter/friend/sweetheart either dead or dying.

As I said, I'm still confused!

It would be helpful to have the words of enough versions together in one place. A few days ago Brian said "what we really need is Richie Matteson on the case." There are a few posts from Guest Richie way up thread.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 02:53 PM

Joan O'Bryant sings "Tom Sherman's Barroom" to a modal tune slightly resembling Iron Head Baker's song on "America Ballads and Folksongs" (Folkways, 1958). She learned it from a singer in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Hear the tune:


https://www.amazon.com/American-Ballads-Folksongs-Joan-OBryant/dp/B000S96POS/ref=sr_1_2?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1511293773&sr=1-2-m


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: meself
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 02:31 PM

I believe that would have been in close proximity to the House of the Rising Sun. Discuss.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 01:43 PM

New Orleans "Daily Delta" (May 29, 1862), p.1:

"HEADQUARTERS MILITARY COMMANDANT'S OFFICE, New Orleans, May 27, 1862.

"General Orders No. 5.

"...II. The Medical Director at St. James Hospital will cause a consolidated report of the sick in his charge to made daily at these headquarters, to be sent in at 9 o'clock A.M."


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 01:25 PM

Brian, that's interesting as the Adams version is a 'Young girl cut down' variant. Somewhat bizarrely I used this tune myself as the B music of a tune I put together in jig time and had only heard it sung as a waltz before. I actually collected a full version of 'The Sailor Cut Down' to that tune.

I think I already hinted at this but all of the earlier British 'Young Girl cut down' variants have no mention of any hospital until we get to the Somerset version collected in 1936 which has 'Bath Hospital'. I think there would be a lot to learn from a detailed study regarding the likely transmission routes. It is interesting how the songs have passed almost freely between genders.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 12:20 PM

The tune as printed for 'The Wandering Harper' in Crosby's Irish Musical Repository, linked previously by Karen, has the A and B parts of the tune reversed, as in TTA #2, which is why I didn't recognize it at first.

Looking at some of the other English tunes to Roud 2, none of them is as close a fit as the Adams one, but several are of that ilk. Others, like Harry Cox's, are straight major, rather than Dorian, and it's harder to see more than a vague resemblance there.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 12:08 PM

Steve, I think I may have what you're looking for:

Exhibit A: Unfortunate Rake in the Traditional Tune Archive, version #1 from Ryan (1883).

Exhibit B: 'The Doctor' from Henry Adams, coll. George Gardiner 1906. This goes with a a recognizable Roud 2 text (with some interesting idiosyncracies).

The first bar is identical, and the shapes of the two tunes are sufficiently close that I would say they are clearly related, though obviously the song has half the number of bars.

Anyone agree with me?

Thanks for the Thorp text, Lighter.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 11:49 AM

Steve, the two best-known tunes to "The Cowboy's Lament" (one often associated with the "Streets of Laredo" words" and the other with "Tom Sherman's Barroom") bear no resemblance that I can hear to "Rake" tunes I'm familiar with.

The exception is MacColl's "Trooper Cut Down in his Prime," which is clearly the "same" as "The Streets of Laredo" (and "The Bard of Armagh").

However, there are some less familiar tunes to variants of the "Lament" that I can't comment on offhand except to say that one or two are modal in nature.

I'm I right in recalling that the "Streets of Laredo" tune used for one of the "Dying Girl" texts on the Folkways album?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 11:36 AM

From Jack Thorp's 1908 booklet, "Songs of the Cowboys," including all misprints:

                         COW BOYS LAMENT

'Twas once in my saddle I used to be happy
'Twas once in my saddle I sued to be gay
But I first took to drinking, then to gambling
A shot from a six-shooter took my life away.

My curse let it rest, let it rest on the fair one
Who drove me from friends that I loved and from home
Who told me she loved me, just to deceive me
My curse rest upon her, wherever she roam.

Oh she was fair, Oh she was lovely
The belle of the Village the fairest of all
But her heart was as cold as the snow on the mountain
She gave me up for the glitter of gold.

I arrived in Galveston in old Texas
Drinking and gambling I went to give o'er
But, I met with a Greaser and my life he has finished
Home and relations I'll never see more.

Send for my father, Oh send for mother
Send for the surgeon to look at my wounds
But I fear it is useless I feel I am dying
I'm a young cow-boy cut down in my bloom.

Farewell my friends, farewell my relations
My earthly career has cost me sore
The cow-boy ceased talking, they knew he was dying
His trials on earth forever were o'er.

Chor. Beat your drums lightly, play your fifes merrily
Sing your dearth march as you bear me along
Take me to the grave yard, lay the sod o'er me
I'm a young cow-boy and I know I've done wrong.


My guess is that this is somebody's (Thorp's?) idiosyncratic rewrite of a more conventional text; it is based, perhaps, on a desire to approximate the original song from a faulty recollection.

Thorp commented elsewhere that collecting songs fro cowboys was difficult because few of the singers knew all the words!


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 11:15 AM

I'm sorry if this has already been established, but looking through most of the earlier American more learned notes on the song there is constant reference to 'The Unfortunate Rake' tune being the same tune as early versions of The Dying Cowboy and related pieces. Is this just because of the confusion created by Kidson/Broadwood/Sharp or are there real connections between the dance tune TUR and any version of the family, or is this just a red herring created by the similarity of names. I'm not sufficiently musical to opine on this.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 08:24 AM

Will post Thorp 1908 later today.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
From: Lighter
Date: 21 Nov 17 - 08:23 AM

> which was itself a collation

Precisely.

With a few lines of extraneous poetry intruding in italics!


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