Part 2 Article MT026
(Photo credits can be seen by putting the mouse cursor over the picture for a second or two)
I came to Tunstall in 1914. I'd lived in Hasketon before that but I was born in Hemingstone, really, in 1897. I was already a singer by the time we came here - I picked that off my dad - he was a shepherd from when he was nine until he was 73. He died feeding his sheep - up in Liverpool. He was a good singer - I learnt The Faithful Sailor Boy (sound clip) off him, and he played the melodeon and concertina. I play melodeon a bit too - I used to sit under the table and listen while he played. When I was learning my mother used to turn me out of the house - the noise used to craze her - Ee Aw, Ee Aw, you know when you're just learning - so I had to go in the shed and play. I had a brother and five sisters and I sang at all their weddings. All my uncles were good singers and stepdancers, especially when those Smiths were there or Dick Woolnough. Fred Pearce could play well or Albert Smith - he'd play mouthorgan in Butley Oyster and I'd dance. My boy Viv can play mouthorgan nicely. We used to sing in the Oyster or in Tunstall Green Man every night at one time.
We had some good nights down the Green Man when I was about 19. My uncle Alf - Whistler Ling they called him - he played a big accordion in there. You'd have to get him half cut before he'd do it but he'd play things like Bluebells of Scotland and Old Joe the Boat's Going Over, and he'd swing this damn great thing round his head. Smut Bailey would sing in there sometimes if he wasn't down the Ship - he used to go round with Wicketts a lot. When Jones's Ale was New - that was his favourite and sometimes he'd play a little dancing doll while Whistler was playing. Butley Oyster - I used to sing there a lot about 1936, and that's where I go and sing now, with the folk club. Bob Hart and Webby used to come too at one time.
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Percy Webb, Hemmingstone/Hasketon/Tunstall
- Percy Ling, Tunstall/Snape
Recordings of Tunstall Musicians
Key: B S = Blaxhall Ship, Ftx = Folktracks, Trans = Transatlantic
||B S 1953
||When Jones' Ale was New
||Red River Valley/Pigeon on the Gate|
The next tune tonight/Old Brown in the Rose & Crown
The Pigeon on the Gate
B S 1974
|The Faithful Sailor Boy/Flash Company/|
Wheel the Perambulator/Go and Leave Me
The Master's Servant
Snape Village on the River Alde is just two miles from Blaxhall and is a faily large village with three pubs. It is dominated however by Snape Maltings - once a major source of employment for local men, now converted into an auditorium and the home of the prestigeous Aldeborough Festival.
A lot of Blaxhall chaps used to work down the Maltings. I was there - that's where I got my apprenticeship for bricklayer. Walter Friend, my lad Oscar, Wicketts, Spencer Leek - he was engineer and used to do the drying. They used to give us beer tickets there, so at lunchtimes we'd go down Snape Crown until they chucked us out and then we'd come back with a barrel and lay in the hot malt until it was time to load the kilns again. I used to work alongside Bob Hart.
I didn't get to Snape until I came off the trawlers - I came here to marry. I was born near Southwold in a place called Reydon in 1892, and I was there until we moved to Wrentham. My mother used to play the accordeon and we'd all sing hymns - all us kids - they're the first songs I learnt. You left school at 13 those days. I started on the farm but didn't like that a lot - you see I wanted to go to sea, so I packed it in and walked to Lowestoft and got a job on a trawler as a stoker. That's where I picked up a lot of my songs - at sea, and when we came back to Grimsby or Shetland (sound clip - Cod Banging). You used to get all sorts on those boats, and it was hard, especially for us boys. It could be boring, too, if the fish weren't about, so they'd sing to pass the time away - break the monotony. I never did a lot of singing in Snape, not until recently, but they did have some good singers here. Jack Harland used to know a lot - he was about my father's age. He used to be a sailor too. And Bob Scarce - I liked to hear him sing when he lived in Snape.
Well I didn't think any more of those old songs until one day a young chap (Rod Stradling) came in the Key and asked me did I know such-and-such a song. Well I sung him it and one or two others and he seemed to like them and got me on a record. So after that I started it up again. Young Ginette (Dunn) from New Zealand came to see me from Leeds University and we got on great and I've sung her every song I know - about a hundred she told me. She's been very good to us and when she's down takes us all over to sing - me and Webby. We go over Butley Oster and several others places - folk clubs - and have a damn good time. It's funny how those old songs come back you know. (sound clip - Bold General Wolfe)
Jack Harland used to sing that one Bold Princess Royal and something about "Aylesbury" - he'd sing a good song, and John Thurston was another - he sang Australia - but that was Yinka's song, I think. John Thurston was my Aunt Edith's father. He played a concertina and an accordeon down Snape Key - he did a lot of those Scotch reels - all those Thurstons could play. And there was another chap with a stumpy foot played down the Crown - Jack Blowers. He came from Felixstowe. He lost his job in the 1926 Strike and came down here and took a pub - he couldn't half play. He was the first chap I heard sing Fagan the Cobbler - I think Wicketts got it off him. If they had an accordeon going your best step-dancer there was Dick Woolnough - he sang Flash Company before any of us.
I used to like to step-dance and waltz too back then. I've danced to John Thurston in Snape and George Leek in Blaxhall Ship, Farnham George and Tunstall and sometimes when Reuben Kerridge had his banjo we'd cut into it. I was the one that taught him Lily of Laguna - I'd step to that, or Pigeon on the Post. I preferred singing though - dancing was too much like hard work! London Prentice Boy - I took that off Bob Scarce, and here's one you won't know - I've had it typed out for me - The Yellow Handkerchief - that's a good song. I was born in Blaxhall. We had a big family there. I started work when I was 13 - they wouldn't have me in school any longer - they kicked me out. My neighbour's the man you want to see for singing - Percy Ling.
I moved to Snape about 1930. I come from Tunstall originally, but I came here when I got a job at the Maltings. Bob Hart would be on the barge weighing the malt and I would carry it up to the truck. We used to do a lot of singing in Snape - all those pubs - the Key, the Crown and the Plough and Sail, and the Blaxhall crowd came down the lot. That's where you'd learn your songs, and I knew some from my grandfather, Cronie Ling. Some nights we'd get in Iken Hut, about 70 of us, and the gypsy boys would take turns serving behind a little bar. Sometimes the policeman would come in about two in the morning. Well, if he saw a pint he'd have it - they didn't mind. Sometimes an old girl would bake these apple pies and we'd have a competition; the first one to eat one would win - straight out of the oven they were. You needed a drink after that.
Oh, we used to go anywhere for a song. Often a gang of us would cycle to Framlingham just for a night out. That's all we had then - no radio or TV. Sometimes my wife would come - she played the accordeon lovely. Now all they seem to want to hear is country and western - both my boys play that in the pubs.
One Saturday night we got a bus from Tunstall to Snape - they had a fair here - Bert Stocks ran it. And they had contest, singing for a copper kettle. I sang Group of Young Squaddies. Well, I tied with another chap - they went by the crowd and we had to sing again; so I gave them Little Sweetheart in the Spring (sound clip) - I got it!
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Bob Hart, Reydon/Snape
- George Ling, Blaxhall/Croydon
- Dick Woolnough, Blaxhall/Snape
- Percy Ling, Tunstall/Snape
Key: B S = Blaxhall Ship, Ftx = Folktracks, Trans = Transatlantic, MT = Musical Traditions
B S 1974
|Comrades/His Day's Work was Done/All Jolly Fellows
that Follow the Plough/On the Banks of Allen Water/
Tom Bowling/One Touch of Nature/The Mermaid/
Bonny Mary of Argyll/City of Laughter and Tears/
Michael Larney-O/Jolly Jack the Sailor Lad/Just
Before the Battle, Mother/I'll Take You Home Again
Kathleen/Silver Threads Among the Gold/Paradise
Street/My Little Grey Home in the West/Why Shouldn't
we Sing/You Taught me How to Love You/The Drum
Went Bang/The Foggy Dew/Won't you Buy my Pretty
Flowers/Break the News to Mother/The Dark Eyed
Sailor/The Hymns My Mother Used to Sing/While
Shepherds Watched/Let the Rest of the World Go By
Plus all the songs listed below:
Cod Banging/Australia/A Broadside/The Banks
of Sweet Primeroses/What a Funny Little Place to
Have One/Bold General Wolfe/The Female Cabin Boy/
As I Strolled Out to Aylesbury/The Scarlet and the Blue/
John Barleycorn/The Miner's Dream of Home/
The Young Sailor Cut Down/All Jolly Fellows that
Follow the Plough/Underneath her Apron
The Bold Princess Royal/Seventeen Come
Sunday/Rap a Tap Tap/Song of the Thrush/
The Gypsy's Warning/Barbara Allen
The Farmer's Servant
Seventeen Come Sunday
The Female Cabin Boy
|MT CD 01/2|
Topic TSCD 464/
||B S 1974|
|I'll Come Back to my Little Sweetheart|
The Lobster/Little Sweetheart/Underneath your
Apron/The Man all Tattered and Torn/
Fagan the Cobbler
||The London Prentice Boy
The area just between Woodbridge and Wickham Market is represented by an incredible character - little Jimmy Knights. "Holy Jim" is Suffolk's answer to Charlie Wills - a tiny, red-faced man with a white moustache and trilby hat, Jimmy, well into his 90s, still enjoys his beer at his favourite pub, still has an eye for the girls, and can still give out with some great songs in a beautiful clear voice. I first met Jim on a bitterly cold day, thumbing back home. I noticed this little old chap walking down the road followed by his pet duck, and we soon got chatting. I told him I had just recorded a singer in a nearby village. "Cor blast" he said "I've forgotten more songs than he knows". At this point my first lift in two hours arrived and I had to go. Luckily the driver knew Jimmy and told me where I could meet him, which I shortly did.
I was born in 1880 in Debach - the same house as my father and his. All our family were musical - my sister used to be a music teacher. She was a bit older than me and she encouraged me to sing and play. Well, when I was five I could sing like buggery - I learnt a new song every day. My sister would collect these songs, you know, they used to print them in The News of the World, and she'd send off to London for the music. Then she'd play them on the piano. Blast, I had 'em after about three times through.
I used to go in the pubs when I was ten - no-one minded. There weren't no pub in Debach, but you could walk to any one of four: Bredfield Castle, Clopton Crown, Charsfield Horseshoes or Hasketon Turkey (Turk's Head). I'd go to all them at that time of day. That's where you'd have heard some songs - there were lots of singers there - Charlie Stiff, Charlie Chaplain, Harry Finch, Lom Archer, Jim Baldry. You've heard of Jim Baldry, have you? (sound clip - Ratcliff Highway - Jim Baldry) He used to be a painter - painted that pillar-box over there. He was a good singer; he was about the same age as me. But his uncle was better - Charlie Baldry. 'Old Diddles' we used to call him. I learnt that Ratcliff Highway off him and another one, Out with me Dog in the Morning. (sound clip) That was about 50 years ago. He sang that in Bredfield Castle one night and I wrote it down and learnt it. He must have been about 70 then.
Yes, those old songs were popular then. You asked about things like The Dark-eyed Sailor and The Foggy Dew. Well, every bugger used to sing those round here - I used to, but I prefer to sing something different - something people haven't heard before.. (Much of Jimmy's repertoire today consists of comical and topical songs that certainly I've not heard before).
Whenever there was a murder or something like that they used to compose a song about it. I knew lots of those - The Yarmouth Beach Murder - that was one, and when the Titanic went down I'd learnt a song about that within a fortnight. But you're going back a bit now. I can't remember those old things.
When the War was on (W.W.1) I got called up straight away and spent four years in France. I was there from start to finish and never got a scratch - mind you I never got any bloody leave either! We didn't have time for singing there - we had something else to do.
When I came back I went all over the country. I was a stallion leader. I was about 20 years doing that, in Scotland and Yorkshire for the most part. I spent a lot of time in Hull - I liked it there. That's where I bought my banjo - a five-string one. Well, I could play a bit on the fiddle - I'd done that as a boy. This fellow showed me a bit on the banjo and I could soon knock out some of the tunes I knew - Jack's the Lad, Devil and the Tailors, and old polkas - that sort of thing. They used to have singing contests in the pubs up there, in the Royal Oak (in Hull) - a damn great pub with seven bars - I won a bottle of whiskey for singing Genevieve.
You talk about step-dancing - I used to do that in Charsfield. There was an old man there, a real gypsy boy - Fiddler (Billy) Harris we called him. He'd come in the pub there with his fiddle under his jacket and I'd go crazy. It took a good'un to beat me y'know, 'cos I could dance single stepping and double time as well, and that used to lick a lot of them - two steps to one note. I danced many a time on a dinner plate turned upside down and never broke it - you've got to be very light. Wish to hell I could do it now.
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Jimmy Knights, Debach/Little Glemham
Key: Ftx = Folktracks, NL=Neil Lanham Tapes
The Contented Countryman/Hares in the Plantation/
When the Old Dun Cow Caught Fire/The Irish Famine
The Northamptonshire Poacher
|BBC LP 23100/|
BBC LP 23100
BBC LP 23100/
||The Miner's Dream of Home/John Barleycorn/Dick Turpin/
The Poor Smuggler's Boy/The Faithful Sailor Boy/
The Wedding Ring my Mother Wore/Jim the Carter's Lad/
Talking of taking a pig to Alfred Preston.
|Ratcliff Highway/The Contented Countryman/
The Fellow Who Played the Trombone/
An old Woman in Ireland (Marrowbones)
Out With My Gun in the Morning
The Contended Countryman/Ratcliffe Highway/Tomkins
was a Traveller/Marrowbones/The Landlord's Prayer
|The Nonsense Song/I'll be Level with Her/
Jealousy (Poison in a Glass of Wine)/
The Poor Smuggler's Boy
|Ftx FSA 099
Woodbridge and Wickham Market
The music of the Woodbridge and Wickham Market area was dominated by string bands, normally fiddle-led. Men like Walter Clow, Eely Whent and Lennie Pearce all led string bands that played regularly, not only in the pubs but at dances and in church. It was on a tip from Percy Ling that I contacted Fred "Eely" Whent in Ipswich - certainly the most remarkable musician I have heard and a leading figure in the music of Woodbridge.
I was born in Ipswich but my dad died when I was seven and we moved to Ufford; that's where I got my schooling. I was pretty much self-taught on the violin though I did get a little tuition as a kid; but I couldn't stick it. I wanted to be playing football or something, much to the annoyance of my tutor. He used to play in the orchestra at St Audrey's Hospital at Melton. He put me right and taught me the rudiments though. When I went into the army I played in a fife-and-drum band and we were in France for nine months in 1917. We didn't see a lot until Paschendaele - that was enough for me.
After that I used to get in with a crowd of blokes who played around Wickham - I was living there then and we used to play in the pubs - Wickham Vine, Volunteer, and Blaxhall Ship, and in the church.
When I was young I remember Eely Whent, Spanker Austin and old Arthur Baldry would play down Stratford Chapel. Arthur and Eely would play violin and Spanker played 'cello then. Old Arthur would sit there in the front, in blue puttees and a blue serge suit, and he'd be chewing his old tobacco and spitting it out, and they'd all be playing In Beulah Land. After the first service Spanker and Eely would say to me "Come on boy, let's go down Farnham George for a pint", and that would lead to another, and we'd rush back to the chapel and get there late, sweat pouring off us. Cor, old Arthur looked disgusted.
Me and Spanker and Reuben Kerridge, we'd play round all the pubs that time of day - Snape Plough, Easton White Horse, Cherry Tree Woodbridge - that's where we'd play for step-dancing - John Fevyer and his mates - and we'd play for servants' balls at Friston. Walter Clow led a little band round Hacheston - he could play anything, like me: mandolin, accordeon, violin. I used to play banjo and mouthorgan together you know, with a rack. Billy Hall used to play with him a lot and I've been in with all them. (sound clip - Two Step)
Billy Hall was a bookie and Walter Clow was his runner, and they'd always be together playing their music, and jolly good too. Billy Hall was a funny old boy. I liked him, but I could tell you some stories. He used to pay in a pub called the Vine in Wickham Well, when Cecil Bowles kept it. They used to make soup and bake cakes and things there, so whenever Billy got his violin out the case there'd be all these stale cakes and sausage rolls in his case that he'd left there. They'd be rock hard and mouldy - even my dog turned his nose up at them. Old Billy had these shoes someone had given him and one was size 7 and the other size 9, so you could always hear him coming - slip, slop, slip, slop he'd go. And he had hundreds of pairs of glasses he'd been given - never bought a pair in his life. His house was all bunged up with trees, with a little gas light at half-mast, and he had an old-fashioned wireless all held together with chewing gum, and he kept his money in a long black bag like a sock. But he was a real chapel. He'd play in church with Eely Whent - you know, the bloke who'd do funny things with his feet while he was playing.
When Billy played at the Vine and Kenser Diaper and them used to step-dance the old floor would rattle and dust and muck would fly - well, they called it Dirty Dick's. That was a real comical pub that - I saw blokes cry when Cecil left there. He was a breat big bloke - they used to make the bar taller for him. They did baking there as well, and it was packed by 9 in the morning, especially on pension day because it was right next door to the post office. People would fight to get next to the log fire and they'd play dominoes and cards and get riled with each other and tear the cards up and throw them on the fire. Billy would sit there all day reading the Sporting Pink and then only go and have 6d each way.
My brother and sister Margaret Smith used to play for dances, for old peoples' parties, that sort of thing - fiddle and piano. He was very musical - he played mouthorgan and flute and had umpteen violins - he was always tinkerin' about with them, putting different gadgets on them. One of his tricks was to imitate the bagpipes on the violin - you'd never know the difference. And he was a good comic on stage.
I used to be snobbin' at Wickham then - a cobbler, and I played banjo-mandolin with Eely and Spanker; we used to raise money for the football team. Spanker was jolly good you know, but when he'd had a few beers the bow used to go under the strings and rip the blooming lot out. We'd go all over - Halesworth - I been there in with Jimmy Whiting and Dobie Whiting and those old boys step-dancing; blow, my fingers ached more than my feet. And in Woodbridge I played with Darkie Thompson, a northern chap. He played a piano accordion - 120 row job - and I've never heard anyone touch him. He was a taxi driver but if he got playing outside the Coach and Horses he'd strip down to his braces and you wouldn't get a taxi in Woodbridge that day.
Another good chap in Woodbridge was Lennie Pearce - he played a dulcimer - he made it himself when he was eleven. I played on that thing many times and I had one myself one time but it wasn't in very good condition. I played in a band round here with him, called the Pearce and Crane Band. Lennie played dulcimer or drums, Geoff Crane on banjo-mandolin, a chap called Heffer on piano and me on violin. We played all them old time dances - veletas, waltzes, two-steps, quicksteps.
I remember the Pearce and Crane Band coming to our socials at Blaxhall Village Hall - there were three or four of them - trumpet, violin, drums and sometimes dulcimer. Well, my brother-in-law Reg Grant, he'd drive them round in his taxi, but one night he couldn't get it so he borrowed the fire engine - he drove that too - and they all arrived hanging onto the sides! Blimey, we laughed.
I took my uncle to Lime Grove once to record for the Wilfred Pickles show "On Pickles" (Lennie's dulcimer case has inscribed on it "Mr L Pearce - Radio and TV artist"). Yes, he was a great one for the bumpf!
Anybody in those days who could play the violin or accordeon was highly thought of and sought after, but now we're on the scrapheap. I played once at a dance at the White Horse Hotel in Ipswich. Lady Balfour invited me down there to play and after the dance she gave out to the audience that the young violinist had never played with a pianist before - I hadn't then - and they all clapped and she gave me a letter of introduction to Henry Hall for an audition with his orchestra. But my step-father wouldn't let me go - he was a shepherd, always in bed by half past nine. Still, I prefer to play in the pubs - I reckon a good busker can beat a professional any day.
After that I was bandmaster for an eight-piece band in Woodbridge called the Erbs Band. We played at the Bull's Hotel Assembly Rooms in Woodbridge every Saturday - Sill Hops we called them. There were eight of us but only seven ever played at the same time. It was the only band I ever knew who had two pianists. You see, with one extra, someone different could have a break every tune but we had two pianists because you always had to have a piano. There was me and Gus Coleman on violins, Freddy Rowlands on concert flute, Nell and Reg were the pianists, a chap called Bloomfield on drums and Cyril Cole who played a bit on everything. We did a lot of charity work which wasn't very profitable but we were together seven years. We'd play old round dances, Veletas, St Bernard's Waltz. If one couple made a mistake the whole damn lot would be thrown out. Dancing was an art then. Nowadays it seems to me to be an easy way to wear your clothes out from the inside.
We used to pick up some of our tunes from records you know. I had an old wind-up Victrola and I had all these records by Randolph Sutton, the Two Leslies, Van Dam, a Dutch accordion player, and loads of organists. Recently I have played with two folk-singers, John and Julia Greave at Bawdsey Star and Norwich Road YMCA, and sometimes with two guitarists at Stonham Magpie. I used a pick-up on the violin for volume but it spoils the tone a bit.
(Eely Whent, a superb musician, died suddenly in 1976 but is still well remembered around Wood- bridge and Blaxhall. As many people still say "Eely Whent and thar he goo".)
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Fred Whent, Woodbridge/Ipswich
- Percy Richardson, Blaxhall/Wickham Market
- Joyce Cherry, Wickham Market
- Reuben Kerridge, Wickham Market/Snape
- Geoff Ling, Blaxhall
- Roy Pearce, Bredfield
Recordings of Fred 'Eely' Whent
|Turkey in the Straw/Eely'e Kathleen/Soldier's Joy Medley/
Old Country Waltz/Sailor's Hornpipe Medley/
My family were all from Glemham - it's just outside Blaxhall. I was born there in 1900. There were eleven of us altogether - seven boys and four girls. My dad was a great singer. His name was William like me, but everyone called him Velvet. When I was a kid I got friendly with an old sailor who lived near us, called Jumbo Poacher - I always used to look out for him when he came off furlough, and that's how my nickname stuck. I guess the first song I ever heard was The Blacksmith's Daughter (Groggy Old Tailor) - that was when I was about eleven. Us kids used to get outside the Lion there when the sheep clipping was in season, and every Sunday night those old boys would hold their meetings there. After the meeting they'd have dinner and then a song. We'd all hang on the pub windows and listen, and there was an old man there called James Hunt, used to live in the cottages opposite ours, and he'd sing this song - I used to hear plenty of that. (sound clip) And we'd hold their horses for them - you know they all came by horse and cart - and they'd give us a bottle of ginger beer.
My dad knew some old songs. I learned most of them before I ever set foot in a pub. He used to sing The Loss of the Ramillies - his father Robert Brightwell taught him that, he said. What else did he sing? Oh yes, The Green Mossy Banks of the Lea - he was the only one I ever heard sing it, and Scarborough Banks - I sing that too. Dad told me that if you sang that song up north they wouldn't like it, they'd turn you out of the pub. And The Indian Lass, that's one of his. The False-hearted Knight my mother used to sing. She was born in the cottages next to Farnham George and she told me that when she was a little girl she could hear fellows singing that in the pub. That's an old 'un I should guess. I've never heard it called The Outlandish Knight though I believe it's called that in some books. I don't reckon that's an Irish song. Probably from Scotland, along the borders - they used to do things like that. There's lots of versions of that. It's like that one As I come Home on Saturday Night, Drunk as I Could Be - you can pick your own version of that.
I started work on the farm at Blaxhall Hall. I don't know why it's called that because it's in Glemham actually. Anyway my first job was a bird scarer and one day the farmer called me over and said "Boy, how long have you been here?" I said "Just about a year, sir" - I thought I was getting a rise. "Well," he said "you had better take a week's notice. Every bloody rook for miles round here knows you." Well, I had a lot of jobs after that. I went fishing, but I didn't think much of that, then I was a bricklayer's labourer, a gas stoker, a docker, then I got a job as a shunter at Leiston Station, like father, where I ended up.. (On Folktracks FSA 099 Velvet says he worked as a shunter for 48 years 10 months.). Dad did a bit of fishing too, but once he had to walk from Lowestoft to Glemham (about 20 miles). The skipper wouldn't even give him a bob for his fare - so he didn't go back after that.
I signed up for the army in March 1918 and I was only in France for a week when they said everybody under 19 had to return home. So we were sent up to Glasgow - there was a tram strike on and a riot - we had to quell that. Then our next job was to fill in all the trenches on St Andrews golf course. While I was in Scotland I got the Spanish 'flu - they were dying like flies up there with this. They had me wrapped up for dead once, but I cheated them. Dad died when he was 95 - he still sang at a party we had for him on his 90th birthday - so if I do as well as him I'll be all right. They say stock's as good as money.
(I first met Jumbo in 1970 completely by accident. I had spent the Friday night at Blaxhall Ship and on Saturday morning I was trying to thumb a lift back to Southend for a football match. The roads were all flooded so I turned round and got a lift into Leiston off a chap who, as it turned out, not only knew Jumbo but lived in the same road. So I called round and Jumbo said he knew one or two old songs and proceeded to sing, with no hesitation at all, about a dozen of the oldest and longest songs I have ever recorded, in spite of not having sung in public for over 10 years. I was so pleased I didn't even mind the fact that my tape recorder completely failed to function and that Southend United had lost 2-0.
A record was subsequently made, Songs from the Eel's Foot (Topic 12TS261) on which Jumbo sings virtually word for word many of his father's songs (see below). Recently Jumbo has even been persuaded to sing occasionally at Blaxhall Ship and is still coming up with different songs such as Australia and Polly on the Shore from his incredible memory.)
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
For recordings of the Brightwells see under Eastbridge in the next chapter.
- Jumbo Brightwell, Little Glemham/Leiston
Songs from the Eel's Foot Inn
Eastbridge is a delightful small village just outside the town of Leiston and set in the marshy flat country a few miles inland from Minsmere Haven. Today it is a retreat for naturalists and retired businessmen. Thirty years ago however, when an even smaller village, it was a magnet for a different person - the rugged fisherman from a neighbouring village like Westleton, Theberton or Middleton who came for the Saturday night sing-song in the tiny bar of the Eel's Foot Inn.
There weren't many of us in the village then. Chaps used to bike to the Foot from miles round here and get down the pub every night. They'd even have their own chairs and if anyone sat in it, cor there'd be a row. In my young days it was kept by a Mr Rouse - it had been in the family for years. Well, when he got too old for it, one or two other people tried and made a mess of it, then a Mrs Moreland had it and things brightened up - there was singing every Saturday night after that. If you weren't there by seven you wouldn't get in.
There was a crowd of us used to bike down there from Leiston - it's only about 2½ miles across the fields - and they used to have a lot of parties down there, especially from the riding school in Thorpeness or from Neal's School - the "do as you like school" as we call it - and 'Ned Larkin' from 'The Archers' - him and his family often went there. Another chap with a big house in Benhall used to come down - he liked that old singing and none of us would spend a bean the whole night. But when his boy got killed in the War he sent £50 for us all to have a drink and never came again.
It was a real old-fashioned little pub - it weren't no bigger than my living room. If you had 20 people there you couldn't undo your jacket; and Mrs Moreland used to have to go down the steps to the cellar every time you wanted a pint - two at a time was all she could manage. I guess I was about 20 when I first went there - I had a lot of my songs by then, but I picked up some off the old sailors round there.
If you'd been in Westleton Crown or the Eel's Foot about 40 years ago, practically every other man was a fisherman. They'd all set off about May the 8th and come back about three or four days before Christmas with a pot of tin, and wouldn't do a stroke. I remember one old boy got up there and sung:
We shot our nets as the sun went down
I only wanted to hear a song like that once, and if it interested me that was good enough. I heard that in Westleton when I was about 17. I didn't have the patience for fishing so I just used to knock about round there with my old fiddle.
Not many miles from old Yarmouth Town.
We let them drift till the sun was high
And on our nets the gulls did fly. (sound clip)
I like to hear a good sea song. I did a bit of fishing out of Lowestoft and when they came back they would hardly leave the pub much for weeks. They all used to keep these long lean dogs and get up to all tricks - poaching and so on. You've got to have two things for that; a dog that knows as much as the man, and a tight lip. I was out rabbiting one night and I met Alec Bloomfield - he was the gamekeeper there and we knew each other and started talking, and I was so scared my dog would take a rabbit as we went along. Then just as I'd said goodbye he jumped into the growth and had one. By heck, I was pleased.
Not many poached on me those days 'cos I used to go out netting rabbits with the fishing lads when the herrings weren't coming in - but no-one ever touched my pheasants even when times were really hard. I knew old Tom ever so well - that's who I picked up that song Buttercup Joe from. There used to be some damn fine singers there. You've heard that one Up to the Rigs of London Town and another one "When we get the cod on deck, we hit 'em on the head with a great big stick". The Brightwells were the dominating characters there, and the Cooks - Diddy and Crutter. Crutter was where I picked up Young Rambleaway and Philip Lumpkin he'd sing My Father Kept Two Rabbits.
Those Cooks were old when I was a boy. There was Albert - we called him Diddy, Harry - Crutter, and Sid Cook and they were related somehow. I reckon Diddy was the best singer I ever heard. He had a hell of a powerful voice - you could have heard him in Saxmundham. Rambleaway was Crutter's song, though. So was Blow the Candle Out - Edgar Button sang that too. (sound clip)
(Edgar Button was another fine singer from Eastbridge and we are fortunate to be able to hear him talking and singing four songs on Folktracks cassette FSA040, recorded by Peter Kennedy in the 50s. He claims to have learned Blow the Candle Out from Sid Cook long before the war. Sid Cook was apparently an exceptional singer with a vast repertoire, who for many years lived in Sibton - next door, in fact, to George Bailey who played the banjo with Ernie Seaman (see below). Edgar used to sing a lot in Middleton Bell, where he learned The Larks they Sang Melodious and The Oak and the Ash, the latter from an old chap called Winkles Bacon. Edgar finishes with a fine "Eel's Foot" version of The Foggy Dew, one of his best known songs. Unfortunately Edgar Button died in February 1973 and a large number of the songs he knew were never recorded.)
Philip Lumpkin was the chairman of the sing-songs, like Wicketts at Blaxhall. He used to lodge at the Foot and kept order with a cribbage board until he wore the thing out, and then he had a gavel. He'd say "Sing, say or pay", and if you didn't, you had to put a penny in towards the beer kitty. We sat in there one night and there was a stranger round here, a steamroller driver, and he started to sing. Well, you've never heard such a row in you life. My mate sat next to me and he'd never sung in his life. So he was going to put in a penny and this chap said "I'll sing for you mate". So old Walter Cook said "Blast, I'll pay you a tanner to hold your row". We didn't want to put up with that again.
The BBC came round to record us all one night. We were the first ones to broadcast - then Blaxhall Ship. (A performance of Jumbo's famous Muddley Barracks from this occasion can be heard on Folktracks FSA 099. It must have been a prestige affair for at the start someone shouts "Come on, Jumbo, take your cap off". Jumbo learned the song from an old soldier "Spinks" about 1920 in Leiston.)
We didn't have much step-dancing down there unless the Blaxhall chaps biked over or the Seamans came down - they were the best I ever heard. My brother Bob could rattle out though, and George Leek (from Blaxhall) and Billy Harris (Charsfield) - but that was when I was about 18.
Old Jimmy Coates played the accordeon there sometimes. He was a good old boy he was - good company. He kept a blacksmith's forge but gave it up to take Theberton Lion. He mainly played there a lot - his son married Ernie Seaman's daughter (to whom many thanks for the great photographs). The regular accordeon at the Foot was Jack Button - no relation to Edgar. He was a real character. We called him Dot because he was a bit lame, and he was a poacher and a bloody marvellous shot. We'd throw pennies in the air and he'd nearly always hit 'em on the way down. If he ever missed he'd likely have a fit. Well, we used to have this policeman round here and he was a very narrow-minded man - if he caught a kiddie riding a bike without a light well, you'd think he'd got the biggest criminal in the world. And this copper was always after Dot, and he met him once down by the river and said "Hello, Mr Button, how long have you carried a gun?" "Oh well," says Jack "I've carried a longer one than this." He was quick-witted, old Dot. I used to like to hear him play accordeon. A chap called Percy Denny used to step-dance down there and he'd say to Jack "Come on Dot, give us Blaxhall Ship", and he'd play a tune they used to play over the Ship (Pigeon on the Gate) and Percy would step, then Alec, then Crutter.
I learned a lot of my songs off records - the big 78s. I used to sing Buttercup Joe, Swinging down the Lane, Lavender Trousers, Poor Man's Heaven - they broadcast me on that one on the radio. but I couldn't do that now - I'll be 74 in August (1977). We used to hear a lot of those old songs at darts matches or quoit games - Jumbo was a master at that - he'd take some beating.
We'd go to all the pubs round here for quoits - Theberton Lion, Middleton Bell, all them in Snape, Friston Checkers, Marlesford Bell. I helped them win all the cups in Suffolk except the Single-handed Challenge Cup - I got into the semi-finals twice, but all the others we got. The Rendlesham Cup and the Suffolk Challenge Cup - we got that four times. And at all these matches you'd pick up songs. The Banks of the Nile - an old chap wrote me the words of that after a quoits match in Kelsale - Coldthorpe his name was, an old soldier. And The Lost Heiress was from Oliver Ringwood in Middleton Bell. The Derbyshire Miller was one of Shiner Edmond's songs - he was another old army man - he used to live in Benhall before he came to Eastbridge; and Percy Smith from Walberswick sang The Flower of London and The Life of a Man - I heard an old gamekeeper from Eastbridge used to hum the chorus and I liked that. Then I heard a bloke - Will Whiting - he came from Dennington way, sing it. He kept the Mill here in Leiston and I used to go round and drink his home-made wine, and I soon picked it up. I once won a leg of mutton for singing in the town hall in Leiston. There were some commercial travelling people come round and organised a talent contest, and I got first prize for I Never Interfere. They liked that.
The singing at the Foot died out about 1960 when Mrs Moreland left. After the broadcast I had an invitation to sing in London for some big do but I didn't go - I thought they'd make a joke of me. So Edgar went instead. Still, I think I'd have stood in my own light - I think I ought to have gone now. (sound clip - The Life of a Man)
Quotations in this chapter were from the following people:
- Tom Goddard, Eastbridge
- Jumbo Brightwell, Little Glemham/Leiston
- Fred Whiting, Kenton
- Alec Bloomfield, Benhall/Nottinghamshire
Recordings of the Eastbridge performers
Key: Col=Columbia, EFI = Eel's Foot Inn, Ftx = Folktracks, Roun=Rounder, Trans = Transatlantic
|The False-hearted Knight|
The Flowers of London/The Derby Miller/
The Loss of the Ramillies/The Green Mossy Banks
of the Lea/Blow the Candle Out/The Bold Princess Royal/
Newry Town/The Indian Lass/Muddley Barracks/The
False-hearted Knight/The Lost Heiress/Down in the Fields
where the Buttercups Grow/Rambleaway/The Life of a Man
The Blacksmith's Daughter/Oak and the Ash/
The Parson's Creed/The Banks of the Nile
The Oak And The Ash
Blow the Candle Out
The Loss of The Ramilly
The Derby Miller
|The Bold Princess Royal
Scarboro'/The Faithful Plough/The Foggy Dew/
The Loss of the Ramillies
|Blow the Candle Out|
The Oak and the Ash/The Larks they
Sang Melodious/The Foggy Dew
||Jack's the Boy
||Poor Man's Heaven
||Pleasant and Delightful/Indian Lass/
Foggy Foggy Dew
The Dark-eyed Sailor
List of published recordings
Full titles of commercially available recordings the numbers of which are given in the above 'Recordings of ... Performers' sections.
||The Barley Mow
||Alec Bloomfield and Edgar Button
||Two Suffolk Singers
||The Knife in the Window
||MT CD 301/2
|Neil Lanham Tapes|
||Sam Friend, Alf Peachey|
and Jimmy Knights
|The Contented Countryman
(CD) - was Columbia LP
||World Library - Alan Lomax
||Folk & Primitive Music - England
(LP) - all now deleted
||Folk Songs of Britain Vol 6
||Sailormen and Servingmaids
||Folk Songs of Britain Vol 7
||Fair Game and Foul
||Folk Songs of Britain Vol 8
||A Soldier's Life for Me
||Songs from Suffolk
||Songs from the Eel's Foot
||The Ling Family
||Sing Say and Play
||Blow the Man Down
||Sea Songs and Shanties
||Voice of the People Vol 2
||My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean
||Voice of the People Vol 3
||O'er His Grave the Grass Grew Green
||Voice of the People Vol 5
||Come All My Lads that Follow the Plough
||Voice of the People Vol 6
||Tonight I'll Make You my Bride
||Voice of the People Vol 8
||A Story I'm Just About to Tell
||Voice of the People Vol 10
||Who's That at my Bed Window
||Voice of the People Vol 12
||We've Received Orders to Sail
||Voice of the People Vol 14
||Troubles they Are But Few
||Voice of the People Vol 15
||As Me and My Love Sat Courting
||Voice of the People Vol 18
||To Catch a Fine Buck was My Delight
||Voice of the People Vol 20
||There is a Man Upon the Farm
||The Larks they Sang Melodious
Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services Updated: 15.11.02