Sunday, 29 January 2012

Singing Songs

The contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, 1912-1943, who died tragically young, left a legacy only of recorded music and little film for us to judge her. Nevertheless, those who do remember her in live performance were in no doubt about the quality of her voice and performance.

She has been held up as almost the quintessential English voice of the period in its tone and inflections. Always known as an ordinary girl from an ordinary family in Blackburn, Lancashire she has represented the wonderful choral tradition of that area.

However, it may not be as simple as that. One favourite song is “I have a bonnet trimmed with blue”, sung sweetly and with feeling:

The poignancy of the song is when you know that her grandmother, born Elizabeth Gorton, very much a Lancashire lass, was a bonnet maker who grew up in the hard farming life of high country Lancashire, near Accrington.

Like many farmers in such country in the 1840’s, her family had to move on to the town to find a living at whatever level was available.

Certainly, many of the strands of her family history are very much Lancashire, but there is more to it than that. Her father was a Ferrier but her mother was a Murray, both of whose male ancestors turned up in Lancashire to take their wives.

As the textile and related industries boomed in the later 19th Century there were huge inflows of people from across the Atlantic Isles to help meet the demand for basic levels of labour.

They brought with them their own music and ideas. In many parts of England where number of Scots arrived it was common to organize a pipe band, although nearly all have gone. There is one that does exist, pictured above and formed in 1885:

Quite how Scottish Kathleen’s great grandfather Murray may have been is an interesting question, the contradictory birthplaces suggest a military issue. One likely candidate is the William Murray born in Manchester to a soldier of the 1st Kings Dragoon Guards, whose regimental depot then was at Dunbar.

For the Ferrier’s again there is a military connection, this time a great grandfather who was a regular soldier and whose birthplace is given as St. Florence, near Tenby in Wales. His regiment served in Ireland, so grandfather may have been born there.

So there we have it, an English Rose of Lancashire with Wales, Ireland and Scotland probably in her family background. It would be unusual if it were not so typical.

It is worse, however, her father, William Ferrier was born at Aintree by Liverpool which makes him almost a Scouser.

Blow the wind southerly.

1 comment:

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