Reviews of VT119CD 'Catch me if you can'


 

"Catch me if you Can" is sub-titled "Songs from Cornish Travellers" and is the product of recordings made by Pete Coe in 1978. We hear the voices of Betsy and Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg (mother of Vic Legg, who features on "Ive Come to Sing a Song" VT129CD). In his notes, Coe reports the ladies asking him, "Why do you want to record us singing these songs?" The record is the answer.

 

This is not the place to catalogue all the tracks or to pick out highlights, but I have a particular affection for "Dark Eyed Sailor" and "The Crabfish" in their many varied forms, and these versions lend a genuine sense of the original to well-worn favourites. I was particularly interested in the "Stepdance Tunings" which echo the mouth music found in various elements of British music and beyond. Throughout the album, the voice quality is tremendous. The recording is clear and precise. As with all Veteran material, the accompanying booklet is informative and in no way pre-supposes absent knowledge. This is a gem.

Mardles

 

Staying with traditional singing gypsy women, here's a CD subtitled "Songs from Cornish Travellers," recorded by Pete Coe in 1978. At the time of recording Betsy Renals, Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg were 78, 77 and 60 years old respectively. These three sisters were all members of the Orchard family who spent the early part of the last century travelling round Cornwall in a horse-drawn wagon, hawking brushes, wicker baskets, drapery rugs and ornaments. An integral part of this way of life was singing and making music, and what we have here is an opportunity to hear three genuine "song carriers," who learnt their repertoire from family and friends. It's a wonderfully varied repertoire too, encompassing traditional songs like "The Dark-Eyed Sailor," "The Bonny Bunch of Roses" and "Lord Lovell," comic "ditties" like "The Crabfish" and "Just Beginning to Sprout" to broadside ballads like "Young Billy Taylor." Throw in some "step-dance tuning" (lilting), a few music-hall numbers and some marvellous spoken reminiscences and humorous asides and it all adds up to a superbly realised and heart warming package.

Greenman Reviews

 

Back in the 1970s Pete Coe asked Cornish singer Vic Legg for the source of some his unusual songs. Vic answered "From Mother, and my two Aunties". Pete eventually recorded Mum and the Aunties for a cassette issued by Veteran Tapes; now known as 'Veteran'. Veteran lately'started a policy of bringing backcatalogue tapes onto CD, hence this very welcome release.

Sophie Legg was 60 at the time of recording. Betsy and Charlotte were 78 and 77 respectively. As daughters of the well-known Orchard family of travellers they led a life in which singing, music making, and dancing were everyday pastimes. Like most travellers, and most traditional singers in fact, their repertoire spans a range wherein comic songs and tear-jerkers, stand alongside ballads found in the folk collections. They sing with total enjoyment and lack of inhibition. Charlotte gets the giggles at the end of 'The Crabfish', just the way you should, while Sophie ends 'Thorneymoor Woods' with the line 'That damned old Judge can kiss my arse'.

 

They also do full justice to ballads like 'Lord Lovell', and 'Van Diemans Land', and although there are familiar titles included they are not always in familiar versions, making interesting and enjoyable listening. The biographical notes and vintage photographs ('Young Victor' looks just like his Mum) add to a production we can all delight in.

The Living Tradition

 

These recordings, made by Peter Coe in 1978, come from three members of a well-known West Country travelling family, the Orchards. The cassette not only performs the useful service of featuring women traditional singers, who are grossly under-represented on other available recordings, but it is a little gem into the bargain.
 

The subtitle, 'Songs from Cornish Travellers', could very well be changed to 'A warning take by me', for most of the items are cautionary songs on the relationships between the sexes, seen from a woman's point of view. 'So all you women free/Keep your spirits up like me/And never let your husband cow you down' is the conclusion of 'Good for Nothing Man', a song new to me. The advice elsewhere to 'Keep your hand on your little ball of yarn' comes out in all seriousness, and a coda to 'All Fours' reflects on how 'that's where a woman can conquer a man'.
 

In various ways, women triumph - and perhaps it takes women singers to remind us that this is the case - in fresh versions of 'The Farmer from Leicester', 'The outlandish Knight', 'The Dark-eyed Sailor', and 'The Farmer and Lady' (a variant on 'The Golden Glove', with a purse substituted for the glove). Where women are victims - in 'Down by the old Riverside', 'Down by the Shannon Side' and the title song - then a warning is given, explicitly or otherwise.
 

This is not to suggest that the singers have an overtly didactic approach. How could they, when they include versions of 'The Crabfish', 'Seventeen come Sunday', and various demotic fragments? Only a few items, though - including 'Thorneymoor Woods' and 'More trouble in our native land' (better known, perhaps, as 'Far, far away on the banks of the Nile') - diverge from what I am sure is the unconscious theme of the CD.
 

The singing is tuneful, diction clear, and pace unhurried. The whole has the warmth and dignity which are among the hallmarks of traditional performers. Listening to this album is a wonderfully enriching experience.

English Dance and Song

 

These songs were originally released on a cassette tape of the same name in the 1990s. The originals have been faithfully re-mastered with seven more songs added to the original track list making a grand total of twenty-eight.
 

They are from field recordings made by Pete Coe in 1978 and are remarkably clear considering the equipment available at that time! As such they represent an excellent collection of songs from Cornwall many of which are still being sung today, notably by Sophie Legg's son Vic!


Sophie and her sisters were born into one of the best known West Country travelling families, the Orchards. Their early life was spent travelling the lanes of north Cornwall hawking haberdashery from their horse-drawn wagon. The songs were passed down through their family or learned from other travellers, often at meetings round the camp fire. All the songs are unaccompanied with some very interesting versions of well known traditional works such as Ball of Yam, Young Billy Taylor (William Taylor), Van Dieman's Land, Jim The Carter Lad and Lord Lovell. There are also some examples of 'tuning' which was mouth music used to accompany step dances. In keeping with the travellers attitude that if a song is worth singing it doesn't matter where it comes from there is a wide range of styles represented.
 

The singing is clear and tonal each of the sisters having their own style. It's a pleasure to listen to right through from start to finish although, due to the fact that it is all unaccompanied, it can perhaps be better listened to as an archive resource being dipped into as and when required.
 

The CD is accompanied with full notes, written by Pete Coe and Mike Yates, on the singers and the songs. This thoroughness of information has come to be expected from Veteran albums of course.
 

If you enjoy unaccompanied singing from the tradition and unpretentious delivery of the same I'm sure you'll like this CD and want to add it to your collection.

Lancashire Wakes

 

One of the delightful duties of folknews is to alert readers to what is available now on CD. This one, let me tell you, sets the standard for excellence when it comes to tradition -- in this case gypsy -- singers. Pete Coe's accompanying 20-page booklet has copious song-notes and biographies, as well as Z charming photos of the singers (all related of course to Vic Legg of Bodmin). This CD is greatly expanded from the original cassette, and is highly recommended.

Folknews Kernow

 

Field recordings have their own charm. Unadorned by instrumentation/ the songs stand or fall by the intensity generated by the singers and the quality of the stories they tell. This offering from Veteran is well up to the usual standard in terms of interest and rarity.

 

The three singers here/ Betsy Renals, Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg were recorded by Pete Coe in March 1978, by which time Sophie was 60 and her sisters in their late seventies. Their songs had become well-known through the singing of Vie Legg, and subsequently were more widely recorded. It is fascinating therefore to return to the raw material, which covers a wide range from daft catches through lewd bawdry to genuine poignancy. If ever it was needed, here is a reminder that singers had songs for all seasons and were by no means restricted in their choice. I enjoyed the wistfulness of The Bonny Bunch Of Roses set against The Lonely Widow, not a melancholy but a Music-Hall ditty. Sometimes in the background you can here one or other sister giggling at the more risque verses; a whole-hearted response to a warm-hearted song. The sleeve notes are well-written & informative: there's more about 'The Crabfish' than I think I needed to know, but it's helpful to understand the context of the Game Laws in 'Thorneymoor Woods' and the European parallels in 'A Man From The North Land'. In the best tradition of Veteran notes, these add information whilst preserving the vitality of the performances themselves. For these are living songs, though two of the singers died twenty years ago. The issue of this CD will help to ensure their preservation for another generation looking for sources. Although studio versions based on these recordings will undoubtedly differ, what will come through is the power of the unadorned lyric to move the listener. And its important that this should continue to give us a sense of how we became who we are. History isn't bunk. Pete Coe is to be applauded for the foresight to rig up his recorder and get it down.

Folk in Kent

 

I've known my old friend Vic Legg for many years and I have often wondered upon the source of his many great songs. Well, I can tell you now that quite a few came from the singers featuring on this latest Veteran CD or to put it another way, from his very own family. Songs, some of which have been passed down through generations of travelling people as a living tradition have been included and then there are also less ancient items that the family have added to their repertoire in more recent times.
 

Betsy Renals, Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg were recorded by Pete Coe in 1978 when respectively, they were 78, 77 and 60 years old. Many of the 28 tracks have appeared previously on Veteran cassettes but according to the notes, there are seven that have never previously been released.
 

Gipsy songs sung without musical instruments are not everyone's cup of tea but no one could deny that the singers put their hearts into each of their songs and the clarity of the words was the first thing that struck me.

The ladies voices are less harsh than some of the Gipsy singers that I have heard in the past - more front room than campfire and it makes for pleasant listening. They sing each song individually without any harmonies or unnecessary embellishments, a tradition must have protected the quality of the tunes and as the CD progresses the individual characteris-tics of the singer's voices become apparent.
 

The ladies are a part of the Orchard family so well known in our area and it was no surprise to me to find that some of the lengthy family ballads had been included on the CD. The responsibility of singing the ancient ballads, such as The Farmer from Leicester, The Dark Eyed Sailor and a version of The Outland-ish Knight, has been entrusted to Charlotte. The more recent songs that include the Bonny Bunch of Roses, Van Diemans Land and Sophie's version of Jim the Carter Lad (not sung to the usual tune), have been shared almost equally between the three singers as have the music hall ditties with Betsy singing Just Beginning to Sprout and Charlotte singing Oh Where, Oh Where has My Little dog Gone?
 

If you are interested in the songs of the travelling people and especially those of South West England, then you should buy this CD. The production is excellent when you consider that the recordings were made in 1978 and the accompanying booklet of rotes, compiled by Pete Coe and Mike Yates is of great interest.

What's Afoot

 

Subtitled "Songs Of Cornish Travellers", this CD is a sensibly expanded reissue of a collection of field recordings made by Pete Coe of the singing of Sophie, Betsy and Charlotte, who were born into one of the best-known of the West Country travelling families, the Orchards, Sophie, Betsy and Charlotte are mother and aunts respectively of that incorrigible Cornish singer Vic Legg, who acknowledges the three as primary sources for much of his own repertoire. Pete's own personal quest for the sources of the interesting and unusual songs he'd heard Vic sing on his home territory (Bodmin Folk Club) in the 1970s finally led to him being granted the privilege of recording these ladies in March 1978; at the time, the three were aged 60, 78 and 77 respectively, but all were still in good - and distinctive - voice, considering their years, Sophie's understated fragility perhaps being especially captivating. These recordings, originally released on cassette, are augmented for this fulsome (76-minute) CD reissue by the inclusion of no less than seven extra tracks recorded at the same time, all previously unreleased. The songs presented here embrace many that either stem directly from the traveller tradition (like the "catchy" The track) or carry within that tradition their own, often unique variants, alongside some oft-collected ballads (Dark-eyed Sailor, Bonny Bunch Of Roses, Sailor Cut Down In His Prime) and a few of either definite or probable music-hall origin (Standard Bread, The Lonely Widow, Just Beginning To Sprout). This is an enchanting disc: a useful and invaluable record of songs sung in this particular tradition, which in this new incarnation will surely also provide plenty of source material for many a revival singer for a long time to come. The excellent and insightful booklet notes prove of considerable assistance in this respect, of course; no texts are provided, though you'll probably not need them, as the need them, as the singers' diction is virtually faultless.

Folk Roundbout

 

Betsy Renals, Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg - these sisters were born into the orchard family, a very extensive family of Travellers in the West Country, Sophie being the mother of Vic Legg, who carries on the tradition to this day . The recordings were made by Pete Coe in 1978 and have been remastered for CD by Paul Marsh. The girls early life was spent travelling the roads of North Cornwall as hawkers - selling brushes, baskets, haberdashery etc. and most of the family were singers and step dancers of note.
 

I love traditional singers and here we have three super singers, all with their own style, Charlotte clear and direct, Betsy and Sophie softer, all three tuneful and good at timing a song for maximum effect. The songs range from very old ballads to later lyrical folk songs and a few sentimental and comic songs. Many of the songs here were, and still are, popular with the gypsy community in the West country. For many years the travellers have been a vast repository of British traditional song and have kept alive much that has been lost in other areas of society. On this CD The Man from the North - a version of The Outlandish Knight - can be traced back to a German Broadside of c1550, and researchers believe story came from the steppes of Russia before the birth of Christ! Other old ballads include the Saucy Crabf1sh which can be traced back to c1330-1400. There are many songs that appeared in Broadsides of the 18th Century - although lots of the songs dated to many years before publication- including the ubiquitous Seventeen come Sunday of which Sharp collected no fewer 26 versions (and other collectors found more in Canada and Ireland) a splendid version of the well travelled Sailor cut down in his Prime and the excellent Down By the Shannon Side
 

There are two sets of Tuning (what the Irish call diddling) that is, singing a mixture of verses and nonsense rhymes as an accompaniment to step dancing, and a few songs that came from the Music Hall. All the songs are sung with great feeling and I found the whole thing an absolute pleasure, if you like old singers singing old songs, you'll love this CD!


The CD booklet - with notes by Pete Coe and Mike Yates - gives a good account of the lives of the sisters with detailed notes about the songs. The production is the usual high standard that we always get from Veteran.

Shreds & Patches

 

This CD reissues Pete Coe's 1978 recordings of Betsy and Charlotte Renals and Shophie Legg (aunts and mother, respectively to Vic Legg).

 

The CD contains twenty-eight tracks, all of unaccompanied solo song from the three singers. All three singers have strong and distinctive voices, and the material here covers everything from well-known ballads (The Outlandish Knight - here known as "Man From the North") to comic songs (The Crabfish), often in interesting variants of both tune and words. Many of these variants are pleasantly and distinctly compact in comparison to their many versed counterparts elsewhere in the tradition; the song tunes are full of the lilt and musicality typical of Traveller's song, and coupled with the clarity of delivery this makes the disc a potentially great source of songs for new singers.

 

I found the step dance tuning particularly fascinating, incorporating in the singing of Sophie and Betsy far more "words" than I was familiar with from recordings of other singers, here featuring whole verses (including here a snatch of "Poor Man's Labours").

 

In common with the recent Mustrad releases one of the most exciting aspects of this CD is the excellent booklet material. The biographical notes are enlightening and detailed, and capture a sense of the people, and the part that music played in their lives. The notes don't extend as far as a transcription of the words to the songs, but that is perhaps the only omission in an excellently put together package.

English Dance and Song

 


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