From Puck to Appleby: Songs of Irish Travellers in England, Incorporating Early in the Month of Spring

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From Puck to Appleby: Songs of Irish Travellers in England, incorporating Early in the Month of Spring

2 CDs, MTCD 325-26, Musical Traditions, 2003. [pounds sterling]16.

Available From Musical Traditions, 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 2HD

From Puck to Appleby is a superb double CD collection of songs of Irish Travellers in England from field recordings made by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie. The recordings were made between 1973 and 1985. The CDs are crammed to capacity, providing fifty-five songs in 160 minutes. The collection also includes an excellent booklet, providing not only a background to the recordings, but the words to the songs and something of their history.

The Irish Travellers were horse traders, travelling from Kerry to Yorkshire and beyond, season to season. However, by the 1970s, when Jim and Pat first met them, their traditional lifestyle had already more or less come to an end. Jim and Pat reveal that 'When we first made contact with the Irish Travellers in 1973, only one family we met had a pony.' It is clear without Jim and Pat's work that many of the songs and stories included in this collection would have been lost for ever. Katey Dooley, the younger sister of two of the Travellers, when asked for a song, summed up the situation by saying 'I'm sorry; it's a lot of years ago since I sing it. My daddy used to sing it and we young, but you see, we got modernised; we don't sing them now at all.'

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The first thing that you notice is that while all unaccompanied, intonation is perfect and rhythms steady. It is clear that the words are meant to be listened to. The singers are story-tellers, passing on their own family histories and culture. These were not songs meant as performances. They were for singing by the fireside in the intimacy of the family--perhaps after the pub had closed.

There are some well known ballads in the collection--for example, 'Lady in her Father's Garden', 'The Factory Girl' and 'Barbary Ellen'. Travellers often sang songs common to the Irish ballad tradition. However, the collection also contains some rare gems of songs specific to the Travellers' own way of life. 'Pop's' (Johnny O'Connor's) lovely lilting rhythm in his rendition of 'Gum Shellac'--a song he wrote himself--is a good example. 'Pop's' was apparently an activist for Travellers' rights during the 1960s. 'Gum Shellac' proudly proclaims, 'We are the travelling people, like the Picts or Beaker folk.'

'The Rambling Candyman' is another good example of the Travellers' style of singing. Here 'Rich' Johnny Connors has put his own words to an earlier song, 'Travelling Candyman'. …