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Thread: Willie O' Winsbury

  1. #1
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Willie O' Winsbury

    An old ballad, here done as an instrumental (too many verses for me to sing) with mandolins, guitars and bass.



    As usual, the origin story is rather murky. Willie O’ Winsbury (Child Ballad 100, Roud 64) is perhaps of Scottish origin. Nowadays it is usually performed to the tune of another old song, Fause Foodrage (Child 89) due to an error back in the 60’s. (Richard Thompson used this tune for his song Farewell, Farewell.)

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    Registered User Tug's Avatar
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    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    Pretty tune, thanks.

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    Thanks for that, Dave. As you may know, Child's collection of ballads didn't contain tunes, which were very hard to collect in his day, before recording equipment. Only a few highly skilled, musical scholars, such as Cecil Sharp who came after Child, have the ability to write tunes by hearing them in a one on one setting. Furthermore, Francis James Child was a scholar of English and German, and not of music. Another American, Bertrand Harris Bronson, later compiled a collection of traditional American tunes to the Child ballads. However, many folk singers interested in the Child ballads did not have tunes for them, so they took traditional tunes for other folk songs or instrumental music and used them when they agreed with the structure, meter, and mood of the songs themselves. This is quite an old practice, made evident by how many times the same folk song is sung to different tunes, and also by how many different folk songs are sung to one tune, e.g., many ballads are sung to the melodies of "Sweet Betsy from Pike," and "Dives and Lazarus." I'd be loathe to call "Willie of Winsbury" sung to this tune an "error." There are many versions of "Willie of Winsbury," with different titles, and different melodies, but the same story.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  7. #4
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    I recently got a copy of The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs by Steve Roud and Julia Bishop. They discuss both the text and melody of most of the songs they include. There's quite a range of variation in how tunes and lyrics are associated, as is typical of the trad world.

    Some songs are fairly stable in both components. Some have stable lyrics but several melodies - many of these were spread in broadsides (words only, no music) in the 18th/19th centuries. Others are quite variable in both text and music.

    As for Willie, Wikipedia says

    Andy Irvine sang "Willy O'Winsbury" on Sweeney's Men's eponymous debut album in 1968, accompanying himself on guitar. The recording featured the tune of "Fause Foodrage" (Child 89), which is now commonly used for "Willie O' Winsbury". On the album's sleeve notes, band member Johnny Moynihan wrote, "A ballad for which Andy is renowned. He got the text from Child's 'English and Scottish Ballads'; looking up the tune he got his numbers confused and emerged with the wrong air. By chance it suited the song very well".[3] In 2010, Irvine re-recorded the song with a fuller arrangement of the same tune for his album Abocurragh, adding: "This is Child 100. I collected the words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101. I'm not sure if this is true but it's a good story".[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_o_Winsbury

    Just where he might have been "looking up the tune" is not specified, and the second quote is even more ambiguous. Whatever it may have started as, it is a nice tune.

    There are also extensive discussions of Willie at

    https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=45832
    https://mainlynorfolk.info/anne.brig...owinsbury.html

    D.H.

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    Ranald 

  9. #5
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    Understood! Thanks, Dave.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  11. #6

    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    Never heard Andy Irvine’s version untilI just looked it up now (Sweeney’s Men are long time gone) although I have been listening to him a lot. I learned the song originally from Dick Gaughan who used his friend Andy’s version.

    I believe the tune as you play it is the Gordon Bok version, a lyric rewrite which was retitled The Arbutus, Paddy Graber’s work. Recording: Gordon Bok, Return To the Land.
    2009 Eastman 505
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    Mandoline or Mandolin: Similar to the lute, but much less artistically valuable....for people who wish to play simple music without much trouble —The Oxford Companion to Music

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  13. #7
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Cameron View Post
    Never heard Andy Irvine’s version untilI just looked it up now (Sweeney’s Men are long time gone) although I have been listening to him a lot. I learned the song originally from Dick Gaughan who used his friend Andy’s version.

    I believe the tune as you play it is the Gordon Bok version, a lyric rewrite which was retitled The Arbutus, Paddy Graber’s work. Recording: Gordon Bok, Return To the Land.
    Thanks - I haven't heard the Gordon Bok version, though one of my grad school roommates was a Bok fan and I saw him a number of times in the 70's.

    My take on it comes from Pentangle (including the intro) and probably also from Farewell, Farewell. Pentangle might have gotten it from Anne Briggs, who recorded it with Johnny Moynihan, bandmate of Andy Irvine, on bouzouki.

    I'll have to check out the GB song.

    D.H.

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    Thanks for that, Dave. As you may know, Child's collection of ballads didn't contain tunes, which were very hard to collect in his day, before recording equipment. Only a few highly skilled, musical scholars, such as Cecil Sharp who came after Child, have the ability to write tunes by hearing them in a one on one setting. Furthermore, Francis James Child was a scholar of English and German, and not of music. Another American, Bertrand Harris Bronson, later compiled a collection of traditional American tunes to the Child ballads. However, many folk singers interested in the Child ballads did not have tunes for them, so they took traditional tunes for other folk songs or instrumental music and used them when they agreed with the structure, meter, and mood of the songs themselves. This is quite an old practice, made evident by how many times the same folk song is sung to different tunes, and also by how many different folk songs are sung to one tune, e.g., many ballads are sung to the melodies of "Sweet Betsy from Pike," and "Dives and Lazarus." I'd be loathe to call "Willie of Winsbury" sung to this tune an "error." There are many versions of "Willie of Winsbury," with different titles, and different melodies, but the same story.
    While I can see where you're coming from, in this instance it may be justified to call it an "error" (or maybe a "fortuitous mistake"): Dave has already posted the reference for Andy Irvine trying to find the traditional tune for "Willie O'Winsbury" but reading the index reference wrong in the book he was using (I always thought it was Bronson, but may be wrong). By the time he discovered the mix-up, he had worked up the fabulous version that appeared on the first Sweeney's Men album and quite rightly stuck with it. As already mentioned above, Richard Thompson then took the same tune for "Farewell, Farewell", and again was quite open about having learned it from Sweeney's Men. More recently, Richard has reverted to singing the words of Willie O'Winsbury with the tune. Dick Gaughan I think uses a somewhat different tune

    Very nice recording, Dave. I also recorded the tune many many years ago on solo electric mandolin, as learned from the Fairport songbook -- I should revisit it sometime:

    https://youtu.be/Ax8zv03BQ00

    Martin

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  16. #9
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Willie O' Winsbury

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Jonas View Post
    While I can see where you're coming from, in this instance it may be justified to call it an "error" (or maybe a "fortuitous mistake"): Dave has already posted the reference for Andy Irvine trying to find the traditional tune for "Willie O'Winsbury" but reading the index reference wrong in the book he was using (I always thought it was Bronson, but may be wrong). By the time he discovered the mix-up, he had worked up the fabulous version that appeared on the first Sweeney's Men album and quite rightly stuck with it. As already mentioned above, Richard Thompson then took the same tune for "Farewell, Farewell", and again was quite open about having learned it from Sweeney's Men. More recently, Richard has reverted to singing the words of Willie O'Winsbury with the tune. Dick Gaughan I think uses a somewhat different tune

    Very nice recording, Dave. I also recorded the tune many many years ago on solo electric mandolin, as learned from the Fairport songbook -- I should revisit it sometime:

    https://youtu.be/Ax8zv03BQ00

    Martin
    See Post #5 above.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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