Songs and Tales from Flamborough Head
Musical Traditions Records MTCD203
1 - Roll the Old Chariot; 2 - A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie; 3 - Wreck of the Brownlow and Walmo; 4 - Jolly Old Ploughboy; 5 - Windy Old Weather; 6 - Flamborough Sword Dance Song; 7 - Happy Young Man / I was in it; 8 - Opening Time at Thornwick; 9 - Heave Away the Trawl Warp; 10 - Pull for the Shore; 11 - Grace Darling; 12 - Where's Tha Been Lad?; 13 - Good Luck to the Barleycorn; 14 - Oh Where is my Boy Tonight?; 15 - A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie; 16 - Father's first day at sea; 17 - Pigs, parsons and nuns; 18 - A naked light & Jenny Gallows' pond; 19 - The ghost ship; 20 - Earlie in the Morning; 21 - Dogs and poachers; 22 - The white gull; 23 - The big white bird and the minister; 24 - Grandad and the work lantern; 25 - A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie.What a delicious set of songs and stories this is. To dedicated collectors of traditional songs and tales, many of these tracks may be familiar. They've been available on cassette tapes from Stick Records for a number of years but, even for those who've heard them before, I think the improved sound quality of this CD and the ease of selecting a particular track makes it well worth buying. (Not that the sound quality of cassettes was bad - I certainly enjoyed them at the time - but, now, my old copy of A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie doesn't sound half as clear as this CD or, indeed, as clear as I think it did when I first bought it. Of course, my tape-player is getting a bit past its best ... ). Mind you, I shall still listen to my old tape as it contains some wonderful Gipsy singers, and story-teller Ben Jarvis, in addition to the singers on this CD, Robert Leng and Jossy 'Pop' Mainprize.
Robert and Jossy were recorded by Jim Eldon and Ray Williams in the late 1980s. Jim had been collecting songs and tales for several years whilst working as musician/entertainer on a pleasure cruiser in Bridlington. He was introduced by a fellow harbour-worker/musician to the two fishermen from Flamborough. Over the years they became firm friends but it was recordings from their first meeting that became side one of the cassette album A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie. As they got to know Jim and Ray, the two fishermen remembered more songs and stories which eventually became a studio album, Let's Haul, Boys, Haul! These two sources are now combined on this CD.
I don't know how old Robert and Jossy were at that time but they were certainly in very fine voice. Anyone familiar with the Watersons will recognise the distinctive accents and dialect here along with the simple musicality of the singing. Like the Watersons (and the many traditional singers they had learned from) there's no self-conscious or self-agrandising frills and frippery, just honest straight-forward music - singing for friends.
And what songs they are too. Including three different versions of A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie (a distant relative of The Derby Ram) and other amusing ditties, there's lots of fabulous choruses and a lovely version of the great lifeboat-men's hymn, Pull for the Shore. My personal favourite has to be Oh, Where Is My Boy Tonight? - a sentimental song, it's true, but the sentiment here is straight from the heart. We're told it was a favourite of one of Robert's aunts - until her son was lost at sea. She never sang it again after that.
Then there's the stories. These are from a lengthy conversation presented as such but with convenient track separations if you want to revisit a particular favourite. They are fishermen's tales and poaching yarns and, as the sleeve-notes say, they "speak for themselves ... One yarn would spark another", resulting in a delightful string of jokes and amusing anecdotes. But with an undercurrent which I find very interesting. There's several stories about fisherfolk superstitions and prophetic beliefs, told with a chuckle and comments indicating that these were "obviously" old-fashioned and silly ideas but ... occasional little asides hint that they might possibly have some grounding in truth. "There was a time when Flamborough fishermen used to believe ... if anyone mentioned a pig ... they wouldn't go to sea ... terrible superstitious ..." but then, in a later story, "On the 9th of February, him and his sons was drowned ... it's true that is". This is not unusual, even today. People involved in high-risk jobs such as trawling often have a quiet respect for beliefs that, in public, they laugh about. Talking about pigs may not be a direct cause of accidents - "obviously" - but, when accidents can easily result in death, why take unnecessary risks?
I love this CD (and, indeed, all such recordings as this). I sometimes find it hard to understand why most people seem to prefer songs and stories with no depth to them - the soulless pap of commercial and populist entertainment (though I have to admit, all too often I'm just as willing to sink into the mindless drivel. It's cheaper than alcohol and - possibly - less dangerous than drugs!) Recordings like this help me to stay in touch with a deeper truth about who I am and where my roots lie and then, I believe that helps me to appreciate other people and their roots. These fishermen come across as ordinary, hard-working fellows with no pretensions but, when you think about the reality of their lives, they were genuine heroes. And, as someone once said, "A working-class hero is something to be". This is a CD with soul and, even better (bearing in mind where my roots lie) it's Yorkshire soul!
Chris 'Yorkie' Bartram - 29.10.18