THE WHITE HARE
I'm sorry (to be honest, not) that this is going to be fairly lengthy.
From the singing of Joseph Taylor of Saxby-all-Saints, Lincolnshire, in 1908 (Leader LEA 4050 mono). Has this been re-released as a CD? This is vital stuff, and absolutely, without any shadow of a doubt whatsoever, damn well ought to be, if it hasn't been already. These are the sleeve notes about Joseph Taylor -
Mr. Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All-Saints has pride of place on this record and with justification. He was undoubtedly the finest of the many gifted performers that Grainger recorded. Here is the collector's engaging portrait of the man:
"[Mr Taylor] was bailiff on a big estate, having formerly been woodman and carpenter. Though his age was seventy-five (in 1908) his looks were those of middle-age, while his flowing, ringing tenor voice was well nigh as fresh as that of his son, who repeatedly won the first prize for tenor solo at the North Lincolnshire musical competitions. He sang in the choir of Saxby-All-Saints Church from the age of thirty. He was a courteous, genial, typical English countryman, and a perfect artist in the purest possible style of folk-song singing. Though his memory for words was not uncommonly good, his mind was a seemingly unlimited storehouse of melodies, which he swiftly recalled at the merest mention of their titles; and his versions are generally distinguished by the beauty of their melodic curves and the symmetry of their construction. He relied more on purely vocal effects than almost any folk-singer I have come across. His dialect and his treatment of narrative points were not so exceptional; but his effortless high notes, sturdy rhythms, clean unmistakable intervals, and his twiddles and "bleating" ornaments (invariably executed with unfailing grace and neatness) are irresistible. He most intelligently realized just what sort of song collectors were after, distinguished surprisingly between genuine traditional tunes and other ditties, and was, in every way, a marvel of helpfulness and kindliness. Nothing could be more refreshing than his hale countrified looks and the happy lilt of his cheery voice."
Small wonder Grainger was so impressed when one hears singers from other parts of England recorded at the same period, for there is no doubt that the standard of performing ability of the Lincolnshire singers was infinitely better than Grainger's later recordings of London and Gloucestershire singers. Joseph Taylor had a known repertoire of thirty-two songs and ballads and all but four of these were either noted or phonographed by Grainger. Regrettably it is only possible to include on this record thirteen of these songs and then only because of the exceptional good luck that Grainger found the Gramophone Company willing to record on a commercial basis, "a genuine peasant folk singer" It is unfortunately true that in order to study the cylinders he had made Grainger was forced to impair their quality - they are made from very soft wax and the tendency seems to be for the groove to pen at each playing thus giving rise to a background clatter - aptly described on one occasion as the six-ten leaving Paddington! . . . .
It has been remarked by Grainger that Mr. Taylor was not good at remembering texts. In fact in many of the songs . . . he could only supply one or two verses - in some instances only a fragment of a single verse. However his singing was made exceptional by the beauty of tone and dexterity of ornamentation that he applied to each striking melody. It is not possible to state Positively, [sic] yet one feels that the tunes had been though a process of complete re-characterisation at the hands of this performer for one is very much aware that though some of his tunes are commonly encountered in other collections, it is Mr. Taylor's variants that are the outstandingly beautiful and artistic creations. For this reason one forgives him (if it is felt necessary) his lapses of memory in respect of texts. It has been suggested that the English folk song tradition is primarily a narrative tradition where the tune acts as a mere vehicle for the story that is being unfolded - what a notable exception is this man - would that there had been more like him.
And the lyrics as sung by Joseph Taylor, a man born in the 1830s, and singing wonderfully for us still -
Near Oldham town, near Oldham town as I have heard them tell;
There once was a white hare that used there for to dwell;
She'd been hunted by beagles and greyhounds so fair,
But ne'er a one amongst them could come near this old white hare,
With me ri-tol-the-didel-dol, the-ri-tol-the-day.
They went to the place where the white hare used to lie;
They uncoupl-ed the beagles and beginning for to try,
They uncoupl-ed their beagles and they beat the bushes round,
But there was never a white hare not there to be found,
With me etc.
There was Jim Smith the huntsman and Tom the whipper-in;
Go down to yonder fern (or furze?) -side to she if she be in;
With that she took a jump me-boys, and away she did run,
And yonder she is going, don't you see her gentlemen,
With me etc.
The footmen they did run and the horsemen they did ride;
Such holloa-ing and shouting there was on every side,
Such holloa-ing and shouting I never before had known
And all the men kept crying, "Tally O, tally O," With me etc.
There was twenty good beagles that caused this hare to die,
There was not one amongst them above a foot high;
The number of the dogs there, never could be found
And never better hunting upon old English ground, With me ri-tol-the-didel-ol, the-ri-tol-the-day.
There's a further note: "Tom and Jim Smith are names that occur with great frequency through successive generations of huntsmen in the employ of the Earl of Yarborough especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.