minstrel: A Calling-On Song

Patricia Yarrow yarrowp at mscd.edu
Wed Jun 11 08:00:16 PDT 2008


Thanks for the Steeleye Span liner notes - I hadn't thought to check them.
Yes, it's a filk.  <g>  That particular filk has itself been filked; I
remember our group performing an altered version for years, with some
pointers back to the Earsdon lyrics where we felt they were more appropriate
for a given audience.  (That line "It is all our company desires to see how
they handle their swords" can take on a world of meanings depending on the
singer . . . .)  

If I recall correctly, The Watersons version is in parts, and I think those
parts are related to Steeleye Span but not identical (though it's been some
years since I've heard either).  It looks as though you can download an MP3
of the piece at Amazon.  This link will probably break - do a search on
Watersons and then go to the Frost and Fire album.

However, if you're not familiar with The Watersons, their rendition might be
a bit of a shock.  The harmonies are very tight, lots of fourths, fifths,
and the occasional second, and I would say they're not singing in equal
temperament (good old E.T.).  Most of their work is a cappella.  There's a
muddy quality, a buzz to their voices that is found in other traditional
styles, though not so pronounced as in the Balkans, for example.  Think
shawms and bray harps.  It's a different aesthetic than our modern one, kind
of an inversion of the English choirboy sound.  If you've heard any of the
field recordings in the Voice of the People series, there's some similarity.

With regard to SCA performance styles, I've heard a recording of Elizabethan
music in which some songs were set "in the rustic style."  I remember
"Daphne on the Rainbow," I think it was, sounding as if it might have been a
Watersons piece, with the same dark buzzing quality.  I've wondered for a
while if this "country aesthetic" survived side by side with the straight
tone, polished sound.  The same sound also turns up in some HIP recordings
of Colonial American music.

Any thoughts?


Adelaide wrote:

Vivien wrote:

[In point of fact - the *tune* is traditional.  It's the Earsdon Sword
Dance Song.  The Watersons have a recording of it on their classic album
_Frost and Fire_.   It appears to be 19th century based on internal

Cool; I didn't know it qualified as filk.  I recognize several passages
of the lyric from the original as well.  The Steeleye Span liner notes

Songs similar to this one are used by the leaders of rapper and long
sword dance teams to preface the dancing and to drum up a crowd. The
duration of these songs depended on how long it took for a satisfactory
audience to assemble. It was customary to introduce each member of the
team as the son of a famous person such as Bonaparte, Nelson,
Wellington, etc. This, however is our own "calling-on", the tune and the
basis for the words coming from the captain's song of the Earsdon Sword
Dance Team.

And Ashley Hutchings said: "It's a completely contemporary song, but in
traditional style, which I wrote especially for the album."  That's a
bit disingenuous if the tune is identical and some of the lyrics are
"borrowed" but par for the course with filk.

Is the Watersons recording a parts version as well?  Is it the same as
the SS arrangement?


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