A Taste of Ale
A celebration of beer

Magpie Lane

CD only BEJOCD-32



What the critics have said...

'I must confess I find it very hard to be impartial about this one. Choosing to fill a whole CD with songs about one of my favourite subjects, English beer, Magpie Lane has surely won my heart.

Magpie Lane is a six-piece folk group from Oxfordshire. They use only acoustic, mostly traditional instruments such as assorted squeeze boxes, fiddle, guitar, whistles, flute, recorder and percussion. They have no intention of rocking up their songs or modernizing them. Instead they produce a sound with clear mediaeval influences. With all six members singing, they are strong vocally as well as instrumentally.

A Taste of Ale is is well produced and the songs are nicely sequenced, giving variation while still maintaining a clear Magpie Lane sound.

The topic has been dealt with before, notably on the marvellous Tale of Ale double-LP released in the 1970s, but Magpie Lane follow their own course. They include a few songs that will be familiar to the connoisseur, like "A Drop of Good Beer," "Bryng Us in Good Ale" and of course a version of "John Barleycorn." However most of the songs here will probably be new to most listeners.

Magpie Lane have researched their topic well. The version of "John Barleycorn" they give is new to me, a Devon variety discovered as late as 1975. In choosing a song about picking hops, they opt for the modern "Hop Picking Song" by Peter Delaney rather than the more well-known "Hopping Down in Kent," made popular by the Albion Dance Band.

Some of the songs have a humourous appeal. In "The Beer Drinking Briton," published in 1750s, they sing about how strong the Britons get from drinking nutritious beer, compared to the skinny Frenchmen, bred on wine. In "Beer Boys Beer," they give us a parody of the patriotic "Cheer Boys Cheer." "The Drunkard and the Pig" is another of my favourites. Just half a minute long, performed solo a capella it gives you a funny joke set to music. Another a capella song, in this case sung as a group, is "Drunk Last Night," a song used by soldiers in both world wars.

Whether your interest is English beer, traditional English folk or mediaeval music you could do much worse than seek out A Taste of Ale. As I have pointed out it is well researched, well played, well sung and well produced. What more could you ask for?'
Green Man Review

'The standard of singing is very good indeed, the arrangements are skilfully and creatively executed. This is an album to sit back to, build up a thirst and allow Magpie Lane to whet your whistle!'
The Living Tradition

'An amusing and entertaining album with excellent harmonies and musicianship... combined with the book provides a fascinating insight into a not insignificant part of our history.'
The Oxford Times

'The musicianship is excellent... The range of instruments deployed is impressive, which enables considerable variation and freshness in the musical arrangements'
Shire Folk

'Researcher Roy Palmer has come up with a new book on beer and drinkers, to which this album is a companion. Ian Giles opens with A Drop of Good Beer, sung with appropriately robust swagger, setting the tone for a splendid programme by a group known for interesting and entertaining work.
This is well up to standard. Among mostly unfamiliar titles, I like The Mail Coach Guard, Andy Turner singing lead, and Of Honest Malt Liquor, a catch dating from 1733. O Good Ale might seem familiar, but wait till you hear the tune! With honest singing and lively arrangements, the album is a good listen and another winner for Magpie Lane and Roy Palmer too.'
Roy Harris, Taplas

A Taste of Ale
Produced by Andy Turner and Ian Giles

Andy Turner
vocal, anglo-concertinas, one-row melodeon, autoharp
Benji Kirkpatrick vocal, bouzouki, guitar
Di Whitehead
vocal, cello, descant recorder
Ian Giles vocal, side drum, tabor, tambourine, nakers
Mat Green vocal, fiddles
Tom Bower vocal, whistles, flute, descant and bass recorders, reed organ, acoustic bass guitar, bass drum

Recorded, engineered and mastered by Dave Eynstone at the Den, Abingdon

All tracks are traditional arranged Magpie Lane, and published by Bigtime Music Publishing, except: Hop-picking song composed Peter Delaney; The Mail Coach Guard tune composed Pat Palmer; Friezland Ale words Ammon Wrigley - tune Hugh Beech; So was I composed Arthur Lennard

This album illustrates in music a selection of songs and tunes from the book A Taste of Ale by Roy Palmer, well known writer on folklore, social history, street balladry and traditional song. The book (ISBN 0 9526031 6 0) is available from Green Branch Press, Kencot Lodge, Kencot, Lechlade, Gloucestershire, GL7 3QX. Alternatively buy from us - details in the 'how to buy section'.

1. A Drop of Good Beer (Ian lead) A song in praise of "Billy the King" - i.e. William IV - and the Beerhouse Act of 1830. This piece of legislation did not lower the taxes on beer as such, but liberalised the licensing of beer houses - to the extent that 45,000 were opened in the next eight years. The song is followed by Fill the Tankard, a dance tune from some undated fiddlers' tunebooks formerly belonging to the Browne Family of Troutbeck. These manuscripts are housed in The Armitt Library, Ambleside, in the Lake District; the tunes are also now available at the Village Music website on the Internet.

2. The Drunkard and the Pig (Andy lead) From the reliable pen of Anon

3. Bryng Us in Good Ale (Tom lead) The earliest song in this collection, from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library dating from around 1480. The words are set to a carol tune - not the last time that a carol tune has been commandeered for use as a drinking song.

4. The Mail Coach Guard (Andy lead) Having spent his time working on the mail coaches, a man contemplates settling down in marital bliss, and recalls the many hostelries he has had occasion to visit (in a professional capacity of course). An anonymous nineteenth-century ballad, recently set to music by Pat Palmer.

5. O Good Ale (Ian lead) The song was included in Sabine Baring-Gould's English Minstrelsie, published in 1895, but is clearly much older than this. We have omitted one of the more misogynistic verses.

6. Stingo, or the Oil of Barley From Playford's Dancing Master of 1651, and widely used both for dancing and as a song tune

7. Of Honest Malt Liquor (Ian lead) A catch, dating from 1733: " Of honest malt liquor let English boys sing, A pox take French claret we'll drink no such thing. But London brewed staple, stout Burton and Lincoln, They'll find us good matter to talk or to think on. To King, Lords and Commons toast a health ere we rise, Tho' we lower our pockets, yet we raise his Excise"

8. Trowl the Bowl (Benji lead) By Thomas Dekker, from his play The Shoemaker's Holiday, 1599. "Trowl the bowl" means "pass round the bowl"; St Hugh was the patron saint of shoemakers.

9. So was I (Andy lead) Composed and sung by music hall performer Arthur Lennard (1867-1954)

10. The Beautiful Landlady (Di lead) An early nineteenth-century street ballad. The tune used was collected from a Mrs Webb of Malvern, Worcestershire, in 1906. Attached to the song is an eighteenth-century dance tune, The Ale Wife and her Barrel, from A Selection of Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs, adapted for the Fife, Violin or German Flute; printed and sold by I.A. Aird, Glasgow (c.1780).

11. The Merry Hoastess (Ian lead) Another street ballad about a woman who serves strong ale - this one from the 1660s, to a fine tune called "Buffcoat hath no fellow".

12. The Beer Drinking Briton (Andy lead) "A new song. set by Mr Arne", printed in the Literary Magazine, January 1757. We have retained Mr Arne's original bass-line and instrumental "Symphony" between the verses. Songs often present beer and hops as symbols of Englishness (or, when required, Britishness) while deriding the Frenchman and his meagre vineyards. Often these sentiments arise simply from the centuries-old animosity between England and France, but when this song appeared the two countries were actually on opposing sides in the Seven Years War.

13. Beer Boys Beer (Ian lead) A parody of Henry Russell and Charles Mackay's patriotic "Cheer boys cheer", criticising the rise in price and adulteration of beer during the Crimean War. (It would seem that this was not the only parody which the original song gave rise to - an Australian version is titled "Cheer boys cheer, mother's got a mangle!")

14. Hop Picking Song (Benji lead) One hundred years ago - and more recently still - hundreds of families from the East End of London regarded hop-picking in Kent as a paid holiday. Songs of the period, such as "Hopping down in Kent", do not gloss over the hardships which hoppers had to put up with on their "holiday", but generally have an upbeat feel. Not so this modern hop-picking song, written by Peter Delaney while working on a farm at Brierley, near Leominster in Herefordshire.

15. The Hop Ground From Preston's Twenty-four Country Dances for the Year 1794

16. Friezland Ale (Andy lead) Verses composed by Ammon Wrigley (1862-1946), self-educated poet and antiquarian of Saddleworth, Yorkshire, set to music in the 1920s by Hugh Beech. Today the song is in the repertoire of Will Noble - builder, stone mason and champion drystone waller from Shepley near Huddersfield.

17. The Bad-husband's Folly, or "Poverty Made Known" (Ian lead) A drunken husband falls ill and cannot work; he finds that his wife cares for and looks after him, while the hostesses of the inns he used to frequent have no more time for him. Whereupon the drunkard repents and vows not to return to his old wicked ways. For the sake of (relative) brevity we have omitted a number of verses from this seventeenth-century ballad.

18. Drunk Last Night Dating from the First World War, but also sung by servicemen in the Second

19. John Barleycorn (Andy lead) One of the classics of English traditional song. The words have been in circulation in the oral tradition since around 1600; this version was recorded as recently as 1975 from Charlie Hill of Spreyton, Devon.


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