At the end of February, I travelled up to Glasgow to speak at the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Broadside Day at the Unviersity of Strathclyde. This is the second in a short series of posts about the day.

The first of the afternoon’s talks was given by Peter Shepheard on ‘The Master-piece of Love Songs’. Peter described how he recorded ‘The Bold Keeper’ in January 1966 from the Brazil family, and later discovered that what he had was the first known oral tradition versions of the ‘The Master-piece of Love Songs’ from 1690.

Peter Shepheard

Although there are many similar broadsides, and traditional songs, his is the first version based on the original ‘Master-piece of Love Songs’ .  The text is very similar, unlike the Bold Dragoon ‘versions’.  He argued that they are not the same song as too many of the words are different.  Storyline remains the same in the Masterpiece and Bold Keeper, but not the Bold Dragoon.  The metre of the Bold Dragoon is different (2/4) to the Master-piece and Bold Keeper which are both in 3/4.

During questions, Vic Gammon pointed out that it raises an interesting question about where one song ends and another begins – they have similar themes, but not rhyme scheme, storyline, words (ie phraseology) and not the same characters.  Peter suggested that it was born of the original, but was not the same song.

The next paper was given by Professor Margaret Bennett, on ‘Robert Macleod, Fife Miner Poet and Broadside-Maker’. Professor Bennett described how this research into Robert Macleod was sparked when she was offered a shoe box of papers by a hairdresser. They had belonged to his grandfather, who did turns at the local music hall. Some of his songs had been printed on broadsides. In 1911, aged 35 Macleod’s legs were crushed in a mining accident.  He was in hospital for a year and then made a living from his music.

Professor Margaret Bennett

Professor Bennett described how many Scottish miners joined up for the First World War because they thought it would get them into the fresh air.  Macleod translated the days news (and of lives lost) into songs.  Sometimes the words give us idea of the tunes he used – eg The Battle of Neuve Chapelle was set to Dark Lochnager, and Professor Bennett had the assembled crowd singing along with Macleod’s words.

The final paper in this session was given by Martin Graebe, who spoke about ‘Clift of Cirencester’. Cirencester is a quiet market town created on the network of roads when it was second city of Roman Britain.  The most prolific of its 19th century printers was William Clift.  He registered to operate a printing press in 1824, adjoining the Ram Inn, placing an advertisement in the Oxford Journal. In 1840 he advertised himself as being 30% cheaper than other printers in the area.

Martin Graebe

Martin discovered Clift’s tomb in the parish church, buried in the Pierce family tomb – after marrying into the family.  He believes that it is likely that William Clift took over the Pierce printing shop from the widow Mrs Pierce – then married the daughter of the family. The shop was located on the site currently occupied by Fatface.

Many of Clift’s broadside ballads are in the Madden Collection, although one is in the Bodleian Library.  A small collection once belonging to William Stephens is in the Cricklade museum.  Many are in poor condition and there are some particularly bad typographical errors. Among the corpus of songs, there are lots of old favourites but on the whole they are pretty tame – there are no monsters, no local topical ones, little sex and no executions. There are, however, several songs on the minstrelsy theme of Jim Crow, originated by Thomas Rice in 1830 in America. Rice visited England in 1836 and these songs were very popular. Martin has found two songs published by Clift not found elsewhere – The Baking Day; and The Dreadful Bonnet (which was illustrated by a saint with a halo!).