One of the most frustrating and rewarding things I research for my books is folk songs. I love traditional folk music and always have. (I had a weekly radio show in college called "Unplugged". I feel vaguely embarrassed about that now.) The tricky part is that traditional songs are just not as traditional as we like to imagine! First of all, a LOT of them have had the sexy parts removed, but beyond that, tunes, motifs and arrangements have evolved a lot since the early 1800s (and that's assuming we can even really have any useful idea of what an oral, orally transmitted tradition might have been like in the absence of recording technology).
Over the last couple of weeks, I've been checking some song references in The Sea May Burn and came across some ballads I thought you might enjoy!
1. I have noticed a tendency in myself to assume that openly feminist folk lyrics were added by performers at some point in the 20th century. I am really trying to overcome it, because while sometimes this is the case, sometimes it is not and sometimes it's even the other way around--a folk song collector may have censored or "prettied up" songs, disproportionately collected or performed songs in which women occupied more passive or stereotypical roles, etc., etc. Some "folk songs" were quite simply written by "collectors" to suit their own tastes.
In other words, the image of "traditional English folk" you might get from listening to recordings is not necessarily representative of the range of the genre in Regency England!
I was especially delighted to come across this extremely queer ballad, "The VIRGIN's COMPLAINT AGAINST Young MEN's Unkindness":
There's no belief in man,
though they seem civil,
For when they sit like saints,
they think most evil.
Therefore be rul'd by me,
never trust no Man,
But if you needs must love,
pray love a Woman.
The whole ballad can be found here, including an image of the original broadside, transcribed lyrics, and a downloadable recording!
2. [cw: misogyny and slut-shaming for both these songs] You might remember me talking about the ballad motif from which "the sea may burn" is a quote, back when I asked for your help with a title for the book. I was combing through different related ballads this week, looking for the best fit for a particular scene, and came across a couple of dirty songs that were cited as sources for Robert Burns's "My love is like a red, red rose," which is essentially an early form of a "prettied up", censored folk-song pastiche, intended to be palatable to an upper-class audience.
One was "The Wanton Wife of Castle Gate" [full lyrics here], which includes the verse:
Her Cheeks are like the Roses,
that blossoms fresh in June,
O she's like some new-strung Instrument
that's newly put in tune.
Which doesn't sound too dirty, I think, to a modern audience! But you may remember that Burns changed the second two lines to "My love is like a melody that's sweetly played in tune", and after I read the lyrics of this next song, I had a better understanding of what the connotations of a "new-strung instrument" might have been to an 18-century audience!
My mistress is a virginal,
And little cost will string her.
She's often reared against the wall
For everyone to finger.
But if you would your mistress please,
You'd run division on her keys.
Here's how Wikipedia defines "division": "In music, division (also called diminution or coloration) refers to a type of ornamentation or variation common in 16th- and 17th-century music in which each note of a melodic line is "divided" into several shorter, faster-moving notes, often by a rhythmic repetition of a simple musical device such as the trill....The word was used in this sense to describe improvised coloratura ornamentation...and was particularly cultivated in the form of the 'division on a ground' – the building of successively higher and faster parts onto a repeating bass-line." [full article here]
So, uh. Yes. Pretty dirty.
Hang in there. Your week's half over! ♥