Friday, 29 April 2011

4: Poor Old Horse

This mixolydian tune, with some of the words, was collected by Frank Kidson from the singing of Mr Mooney of Liverpool. Frank Kidson (1855-1926) was one of the pioneering collectors of folk song in England, and it was in Liverpool, where he lived and worked as a picture dealer and pawnbroker, that he did some of his most important research. Alfred Mooney, a railway clerk, was one of his Kidson's key Liverpool informants.

The song is published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society Vol. 2 No. 9 (1906); although published under the heading "Sailor Songs", it is not the sea shanty of the same title ("They say old man your horse is dead..."), but its land-based relative. Originally the words were/are used by mummers in the 'Old Horse Play' around New Year's Day, sung in rural villages of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere. The mummers bring a wooden horse from door to door and sing of its demise - the death of the horse perhaps symbolising the death of the old year. The words found their way to the cities as street ballads on cheaply printed broadsides (the image I use above is taken from one of these broadsides): you can see copies printed by McCall of Liverpool and Kiernan of Liverpool in the Bodleian Library broadside collection.

So an interesting example of the Liverpool broadside printers' influence in bringing rural folk-song to the city, and with a tune that I haven't heard anywhere else (if anybody knows of this tune being used in other places or for other songs, I'd be interested to hear about it). Poor Old Horse, in its many different varieties, is #513 in the Roud Folksong Index.

1 comment:

  1. Thats a very nice version of this song, Richard. I enjoyed listening to it.