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‘Sound creates story and story creates sound’

Music, to me, has always served as a portal to conjuring characters and stories. As the plot of Captain Swing and the Blacksmith is taken from song fragments, it was a natural progression to accompany the book with an album - or soundtrack. I was lucky enough to be able to work with some fine singers and musicians. The recording has contributions, most notably from folk singer/musician Emmie Ward, singer/songwriter Rebecca Hollweg, accordionist Pete Watson, violinist Frank Biddulph, singer Gili Orbach, bassist Andy Hamill and engineer Simon Christophers.

The Blacksmith

‘A blacksmith courted me, nine months and better…’ I’m not sure why, but this tune stole my heart. The heroine is justifiably wounded by her roguish blacksmith, who behaves according to archetype. There is a long tradition of viewing blacksmiths as ‘other’, dating back to the Greek Hephaestus, the blacksmith son of Hera. The Norse/Saxon tale of Wayland Smith mirrors this myth. Wayland was a skilled blacksmith, highly valued by the gods and nobility. A barrow mound, high up on the Berkshire Downs, is said to be his forge. Revered for their alchemic skill at moulding metals into tools and weapons, blacksmiths were perhaps closer to the gods than mere mortals. In Celtic hierarchy, they were just below the bards in rank.

 

It is thought that the song The Blacksmith originates from Norfolk. The line ‘with his good black billy cock on’ refers to the first bowler hats, originating from the Coke estate in the 1840s - the ‘cock’ spelling perhaps derived from a vernacular pronunciation of ‘Coke’.

 

Trad. Arr. Frank Biddulph, Simon Christophers, Emmie Ward

Vocals: Emmie Ward

Violin: Frank Biddulph

Drum: Simon Christophers

Go From My Window

Go from my Window is part of the huge tradition of night visit songs that stretches back for millennia. Sometimes the seducer is a ghost of the girl’s dead lover who enters and makes love to her. This motif is found in literature, most notably in the novel Wuthering Heights. Here, the tradition is reversed with the female phantom, Catherine Earnshaw, calling for her male lover.

 

Trad. Arr. Emmie Ward, Gili Orbach

Vocals: Gili Orbach, Emmie Ward

Flute and drone: Emmie Ward

Country Life

A traditional song celebrating the seasons.

 

Trad. Arr. Frank Biddulph, Emmie Ward

Vocals: Frank Biddulph, Beatrice Parvin, Gili Orbach

Schottische

The Schottische, a dance originating in Bohemia, became part of the folk repertoire across 19th century Europe. Its jaunty step, consisting of two side steps and then a swift turn in four, is exhilarating to dance and puts your head in a spin.

 

The joy in our version is cut dead, all of a sudden, to chime with a scene in the novel where Sue oversteps the mark at a country dance.

 

Trad. Arr. Frank Biddulph, Beatrice Parvin, Pete Watson

Violin: Frank Biddulph

Accordion: Pete Watson

Captain Swing Waltz no.1

Frank wrote this original theme for the novel which echoes Sue’s circular journey through the Wiltshire landscape, after which she eventually finds resolution.

 

Written and arranged by Frank Biddulph

Violin: Frank Biddulph

Piano: Pete Watson

Betsey Bobbin

One of the main themes in the novel is buttons. It is difficult to create a historical female character without incorporating some element of haberdashery. Poverty meant any scrap of material or accessory was highly prised and without mass production, expensive. Before zips, buttons were the main fastening method and were often decorated, some telling stories.

 

Emmie found this nursery rhyme about a tailor in love with his Betsey Bobbin. It is told through highly poetic phrasing, using material metaphors to describe her beauty: ‘On velvet runs my courting… from needle thread my fingers fled… her skin to me, like dimity, her pattern gay of beauty.’ The problem was that there was no tune…

 

So, Dave Swarbrick wrote this haunting melody that expresses passionate longing to perfection, suiting Emmie’s soulful folk voice magnificently.

 

Lyrics trad. Melody written by Dave Swarbrick

Vocals: Emmie Ward

Violin: Frank Biddulph

Arr. Emmie Ward

Captain Swing Waltz no. 2

The waltz theme is echoed on the piano illustrating a scene where Sue watches, through a window, the rich Maria Dean playing the then new musical form.

 

Frank Biddulph. Arr. Pete Watson

Piano: Pete Watson

Polly Vaughan

This ballad tells the tragic story of a man who kills his sweetheart because he mistakes her for a swan. Thought to be Irish in origin, it could tell the story of a real life 19th century tragedy, as one version uses particular surnames pointing at Anglo/Irish differences. Yet, there are versions dating back to the 17th century. It could have its roots in far older myths and be a re-telling of the Greek tragedy of Procris.

 

The Swan symbol is a powerful one and tales of metamorphosis abound. Elements of story that possibly derive from the Irish myth The Daughters of Lir, who were turned into swans for 300 years by their jealous step-mother, are found in British folk tales such as Wayland Smith. Whilst out hunting, he and his brothers encounter three swan maidens bathing in human form. He kidnapped Allwise, the most beautiful, and hid her swan wings so that she could not escape.

 

Trad. Arr. Frank Biddulph, Emmie Ward

Vocals: Emmie Ward

Violin: Frank Biddulph

Captain Swing and the Blacksmith

As the language and character is interwoven with stolen fragments of folksong, it was logical to then return the novel to song. Skilled songwriter, Rebecca Hollweg, managed to condense 365 pages of narrative into a six-verse folksong. The result was a new lyrical ballad, Captain Swing and the Blacksmith.

 

Words and music by Rebecca Hollweg

Vocals and piano: Rebecca Hollweg

Harmonies: Emmie Ward, Gili Orbach

Violin: Frank Biddulph

Double bass: Andy Hamill

 

Vocals on chorus: Evelyn, Nicholas and Frank Biddulph, Beatrice Parvin, Alison Craig, Gili Orbach, Mia Orbach Otterbu, Oscar and Pat Cotton, Emmie Ward, Ruby and Andy Hamill, Friedericke Huber.

Across the Plain and down the years, a tale of women’s lives

Of hardship born of motherhood, unless they should be wives

Of buttons found and buttons sold, of virtue lived and lost

A trail of broken promises, a girl who paid the cost

 

Chorus

So, it’s bread not blood we sing

And our voice flows from the pen of Captain Swing

 

Below the Plain and in the town, a girl is loved and left

A blacksmith weds her wealthy friend and leaves the girl bereft

Though full of charms a lying man, a gambler and a cheat

He crafts sharp spurs of finest steel to fit his cockerel’s feet

Chorus

 

Around the Plain and on the hills the workers were oppressed

They sought out those with writing skills their grievance to express

Her father wrote but paid in blood, his daughter fallen now

The shame he said I can’t forgive and drove her from the home

Chorus

 

The woods were full of blackberries, the nights were soft and mild

Three days they slept among the leaves, the woman and her child

With winter sharpness in the air, it’s just the spike remains

But spirit helped her carry on to Imber on the Plain

 

On top the Plain a village sits a place to work and stay

A laundress and a nursing maid, the seasons roll away

A doctor’s grief an act of love, a yellow silken dress

A step along the button trail a chance to start afresh

 

Amongst the trees a cottage stood and here the lovers met

An empty cottage in that wood where once the girl had slept

But as he took her in his arms and claimed her as his own

She only felt her blacksmith’s charms and longed for him alone

Chorus

 

Written and arranged by Rebecca Hollweg

Captain Swing and the Blacksmith