Radie Peat

Dftw6 Radie Peat 1 Dg Crop

Drawing from the Well 2021 opens with singer/musician Radie Peat exploring some of the more dark and subversive themes found in her ballad repertoire.

Focusing on four songs, the half-hour video features powerful performances from the singer as well as giving us an insight into how she sources & interprets material from the tradition.

Drawing from the Well 2021. Episode 1. Click to view on ITMA YouTube Channel 

Darker and more devious than I thought it would be!
Radie Peat on her Drawing from the Well journey, 2021

Radie is no stranger to the Irish Traditional Music Archive. In 2012/13 the critically acclaimed band Lankum, of which she is a member, recorded their first album Cold Old Fire in the ITMA Recording Studio. 

But her visits over the years also took her to the Archive Reading room to delve into the extensve song collections in ITMA: sound recordings of older singers, unpublished recordings, & printed ballad collections. Drawing from the Well was an ideal opportunity to focus in more depth on this aspect of her relationship with archival material.

Over a number of months in the company of Alan Woods, ITMA Non-Commercial Media Officer & a singer himself, they went back to the drawing board to listen to singers, versions of songs, finding and filling mysterious gaps, and opening up the darker elements of interpretation that reach out from history in these songs. 

Dftw Radie Peat Alan Woods Reading Room
Radie Peat and Alan Woods, ITMA Reading Room

What Put the Blood?

Also known as: Edward / My Son David

Song Indexes: Roud 200 ; Child 13 

List of sound recordingsMainly Norfolk

The version that Radie sings in Drawing from the Well and which appears in the Lankum album 'Cold Old Fire', is based on/inspired by the singing of Traveller singer Mary Delaney. 

A lovely singer, mother of sixteen children and blind from birth, Mary has an enormous repertoire of outstanding songs and ballads that she has known since childhood, as well as a store of humorous yarns that gave us many hours of pleasure. From Puck to Appleby (Musical Traditions, 2003)

Recorded originally by Jim Carroll & Pat Mackenzie in London in 1977, the song can be heard on Topic Records The Voice of the People. Volume 17. It Fell on a Day a Bonny Summer's Day

Dftwradie Votp Vo 17
Cover: Topic The Voice of the People. Vol. 17. It fell on a day a bonny summer's day

 Considered by F.J. Child to be 

one of the noblest and most sterling specimens of the popular ballad.

The song is a dialogue between a mother and son as to why her son has blood on his sword. 

With versions to be heard from singers in Ireland, England, Scotland, Northern Europe and America it is understandable that versions and interpretations vary, as noted by Radie and Alan in their discussion of one particular line 'The cutting of a rod'.  With some researchers purporting a possible allusion to incest Radie admits

honestly, I don't like imagining that meaning when I sing the song because it's actually just a little bit too dark, even for me
Radie Peat, 2021
Dftw Radie Peat Shirley Collins
Cover: Decca Folk Roots, New Roots

The Bad Girl / Young Girl Cut Down in her Prime

Also known as: The Unfortunate Lass

Song Indexes: Roud 2

List of sound recordings: Mainly Norfolk (1) Mainly Norfolk (2)

These are two versions of a related song Radie learned from two different women singers, Shirley Collins and Frankie Armstrong.

When I was a young girl, I used to seek pleasure
When I was a young girl, I used to drink ale
Right out of an ale house down into the jailhouse
Right out of the barroom down to my grave.

Radie was drawn to the first-person voice of a dying woman who saw hell as her fate, and then to what lay behind her story. The cause in earlier versions of the song is clearly syphilis, a cause that seems to have become sanitised along the traditional journey. Did a form of self-censorship affect the transmission of these and other songs over time, with dark themes becoming less palatable to audiences, or presumed less 'suitable' for collectors' ears?

Shirley Collins and Davy Graham recorded 'Bad Girl' on Folk Roots, New Routes (Decca, 1964). This was the version sung by the now widely acclaimed Virginian singer Texas Gladden (1895-1966). Gladden and Collins met during Alan Lomax's recording expedition in 1959.

The other version 'Young Girl Cut Down in her Prime' learned by Radie is from English singer Frankie Armstrong.  She recorded the song on her first album Lovely on the Water (Topic, 1972) describing it as 

A girl’s descent through seduction and syphilis to the grave is traced with implacable lyricism.
Dftw Radie Peat Frankie Armstrong Cropped
Centre: Frankie Armstrong

Love Henry / Young Hunting 

Song Indexes: Roud 47 ; Child 68

List of sound recordings: Mainly Norfolk

I have looked a lot into murder ballads and in pretty much all of them, it's men who are murdering women. So I did find this one really interesting ... it's the opposite ... but also ...she's actually really quite cruel

This song sits out among the majority of murder ballads in the tradition as the woman is the protagonist rather than the victim, and admittedly one of the reasons Radie likes the song. 

But in the Drawing from the Well performance and discussion around 'Love Henry' we learn something more than versions, we get an insight into how Radie approaches working a song to make it her own. 'Love Henry' began with listening to and learning from recordings made by Judy Henske and Peggy Seeger. Then came the process of adapting words, even changing the melody to allow the song sit comfortably in the hands of a 21st century singer. 

And just as Radie has shaped Love Henry, she also leaves the door open for another generation to learn and adapt what she has done. It's the process of the tradition ...

Drawing from the Well 2021 with Radie Peat is available to view on the ITMA YouTube Channel and ITMA Facebook page. Please Follow/Subscribe.

The 2021 series is Supported by Bank of Ireland Begin Together Arts Fund in partnership with Business to Arts. 

Some further reading and links on the themes discussed in Murder, Lust and Incest which may be of interest.

  • Atkinson, David, 'Incest and Edward' in The English traditional ballad: theory, method and practice. (Routledge, 2002)
  • Jenkins, Richard, 'The unfortunate rake’s progress: a case study of the construction of folklore by collectors and scholars' in Folklore, vol. 130, part 2 (2019)
  • The Roud Folksong Index. Hosted by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Song & Dance Society.

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