Have you ever spent an evening in early summer sipping ale on a wooden bench outside a country pub, while the old man at your side spins yars of his early manhood? Have you sat in a chimney corner in a flag-stoned taproom as an ancient singer, in a quavering tenor, sings a song that was old when Lord Nelson was a boy? If you have, then cherish the memory. For these are the last remaining drops of the living essence of old English country life.
Thus beings Songs and Southern Breezes, the story of Bob Copper's wanderings in Sussex and Hampshire in search of old songs and stories of the English countryside. By now the last generation of country people to be brought up in a way unchanged in centuries has begun to die out; there is a danger that the wealth of spoken dialect anecdote and old songs handed down from father to son might disappear with them - for what has been a living tradition is now rapidly becoming history.
A well-known countryman and folk singer himself, Bob Copper makes vivid portraits of some of the men and women he has met: the story-tellers like ex-steam threshing machine driver Len Page, for example, who could [unreadable text]...; Frank (Mush) Bond, fairground hand and casual farm labourer, who turned out to have been a startling literary magpie and home philosopher in his spare time; and splendid old Fanny Thorn who awarded the B.E.M. for a lifetime of service on the land, was still going strong at ninety-three.
Then there are the singers: fishermen of Hastings recalling contemporary accounts of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in their songs; the council hedger keeping alive memories of long forgotten crimes such as a young girl's murder in "Poison In A Glass of Wine"; and many others. Fifty songs are collected with full words and music at the back of this book, some wistful, some eartherly comic, telling of the old life, its hardships, its rewards and perhaps most appealing of all, the rich sense of fun of the people who lived it.
Bob Copper was the winner of the 1971 Robert Pitman Literary Prize awarded by Haverbrook Newspapers for his first book, A Song For Every Season.
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