From the recording Heavy Wood
Wears Away the Stone ( The Water Song)
Jez - Vocals/Guitar/Harmonica
James Patrick Gavin - Fiddle
Dominic Henderson - Whistles
Tommie Black-Roff - Accordion
Nye Parsons - Double Bass
In the mid-90s I was given a mixtape by Keith Neville entitled “Salt of the Earth” featuring several memorable "folk" songs. It became a firm favourite and accompanied me on my first trip to India in 1998, along with my walkman and an inordinate number of cassettes, packed solid into an old military satchel. On a train out of Agra I was relieved of my walkman by an enterprising pick-pocket, along with my copy of Salt of the Earth. For years I'd be haunted by fragments of these songs, half remembered, rattling around the recesses of my mind. A couple had sunk in deep enough for me to approximate the missing verses, and slightly bastardised, gradually worked their way into my repertoire, whilst others remained tantalisingly ungraspable.
Sometime in 2010, naked and dripping with sweat in Lost Horizons Sauna, I was asked to sing a song, and this is the one that came out. Unaccompanied in the steamy darkness of a festival sauna, it seemed the perfect choice, and for a time became a favourite of mine.
In October 2014 I spent a few days on Pantperthog Farm outside Machynlleth in Mid-Wales. One evening, Megan, our host, who had been suffering from that most frustrating affliction of a half-remembered chorus stuck on permanent repeat, asked me to remind her of the lyrics. I sang it to her there and then, and again at a gig the following night, so it was that on arrival at a recording session in Glastonbury the following week it was fresh in my mind. When Alastair failed to turn up for the session (van troubles, we're told...) all our plans went out the window, and I was left grasping for alternative songs to record with the assembled company. I threw this one at them and on listening back to the session, decided it was a keeper.
Realising that I'd no idea who wrote it, I called Keith and he set about a painstaking search through a wall of cassettes for the inlay of the original compilation. He got back to me with a phonetic approximation of the performers' names, taken down in his hieroglyphic scrawl from a once-heard Radio 3 programme; Bing Lyle and Ben Paley. After a quick google search I deduced that Bing's not much of an internet native and wrote to Ben. His reply was something along the lines of... "Great to hear from you. I'd forgotten about that song. By the way, I've been loving Blood & Honey..."
It turns out that Ben had heard my record at a wedding, taken down the name of the band and ordered a copy from my website. He and Bing, despite playing together in Ceilidh bands, had only recorded one album together, in 1995, and "The Water Song" wasn't even on the album. How it made it's way via Radio 3 to one of Keith's tapes, perhaps I'll never know, but Ben was as surprised as I when I wrote to him out of the blue, asking to release a version of the song. We met briefly in the street a few weeks ago at Broadstairs Folk Week and I very much look forward to sharing some tunes when we have a bit more time.