The world is not short of recordings of this very popular song. This is a variation on an instrumental version I recently rediscovered, having performed it quite a lot in the 70s. I plan to use a more polished version in a forthcoming project.
I’ve heard too many gorgeously sung versions of this to add my own indifferent vocals to the pot (in fact my friend Sally Goddard sang it beautifully on an Atlantic Union CD), but I do want to include it in a recording project, so this is a sketch for an instrumental version. It needs work, of course – it’s much too ‘busy’ at the moment – but I think there are possibilities here. It fits because I’m planning to include a couple of my own Yeats settings. However, the well-known melody used here doesn’t need replacing by any tune of mine. 🙂
After I wrote a review of the CD ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (by Michael Raven and Joan Mills), in which I specifically mentioned that Michael had set When I Was One and Twenty to the tune better known as Brigg Fair, I had a thought. I mentioned in passing in that article that the theme of the poem is not dissimilar to that of the Yeats poem (based on an imperfectly remembered folk song) Down By The Salley Gardens. The Yeats poem was published in 1889, and A Shropshire Lad was published in 1896, so it’s very likely that Housman knew the Yeats poem, though for all I know, he may have written his own poem before he came upon Salley Gardens. I’m not sure it matters all that much: I’m not doing a PhD thesis. 🙂
Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.
In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.
Anyway, a quick turn around the fretboard demonstrates that the melody Maids of Mourne Shore, the one most commonly associated with Down By The Salley Gardens since Hughes used it for his setting in 1909, would also work with When I was One and Twenty. As would any of the other tunes associated with or set to the Yeats poem, I guess. Oddly enough, the melody to The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, usually assumed to be the song that Yeats was trying to recreate, probably wouldn’t work so well, at any rate without some modification to accommodate the length of the lines. According to the music historian A.V. Butcher, Butterworth‘s setting to One and Twenty was related to a folk melody, but which one is unknown. Certainly the setting doesn’t ring any bells with me.
This is a very young, very bitter song. I was actually playing with it in Garageband recently as a guitar piece, but the words came back to haunt me. I think I may change them, but the arrangement has promise.
(Vocal is a bit ropey: heavy cold…)
Miles of air is all I need
Jab on the starter and pick up speed
Stand back lady and watch me feed my heels
Got to get you out of my head
There’s new juice keeping my motor fed
From today I’m the fastest thing on wheels
You’re birdlime baby
And you should know
You’re bad news baby
Everywhere you go
I find myself in an unusual position. (Steady! Not that sort of position.) I’ve played guitar and/or bass with ceilidh bands from time to time since the 1970s, but have never rehearsed with one until recently.
Which got me thinking that one or two tunes might fit quite nicely into a recording project I’m hatching. This is a sketch only for one possibility. It includes far too many guitars (probably one part would be a bass with just one second guitar to put in some sparse countermelodies) and the actual tune gets buried at some points: it’s just that this has some bits I wanted to keep for reference. I believe the tune was originally recorded in 1909 by Cecil Sharp from John Locke in Leominster. This interpretation is based on a vaguely-remembered recording from the 60s by Jon and Mike Raven. I think this was the record (with Jean Ward): SONGS OF THE BLACK COUNTRY AND THE WEST MIDLANDS.
I’m tempted to buy it, but then I’d have to learn the tune properly. 😉