How Come That Blood

You might know that I’m a big fan of Tim Eriksen. Back in 2013 I heard him perform at the Ginkgo Coffeehouse in St. Paul, and he sang some songs from his new-at-the-time album, Josh Billings Voyage Or, Cosmopolite on the Cotton Road. I don’t remember for sure whether he sang “How Come That Blood” on that occasion, but this song is from the album, and I like it very much, for its melody and its sinister text. A young woman (presumably) is asking her love how came that blood on his shirt sleeve, and at first he answers that it’s the blood of his little gray hawk. She says that hawk’s blood was never so red, so he says it was his gray hound’s (greyhound’s?) blood. Same objection. So he says it’s his gray mare’s blood. Nope. Finally he reveals the blood is that of his “brother dear, whom lately I have slain.” Ahhh!

Anyway, not long ago I stumbled upon the duo The Vox Hunters and discovered that their song “Edward” is a version of “How Come That Blood.” The text is similar, but there are differences: in “Edward,” the young man kills his brother-in-law, not his brother, and their falling out was over a holly bush instead of a little nut tree (evidently some people have strong feelings about plants). And then somehow I found out that Sam Amidon, who’s sung some lovely arrangements of shape note tunes, had a version too. In his, it seems like it’s a mother questioning her son. My favorite is still Tim Eriksen’s rendition, probably in part because I heard it first.

In other musical connections news… Last year Isabelle taught me a 16th century French pavane by Thoinot Arbeau called “Belle qui tiens ma vie.” The other day, she heard it on the radio, specifically on KUSC, the classical music station out of USC (which I hadn’t heard of before this!). I was curious, and happily, KUSC posts what pieces they’ve aired, so I was able to look it up. To my surprise, what was listed wasn’t “Belle qui tiens ma vie” but something called “Capriol Suite” by Peter Warlock. Peter Warlock turns out to be a 20th century English composer who apparently chose the pseudonym Warlock because of his fascination with the occult. The movements of Capriol Suite are based on Renaissance tunes. I read that the suite can be considered an original composition, but the Pavane, the second movement, is quite recognizable as “Belle qui tiens ma vie.” I also recognized the first movement as a Susato dance.

Hmm, while writing this post I discovered that Tim Eriksen and Eliza Carthy’s “Castle by the Sea” and Annalivia’s “False Sir John” are clearly related (but it looks like there’s a whole big family for that song). Time to bring this pseudo-musicology post (brought to you in no small part by Wikipedia) to a close, I think.

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