Commissioned by Jane Sheldon
First complete performance by Fiona Campbell (mezzo-soprano), Australia Ensemble, Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of NSW, Sydney, 8 June 2019
>’Ma Bonny Lad’ is included in Jane Sheldon’s album North + South, and can be purchased via iTunes.
>’Bonny at Morn’ and ‘Dance to thi Daddy’ are included in the ABC Classic album There was a man lived in the moon and can be purchased via iTunes and streamed via Spotify (see embeds below).
Three Northumbrian Songs (2011-12)
1. Bonny at Morn; 2. Maa Bonny Lad; 3. Dance ti Thi Daddy
In 2011, the soprano Jane Sheldon commissioned from me a folk song arrangement for her forthcoming North+South recording project. I immediately knew that I wanted to make a version of ‘Maa Bonny Lad’, an extremely sad song from Northumberland in the North-East of England, best known to older listeners from the recording by Kathleen Ferrier.
In fact this turned out to be rather more than an arrangement. As was the case with my folk-song cycles Tales of the Supernatural and Barleycorn, ‘Maa Bonny Lad’ gathered around it a rather elaborate accompaniment, so that the song itself ended up like a rough diamond set in a new piece of jewellery. Indeed the string quartet music, quickly detached itself to become the final movement of my String Quartet No 3, composed the following year for the Brodsky Quartet.
Now that I had one Northumbrian song, it occurred to me that it might be more useful to singers if there were a couple of others to go with it. Accordingly, ‘Maa Bonny Lad’ was joined by two more songs from the region, also well known. The final song, most familiar (again for older listeners) from its use as the theme song to the 1970s TV series, When the Boat Comes in, is a ‘dandling song’. It is sung by a grandmother, dandling her ‘little Jacky’ on her knee, and while I don’t myself recall being dandled, I do have a memory of my own grandmother singing the song to me. It was only while working on this arrangement however that it occurred to me the song isn’t really about fishies on little dishies – or not only about them. It is a grandmother telling her grandson of the pleasure and inevitability of drinking alcohol (in my grandmother’s case, a gin and orange).