This late October warm spell encouraged us to take the instruments out down to the canal. We’re staying in Northamptonshire for a few days and are really close to the Grand Union Canal. We sat down last Sunday afternoon in Long Buckby Wharf at the start of the Leicester Arm and practised a few of the English folk tunes in our repertoire: Speed The Plough, Morpeth Rant, Winster Gallop and Rattlin’ Bog.
Week 22 of my learning the craft of playing Frailing Banjo by watching Patrick Costello videos on YouTube. This week it’s more John Hardy and Boil ’em Cabbage Down, a quick rendition of You Are My Sunshine, the Banjo version of my song ‘Millie’ and an early version of the guitar version of ‘Millie’ too all crammed into 12 minutes.
These are the verses we sing for Boil ‘em Cabbage Down, most are genuine official verses but some we just like to make up ourselves so don’t be surprised if no-one else knows what you’re on about if you sing one of our verses at a hoe-down or jam.
The tune in C goes:
CC FF CC GG
CC FF CG CC
And for the 5 string banjo tuned in Open G, the melody notes are all on the first string except for the last bar where they are on the second string of the C chord:
C(1)C(1) F(1)F(1) C(1)C(1) G(1)G(1)
C(1)C(1) F(1)F(1) C(1)G(1) C(2)C(2)
You can also have some fun mixing it up alternating 1 and 4:
C(4)C(4) F(1)F(1) C(4)C(4) G(1)G(1)
C(4)C(4) F(1)F(1) C(4)G(1) C(2)C(2)
Or use a 1 and 2 progression:
C(1)C(2) F(1)F(2) C(1)C(2) G(1)G(2)
C(1)C(2) F(1)F(2) C(1)G(1) C(2)C(2)
I had a play with this sequence in Week 20 of my Learning To Play Frailing Banjo videos – take a look here [link].
Went up on a mountain, to give my a horn a blow
Thought I heard my true love say, yonder comes my beau
Boil ‘em cabbage down, down
Bake them oatcakes brown, brown
The only song that I can sing
Is boil them cabbage down
Heard my dog the other night, thought he’d tree’d a ‘coon
Saw them walking paw to paw, later by the light of the moon
Someone stole my old ‘coon dog, I wish they’d bring him back
He’d chase them hogs right over the fence and the little ones through a crack
Possum’s in a ‘simmon tree, racoon’s on the ground
Racoon says ‘you son of a gun, won’t you throw some ‘simmons down’
Racoon’s got a bushy tail, possum’s tail is bare
Rabbit’s got no tail at all, just an itty bitty bunch o’hair
Racoon and Possum, walking ‘cross the prairie
Racoon says to Possum ‘would you like to marry?’
Racoon’s died of the whooping cough, Possum’s died of the colic
Along comes a frog with a fiddle on his back enquiring the way to the frolic
The water in the river was mighty cold, we thought that we might drown
Along came a fisherman and pulled us out, back on to dry ground
Met a possum in the road, blind as he could be
Jumped the fence and whipped my dog and bristled up at me
Once I had an old grey mule, his name was Simon Slick
He’d roll his eyes and back his ears and how that mule could kick
How that mule would kick, he kicked with his dying breath
He shoved his hind feet down his throat and kicked himself to death
We also have a few ‘work in progress’ verses based on ‘Grandpa Willie’:
Grandpa Willie won’t wear no pants, Todd don’t know what to do
It wouldn’t be all that bad ‘cept Pammy won’t wear hers too
Todd and Pammy go dancin’, out on a Friday night
Grandpa Willie won’t take his meds, it’s gonna be a fight
Grandpa Willie says things were different, back in his old day
Bobby thinks he made it all up, it might just be that way
Week 20 of learning to play frailing banjo, and also the art of standing on my head. Both are progressing, sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. Both crafts share some of the same requirements, patience of course and practice. Sometimes brute force gets you through to the next level and there you can find the nuances. The temptation with headstands is to rush the whole thing and use force and inertia to get upside down, of course then inertia being inertia it doesn’t just stop, it goes all the way over. Last week though I found a sweet spot, usually I’m spending all my effort balancing by making slight adjustments to leg positions – legs are inevitably sticking out all over the place – but this time I got both legs over my centre of balance and everything suddenly went quiet. I was balanced, without effort and without moving.
Sometimes that happens with the banjo, I’m playing and messing up every F change, the 1st string is dulled when I hit it as my finger hasn’t fretted it quite right, and then sometimes everything just falls into place.
This week I’m practicing ‘Boil ‘em Cabbage Down’ messing around with some of the other melody notes, hitting the 1st and 2nd strings I found that I could hear the resonance of that 2nd string hanging in the air and sounding almost as if a flute was accompanying the tune. I’m using the first riff of ‘John Hardy’ to practice the C to F to C change and then messing around with one of mine, ‘Woman Without Dog’, that has the D7 F C G progression.
We’re living without broadband at the moment, halfway between here and there, making do with mobile data and uploading videos sporadically.
It’s week 19 and I’ve been practicing a new song ‘John Hardy’, one of the key priorities for me on the banjo is to learn the tunes and the words rather than having to depend on tabs and song sheets to remember them as I seem to have to do with the guitar. I have been practicing the first three lines of each verse (CC FC GG GG) and started by just playing the first string as the melody note for each chord. Once I had this cracked, as in I had learnt the order of the chords, I then looked again and practiced the melody strikes for each of those chords ie string 21 11 12 34 for each of those chords above. Looking at the tabs in Patrick Costello’s ‘The Outlaws and Sealawags Songbook’ there’s some funky hammer-ons and single note strikes at the end of each line to add in as well as soon as I am comfortable. That’s the great thing about learning these songs, they can be as simple or as complex as you like for your own stage of learning.
In this week’s video I also talk about making the melody notes sing and the twin trails of learning to play fast and also learning to play accurately as I fumble for the F chord.