Concert Programme
1.	 The Cherry Tree Carol (Sandra Joyce, Child No 54)
2.	 True Lover John (Hammy Hamilton, Child No 248)
3.	 Little Musgrave (Sandra Joyce, Child No 81)
4.	 Captain Wedderburn (Hammy Hamilton, Child  No 46)
5.	 Barbara Allen (Sandra Joyce, Child No 84)
6.	 The False Knight on Road (Sandra Joyce, Child No 3)
7.	 The Dreary Gallows (Hammy Hamilton, Child No 95)
8.	 Annan Water (Hammy Hamilton, Child No 215)
9.	 The Lass of Aughrim (Sandra Joyce, Child No 76)
10. The Gaberlunyie Man (Hammy Hamilton, Child No 279)
11. The Well Below the Valley (Sandra and Hammy, Child No 21)

Information on Sandra’s Songs

The Cherry-Tree Carol – Child # 54
I have learned this song especially for this project and decided, after listening to different versions, to sing Joan Baez’s version today. The ballad tells the nativity story in its own unique way, during Mary and Joseph’s journey towards Bethlehem. It details what was undoubtedly Jesus’ first claimed miracle, enacted while he was still in the womb. Jesus defends his mother from her husband’s wrath, exemplified in Joseph’s bitter response to Mary’s request for him to pick cherries for her: ‘Let the father of the baby pick cherries for thee!’ Jesus gets the cherry tree to bend towards his mother, and this version ends with her triumphant statement: ‘O look thou Joseph, I have cherries by command’. Joan Baez, born in Staten Island, New York, in 1941, is well known for her political activism as well as her singing career, which has lasted the best part of six decades. I have obviously decided to include this ballad to reflect the season that is in it!

Little Musgrave (Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard) – Child # 81
I learned this song from the singing of Christy Moore in the Planxty recording, The Woman I Loved So Well.  There are two different melodies in this version, with the higher second melody accentuating the drama as it unfolds. The beauty and simplicity of the melody allows the story to shine through – a dramatic tale of love, adultery, betrayal, revenge, slaughter and regret. I am fascinated by the fact that the stories of so many of these songs continue to resonate today, in so many different settings and cultural contexts. This particular ballad has been recorded by Joan Baez, Fairport Convention, Jean Ritchie, Tom Waits and many more – and the English classical composer Benjamin Britten used it for a choral arrangement in 1943. It is also commonly known by the title Matty Groves.

Barbara Allen (Bonny Barbara Allan)– Child # 84
Barbara Allen is one of the most popular and enduring of the Child ballads. It is known by many names – ‘Hard Hearted Barbary Ellen’ gives a clue to the common theme, which is the shunning of the young man on his deathbed by Barbara Allen, her subsequent regret and death afterwards. However, I have always felt that the version I am singing here, by Sarah Makem, has many possible interpretations and subtexts. For example, when her parents tell her to go and see the young man, she reminds them that they told her to ‘shun’ and ‘slight’ him. When she encounters his corpse on its way to the burial, we are told that ‘she bursted out with laughing’, one of the most affecting and dramatic lines that I have personally ever sung. This suggests strongly to me that she has, in fact, lost her mind, maybe because she was denied access to her lover by her parents, and gives a different perspective to her seemingly hard hearted treatment of the young man. It would also explain her own death shortly afterwards, from a broken heart. This is only my interpretation, but it certainly gives me a perspective on the song that helps me interpret it meaningfully. The wonderful Sarah Makem, mother of the infamous Tommy, was from Keady in Co. Armagh. I first became aware of her singing while a student at University College, Cork, where the library had a copy of her album Mrs. Sarah Makem, Ulster Ballad Singer (1968). I was immediately drawn to her version of ‘Barbara Allen’, and although I have heard many other variants of this ballad, it is Sarah Makem’s that always draws me back.

The False Knight on the Road (The Fause Knight upon the Road) – Child # 3
This is another ballad which has fascinated me for a long time. Many versions of this ballad exist across Ireland, Scotland, the US and Canada. The details of the story vary quite widely, but it always has a strong supernatural element. In the version I am singing, the story is quite simple – a male child meets the devil on the road; the devil attempts to trick the child by asking him riddles; the child is steadfast in his faith and confident enough to take on the devil; in the end the devil is sent back to hell without the prize of the child’s soul. There is strong religious imagery used in the ballad (God, the staff, the bell) and the story is related through question-and-answer between the child and the devil. This version is very brief, but its brevity allows the story to be told simply and dramatically. I learned it from Seán O’Boyle’s book, The Irish Song Tradition (1976) – the only time (I think) that I learned a song fully from a book.  O’Boyle collected it from Frank Quinn of Coalisland, Co. Tyrone, who very effectively explained the meaning of the song: “Sure everybody knows that if you stand in the one place without moving when the devil meets you, he’ll do you no harm. And the wee fellow had the faith of a Christian, you see, the staff for the land and the boat for the sea.” (p 67).

The Lass of Aughrim (The Lass of Roch Royal) – Child # 76
This ballad is known by several names, including ‘The Lass of Roch Royal’, ‘Lord Gregory’ and ‘Mirk Mirk’.  The version I am most familiar with is that by Elizabeth Cronin from Baile Mhúirne, Co. Cork, which is a beautiful, sad and haunting tale of a young woman who is left at the gates of her lover’s castle with her young baby in her arms, turned away by his heartless mother. However, I have recently rediscovered John Huston’s adaptation of James Joyce’s short story, The Dead, where Frank Patterson sings a version of ‘The Lass of Aughrim’.  This ballad has deep meaning in the context of this story, not least in terms of the complex relationship between the central character, Gabriel Conroy, and his wife, Gretta. In this version, after being asked to reveal her identity, the woman tells the sorry tale of her liaison with Gregory, her baby lying ‘cold in her arms’.

The Well Below the Valley (The Maid and the Palmer) – Child # 21
Tom Munnelly, the great collector of traditional song, recorded this ballad from the wonderful traveller singer, John Reilly, in 1965. The importance of this collecting is highlighted by the fact that this song was thought to have died out in oral tradition 150 years previously. The ballad is surely one of the most disturbing and thought provoking of all the Child ballads, with its themes of incest and infanticide. Biblical references are strong, resonating with the stories of the Samaritan woman at the well and Mary Magdalene. The ending, however, gives the hope of redemption as the woman asserts that ‘the Lord above will save me soul from porting in hell’. John Reilly lived from c 1926-1969. Born in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, he travelled in his youth and eventually settled in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, where he was recorded by Tom Munnelly.

Information on Hammy’s Songs

Annan Water (Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow) - Child # 215
I learned this version of Child 215 from the singing of Cof McGrath in early 70s Belfast. In retrospect, I think this may well be the version that Nick Jones was singing around the same time. Also known by the title Allan Water, similar versions were published in Ramsay’s Tea Table Miscellany, 1729, and Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 1832.
Annan Water is a river in Dumfries, and Annan itself is the ancestral home of Robert the Bruce.

True Lover John (The Grey Cock) – Child # 248
This version of Child 248, I was extremely lucky to have started singing at a time in the north when I constantly met and heard singers such as Joe Holmes, Geordie Hanna, Sarah Ann O’Neil and of course Len Graham. I learned this from the singing of Len Graham and Joe Holmes. Although not clear in this, and other versions, the conceit of the song is that the girl is actually welcoming her lover’s ghost, which explains why he leaves before dawn.

The Dreary Gallows (The Maid Freed from the Gallows) – Child # 95
In Child’s versions of this song, it is a girl that’s rescued at the last moment by her lover, having been refused by her family. In the Irish versions, commonly known as The Streets of Derry, it is a man being hung.  Like many songs, hearing just one version sometimes gives an incomplete idea of the story. In other versions than this one, it is clear that he has been rejected by his family, but saved by his lover. This particular version is that given in the Henry collection.

Captain Wedderburn’s Courtship - Child # 46
There are versions of this song in many European traditions. The idea of a trial by riddle is an extremely ancient one, and almost every culture has a version of this story. This version, or one like it, is widely sung in Ireland, and is almost certainly a Scottish import. I first heard it from Belfast singer, now resident in Mayo, Terry Browne, but it is very similar to the version that Joe Heany sang. 

The Gaberlunyie Man (The Jolly Beggar) - Child # 279
This version of the song led me a merry dance before I was able to pin it down. I got this from the singing of Belfast singer, Brian Moore, and had an incomplete version in what passes for my memory. Various enquiries failed to turn up Brian’s version of it, and I had almost given up hope when Róisín White pointed me in the direction of the seminal Topic Voice of the People recordings, and the singing of Lizzie Higgins. What I found there was really only a fragment, but comparing it with the printed version in Child, I realised that the version I was seeking was in fact a blending of the two.
Audio Recordings from the Concert 
Recorded and Produced by Michael Fortune.
Video Documentation of Concert
Recorded and Produced by Michael Fortune.

Sandra Joyce and Hammy Hamilton

National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

Wednesday 17th of December 2014

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