Tuesday, 7 February 2017

she moved through the fair, and the major

When I was looking out information on She Moved Through The Fair (before singing it at folk club - links below), I found out, among other things, that one of the earliest recordings of it (if not the earliest, commercial at least) is the one I've got by Father Sydney MacEwan - and that the piano on that is being played by the Major, Duncan Morison. Recorded in London on Wednesday 18th March, 1936, apparently.


The Major's Herald obituary is here.

The first in a sequence of Youtube videos of him being given the Freedom of the Western Isles is here.

When I asked about him on Facebook, Anna said, 'I heard my mother talk of how he had been a society pianist, playing for the (later) Queen Mother's set, was well acquainted with the Mitfords. I still can't hear the Little Drummer Boy without seeing him in my mind's eye, fingers flying over the keys, head moving in time to the music, eyes closed and clearly somewhere other than a chilly music room with snotty wee primary kids!'

I replied, 'Yes, I have similar memories. Though I also remember thinking, ungraciously, who's this old guy and why do our teachers seem to think he's such a big deal...'

My mother said, 'He was a wonderful raconteur, and what fascinating stories he had to tell. As Anna says, he was a great favourite at grand London society soirees. He was a close friend of Lady Londonderry, often staying in her homes in London and Ireland. In fact, he continued to spend time in Ireland until he was well on in years.
He travelled extensively with Father Sydney MacEwan. They even gave a concert for Goering just before the outbreak of war! What a pity that he didn't write an autobiography – it would have been a bestseller.'

As far as She Moved Through The Fair goes, there are some links below. It's interesting that the song, as it exists, is not as old as one thinks: people are determined to believe that Padraic Colum, who published it in 1909, collected rather than wrote the words, as he claimed, even in the absence of evidence of the pre-existence of the song in anything like that form.

What is also interesting is how many places attribute the introduction of the 'love' being 'dead' to Margaret Barry's version from the 50s which they believe most subsequent singers have drawn on, when in fact both Sydney MacEwan's 30s version and John McCormack's 40s version sing of the 'dead love' (even people who link to recordings by Sydney and John do this). One can't help thinking that the priority placed on Margaret Barry's version is because it's felt to be more authentic because she was an Irish traveller recorded singing it, whereas in fact (she is reported as saying) she learnt it off the John McCormack record. I suspect it is more often the case than people imagine that someone recorded by a song collector is singing a song not handed down from generation to generation in the preservation of a tradition but learnt off a record, or learnt from someone who learnt it off a record.

And it's funny to think of having been in primary school, singing in our class with Duncan Morison at the piano, he who had played on that possibly first recording of She Moved Through The Fair.

Mainly Norfolk. Wikipedia. Mudcat (lots of related content on Mudcat). Very detailed info on the Jopiepopie blog (including photos and links). And the National Library of Scotland (which details the original recording information of the Sydney MacEwan version, though it set me off on bad searching by spelling Morison wrongly).

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