Season 3, Episode 10 of the Folklife Today Podcast is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher.
Sure, it’s after Labor Day and the kids are back in school, but it’s still summer for another few days, by gum! So in this episode John Fenn and I, along with guest Jennifer Cutting, look at more songs on summer themes. As usual, I’ll present links to relevant blog posts, videos, and audio selections in this post.
This episode is the second in our two-part look at songs of summer. Mostly, we presented full audio of each song, so in this blog post I’ll point to where each lives on the web so you can see its full context, and where possible I’ll point to the whole session so you can hear more from each singer. Just for fun, I’ll present relevant photos where possible as well.
I’ll start out with the exciting news that I’ve learned significantly more about one of the singers we featured in the podcast since we recorded the episode itself. Our first song, introduced by Jennifer Cutting, was “Sweet Primroses,” also known as “The Banks of the Sweet Primroses,” and was sung for Alan Lomax in 1951 at the Players Theatre in London, by a man Lomax identified as Colin Davis.
When we first stumbled across Davis’s session in the Alan Lomax collection, something about him seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place why. As it turned out, I had heard other recordings of him singing and reciting before, in the early 1990s, in graduate courses I took with the late folklorist Kenneth S. Goldstein. Kenny met and recorded Davis a few years after Lomax, and eventually even edited an album of his songs and recitations for the Tradition label, which was owned by his friends the Clancy Brothers. Since this presumably involved writing letters and signing contracts, I’m pretty confident that Kenny was correct in spelling the singer’s name as Colyn Davies. This spelling discrepancy between Kenny Goldstein and Alan Lomax explains why I initially had trouble placing Davis!
This identification of Lomax’s Colin Davis with Kenny’s Colyn Davies also allows me to add some biographical information on Davies to our records. Kenny interviewed Davies, possibly by phone or mail, and wrote the following biography in 1956:
Colyn Davies has been singing and acting since 1943 when he toured England as a chorister in the musical comedy The Count of Luxemburg. Prior to his interest in ballad reciting and singing, he worked as an actor in various repertory theatre companies for several years. Included among the plays in which he performed were Strindberg’s The Father, Shaw’s Man and Superman, and various Shakespearian plays, including Hamlet, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice. In 1947, after having spent several months in bed with a bad case of pleurisy, he turned to reciting and singing ballads as a sideline to acting. In order to spend as much free time as he could at the British Museum, mulling over their vast collection of ballads, he took odd jobs to pay his living expenses. When he had learned a sufficient number of ballads, from both printed and oral sources, he began to perform them in cabarets, theatre clubs, and at parties. During the winter of 1950-51, he performed at various clubs in Paris, including “Frisco’s”, “Bar Vert”, and “L’Abbaye.” He then returned to London to continue the search for more music hall ballads. He has since performed on TV, given performances for troops, worked as Entertainment Director for the USAF in West Drayton, England, appeared at the “Players Theatre”, “Torch Theatre Club”, “Irving Theatre” and in several British films. Though his main source for material has been the British Museum, he has not neglected oral tradition. Of this, he writes “Swapping old songs is giving gold for gold. I try to give as good as I get.”
Other details about Davies may be interesting to fans of literature and jazz music. In the early 1950s Davies was romantically involved with the future bestselling author Fay Weldon, and although they did not remain together long or get married, they did have a son, Nick, who eventually took his stepfather’s name to be known as Nick Weldon. Weldon is a successful jazz pianist and novelist.
You can find the whole “Colin Davis” session on the Association for Cultural Equity site at this link. You can also find the Colyn Davies album edited by Kenny Goldstein as a playlist of licensed videos on YouTube at this link. The Colin Davis session and the Colyn Davies album have one song in common, “The Captain’s Apprentice.” Listening to both eliminates any doubt that Davis and Davies are indeed the same person.
Our second song was “One Fine Summer’s Morning,” sung by Cephus Louis in Toco/Sangre Grande, Trinidad, in May 1962. We closed the show with another of Louis’s songs, “June Come, You No Marry.” We don’t know much more about Cephus Louis, but we recommend listening to all his songs and interviews. You can find the whole Cephus Louis session at this link on the Association for Cultural Equity’s site.
Alan Lomax had a camera with him during his Trinidad trip, but for some reason did not use it on May 18, 1962, the day he recorded Cephus Louis. A couple of weeks earlier, however, Lomax had visited Louis’s small village of Toco, and on that occasion took several photographs each of three men whose identities we don’t know. Given that Lomax was most likely to extensively photograph people he also recorded or wanted to record, it’s pretty likely one of them is Cephus Louis, but we can’t be sure. See one of the men at the top of this blog post; another immediately above; and the third, with several children and a dog, below.
Our third song was James Griffin singing “Worked all Summer Long.” In the podcast episode, John explained the background to the song. His information came from an interview with Griffin, which is audible on the disc before the song. The recording was hard to hear, so we thought it would be better for John to paraphrase him in the podcast, but you can hear the interview as part of the recording of the song at this link, along with all the materials from that session.
Our fourth song was “In Summer Pastures,” performed by singer Kara-Kys Namzatovna Munzuk with Mikhail Chydykpanovich Kenden and Konstantin Guldumovich Tamdyn on chadagan and Aleksii Sharigovich Anai-ool on chanzy, both traditional Tuvan instruments. The songs were dubbed by Alan Lomax at Radio Moscow in 1964, along with many other recordings from the Soviet Union. You can find Lomax’s Tuvan materials at this link, or visit this link for all the materials from the 1964 Soviet Union trip.
As I pointed out in the podcast, in 2019 we featured a concert and oral history interview with the Tuvan band Alash Ensemble in the Homegrown concert series. You can find both videos at this link. Our friends in the Alash Ensemble also have a useful website where you can read more about traditional Tuvan instruments. Learn about the chadagan at this link. Read about and hear examples of the chanzy at this link.
Our fifth selection was the Basque song “I duski denean zoin eder den itzala,” which translates to “When the sun shines everywhere, how good the shade is!” As I mentioned in the podcast, the song was sung by Mrs. Francisco Etcheverry and her son Matias in September 1940 for Sidney Robertson Cowell. Since this was a long song sung unaccompanied in a language few of our listeners will understand, we played only a short clip. But you can hear the full song, along with all of the Basque recordings made by Sidney Robertson Cowell in California, at this link.
In the podcast, I mentioned that in July 1951, 11 years after the Etcheverrys’ recording, a shepherd named Jean Biscay carved the lyrics of this song into an aspen tree near Reno, creating an arborglyph that survives today. I learned that from Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe’s 2000 book Speaking Through the Aspens: Basque Tree Carvings in California and Nevada. Find its catalog record here. Below see examples of Basque arborglyphs photographed in Nevada by folklorist Mike Luster in 1987. The photos were shared to Flickr by the Nevada Arts Council with a Creative Commons License, but I believe they are also part of AFC’s Nevada Folklife Archive, 1986-1990 collection.
That takes us through the full audio and video resources behind the episode, in addition to some fun photos and other collection connections. We’ll be back soon with another episode! As always, thanks for reading and thanks for listening. In case you need that podcast link again…here it is!