Roud 2 goes under so many titles, it might be easier just to stick with ‘Roud 2’ and be done with it. Whether you know it as ‘When I was on Horseback’ or ‘The Unfortunate Rake’, or any of the other titles you may find, it’s a grizzly old song with a fascinating history. And who better to discuss it with than Debbie Armour of Burd Ellen, always a fun person to chat with, not to mention an absolute font of folk knowledge. Debbie discusses the fact that it appears to be more than one song, the golf course approach to traditional song, as well as the ways she went about interpreting it… and the ways in which her daughter responded. It’s a funny conversation, in spite of the misery that the song brings. Dig in, why don’t you?
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The Old Songs Podcast is supported by the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
‘When I was on Horseback / The Unfortunate Rake’ podcast notes
Over the course of the episode, Debbie Armour and Jon Wilks mention the following things:
- The English Folk Dance and Song Society
- ‘When I was on Horseback / The Unfortunate Rake‘ on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website
- ‘The Unfortunate Rake: A Study in the Evolution of a Ballad’ album (Folkways FS 3805)
- St James Infirmary, San Francisco
- Ian Lynch, Fire Draw Near podcast
- ‘Lucy Wan’, as discussed by Nick Hart
- ‘When I was on Horseback’, performed by Mary Doran
- ‘When I was on Horseback’, performed by Steeleye Span
- ‘Katie Cruel’, performed by Bert Jansch, Beth Orton & Devendra Banhart
- ‘St James Hospital’, performed by Martin Simpson
- ‘The Girl who was Poorly Clad’, performed by Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones
- ‘St James Infirmary Blues’, performed by Louis Armstrong
- ‘Adieu Adieu’, performed by The Watersons
- ‘The Chariot’, performed by Burd Ellen
- ‘When I was on Horseback’, performed by Susan McKeown
- ‘The Trooper Cut Down in his Prime’, performed by Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp
- ‘When I was on Horseback’, performed exclusively for the Old Songs Podcast by Debbie Armour
For more info on Debbie Armour and Burd Ellen, including the new album, head to burdellen.bandcamp.com.
Hi – you might already know about this, but there’s a recent book: ‘I Went Down To St.James Infirmary’ by Robert Harwood, Genius Music Books, 2022. He devotes a big chunk of the book to trying to prove that Bert Lloyd was wrong in making the connection between ‘St.James Infirmary’ and ‘The Unfortunate Rake’. I know what I think, but there’s interesting stuff in the book anyway.
Thoroughly enjoyable podcast, as ever … Nerd Valhalla indeed.