The title of this album says it all. Songs, for me, are indeed friends and, like my human friends, some are seen and loved regularly while others go away for a period. (Sometimes it is I who goes away.) But when there has been an absence, the renewal of the friendship has greater fervor. Some of the songs on this album are fairly new friends, we having known each other scarcely a year or two. And the others! Well, some of us have been together for close on thirty years and the strength of the relationship is as vital as in the early years of our acquaintanceship.
My oldest friends here are Bonny at Morn and Waltzing Matilda, both learned when I was a boy. Waltzing I probably got from my brothers. I've always found this story, by Banjo Patterson, of an itinerant worker hounded to his death by the big landowner and police, all because of a little poaching, very moving. I could never understand why some people want to belt it out in fast 4/4 time. Bonny at Morn I learned in school, I'm still fascinated by the number of things going on at the same time in this "lullaby" – the mother crooning to the baby – telling the son to get out of bed – and complaining (I presume to a neighbor) how life has been disrupted since the coming of "the bairn."
One Penny and John Barley corn I learned, among a goodly number of other songs, from Brian Ballinger, while we were both members of the Heritage Society (in Oxford) in 1956/7. And it was with Brian, and his 50-60 lb "portable" tape recorder (well, it could be carried – in a bus!) that I collected from Alan Rogerson, of Common Bum farm, near Wooler, Northumberland, a song with which I've had a love affair since 1958 – When Fortune Turns the Wheel. When last I heard of Brian, he was Registrar in a Dundee hospital.
Another friend who traded me many songs was Laurie Charlton, borderer, gunsmith, art teacher, ballad singer, and fisherman, who ran Folksong and Ballad in Newcastle after I took off for London in 1961. But well before that he taught me Ca' the Yowes. I couldn't resist dubbing in the harmony on the chorus – that was the way we used to sing it at our "ploys" in the Tyne Cruising (boozing?!) Club. I also got from Laurie The Bonny Hoose O' Airlie, that ballad of the burning of the home of the Ogilvie's by the covenanting Campbells, while the former were supporting King Charles I against Cromwell and Parliament.
That period prior to 1961 also brought to me that lovely air, Blackwaterside, from the piping of Francis McPeake, in 1958, and the following year, The Lovely Irish Maid from the singing of Michael Cronin, of Macroom in County Cork, Eire, but who was living in Camden Town, London, at that time. And in 1962 I learned a song from the "Northumbrian Mistrelsy" that has never ceased to move me – sometimes to tears; the farewell (as written by Scotsman Robert Surtees years after the event) of James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, before his execution in 1716 in London for his "treason" of supporting James Stuart's bid for the throne in the 1715 uprising – Derwentwater's Farewell.
The last couple of years has provided some new friends from some old friends. From the Waterson's came the combination of harvest-home songs that go under the collective title of Sheepshearing's Over, while from Brian Blanchard of the Brighton Folk Club came that sly and saucy pean to begging, Tom Paget. Last, but far from least, from Bob Lewis of Chichester comes Carol for 12th Day. Though the harmonic possibilities of the melody fascinate me, it is the demands (Pray, let us have it NOW!) of this Cornish wassail that appeal most to me. Now that Fve introduced my friends to you, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Louis Killen, September, 1977.