Monday, May 18, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt.7

A traditional song that Moore had heard from Woody Guthrie, but one that feels right being sung in an English pasture. I associate gooseberries with England, but apparently they are eaten in parts of the United States too. Covering this song was the idea of Moore, who also arranged it (he told me the rest of the band wasn’t that into the idea at the time). On its surface, the song is about a lost love who you'll give everything up for, even a tasty dessert. In the Guthrie version below you’ll hear this version is very similar, though noticeably Guthrie sing “had a piece of pie/had a piece of pudding” while Heron sings “had a peach pie/had a peach pudding.”  This is a perfect illustration of how folk music lyrics change over time.

You do wonder if the reason they recorded it twice was just because they had done two usable takes and they needed more content for a otherwise short album, but the song does bookend the album nicely. This version would’ve been at the end of Side 1 of the original LP. It’s only about 23 seconds long, but made longer to allow the first side of the album to fade out on only sounds of outdoors.

The song starts with Moore playing and singing, then Apps joins on the right, and Pook on the left. I thought that maybe this would’ve been the track where Jones actually sings too, but it’s just the three main singers, so I’ll have to be baffled over why Jones has a vocal credit on the album for a little longer.

Hank Williams also sang this song as a farewell song, as did Doc Watson. It’s also often known as a fiddle tune. But the exact story of what the song is about is a bit of a mystery. I found a person on trying to figure out if Sally Goodin was a real person (perhaps with the last name Goodwin). Another person responded that Sally was a very real person, a slave who had many children with her owner and was subsequently sold, the song being from the point of view of a daughter who never got to see her mom.
The Bluegrass Picker’s Tune Book says that the song was originally called “Boatin’ Up Sandy,” referring to the Big Sandy River, and that Civil War confederates had renamed it after a Sally Goodin who ran a boarding house on the river. But again, you can find all sorts of theories on the Internet, and these are just a few.

Sources agree however, that the fiddle player Eck Robertson popularized the song in 1922 and its sort of known as a rite of passage for fiddle players to be able to play the song. Eck Robertson would say that the song was about a girl named Sally who had a fiddle contest to see which boyfriend to marry. She also was said to have many children, Eck would joke that she had 14 children, so he learned to play the song 14 different ways. 

Here's fiddle-player Daniel Carwile playing the song and talking a little bit about it.

Look down the road, who was a-comin
I thought to my soul I’d kill myself a-runnin
Strawberry pie, gooseberry puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin
Had a peach pie, had a peach puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin
Strawberry pie, gooseberry puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 6

A Moore song that Pook liked, so it was given to him to sing. Now that I’m able to pick out their voices, I feel like each one subtly reveals a personality. I feel like in a more regular band, Pook could’ve been the solo singer and maybe even a bit of a pop idol. But on the other hand, it seems to be his personality which influenced the band to leave the studio for the field outside Pook's parent's farm.

This song seems to be about a young friend who’s having difficulties with growing up and interacting with the world around him. I often picture the character Phil Daniels played in “Raven,” a boy released from a juvenile detention center who struggles to fit into with his foster family. Someone who has tried to do their best but ended up shunned by society. In hearing the song a few time I wondered if the song is a bit of a "telling off" in the same vein as Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."

Not Parklife. Daniels in Raven.
There’s a certain awkwardness to the “please don’t hit” line, but it also seems authentic – like the writer is a little afraid of this “one time singer, one time loser” and has to insist that he staggers off and helps himself somehow. Or if you think of the song a different way . . . the “Little Boy” could be the writer himself, saying the immature parts of himself need to go away.

Musically the song starts with Pook hitting the harmonica note played by Moore, with dual guitars on the left and right and Jones’ piano in the left. After a little bit of looking online I believe that what Jones is actually playing is an electro-acoustic instrument called a "pianet." The Hohner-Pianet N, to be more precise, as featured in their field photo and in this video:

Apps joins on the left singing, and Moore, who sings on the right on the second verse, also adds harmonica. The song seems to fade out into what sounds like, let’s be honest, the perfect afternoon.

Here's Heron doing "Little Boy" with Gerry Power. Interesting because it's one of the only Moore compositions they're filmed doing in this concert, I believe. Perhaps still a favorite of Pook?

I'm a little unsure about some of the lyrics here. The above video helped, but they seemed to have sang it out of order anyway:

Little boy you must be honest
You are all alone tonight
Run your fingers along the railing
Where all the ladies made you sly
Though the whole world betray thee
As you stretch your neck to kiss
Let your arms hang by you easy
Please don’t hit.

Little boy you must be unhappy
There is no one that you love
There is no one here to help you
If you will not help yourself
Though the whole world betray thee
As you stretch your neck to kiss
Let your arms hang beside you easy
Please don’t hit.

In the street and down the arcade

Where all the flowers will drip

One time singer, one time loser,
One time lover, one time kid
Far away from me you stagger

There must be no other way

But let there be no doubt about it
You cannot stay.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 5

I’ve been really trying to hone my ears on picking out their individual voices but it is tough sometimes. But what I think we have here is a duet between Moore and Apps, with Moore at the left with his mandolin and Apps at the right with his guitar. So nice to hear a collaboration of the two main songwriters in the group.

This is an Apps song. I get the feeling that Apps has some particular love for the Incredible String Band and Donovan in addition to the almighty Dylan who seems to be a love of all the group. They reunited to do a Dylan tribute album entitled Jokerman in 2016.

The track “Rosalind” which was recorded at these field sessions, was left off the album and I wonder if it had a lyric that was a little too close to Donovan. “Rosalind says catch the wind and put it in a bag/Made of sea shore sand.” (The song also includes a mention of herons.)

“Smiling Ladies” includes lines daringly close to Dylan and Incredible String Band. “Turning back my paces” in reminiscent of Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” “The music has no edges” is reminiscent of ISB’s “the song has no ending.” I am not suggesting anything other that if you were writing in the same vein of some of these songwriters, you can’t help but stumble over similar sounds and symbols. Think about how many folk singers had songs about “jokers” (or “harlequins” for that matter) after Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Nature imagery and stillness are the themes again, which seem central to Apps songs. Definitely a sadness to this musing about the human struggle of immobility vs. action. It seems like other people are starting the day, while this young daydreamer just wants to think about the beautiful women he’s met

There’s a long pause at the end with just natural sounds. Interesting to note that the nature sounds were recorded later because they just didn’t get picked up with the microphones enough the first time. But I don’t fault them that, I’m sure it’s roughly the same sounds.

Here's a great version of "Smiling Ladies," without Moore, with Gerry Power. Lovely accordion from Jones:


Breath on breath of morning wind
Stirs the curtain laces
You may go to chase the sun
Or vanish in its changes
I will stay to gaze upon 
The sweetly smiling ladies
Yes I will be turning back my paces

Touch the earth and breathe the spring
And walk along the river
So if I have to see you go
It doesn’t seem to matter
Maybe I will sing until the music has no edges
To say will be turning back my faces

Breath on breath of morning wind
Stirs the curtain laces
You may go to chase the sun
Or vanish in its changes
I will stay to gaze upon
Sweetly smiling ladies
Yes I will be turning back my paces.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 4

Hard to say exactly if I got the above order correct. There’s clearly organ that comes in on the right, and piano that comes in on the left. Apps is credited with piano on the album, as is G.T. Moore. When I inquired from Moore if there had been any overdubs that may have disturbed the perfectness of an album seemingly recorded live in nature, he replied, “I think we/I added a few overdubs in Pye studios that were very minimal. Some Hammond organ and maybe a bit of guitar but almost nothing.”

The famous picture of the band that graces Electric Eden, shows Jones playing some sort of portable piano, but the piano playing on this track is minimal in the album version and starts with a sort of standard glissando, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done by another member of the band instead of Jones. This is a Moore track, but one that he gave over to Pook to do main vocals. He (and later) Apps come in with enthusiastic, almost Dylan-esque backing vocals on the left where Moore’s mandolin resides. “But then the sun comes shining through!”

This song is like an ambitious mini prog-folk epic, and I’ll say right off the bat that I much prefer the unedited version that was released of this track (also mixed differently). Apparently there was a musical flub in the recording, which I can’t really discern – this is a band which at times can be a bit shambolic – though there does seem to be the sound of a distant plane right after the point where they cut it. And while the album version ends with the band singing loudly “could it be that I’ll never forget her” (which then goes straight into the next song on the album) the full version has much more of a musical journey, with its lengthy instrumental bit and a much more subdued, repeated, fading, “it’s been so long now, I can’t quite remember.” This lyrically fits into a common theme on the album: a comparison of the passing of time vs. the appreciation of a moment.

There are three “Harlequin” songs in the Heron repertoire, which also includes Harlequin 5 and Winter Harlequin from their second album. I had wondered if it was the less used meaning of the word harlequin as something phantasmagorical or psychedelic, but Moore responded that the use was in reference to the colorful character made popular via Commedia dell’arte, “I’m not only a musician but a painter and it was a tradition Harlequin and Pierrot. Basically it’s a bit stupid but if I had a song that I couldn’t think or didn’t want to think of a name for I just called it Harlequin and I think there was something like five harlequin songs, maybe six. Heron laughed at it but it became a bit of a joke. They were just a bunch of different songs.”

"Pierrot and Harlequin," by Paul Cezanne, 1888
It may be wrongheaded to look to into the lyrics of some of these songs, when clearly many artists of the time were jotting down hippy stream-of-consciousness lyrics and calling it a day. However, I find that the band’s lyrics of the time remarkably sincere and well-crafted, avoiding obvious rhymes and lyrical pitfalls other bands fall into.

So what is this song about? I think it’s about how you can live in a fantasy world like a young child, but inevitably you have to face the world. And when moving on from a relationship, is my new reality going to be that I’ll never forget this person, or will it just fade away as a distant memory. The first verse does make me think of Dungeons and Dragons or Minecraft though.

Once upon a time children played with fantasy
All in the land of the season
When children play it’s a world of reality
With no apparent reason.

But then the sun comes shining through.
And there’s nothing that you can do.

It’s been so long now I don’t quite remember
Could it be that I’ll never forget her.

Or maybe I could come round this winter
But if you could only hear me
You’d know that winter is a season
Not necessarily near me.

But then the sun comes shining through
And there’s nothing that you can do

It’s been so long now I don’t quite remember
Could it be that I’ll never forget her.