Friday, December 18, 2009

"Three Jolly Coachmen"

Every Kingston Trio  album was structured like one of their concert sets - a strong opener followed by a change-of-pace, heading toward a high-profile big number (not necessarily uptempo - maybe a single or familiar hit or promoted song from a new album), and then repeating that pattern leading to the high-energy finale.

The Kingstons to this day proclaim with pride on their press releases that they "emerged from the clubs of San Francisco's North Beach," and it is as a nightclub act for which their early sets were designed. As great as they proved to be in concert halls, the intimacy of the upscale clubs always seemed to me to be the natural habitat for the group and their music, and "...from the Hungry i" gives plenty of evidence for that thought. When they played for, say, five thousand people, a barn-burner opener like "Hard Travelin" or "Hard Ain't It Hard" was almost compulsory - but in the smaller and quieter clubs, they could and did open with songs like "Three Jolly Coachmen."

And a fine opening for Capitol T996 it was, being a re-arranged (and, ahem, cleaned up) version of a traditional song, with all the hallmarks of the Kingston Trio style - great energy, strong interpretive dynamics, some humor, and solid if not spectacular musicianship.The root song was known as "Landlord, Fill The Flowing Bowl" and appears in a play by Shakespeare collaborator John Fletcher about 1630; it's said to be either Scots or English in its origin. The unexpurgated (and very funny) lyrics are here:

The Original Bawdy Coachmen Song

So return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, June 1st, 1958 (my eighth birthday, in fact) for the very first cut on that legendary first record album:

And courtesy of our Mallorcan Swedish friend Bo Wennstam - fly with us back to last August in Scottsdale to see the combination of fidelity to the original and musical innovation with which today's Trio performs the number:

The most interesting other version that I found on YouTube is from the Husky Singers from Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, a fine choral adaptation that includes both some of the more risque lyrics and an excellent satiric last verse:

Adding a delightful feminine touch to the song are Molly and Sonny Boy from Minnesota - this is a traditional version I've seen in songbooks that truncates the verses somewhat:

For a talented amateur group - a garage Trio of Chilly Winds/County Line Trio vintage - the Tungsten Trio from Pennsylvania:

I have a feeling that renditions of the song from, say, two hundred years ago may have looked something like this tavern version from what appears to be a Renaissance fair group of enthusiasts:

Finally, and continuing the costume/re-enactor theme - a Madrigals group from Hiram College in Ohio:

Next week - a special Christmas song from one of the great holiday albums of all time...

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