Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

House Of The Rising Sun

Noelle Cristen

The House of the Rising Sun” is a folk song from the United States. Also called “House of the Rising Sun” or occasionally “Rising Sun Blues“, it tells of a life gone wrong in New Orleans. The most successful version was recorded by the English rock group The Animals in 1964, which was a number one hit in the United Kingdom, United States, Sweden and Canada.

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I’m one

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new bluejeans
My father was a gamblin’ man
Down in New Orleans

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and trunk
And the only time he’s satisfied
Is when he’s on a drunk

—— organ solo ——

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun

Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I’m goin’ back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain

Well, there is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I’m one

Recorded in just one take on 18 May 1964, it started with a famous electric guitar A minor chord arpeggio by Hilton Valentine.

The performance took off with Eric Burdon’s lead vocal, which has been variously described as “howling”, “soulful”, and “deep and gravelly as the north-east English coal town of Newcastle that spawned him.”

Finally, Alan Price’s pulsating organ part (played on a Vox Continental) completed the sound.

Burdon later said, “We were looking for a song that would grab people’s attention,” and they succeeded: “House of the Rising Sun” was a true trans-Atlantic hit, topping both the UK pop singles chart (in July 1964) and the U.S. pop singles chart (two months later in September 1964, when it became the first British Invasion number one unconnected with The Beatles); it was the group’s breakthrough hit in both countries and became their signature song.

Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of “The House of the Rising Sun” is uncertain. Some musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as the “Unfortunate Rake” of the 18th century which were taken to America by early settlers.

Alan Price of the Animals has claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel, and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting.

The oldest known existing recording is by versatile Appalachian artists Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster and was made in 1933. Ashley said he had learned it from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley. Alger “Texas” Alexander’s “The Risin’ Sun,” recorded in 1928, is sometimes mentioned as the first recording, but is a completely different song.

The song might have been lost to obscurity had it not been collected by folklorist Alan Lomax, who, along with his father, was a curator of the Archive of American Folk Song for the Library of Congress. On an expedition with his wife to eastern Kentucky Lomax set up his recording equipment in Middlesborough, Kentucky in the house of a singer and activist called Tilman Cadle. On September 15, 1937 he recorded a performance by Georgia Turner, the 16 year-old daughter of a local miner. He called it “The Risin’ Sun Blues.” Lomax later recorded a different version sung by Bert Martin and a third sung by Daw Henson, both eastern Kentucky singers. In his 1941 songbook Our Singing Country, Lomax credits the lyrics to Turner, with reference to Martin’s version. According to his later writing, the melody bears similarities to a traditional English ballad, “Matty Groves”, recorded of course by Fairport Convention.

In late 1948 Lead Belly recorded a version called “In New Orleans” in the sessions that later became the album Lead Belly’s Last Sessions (1994, Smithsonian Folkways).

“In New Orleans” – Lead Belly

 Joan Baez recorded it in 1960 on her eponymous debut album.

In late 1961, Bob Dylan recorded the song for his first album, Bob Dylan, released in March 1962. Dylan claims a writer’s credit for the song.

In an interview on the documentary No Direction Home, Dave Van Ronk said that he was intending to record it at that time, and that Dylan copied his version. He recorded it himself soon thereafter in 1964 on Just Dave Van Ronk.

I had learned it sometime in the 1950s, from a recording by Hally Wood, the Texas singer and collector, who had got it from an Alan Lomax field recording by a Kentucky woman named Georgia Turner. I put a different spin on it by altering the chords and using a bass line that descended in half steps—a common enough progression in jazz, but unusual among folksingers. By the early 1960s, the song had become one of my signature pieces, and I could hardly get off the stage without doing it.
—Dave Van Ronk
In Suze Rotolo’s book that I am currently reading she is quoted as saying Dylan and Van Ronk had a big falling out over Dylan’s decision to record the song without discussiong it with Van Ronk, the book seems to be of the opinion that he (Van Ronk) never recorded it, evidently this is wrong.

Bob Dylan, Suze Rotolo, Dave Van Ronk


May 10, 2010 Posted by | Blast from The Past, Blues, Books, Folk, Old Music, Video | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Davy Graham

A Scholar and a Gentleman

October saw the release of the above which is perhaps the  first truely definitive Davy Graham compilation.

“When Davy Graham died last December, the British folk scene lost one of its most extraordinary and influential guitarists, for he was years ahead of his time. He was fascinated by traditional music, but also by blues, north African, Middle Eastern and Indian styles, and classical music.

It was impossible to guess what he would turn to next, and he brought a new experimental approach to the folk scene that persists today.

This new two-CD set concentrates on his most creative period, the 60s, and much comes from the Decca catalogue. It starts with the original 1963 version of his best-known guitar piece, Angi (later rerecorded as Anji).

There are also tracks from his influential 1965 album, Folk, Blues & Beyond,

folk blues and beond

which includes everything from Mingus to Dylan, and from the experimental Folk Roots, New Routes, recorded with singer Shirley Collins. Then there’s his treatment of a Bulgarian dance piece, a Purcell harpsichord work, and the extraordinary She Moved Thru’ the Bizarre, which switches from English folk song to a raga, and then back again. The man was a genius.”

“I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes” – Davy Graham

Graham was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England, to a Guyanese mother and a Scottish father. Although he never had any formal music lessons, he learnt to play the piano and harmonica as a child and then took up the guitar at the age of 12.

As a teenager, he was strongly influenced by the folk guitar player Steve Benbow, who had travelled widely with the army and played a guitar style influenced by Moroccan music.

At the age of 19, Graham wrote what was probably his most famous piece, at least for aspiring guitarists: the acoustic solo tune “Anji”. Colin Harper credits Graham with single-handledly inventing the concept of the folk guitar instrumental (whilst acknowledging that John Fahey was making a similar invention, simultaneously, in the U.S.).

Graham’s acoustic guitar solo “Angie”, named after his then girlfriend, appeared on his debut EP 3/4 AD in April 1962. The tune spread like wildfire through a generation of aspiring guitarists, changing its spelling as it went. Before the record was released, Bert Jansch had learnt it from a tape which Graham had lent to his half-sister, Jill Doyle, who was a friend of Jansch. Jansch included it on his 1965 debut album as “Angie”. But the spelling Anji became the most popular after it appeared in this way on Simon & Garfunkel‘s 1966 album Sounds of Silence, and it was as “Anji” that Chicken Shack recorded it for their 1969 100 Ton Chicken album.

“Anji” – Simon & Garfunkel

sounds of silence

One way that Graham came to the attention of guitarists was through his appearance in a 1959 TV film produced by Ken Russell, entitled Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze, in which he played an acoustic instrumental version of Cry Me a River.This was broadcast as part of the BBC TV arts series Monitor.

Graham introduced the DADGAD guitar tuning to British guitarists, though it is not clear if it originated with him. Its main attraction was that it allowed the guitarist more freedom to improvise in the treble while maintaining a solid underlying harmony and rhythm in the bass. While ‘non-standard’, or ‘non-classical’ tunings were widely practiced by guitarists before this (Open E and Open G tunings were in common use by blues and slide guitar players) his use of DADGAD introduced a second standard tuning to guitarists.

To buy the music of Davy Graham click HERE

To buy the music of Simon & Garfunkel click HERE

November 2, 2009 Posted by | Blues, Folk, Old Music, Video | , | 2 Comments

Boo Hewerdine

boo hererdine

Boo Heweredine is one of the many great undervalued songwriters.

At the end of the month he has a new album out which hopefully will address the problem and return him to the public spotlight

Here is a track from the album “God Bless The Pretty Things”, despite the familiar title the song is an original composition.

“Muddy Water” – Boo Hewerdine

Don’t know what I’m gonna do
Everything is broken in two
I miss my wife, son and daughter
I can see them now in the muddy water
Never underestimate
Those of us who dream and wait
I don’t wanna go, but I think I outta
You can get lost in the muddy water.

Who said anything about love
We’re animals after all
And everything we feel can be explained
Who said anything about time
It’s not yours and it’s not mine
Just different ways of getting through the day.

Did not do what I should
I nearly lost it good
But the CCTV camera never caught us
All that time in the muddy water

Who said anything about love…

Don’t know what am gonna do
Everything is broken in two
I miss my wife, son and daughter.
I can see them now in the muddy water.
Gonna leave you here in the muddy water
Gonna leave you here in the muddy water.

The song was originally recorded by Eddi Reader for her 2007 album “Peacetime”

god bless the pretty things

Boo Hewerdine (b. 1961, London) as Mark Hewerdine is an English singer-songwriter. His work includes lead singer and creative force behind The Bible, formed in the 1980s, and reformed in 1994, as well as solo recordings and work for film. He lives in Ely.

Hewerdine (born Mark Hewerdine) moved to Cambridge as a child, but returned to London in his late teens, and worked in a record shop. Suffering from agoraphobia, it was not a happy time of his life, and he was fired from his job after being wrongly accused of theft. Returning to Cambridge, he teamed up with a friend with similar experiences and started to write songs. They formed the short-lived Placebo Thing. He left Placebo Thing to join The Great Divide. They were heard by Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who recommended them to Ensign Records, where they cut three commercially unsuccessful singles. In 1985 Hewerdine, working once again in a record shop in Cambridge, formed The Bible, recruiting jazz drummer Tony Shepherd. They released an album of songs through the independent Norwich label Backs Records called Walking The Ghost Back Home.

The Bible became a fairly successful independent band, with a cult following spread mostly through word of mouth and live performances. Two tracks from the first album, Graceland and Mahalia were released as singles, but did not achieve very significant sales. The album however was very well received by music pundits, and this brought the band to the attention of Chrysalis Records. Signing to Chrysalis, Graceland and another track, Honey Be Good were (re)released as singles, and reached the lower end of the UK singles chart. A new album, Eureka followed, but failed commercially. In 1988, Hewerdine decided to leave the group and pursue solo projects. Calum MacColl and Neill MacColl from the group went on to form Liberty Horses.

At around this time Hewerdine met US “new country” singer Darden Smith, and this set him off in a new direction. Working together, he and Smith released a collaborative album, Evidence. Hewerdine also worked simultaneously on new solo songs, largely based on his earlier traumatic experiences in London. Eventually these were distilled down to produce the Ignorance album, released in 1992. Invited by Tori Amos to play support promoting these songs, Hewerdine managed to find a new audience and Ignorance and a single from the album, History, did relatively well commercially.

As Hewerdine’s star rose, he started to write for other artists, among them Eddi Reader, Clive Gregson and Christine Collister. The Bible reformed for a tour in 1994. Further solo album releases followed, such as 1996’s Baptist Hospital and 1999’s Thanksgiving. Meanwhile Hewerdine was asked by long-time friend Nick Hornby to contribute music to the soundtrack for the movie version of his book High Fidelity, whose subject (working in a record shop) was also very close to Hewerdine’s experiences.


To buy the music of Boo Hewerdine click HERE

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Folk, New Music, Video | , | 3 Comments

The Unthanks

the unthanks

There seems to be a rise in interest in both old and new music of the “traditional” genre, often termed “alt-folk” by the media ,it has to date gathered much critical acclaim without commercial return.

The Unthanks may be about to change that.

Here is a review of their album “Here’s The Tender Coming” from Uncut.

Playing both sides against the centre is one way to describe the approach that has brought Rachel Unthank and the Winterset success, the two sides in question being hardcore Northumbrian folk, and cutting-edge neo-classical arrangements.

Of more customary ways to update folk tradition – the electric guitars and muscular fiddle of, say, Seth Lakeman, or the electronica of Tunng – there has been no sign. Instead, the group have stayed resolutely focused on the sibling vocal harmonies of Rachel and sister Becky, delivered in the saltiest of Geordie accents and framed by backings that range from string quartets to minimalist piano codas reminiscent of Erik Satie.

First heard on 2005’s debut, ‘Cruel Sister’, the combination was brought into mournful majesty on 2007’s ‘The Bairns’, an album as bleak but bracing as a North Sea downpour, which won the group a Mercury Prize nomination and converts from way beyond the folk community (few of their peers can boast Radiohead and Robert Wyatt among their fanbase).

The expansion of the Winterset’s female quartet to a nine-piece lineup that includes bass and drums, along with their rebranding as The Unthanks, suggests a move towards the mainstream, but this third album follows seamlessly on from its predecessors. Not much has changed; piano duties pass from Stef Conner (herself a replacement for Belinda O’Hooley) to producer Adrian McNally (Rachel’s husband) and multi-instrumentalist Chris Price has also joined. The further four members, says McNally, are as much about giving the group extra oomph onstage as changing their sound.

The group have, however, lightened up a little. The intensity of ‘The Bairns’, with its songs about poverty, drunken wives and lost children, is still in place, but leavened by numbers like “Betsy Belle” and “Where’ve You Been Dick” that owe much to the jaunty traditions of music hall. The one original song here, “Lucky Gilchrist”, likewise celebrates a fallen friend in a style as sprightly as his character (“full of glee, a bit like Freddy Mercury”). The record is, as Rachel puts it, “a warmer shade of sad”.

There is, nonetheless, a wintry eloquence to much of Tender; “Sad February” grieves over drowned sailors, “The Testimony of Patience Kershaw”, a 1970 song by Frank Higgins, relates the gruelling role child labour in Victorian coalmines, and Ewan MacColl’s “Nobody Knew She Was There” honours a cleaning woman driven to suicide in “the writhing foul black water”.

Nor is the mood of desolation much altered by the eight-minute epic “Annachie Gordon”, a ballad learned from Nic Jones, in which a maiden is forced to marry a lord and forsake her true lover, a humble fisherman who arrives to find his love dead from a broken heart. Nor by “Flowers Of The Town”, their version of the much covered Scots lament, “Flowers Of The Forest”.

Yet it’s in the nature of the blues – and what is Britannia’s folk tradition but our islands’ version of the same? – that redemption is always lurking. That promise is held within both the tender vocal harmonies of the Unthank sisters, and the inventive settings to the songs. “Nobody Knows” chimes with bright autoharp, while Lal Waterson’s “At First She Starts”, whose stately strings cast a doomy mood, is actually about finding one’s personal voice.

The title track plays against the grain in the opposite manner, at first coming across as a cheery love song but in reality describing the arrival of Nelson’s navy – the tender in question is a boat – intent on press-ganging Geordies into the Napoleonic wars.

It’s an often exquisite mixture of light and dark, instinct and artistry, that honours both the power of old songs and the stoicism of the lives that shaped them. Rarely has the deep past sounded so stirring, or so modern.


here's the tender coming
“Because He Was A Bonny Lad” – The Unthanks

the unthanks 2


To buy the music of The Unthanks click HERE

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Folk, New Music, Video | | Leave a comment

Nic Jones

nic jones

Nic Jones until recently had never really crossed my radar.

Folk music was and to a degree still is a genre of music that I tend to dip my toe into rather than dive in.

It has so many sub-genre be it geographical or otherwise, however a great deal of the music I do listen to on a regular basis has it’s foundations in the world of “folk” where the songwriter, like the blues, is that great writer “Traditional”.

The music of Nic Jones sits nicely beside my admiration for Davy Graham, John Fahey and Bert Jansch as he is recognised both as folkie and as an inspirational guitar player.

He is perhaps best known for his 1980 album “Penguin Eggs” from which this is taken

“Canadee – I-O” – Nic Jones

penguin eggs

Nic’s guitar style was unique in its day and has often been imitated since. He played with a plastic thumb pick but not his fingernails. Instead he opted to grasp and pluck the strings of the guitar which led to the slapping down onto the fingerboard with no small force. The off-beat, percussive ‘ping’ sound which became his signature on the later albums is produced by a technique known as frailing, used by banjo players. The middle fingertip of the plucking hand is held behind the base of the thumb and then quickly flicked out and back in, striking the D-string with the main part of the nail.

He was also frequent user of open tunings, particularly in C and G.

His early musical interests included acts like Ray Charles and The Shadows. He first learned to play guitar while at school. His interest in folk music was aroused by some old school friends who had formed into a folk band called the Halliard. When the members of the Halliard decided to turn professional, one of them left to pursue a different career and Nic was invited to take his place. Whilst playing with the Halliard, Nic learned how to play the fiddle, and also how to research and arrange traditional material.

The Halliard split up in 1968 as the members decided to pursue individual interests. For Nic, after a period at home with his family, this meant forging a career as a solo artist. At first finding work as a session musician, his solo career eventually took off and he recorded five solo albums, plus contributions to another album with the folk act Bandoggs.

In February 1982, he was involved in a serious car accident while driving home after performing at Glossop Folk Club. He broke a large number of bones and suffered some brain damage and was hospitalised for eight months. Although he survived, he still suffers co-ordination problems and feels he is unable to play the guitar well enough to perform and record. He can no longer play the fiddle at all.

Nic now lives in Devon and continues to play guitar and write songs for his own pleasure. He has also developed a passion for chess. His wife, Julia, set up the record label Mollie Music which has issued three albums of re-mastered live recordings from Nic’s early career.

To buy the music of Nic Jones click HERE

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Blast from The Past, Folk, Old Music | , , , | Leave a comment

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