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Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott (1872-1962)

CET 02 Sep 12 - 11:24 AM
Owen Woodson 02 Sep 12 - 11:37 AM
CET 02 Sep 12 - 01:05 PM
Owen Woodson 02 Sep 12 - 01:30 PM
Ross Campbell 02 Sep 12 - 02:01 PM
CET 02 Sep 12 - 05:17 PM
Thomas Stern 02 Sep 12 - 07:27 PM
GUEST,Mike Yates 03 Sep 12 - 03:45 AM
Owen Woodson 03 Sep 12 - 06:18 AM
CET 03 Sep 12 - 10:13 AM
Owen Woodson 03 Sep 12 - 10:45 AM
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Subject: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott
From: CET
Date: 02 Sep 12 - 11:24 AM

Actually, I don't know if this is his birthday. The information about him that is available on the internet simply says that he was born in 1872 and died in 1962, making this year the 140th anniversary of his birth and the 60th anniversary of his death.

He was born in Enfield, England in 1872 and came to Canada when he was twelve, together with his brother who was a harness-maker. They lived for a while on a farm in South March (now the Connaught Ranges, 8 miles outside of Ottawa). There were six families in South March, all first cousins whose grandfathers had come out from Ireland. The boys would work in lumber camps during the winter and come back in the spring with new songs. O.J. only had to hear a song once to learn it. He learned his songs in his youth, on farms and in lumbercamps before moving to Hull, Quebec when he got married. Many of his best songs he learned from Mrs. O'Malley who was already old when he worked on her farm in the 1880's.

In 1957 Edith Fowke was recording folk songs from Ontario singers and heard that Mr. Abbott of Hull knew a lot of old songs. She wasn't expecting anything special and was astonished when she heard a fine clear voice, right on pitch, and a delivery that changed to suit each song. Mrs. Fowke had already been collecting songs from source singers, but the best of them only knew between 20 and 30 songs. O.J. Abbott sang her 84 songs in the first week that she spent recording him, and thirty more during subsequent visits. He had not sung some of them for sixty years.

O.J. Abbott went on to be recorded on four Folkways albums, and sang at the Newport Folk Festival and at Mariposa, the year before he died. He also sang with Pete Seeger at a concert in Ottawa. His recordings are available on iTunes and I strongly recommend them. It is like listening to the 1880's. I found it fascinating how Irish this transplanted Englishman sounded at the age of about 90.

O.J. Abbott should have a place of honour in folk music, if only for the fact that he preserved the great song "By the Hush". When he sang it for Edith Fowke in 1957 it was completely unknown, either in Ireland or North America. There are no other sources for this song.
The song has now made its way back to Ireland, thanks to Frank Harte, I believe. I had occasion to experience this for myself last year. We had been on a traditional music walking tour of Dublin, stopping at various pubs, and at the last one the band invited the punters to get up and do a song. There were only a couple of us who were brave enough to take them up on their offer and I did By the Hush, as a contribution from Canada. The band was sitting just behind me, and before I had finished the first verse, they started to join in. For me that was worth the airfare to Dublin.

O.J. Abbott's story reminds you how much we owe to the singers who kept the songs alive. They didn't just appear in our songbooks. The songs lived because somebody loved them and thought they were important enough to keep.

Reading about Mr. Abbott also reminds me of a time when traditional music had a place of honour at folk festivals. Check out the Ottawa "Folk" Festival or just about any other major Canadian festival today to see how things have changed.

So here's to O.J. Abbott, and also to Edith Fowke, who recorded him, and to Mrs. O'Malley, who taught some great songs to a boy just off the boat from England.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 02 Sep 12 - 11:37 AM

Nice one. I hadn't realised that this was a double anniversary year for him.

Actually OJ was a goldmine of good songs, including The Bonny Bunch of Rushes Green, John Barleycorn, The Cruiskeen Lawn, Daniel O' Connell's Steam Engine,Skibereen, Lost Jimmy Whelan and many more.

But the gem of his entire repertoire has surely got to be The Plains of Waterloo. Wonderful song.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott
From: CET
Date: 02 Sep 12 - 01:05 PM

I was listening to his version of A Farmer's Boy yesterday, and it was clearly related to the familiar English tune but there were differences as well. At first I put that down to age - he was almost 90 when he recorded it, and it might have been more than 60 years since he had last sung it. However, I soon realized there was nothing faulty in his memory. He was singing it the way head learned it from his Irish friends in South March, as an Irish modal variant of an English tune. Listening to that album is like your own personal telephone line to the 1880's. It's also fascinating to hear how Irish this transplanted Englishman sounds.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 02 Sep 12 - 01:30 PM

I asked Edith Fowke about his "Irish" accent once. Probably because I couldn't pin it down to any particular region, it has always sounded a shade stage Irish to me.

She said that he sang pretty much as he spoke, so I've come to suspect that he had absorbed a multiplicity of regional Irish accents from the people he grew up among.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott
From: Ross Campbell
Date: 02 Sep 12 - 02:01 PM

Great to read all your info, CET, many thanks. I've been singing "By the Hush" for over thirty five years,m since discovering it on Edith Fowke's collection "Folksongs of Ontario", where O J Abbott's voice seemed the most assured of all the contributors.

If I get to the final Fylde singaround this evening I'll sing it again for O J Abbott's birthday!


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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott
From: CET
Date: 02 Sep 12 - 05:17 PM

Even today in the Ottawa Valley some of the older people in rural areas sound very Irish, even though their families may have been in Canada for generation.

I also see that I should have edited my last post before pressing send. I repeated some comments that I had already made in the original post.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 02 Sep 12 - 07:27 PM

below I've listed some relevant resources.
All the Folkways recordings are available as CD-r, or download.

Best wishes, Thomas.

O.J. (Oliver John) Abbott
b. Enfield, England, 1872, d. Hull, Quebec, 3 Mar 1962.

Between 1957 and his death he recorded some 120 songs for Edith Fowke, most of them learned in the 1880s and 1890s from the Irish farm families and shantyboys.

D.K. Wilgus: "Abbott is a great singer, in quantity and quality. He sings in a beautiful old Irish style, often with declamando endings" (Journal of American Folklore 1962).

FOLKWAYS FM 4005 Folk Songs of Ontario   1958 LP
A2 The Banks of the Don 1:33

FOLKWAYS FM 4051 Irish and British Songs from the Ottawa Valley 1961 LP
A01 The Dog and the Gun - The Golden Glove 3:14
A02 The Gypsy Daisy 2:15
A03 The Barley Grain for Me 2:53
A04 To Be a Farmer's Boy - The Farmer's Boy 1:54
A05 The Silver Herrings 1:49
A06 The Lass of Glenshee 2:25
A07 The Colleen Bawn - Limerick is Beautiful 1:45
A08 The Bunch of Water Cresses 3:18
A09 The Bonny Irish Boy 1:23
A10 Daniel O'Connell 3:02
A11 The Mountain Dew 0:49
A12 The Cruiskeen Lawn 2:25
B01 A Young Man Lived in Belfast Town 1:51
B02 The Plains of Waterloo 4:14
B03 The Green Linnet 2:44
B04 Kelly the Pirate 2:42
B05 Captain Coldstein 3:14
B06 Nellie Coming Home from the Wake 1:39
B07 The Banks of Newfoundland 3:10
B08 Skibbereen - A Ballad of the Famine 3:23
B09 The Heights of Alma 1:50
B10 The Bold and Undaunted Youth - The Rambling Boy 2:15
B11 By the Hush, Me Boys 2:49

FOLKWAYS FM 4062 Lumbering Songs from the Ontario Shanties 1961 LP
A03 How We Got Back to the Woods Last Year 1:43
A07 Hogan's Lake 2:06
B03 The Basketong 2:09
B08 The Chapeau Boys 3:02

FOLKWAYS FE 4018 Songs of the Great Lakes   1964
A04 James Bird 3:55

FOLKWAYS FA 2531 The Folk Music of the Newport Folk Festival, Vol. 1 1959-1960   1961 LP
A01 On the Banks of the Don 2:01
A02 Barley Grain   O. J. Abbott and Pete Seeger 3:03

A2 An old man he courted me
A7 The weaver
B1 The jolly shanty boy   

SMITHSONIAN-FOLKWAYS SFW 40539 Classic Canadian Songs                      2006 CD
26 Hogan's Lake 2:02

1958 National Museum of Man,
1959 with Pete Seeger in Ottawa
1960 CBC
    Newport Folk Festival (with Pete Seeger)
1961 Mariposa Folk Festival
    IFMC in Quebec City

Fowke, Edith. "The passing of a great traditional singer," Sing Out!, vol 12, 1962

Fowke, Edith: Traditional Singers and Songs from Ontario
Folklore Associates, Hatboro, Pa 1965. 210pp.
Don Mills, Ontario: Burns & MacEachern Limited, 1965.

Fowke, Edith: Lumbering Sonfs from the Northern Woods
American Folklore Society, Memoir series No.55
University of Texas Press, 1970
NC Press, Toronto, 1985 200pp

Vikar, Laszlo/Panagapka, Jeanette:
Songs of the North Woods: As Sung by O.J. Abbott and Collected by Edith Fowke
University of Calgary Press, Dec 15, 2004 - 126 pages
includes a detailed musical analysis that outlines the meter, scale, and range of each song,
an index that indicates where each song can be found on the original source tapes, and extensive field notes, interviews, and recording details.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott (1872-1962)
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 03 Sep 12 - 03:45 AM

It is so nice to see some positive praise for a traditional singer. I was always impressed by Mr Abbott's singing (I only heard him on record). Edith Fowke used to stay with us when she was in London and I just loved hearing her talk about him. A great singer with some great songs.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott (1872-1962)
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 03 Sep 12 - 06:18 AM

Don't forget Far Canadian Fields which was released as Leader LEE 4057 as a companion to the Penguin Book of Canadian Folksongs in the early 1970s. It was the first clue I received as to the riches of Canadian folksong and which is now almost totally unobtainable, due to the shenanglings of Mr D**E B****R .

If anybody ever fancies doing a bootleg and ruining Mr **** ******'s day, here's the tracklist.

A        1        LOSS OF THE ELLEN MUNN, THE        Mr. & Mrs. Albert Simms        
A        2        H'EMMER JANE, THE        Clyde Gilmour        
A        3        WHEN THE SHANTYBOY COMES DOWN        Jim Doherty        
A        4        LAKE OF THE CAOGAMA, THE        Lennox Gavan        
A        5        YOUNG SPANISH LASS, THE        Mr. & Mrs. Albert Simms        
A        6        LONESOME SCENES OF WINTER, THE        John Leahy        
A        7        JOLLY RAFTSMAN O, THE        Arlington Frazer (Mrs)        
A        8        BY THE HUSH ME BOYS        O. J. Abbott        
A        9        LIFE IN A PRAIRIE SHACK        Charles Cates (Captain)        
A        10        YOUNG MACDONALD        Arlington Frazer (Mrs)        
B        1        WILLIE DROWNED IN ERO        Eva Bigrow, Mrs.        
B        2        PLAINS OF WATERLOO, THE        O. J. Abbott        
B        3        BONNY BUNCH OF RUSHES GREEN, THE        O. J. Abbott
B        4        SEVEN GYPSIES ON YON HILL        Robert Campbell        
B        4        WEAVER, THE        O. J. Abbott        
B        5        FOOTBOY, THE        Emerson Woodcock

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott (1872-1962)
From: CET
Date: 03 Sep 12 - 10:13 AM

You can download the liner notes for Irish and British Songs from the Ottawa Valley at the Smithsonian Institution website.

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Subject: RE: Happy Birthday O.J. Abbott (1872-1962)
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 03 Sep 12 - 10:45 AM

All the Smithsonian Folkways releases in fact, irrespective of whether they're OJ Abbott oriented. Also, you can download everything that's in the SF catalogue for $9.99 per release. Alternatively, you can buy individual tracks for 99c a track.

Now that's got to be worth knowing about.

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