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Questions about Hughie Graham

YorkshireYankee 12 Feb 10 - 11:33 AM
Dave Sutherland 12 Feb 10 - 11:54 AM
Richard Bridge 12 Feb 10 - 01:04 PM
YorkshireYankee 12 Feb 10 - 01:38 PM
Fred McCormick 12 Feb 10 - 03:33 PM
YorkshireYankee 12 Feb 10 - 04:13 PM
Richard Hardaker 13 Feb 10 - 04:53 AM
GUEST,Gordon T 13 Feb 10 - 05:58 AM
Vic Smith 13 Feb 10 - 07:35 AM
Gutcher 13 Feb 10 - 07:41 AM
YorkshireYankee 13 Feb 10 - 11:14 AM
Steve Gardham 13 Feb 10 - 02:01 PM
YorkshireYankee 13 Feb 10 - 06:53 PM
Rowan 13 Feb 10 - 09:37 PM
Dave Hanson 14 Feb 10 - 04:10 AM
Dave Sutherland 14 Feb 10 - 05:58 AM
Phil Edwards 14 Feb 10 - 06:29 AM
YorkshireYankee 15 Feb 10 - 09:06 AM
Phil Edwards 15 Feb 10 - 10:29 AM
CET 16 Feb 10 - 07:52 AM
YorkshireYankee 16 Feb 10 - 08:34 PM
YorkshireYankee 17 Feb 10 - 01:58 PM
Matt Seattle 17 Feb 10 - 03:17 PM
michaelr 17 Feb 10 - 08:22 PM
michaelr 18 Feb 10 - 02:04 AM
Dave Sutherland 18 Feb 10 - 02:55 AM
Phil Edwards 18 Feb 10 - 05:53 AM
Fred McCormick 18 Feb 10 - 06:30 AM
Uncle_DaveO 18 Feb 10 - 07:54 PM
YorkshireYankee 20 Feb 10 - 07:56 AM
YorkshireYankee 21 Feb 10 - 09:47 AM
YorkshireYankee 30 Nov 10 - 09:30 PM
Phil Edwards 01 Dec 10 - 08:58 AM
YorkshireYankee 01 Dec 10 - 09:06 AM
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Subject: Questions about ballad Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 12 Feb 10 - 11:33 AM

I heard this border ballad for the first time yesterday (sung by June Tabor) and was intrigued; Googled & found some background info -- and numerous versions (including a couple in the DigiTrad: Hughie Graham and Hughie Grame (Hughie the Graeme)). I was a little puzzled by the references to swords that are "bent in the middle":

And ye may gie my brother John
My sword that's bent in the middle clear,
And let him come at twelve o'clock
And see me pay the bishop's mare.

And ye may gie my brother James
My sword that's bent in the middle brown;
And bid him come at four o'clock,
And see his brother Hugh cut down.


The above is from Hughie Graham; I notice that in Hughie Grame (Hughie the Graeme), the swords are "pointed wi' the metal":

"You'll gie my brother, John, the sword
That's pointed with the metal clear,
And bid him come at eight o'clock
And see me pay the Bishop'e mear."

"And brother James, tak' here the sword
That's pointed wi' the metal brown
Come up the morn at eight o'clock
And see your brother putten down."


However, I did find a thread in the forum, where it was suggested that "...references to swords bent in the middle..." "...appears to be a corruption of the more usual pointed with the metal." As that post was by the extremely knowledgeable (and much-missed) Malcolm Douglas, I'm prepared to go with that (although if anyone else knows anything more I'd be delighted to "hear" it). What I'm still curious about is the references to "metal clear' and "metal brown". Are we talking about new (clear) vs old/rusty (brown), or different types of metal, or perhaps something else altogether?

Also, a great many versions have a verse that refers to a most impressive "jump" with his hands tied behind his back, for example:
Full fifteen feet in the air he jumped
Wi' his hands bound fast behind his back.


But none of the background info I found mentions anything like that, in spite of it being a rather noteworthy feat. Do people think it may have been added in later, or is there info someone knows of that suggests that Mr Graham did execute some kind of spectacular jump while bound? In some versions it seems to be part of an escape attempt, although in others it sounds more like he may have been sort of "cheating" the hangman by taking the fatal plunge himself rather than waiting...

Lastly (and I think I may have already figured this out, but I'm interested in other opinions), most versions have (at least one) verse that goes something like this:
"O haud your tongue now lady fair,
And wi' your pleading let me be;
Altho ten Grahams were in his coat,
It's for My honor he maun die."


I was wondering what "grahams" were (in most of the versions I saw, the g was not capitalised). First I thought it might be some old form of money, & looked up the word online (including in the OED), but the only definitions I found pertained to flour. The only other thing I can think of is that it refers to other members of his clan, i.e. the Bishop is saying something like, "I don't care how many Grahams I'd have to kill to preserve my good name."

Is this how other people "read" it, or am I missing something?
I think this is an absolutely fascinating song and would be grateful for any insight anyone else might care to offer...


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 12 Feb 10 - 11:54 AM

Re your last question the line should be:-
"Were all the Grahams here in this court"
as it is part of the sequence where his rather trumped up trial is progressing in spite of his many lady admirers offering the judge attractive bribes to buy his freedom.
The Grahams are the clan of warriors of whom Hughie is a leading member. ( He is more commonly referred to as Hughie the Graham)
The fifteen feet that he jumps is probably down to his anger at being falsely accused and so quickly sentenced.
Finally I would suggest that you try to find a version of the ballad performed by Ewan MacColl who makes Hughie sound like the ferocious brigand that he was as opposed to the apologetic,shambling figure as he energes from Ms Tabor's version.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 12 Feb 10 - 01:04 PM

Oh, I think Tabor shows the fire very finely.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 12 Feb 10 - 01:38 PM

Dave... COURT instead of COAT...brilliant! Now that makes sense! And I can see how easily COURT could have mondegreenised into COAT.
Thank you so much!
I will see what I can do about hearing MacColl's version, but I have to agree with Richard Bridge in that I definitely did not picture him as "apologetic" and "shambling" after hearing Tabor's version -- not at all.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 12 Feb 10 - 03:33 PM

Dave Sutherland. "Finally I would suggest that you try to find a version of the ballad performed by Ewan MacColl who makes Hughie sound like the ferocious brigand that he was as opposed to the apologetic,shambling figure as he energes from Ms Tabor's version."

I haven't heard June Tabor's performance of this ballad. However, previous encounters with her singing make me think I would end up agreeing with Dave.

MacColl recorded at least two versions of Hughie The Graham. One such can be found on the recent Topic release; Ballads. TSCD 576D. He re-recorded that version in 1964 for Folkways as part of volume 2 of a 3 LP set, called The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. l. 2 - Child Ballads. Folkways FW03510.

That same year he recorded a different version for the Topic LP, English and Scottish Folk Ballads. Topic 12T 103. An augmented CD reissue is available on Topic as English and Scottish Folk Ballads. TSCD480.

Both versions have excellent texts, although IMO the TSCD 576/Folkways has far and away the better tune.

BTW., I once heard Hamish Henderson sing a different version which had the line "Though there were ten Grahams all in his skin..........". I think that confirms Yorkshire Yankee's figurings precisely.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 12 Feb 10 - 04:13 PM

Fred, many thanks for all that good info!


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Richard Hardaker
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 04:53 AM

Once again I would recommend reading George Macdonald Fraser's excellent history, "The Steel Bonnets" for the historical background to "Hughie the Graeme" (and the border ballads in general)
There is a lot about the Graham clan and the antagonism between them and Lord (Thomas) Scrope the younger when he was warden of the English West March, also also how the Grahams were supressed after the union of the crowns in 1603. In spite of all the hangings and deportations there are still plenty of Grahams resident in the old debatable land; at one time every other shopfront in Longtown had the name Graham above the door.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: GUEST,Gordon T
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 05:58 AM

This is a great border ballad, with a fine balance of brutality and nobility.MacColl's is the best version I've heard (but I'm not sure I've heard June Tabor's).The narrative is excellent( no doubt tidied up by Sir Walter Scott!) and so is the tune (which always reminds me of a famous classical piece), and there is an odd, but very singable chorus;-
tey amarayo londonderry
tey amarayo london dee


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Vic Smith
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 07:35 AM

I used to sing this a lot decades ago - learned from the MacColl version and sung to Tina's rich concertina accompaniment. I'll have to dredge my memory to see if it is still all there. I wouldn't mind betting that I could get it all the first time I tried it; the words of ballads cling to my memory like limpets.

(Ten minutes later....)

Yes, I think I have remembered it all!


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Gutcher
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 07:41 AM

"In his Coat" would be a reference to his long descent.If he had
   a coat of arms, which he probably did not have,the Bishop was
   proclaiming that it did not matter a groat to him, as he had the
   power of life or death in his hands.            
         
   Joe.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 11:14 AM

Fascinating stuff... Thanks, folks!


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 02:01 PM

YY,
In the glossary of ESPB Vol 5 Child states 'swords bent in the middle'
'Nonsense or near nonsense'. He was helped with his glossary by William Walker and a whole swathe of Scottish antiquarians. What this means is none of these antiquarians had any idea what it meant.

Your second version, as I'm sure Child would have told you if he were alive, is most likely Peter Buchan's attempt at rationalising the nonsense, but it still makes little sense. According to Child by the way Burns was resposible for the original nonsense. I gather he liked a drop or two, and we know he had a sense of humour. I can picture him sat on his cloud rubbing his hands with glee at our attempts to make sense out of his nonsense.

You'd be just as well going back to 17thc broadsides and writing your own version like the people above did (IMHO). Neither of these two verses occur in the other versions given by Child.

If you really want to stretch the meanings as given, if you'd had a few drinks you might describe a claymore as being bent in the middle!


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 06:53 PM

Steve -- very interesting, thanks!

My husband is a metallurgist, so I asked his opinion.

He says that earlier swords did bend, because the "technology" was not yet advanced enough to reliably produce swords of metal hardened enough to not bend with great impact. (In fact, he suggests that those few swords where they managed to get it right & produce a sword that did not bend may well have something to do with tales of "magical" swords.) He says that after a number of heavy blows (and/or parries), a soldier might well try to find a quiet(er) spot (if possible) where he could straighten his sword before re-entering the fray.

I think that's fascinating, although IMO it doesn't really shed any light on the song; it seems to me that once a battle was over you wouldn't want to leave your sword 'bent'...

I asked him about new vs rusty, & he said that although swords did indeed rust, great care was taken to polish & store them in such a way as to avoid rust, which makes sense.

I also asked him about steel (or iron) vs bronze; he says that both could have been in use at the time. Steel would have been significantly more expensive than bronze, so poorer folk would prolly be more likely to be using bronze weapons.

All of this suggests to me that -- for the purposes of the song -- Hughie is basically saying "Give Johnny my no. 1 sword & give Jimmy my no. 2 sword," -- which (again) makes sense to me...


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Rowan
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 09:37 PM

Then again, damascene steel swords (of variable quality) may have still been around, although it remains to be seen how a Scots Borderer came by one.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 04:10 AM

I had no idea this was a song about swords, I thought it was about the Bishop of Carlisle seducing Hughies wife, Hughie stealing the Bishops favourite mare in retaliation and getting hanged for it.

Dave H


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 05:58 AM

Dave, John Reavey in his introduction to the ballad used to say that Hughie was hanged because he got the beter end of the deal. LOL
The reference to the swords comes in the last three verses of some of the versions, especially in the one published in "The Northumbrian Minstrelsy", where Hughie urges that his brother James, brother John and Johnny Armstrong are given swords "pointed with the metal clear, metal brown and steel so fine" respectively and that they attend his execution and exact whtever retribution they feel necessary.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 06:29 AM

Hughie is basically saying "Give Johnny my no. 1 sword & give Jimmy my no. 2 sword,"

I think that's it.

I love this song; I learned it from Tony Capstick's version (on Punch and Judy Man, which I think is available on CD) which takes the metric irregularity Ewan MacColl introduced and runs with it. Although he gives the song a stately marching pace, when you listen it's mostly in 7:4, with bits of 5:4. Some great 70s guitar too (from Jed Grimes). I sing a brisker version in 6:4, paced a bit more like June Tabor's.

Digressing a bit, I thought Joss Whedon borrowed a bit of this song for the theme to Firefly -

Hughie:
"Hold your tongue my father dear
All your grieving let it be
Though they bereave me of my life
They cannot take the heavens from me"

Firefly:
"Take my life, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me"

And Firefly has recurring enemies/monsters called "Reavers". Coincidence?


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 09:06 AM

Pip, have heard of Firefly but not seen it, but it certainly sounds like you're on to something.

Dave S, love the comment about Hughie "getting the better end of the deal".

Thanks to all who have contributed so far! Still keen to have any other suggestions/insights anyone else might care to share...


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 10:29 AM

John Reavey in his introduction to the ballad used to say that Hughie was hanged because he got the beter end of the deal

I like (and use) the version that suggests the horse was just a pretext -

"And give this word to Maggie my wife
The next time you go o'er the moor
Tell her she stole the bishop's mare,
Tell her she was the bishop's whore."

Hughie Graham was framed!


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: CET
Date: 16 Feb 10 - 07:52 AM

I bow to the metallurgist's knowledge of metal, of course, but it seems historically doubtful that fighting men in the medieval or early modern period went to war with bronze swords. For one thing, the disparity between them and their enemies would have been absurd. I am reminded of a poster I saw depicting a bunch of heavily armed U.S. marines with the caption "Rules for a gun fight - bring a gun - bring lots of guns - bring all your friends who have guns." Going into battle with bronze sword would be like going into a modern gunfight with a matchlock. Also, for the rank and file to be armed with bronze weapons, there would have to be an established trade of bronze weapon making to supply them. Is there any evidence for that?

On the other hand, "pointed with the metal brown" is difficult to equate with rusty either. Any border reiver would be unlikely to let even his number two sword get in that state.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 16 Feb 10 - 08:34 PM

CET, showed your post to hubby... he said point taken; allowed that a sword of bronze was not necessarily a good explanation for why a sword might be brown, but was more of a possibility than the rust explanation, FWIW. (To be fair, neither of us is too clear on the time frame involved.) He agrees with you that bronze swords would have been seriously inferior to those of steel & iron (even though steel and iron swords were not necessarily the reliably straight, strong swords we imagine them to have been).

Perhaps it is some corruption or mondegreen, after all. Anyone else have any ideas?


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 17 Feb 10 - 01:58 PM

refresh...


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 17 Feb 10 - 03:17 PM

Badly remembered and possibly garbled from my friend Ken Moffat, who's just finished a goldsmithing piece "Johnny Armstrong's Sword" -
article here
- blades were pretty high-tech and all imported. 39 inch was the the max legal length for health and safety reasons (!!!) so some swords originally made longer than that had their ends squared off. The ref in Hughie G to a 'pointed' sword might well have a meaning in this context which is lost on us.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: michaelr
Date: 17 Feb 10 - 08:22 PM

Did MacColl use the tune I know from Fairport's "Sir Patrick Spens"?


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: michaelr
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 02:04 AM

Fred McCormick above cited two different tunes MacColl used for the song. One was obviously the Patrick Spens tune. Was the other the June Tabor tune, or are there yet others?


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 02:55 AM

The tune that MacColl uses on "English and Scottish Ballads" and "Choruses from the Gallows" is the same as Fairport used for Sir Patrick Spens and prior to Fairport recording it I had never heard SPS performed to that tune.
I once heard Hughie the Graham sung to another tune by IIRC Ian Fraser at Birtley Folk Club around 1967 but I can't recall how it went.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 05:53 AM

(Sorry if this is a duplicate - I hit Submit and nothing happened.)

The Patrick Spens tune (which I've never heard Patrick Spens sung to) is the one Tony Capstick modified. MacColl sang it in 4:4 with one bar of 5:4; Capstick's version is in 7 with some bars of 6 and a couple of 4. It's very definite & regular - Capstick was a great man for timing - but you don't hear the complexity at all until you actually count it. My own version, fwiw, is in 5:4 throughout apart from two successive bars of 6 and 4. After Capstick's & June Tabor's versions, but more after his than hers.

Does anyone know who the guy who posts Capstick videos as "pinknblues" is, btw?


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 06:30 AM

Neither of the two tunes I quoted was ever traditionally used for Sir Patrick Spens, as far as I ever heard.

It sounds to me as though Fairport Convention took the second tune, the one which appears on E&SB, and fitted it to SPS.


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 07:54 PM

Someone said, in part:

"Though there were ten Grahams all in his skin.........."

I should think that would have been something like
"Though there were ten Grahams and all his kin.........."

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 20 Feb 10 - 07:56 AM

Matt -- thanks for that input, and well done to your friend! His sword looks very well-crafted.

Dave O -- the corruption of "and all his kin" to "all in his skin" is extremely plausible.

Thanks to all...


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 21 Feb 10 - 09:47 AM

refresh...


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 30 Nov 10 - 09:30 PM

On re-reading this thread (Wee pen knife) from six years ago -- which has just been revived -- I found something which relates to this thread:

The link that Malcolm Douglas provided in his post, after discussing weapon knife vs. wee pen knife, goes on to mention:
"...please note the Hugh the Graeme error in MacColl or the Corries songbook, or both - his sword was not of the 'the metal bent', or 'the metal burnt', but of 'the metal broon' in contrast to his other sword which is of the 'metal clear' "

Not having a phenomenal memory, I did not happen to remember the factoid contained in this link all these years later, and of course -- sadly -- Malcolm was no longer around to comment... but his it's brilliant that his vast knowledge is still here to provide enlightenment -- albeit sometimes in unexpected ways...

Although this does not clarify things completely (the words bent and brown are both used in the line(s) in question, it was a buzz to re-read that old thread (and link) and make a new connection...


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 01 Dec 10 - 08:58 AM

I think Tony Capstick sang it as "pointed with the metal", not "bent with".


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Subject: RE: Questions about Hughie Graham
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 01 Dec 10 - 09:06 AM

Very interesting. Thanks for that, Pip!


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