The First of May, Four Up & Old Molly Oxford

from by James Bell

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Three tunes from the Morris dancing world, in a tuneset loosely inspired by May Day in Oxford that I had taken to call “First of May, Up at Four and off to Old Molly Oxford”. I first heard ‘The First of May’ performed by the majesterial Oxford folk band Magpie Lane. It features on their album ‘The Oxford Ramble’ - one of my favourite albums ever. As does ‘Old Molly Oxford’ come to think of it, although I think that one I had heard before, as it often crops up in folk sessions and Morris dance-outs. The middle tune, ‘Four Up’, I had assumed was traditional because the Morris side that I play for often do it, but it turns out it was written by Barry Goodman (of the Outside Capering Crew, amongst many other things), and you can hear his version on the ‘Grandson of Morris On’ album.

I tried to play the recorder part myself but failed woefully and got in the experts: in this case Helen Rose, who did a truly fantastic job. It sounds exactly like I hoped it would. I also thought I would add some soukous guitar playing on the end, just because it would be a slightly left-field thing to do that would somehow fit. But in the last few months all forms of African guitar-based pop have become achingly hip on the Oxford indie scene, and so I now feel the need to clarify that I recorded it long before that happened. These things matter, obviously.

credits

from Joy & Jealousy, released November 5, 2013
'Four Up' written by Barry Goodman.
'The First of May' / 'Old Molly Oxford' traditional arranged by James Bell.
Recorder played by Helen Rose.

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James Bell Oxford, UK

I'm a musician based in Oxford, UK. I play guitar and sing. I've been writing and recording songs since 1988 and adapting English traditional music since 2006. I perform solo and with the band James Bell & The Half Moon All Stars.

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