Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 29: Matty Groves

patreon

Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

 

lovers.gif

Matty Groves …

Matty Groves, aka Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard or just Little Musgrave, is a ballad, probably originating in Northern England, that describes an affair between a young man and a noble lady that ends badly when the woman’s husband – variously “Lord Darnell”, “Lord Barnard”, “Lord Daniel” et al. – finds out and kills them.

This song exists in over 300 versions – most of them collected in North America – with different texts and tunes. It dates back to at least the 17th century. Notes appended to one printing state that “the protagonists were alive in 1543”, so it may be over 3½ centuries old!fc.gif

Folk-rock band Fairport Convention took the unusual step of setting the lyric to the melody of another song – the American ballad Shady Grove. This was possibly suggested by the “Grove” element in both titles, but it can’t be denied that it fits the song like a glove!

It appeared on their ground-breaking longplayer Liege and Lief (1969) – possibly the first real folk-rock album created in the UK.

The traditional versions are, perhaps, more adapted for solo performance with a single guitar (ie more variety in the chords). Here’s Doc Watson’s more traditional take (using F  Dm  Bb chords): Matty Groves – Doc W. version.

However, the steadily building arrangement, coupled with Sandy Denny’s amazing voice, and a brilliant instrumental interplay between Richard Thompson on lead guitar and Dave Swarbrick on mad gypsy violin, makes Fairport Convention’s take on the song the definitive one for me!

……………………………………………………………..

Lend an ear and an eye …

eye.gif

Matty Groves

Traditional, arr Fairport Convention 1969

MattyG.jpg

……………………………………………………………..

Stress that rhythm …rh.gif

 

The stress pattern  is absolutely regular, with 4 stresses per line.

 

……………………………………………………………..

Many of the lines have extra syllables – words like “Saying” “Oh” “So” “And” etc. –  on the preceding beat of the music before settling into the main metric feet.

Lines begin with forms stressing the first syllable, giving the song a really pushy rhythm. Thus we see more 1st paeans (DUM-dah-dah-dah) than usual, and a fair number of Dactyls (DUM-dah-dah). 

Mixed in with these are a smaller number of final-stressed metres – mainly anapests(dah-dah-DUM), with the odd iamb (dah-DUM) or single syllable

……………………………………………………………..

Internally in lines, as well as at the start, some extra, quickly-passing, short syllables  are squeezed in (as Tom Lehrer once remarked: “The trouble with folk songs is that they’re written by the ‘folk’!”), e.g. “|hol-i-day on the|”

  • A|hol-i-day a|hol-i-day on the|first day of the| year, Lord|
    Dar
    -nell’s wife came|in-to church, the|gos-pel for to|hear …|”

So, metrically, it’s a bit of a mix-up – darn those ‘folk!’

……………………………………………………………..

But the rhymes end up fine …rhy

End-rhymes form an absolutely regular pattern of

  • A  A  B  B, e.g.
  • “can” “man”
    “life” knife”

There are some half-rhymes, e.g.

  • “about” “crowd” / “tonight” “wife” / “sleep” “feet”

but, basically, it’s pretty solid rhyme-wise.

……………………………………………………………..

Modality versus key …

Since it only has two chords – Dm and C major, it could be seen as being in either C major or D Aeolian aka D natural minor. I’d go with the latter, as the dominant chord in this 2-chord wonder is definitely Dm.gtr.gif

In fact, the rhythm guitar part is all based on Dm with passing runs involving the C note and the open G string hammering-on back up to A.

Here’s a chap explaining how to do it!

……………………………………………………………..

The verdict …

ju.gif

 

Here, I think, we have to separate the song a bit from the performance. Fairport Convention’s recording is a stellar work of art. 

 

Its arrangement is wonderfully inventive considering we’re talking about only two chords. And its performance is just what you’d expect from such brilliant players at the top of their game.

sandy.gif

 

And then, there’s Sandy, who was, in my view, the Queen of folk & folk-rock interpretative singing (although Steeleye Span’s Maddy Prior is also in hot contention for that title).

 

……………………………………………………………..

The song, nevertheless, would be difficult to perform for any solo artist.

The metre is pretty variable, necessitating some slight gabbling of the lyric in places.

Its lack of chordal variation and its length might also make it a wee bit monotonous.

Doc Watson’s tune and adept, fast delivery would probably be more suitable in that situation.

So, we’ll maybe deduct a point for Fairport’s version pretty much making a virtuoso performance absolutely necessary.

BUT, the Fairports redeem all by providing that virtuosity in spades!

I simply love their Matty Groves and prefer it to all others!

……………………………………………………………..

babe.gif

 

Next time, we’ll look at a song written by someone who, 
compared to whoever originated the tale of Matty Groves,
is a mere whippersnapper!

 

……………………………………………………………..

Click here to return to Home page

Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s