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the gay and the grinding

30 Aug 07 - 05:34 PM (#2137127)
Subject: the gay and the grinding
From: Roberto

What is the meaning, if ever there is one, of this expression, in ballads such as The Bows of London (Child #10)? It seems related to the mill...


30 Aug 07 - 05:38 PM (#2137129)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: dick greenhaus

Could you quote the verse in context, please? DigiTrad has a dozen or so variations on Child #10


30 Aug 07 - 05:46 PM (#2137135)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Roberto

One example:

Two Sisters
Pete & Chris Coe, Out of Season, Out of Rhyme, Trailer LER 2098, 1976

Oh there were two sisters lived in a bower
The younger one was the fairer flow'r
Hey with the gay and the grinding O
The bonny bows of London Town

And another:

The Bows of London
Martin Carthy, on Child:Carthy, The Carthy Chronicles (4 CD, Free Reed Revival Masters FRQCD-60), FRCD 64; The Bows of London, recorded 1991

There were two little sisters awalking alone
Hey the gay and the grinding
Two little sisters awalking alone
By the bonny bonny bows of London


30 Aug 07 - 11:00 PM (#2137309)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: The Fooles Troupe

Well 'grinding' COULD have an obvious meaning - but at the time they were penned, the 'modern meaning' that does not mean 'happy' wasn't around...


30 Aug 07 - 11:58 PM (#2137344)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Sorcha

Mill grinding stones? The sound of?
Metaphor for misery as opposed to gay/happy?
No idea, really.


31 Aug 07 - 12:24 AM (#2137370)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: GUEST,leeneia

I forget where I learned it, but when a river meanders, the pieces of land bordered by the meanders are the bows. So a song set in the Bows of London involves a river. I interpret "the gay and grinding" to be a reference to the river, which can be gay (flowers, fields, butterflies, colorful ducks) but also has work to do - to run the mills which grind things.

It's a good song and I like to sing it.


31 Aug 07 - 12:27 AM (#2137377)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Bert

Bow is an ancient usage for arch (bowman - archer). The bows, or arches, being bridges.

Famous ones being St. Mary Le Bow on Cheapside and the bow bridges in the East End near Bromley by Bow.


31 Aug 07 - 12:37 AM (#2137392)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: The Fooles Troupe

"Bromley by Bow"

would refer to the 'ox-bow' sections of river as mentioned by leenia, would it not? the town would be more likely named after a bend in the river than a bridge, which would probably come along much later.


31 Aug 07 - 12:39 AM (#2137394)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: GUEST,leeneia

Somewhere I learned that bows are the bits of land caught up in the meanders of a river. So a river is involved in a song about the bows of London. I believe that "gay and grinding" refers to the river, which can be gay with flowers on the banks, butterflies in the bows and colorful ducks. "Grinding" refers to the work the river does in turning mills.

If you go to Google Earth and search for London England UK, you can follow the Thames east to the sea. There are two lovely meanders in the vicinity of Rotherhithe and Millwall. There may have been others which have since been cut through to aid navigation.

News flash! a hithe is a small port. (I just looked it up.)

That song, which I learned off one of Martin Carthy's recordings, is one of my favorites.


31 Aug 07 - 12:45 AM (#2137399)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Bert

Nope. The town of Bow got it's name from the bridge.

"In around 1100, Queen Maud, wife of Henry I, commissioned the construction of Bow Bridge which landed on the western, or London side of the River Lea at Stratford-atte-Bow (now Bow) and on the eastern side at Stratford Langthorne (now Stratford). One of the first arched bridges built in England since the Roman occupation, this bridge was a technological wonder for the period. The original bridge was demolished in 1835, at which time the great Roman Road from Colchester to London was diverted through Stratford."

The name Stratford tells us that originally the Roman road forded the river Lea. Strat being an old version of the word street which was used for Roman Roads.


31 Aug 07 - 12:45 AM (#2137400)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: The Fooles Troupe

... of course nowadays, 'gay and grinding' means something else... :-P


31 Aug 07 - 12:46 AM (#2137402)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Bert

We don't wish to know that FoolesTroupe.


31 Aug 07 - 03:48 AM (#2137473)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: GUEST,PMB

Just a suggestion- uf it's not a purely nonsense phrase, could it have originally beem something like "gay and grandee"- setting the story among those with the wealth and status to flaunt it?


31 Aug 07 - 03:59 AM (#2137480)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Roberto

Martin Carthy writes in Life and Limb sleeve notes: "a bow is the bend in a river". So, we have two fine possibilities for bow, a bight or a bridge. Two ideas also for "gay and grinding", the beauty and the power of the river, or the opposition of happiness and misery, but I think that we should dig more about this expression. Thank you all very much. R


31 Aug 07 - 04:09 AM (#2137482)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: GUEST,AR

Hmm, interesting. Elizabeth Stewart's version of Child #10 has the 'Binnorrie' refrain rather than the 'gay and the grinding' and 'bows of London' stuff - but it DOES talk about the king's three archers coming riding by rather than a minstrel/harper figure found in other versions. I suppose that bent strands are the commonality, perhaps.


31 Aug 07 - 04:27 AM (#2137487)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Folkiedave

This was in the repertoire last year for Waterson-Carthy and I reckon was one of the best things they did. At the Albert Hall concert in particular Eliza and Martin really were magic.

As far as the words are concerned - maybe it just scans? A sort of fol-de riddle?


31 Aug 07 - 07:36 AM (#2137557)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: mattkeen

That Albert Hall version was great wasn't it!

And Eliza swings the tune so well these days


31 Aug 07 - 09:55 AM (#2137635)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: GUEST,leeneia

Hi. Sorry about the double post above. I thought my first attempt at posting had gone wrong.

Folkiedave, I agree with you that "Hey the gay and grinding" is mostly a fol de rol. (or, fol de riddle, as you say.) Still, the words had some meaning at one time. But probably not much.

There is a serie of detective stories that I like by Alan Hunter. On weekends, his chief character, the Great Panjandrum George Gently, likes to go with his wife to seek butterflies along the Thames east of London. So there's the gay part in modern terms.

[I ask myself what was his title exactly? Superintendent? Detective Chief? Detective Inspector? Gently once interviewed an Englishwoman who had been living in Germany, and he noted that she knew and spoke his title exactly after one meeting. I'm an American, and I couldn't tell you his title after reading several books. I realized that my attitude was that he probably got his title based on good looks and happenstance, and it didn't really mean anything.

But then I come from a long line of socialists.]

If anybody reading this loves nature or science, they should check out Google Earth, which is a free program which shows aerial views on your home computer. Google Earth reveals at least one small, winding stream entering the Thames estuary which also could have been the scene for this song.


31 Aug 07 - 10:14 AM (#2137659)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: PMB

along the Thames east of London. So there's the gay part in modern terms.

I alwys thought it was Soho, but never mind.

But then I come from a long line of socialists

So do I, but why did that remind me of East Germany?


31 Aug 07 - 11:37 AM (#2137737)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Malcolm Douglas

This refrain is rare, ocurring only in Child's examples F, H and O. The first two were from Motherwell's MS (p 383, Agnes Lyle, Kilbarchan, 27 July 1825; and p 147, I Goldie, March 1825) and the third from Peter Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland, II, 128: source indicated only as 'an old woman'.

Christie (Traditional Ballad Airs, 1876, I, 42; see also Bronson I, p 146, 10.3) prints a text 'epitomised' from Buchan's, with a tune he got from 'Jenny Meesic' of Buckie (Enzie, Banffshire). In a few places the text is amended from Christie's memory of her singing. 'Meesic' ('Music') wasn't her real surname, but a nickname inherited from her father, who seems to have acquired it towards the end of the 18th century by dint of local fame as a ballad singer.

Jenny provided Christie with 'a great number of old Airs and Ballads'; she died in 1866 at the age of nearly 80. It is her tune that Martin Carthy uses, a little modified in places. Pete and Chris Coe used a different tune, probably from another version of the song; though not from one with this refrain, as only the Christie tune survives for that. Both texts are re-written to varying degrees, in Martin's case with reference to Jodie Stecher's form of it.

In Child H, the line is actually given as 'Hey with the gay and the grandeur O', but the other two examples stick to 'grinding'. Not enough, really, to draw any conclusions as to whether or not there is (or, rather, was) any particular meaning to it. The large number of examples found in tradition are mostly of the 'Bow down' (England and America) or 'Binorie' (Scotland; though Bronson suspected that this was partly down to Walter Scott) varieties, though a number of other forms also turn up. The earliest example we know of, a broadside of 1656 (Child's example A, printed for Francis Grove of Snow-hill, London) has a fairly standard 'With a hie downe downe a downe-a'. Rimbault contributed this, with some commentary (including notes on the man who wrote it), to Notes and Queries 1st series, V (138), 591-2, in answer to an earlier enquiry in N&Q 1st series, V (127), 316-7.

Of course there are plenty of analogous songs to be found throughout Europe, especially in Scandinavia. An examination of refrains used in these might just perhaps offer some clues; though I rather doubt it.


31 Aug 07 - 12:32 PM (#2137765)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Roberto

Thank you very much, Malcolm. I'd like to retain a reference to a river in a translation of the song in another language, instead of turning it into a fol de rol / fol de riddle nonsense rhyme. In other cases, I find it impossible to retain any meaning (Heigh ho, my nannie O). I've checked Pete and Chris Coe's LP, and they don't say anything about where they got their Two Sisters. R


31 Aug 07 - 12:38 PM (#2137774)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Darowyn

There are a series of waterways in London which are known as "The Bow Back Rivers"
There is a map of them here.
Bow Back Rivers
Logically however, if the gradient of a river is low, so that Oxbow curves and meanders are created, it would be a very poor place to put a mill, which needs either a head of water or a rapid flow rate.

As for gay and grinding, "grist and grinding" would hang on to the Mill-Wheel image, and since the rumour process often substitutes a familiar word for an unfamiliar one with little concern for meaning as seen the thread on "Eeny meeny macaracca" which acquires a lollipop
Cheers
Dave


31 Aug 07 - 08:50 PM (#2138078)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Bob the Postman

I also had the notion that "gay and grinding" might be a corruption of "grist and grinding" or better still of "grain and grinding". It seems that most versions of Child 10 include the part where the body turns up in the mill pond, so a refrain emphasizing the mill seems like a natural. I note that of all the versions of this song included in the links at the top of the thread, "The Two Sisters (8)" is the most similar ((not counting "The Two Sisters (12)", which is the same)). It was collected from oral tradition in Newfoundland. The first verse runs thusly:

There were two sisters, Jane and Mary Ann
I went a-gay and a-gandy
They were both in love with the same young man
Down by the bonny busk of London.


01 Sep 07 - 12:58 AM (#2138175)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: GUEST,leeneia

It's true that a meandering river is an unlikely place for a mill. However, the version I know has

She's floated nigh and she's floated yon
Hey the gay and grinding
Till she's come to the miller's pond,
by the bonnie, bonnie bows of London.

The poet was clearly not hep to geomorphology.


01 Sep 07 - 01:23 AM (#2138183)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Malcolm Douglas

I had missed the Peacock set, which gives us a fourth example with this uncommon refrain. There may perhaps be a few more published since Bronson, so I'd better look further at those I have ready access to.

Where did the verse you quote come from, Leenia?


01 Sep 07 - 04:33 AM (#2138225)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: Megan L

I am trying to check my sources but was not a strip of cut grassland often beside a river where people could take their leisure not refered to as a Gaye. will get back to this when i find my books.


01 Sep 07 - 12:00 PM (#2138396)
Subject: RE: the gay and the grinding
From: GUEST,leeneia

"Where did the verse you quote come from, Leenia?"

I have a cassette tape of songs by Martin Carthy. I've had it quite a few years. I liked this song, but found some of the broken rhymes ad weak rhymes irritating. Over time I have folk-processed some of them. This verse may have been one of them. The idea of the original, that the dead girl floats to the millpond, remains intact.

The next verse, which remains unchanged, is

Next comes along the miller's young son,
Hey the gay and grinding.
"Father dear, here swims a swan,"
By the bonnie, bonnie bows of London.

It is one of my favorite ballad verses, because it manages to say so much in so few words.