Introduced by Pete Coe
“Catch Me If You Can” is a broadside I did at the time when the original recordings were released on Veteran Tapes’ Songs from Cornish Travellers, later re-released on Veteran/Backshift on CD, then recorded by me on “In Paper Houses.” I seem to remember that a copy of the original release on VT was sent to the Library Of Congress.
For anyone who’s interested, the Veteran recordings of Betsy and Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg are available on downloads from Proper. Their tape/CD was also titled “Catch Me If You Can.” My recording of the song is also available on the usual downloads, and I’ve still got CDs available via my website.
So….in March 1978, I headed down to Bodmin in Cornwall to record family and travellers’ songs from Betsy (78) and Charlotte Renals (76) and Sophie Legg (60). I’d been introduced to their songs by Sophie’s son Vic at Bodmin Folk Club, and then to the ladies themselves on previous visits. Betsy, as head of the family, wanted to know why a young man like me was interested in these old songs sung by old ladies. I realised this was a test, so I sang her “The Banks of Red Roses,” which met with her approval, and the recording dates were set.
Vic told me that all three sisters had spent a lot of time recalling and practicing songs they hadn’t sung much in recent years. Charlotte had most songs, including “Ball Of Yarn” and “Lord Lovel;” Betsy had “Game Of All Fours” and “The Old Miser;” and Sophie had “Thorneymore Woods” and “Catch Me If You Can.” They all had several rare music hall ditties too, like “Good for Nothing Man” and “Just Beginning To Sprout.”
Although I’d met the ladies before, I didn’t record anything on the first day. Charlotte came round to Betsy’s, and we chatted about their life as travellers and as the main hawkers in the Orchard Family, and how they’d met up with and married two Methodist farmers’ sons, Bob and Jack Renals (their parents did not approve). They lived under canvas in Penrose Army tents (as used in the American Civil War!). Father, Edwin Orchard, was a shrewd business man, so when all three sisters came off the road in the 1920s, he bought a terrace of about eight houses, where Betsy, Charlotte and Sophie and families were still living in 1978.
Sophie’s daughter Viv has moved back into the terrace in recent years, and both Vic and Viv Legg have recorded CDs for Veteran. Looking back to that March in 1978 when I became a folk song collector, and after a 50-year career as a professional folk musician, I regard that week of the company and recording of Betsy, Charlotte and Sophie as one of my most worthwhile and proudest achievements.
Listen to Pete sing “Catch Me If You Can:”
It was early, early all in the spring,
Down in those meadows growing green.
A fair pretty maiden I chanced to meet,
And I asked her if she would walk with me.
I asked her if she would walk with me,
Down in those meadows growing green.
I’d show her flowers and pretty things
And I’d show her what she had never seen.
As this young couple went strolling along,
He sang to her some sweet pretty song.
He sang to her some sweet pretty song,
And soon he gained her favour.
Now that you’ve had your will of me,
And stolen away my sweet liberty.
You have stolen away my sweet liberty,
Won’t you please tell me your name, sir?
My name is Catch me, that’s if you can,
I’ll marry you when I return.
I’ll marry you when I return,
But I’m going over the ocean.
Now three long months they had gone and past,
And six long months he never returned.
Nine long months it had come at last,
And the child had got no father.
I’ll search this wide world, around and around,
I’ll find that young man if I can.
I’ll find that young man, if I can,
If I catch him at his pleasure.
Sung by Sophie Legg on Veteran Tapes
Backshift Broadsheets, Ripponden, West Yorkshire.
Notes on Pete Coe from Colin Irwin of Mojo magazine:
“Pete Coe in many ways represents the backbone of the modern folk revival. A fine solo performer and an energetic activist for the scene as well, founding Ryburn 3 Step, running folk clubs, dances and workshops in Ripponden and beyond, while also teaching music and dancing in schools. He’s still one of the most committed, most versatile, most important folk artists in Britain.”