Folk song favourites: The January Man

So, it’s January again. We’ve been here before, right? You know what I mean, January’s the time for new beginnings. It’s out with the old, in with the new. The time to finally do the things we’ve always dreamed of doing, and to stop doing the other stuff, the stuff that no longer fulfils and leaves us instead with that sad, damp feeling of regret. This year, we tell ourselves, things will be different.

Only they won’t, will they?

Time is simultaneously both linear and cyclical. My receding hairline and aching joints testify to time’s linear incarnation. They are all in worse shape than they were 12 months ago, and the downward spiral will inevitably continue.

Milky Bar in January, waiting patiently for the return of the insects

But time is also cyclical, Our seasons come and go, predictable and reassuring. I don’t much like winter, but at least I know what to expect. Winters in my part of the UK are cool and dull. Often windy, sometimes foggy-damp, occasionally snowy, invariably miserable. The days are too short, the nights way, way too long. But the best thing about winter is that it doesn’t last forever. Even when conditions are at their bleakest we know for sure that better times are just around the corner, when there will once again be insects for Milky Bar to chase.

Folk music has its origins in the pre-industrial age, when rural populations were closer to the changing of the seasons than most of us are today. The seasons could not be escaped, and had to be respected. Traditional folk singers, and their more contemporary successors, therefore frequently reflected on the seasons in their lyrics.

Which brings me, finally, to The January Man. This contemporary folk song was written in the traditional style by Dave Goulder (b. 1939) who was, coincidentally, born in my home county of Derbyshire. Dave’s song captures perfectly and poignantly the way in which the seasons shape our lives. It is a magnificent piece, and exemplifies the folk music genre at its very best. You can read the lyrics here.

Like all the best folk songs, The January Man has been covered by numerous performers, including Christy Moore, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Rachel Unthank, Siobhan Miller and Mike Harding. You can track them all down on YouTube.

This one is by Steeleye Span, an English folk rock band formed in 1969 and still performing today with a rather different line-up. The link below is to a version recorded on the band’s 50th anniversary tour in 2019! Steeleye were an important part of the British folk revival. Their early albums graced the record collections of many wistful, long-haired, wannabe hippies…including the Platypus Man, way back in the days when he still had hair. So, to celebrate the New Year, why not treat yourself to 4 minutes and 47 seconds of magical folk music by clicking on the link below. Happy New Year, everyone!

Postscript

The final paragraphs of this post have been re-drafted following a tip-off a few hours after publication from my blogging buddy Laurie Graves of Notes from the Hinterland. Laurie advised me that the YouTube track to which I was linking does not appear to be available overseas. Hopefully the new link, to the version by Steeleye Span, works a little better. However, I’ve also found an alternative link the version I originally wrote about, an a capella masterpiece by Martin Carthy (b. 1941). Martin is one of the most influential performers of British traditional music, and The January Man shows him at his very best.

12 comments

  1. Laurie Graves · January 5

    We’ll, darn! The song showed up as unavailable. Sometimes that happens from country to country. No matter. I will look the song up when I am at my computer. (As opposed to being on my phone.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · January 5

      Thanks, Laurie. I’ll amend the post to include a link to an alternative version, which hopefully WILL be available overseas! Best wishes to you.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · January 5

      I’ve now amended the post to link to an alternative version by some more of my folkie heroes, the band Steeleye Span. I’ve also found an embedded an alternative link to the recording by Martin Carthy, which hopefully will work overseas. Thanks once again for the tip-off, Laurie 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Laurie Graves · January 5

        I listened to the Steeleye Span version and liked it very much. Many thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ThoughtsBecomeWords · January 5

    Both worked for me in Australia – thanks for the memories!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · January 5

      That’s great, thank you. Happy memories, indeed, of a much simpler life in a less complicated world. Those were the days…

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Another blogger, Cupcakecache, recommended “learning three new things a day” for the new year. At this stage of the game I don’t retain all the new things I learn daily. However, I am retaining the Folk Music education and am enjoying listening to the tunes. Thank you….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · January 5

      I’m so pleased that these Folk Music posts have captured your imagination. The genre has a bit of an image problem here, reputedly being dominated by weirdos, screeching women in swirly, diaphanous dresses and bearded men in sandals. All very unfair, in my view, For the record, I don’t have a beard, never wear sandals and have yet to find a diaphanous dress that adequately complements the colour of my eyes! You’ll have to decide for yourself if I’m a bit weird 🙂.

      And I’m impressed that you are trying to learn three new things a day. Brain training at its best. In honour of your dedication I shall look up Cupcakecache…mmm, cupcakes!!!! As for me, I’m struggling to cope with even one new thing a day…just where DID I leave my car keys?

      Liked by 2 people

  4. tanjabrittonwriter · January 7

    “God, grant me
    Serenity, to accept what I cannot change,
    Courage, to change the things I can, &
    Wisdom, to know the difference. Amen”

    Wishing you and Mrs. P a healthy and satisfying new year.
    All the best,
    Tanja

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · January 8

      Wise words, Tanja. Thank you for your interest in, and comments upon, my random musings over the past 12 months. Best wishes to you and all your loved ones in 2022. May serenity, courage and wisdom (and lots of beautiful birds!) bless us all throughout the year!

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · January 8

        Thank you, Mr. P. I quoted this prayer as a reminder to myself also. Knowing these wise words theoretically doesn’t mean we always live accordingly.
        The year has already started with beautiful birds and I second your wish for more of them throughout the year for all of us.
        Warmly,
        Tanja

        Liked by 1 person

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