Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Two Songs Sung by Joyce

Gisele Freund's 1938 photo of Joyce at the piano
For this year's Bloomsday, Derek Pyle and Krzysztof Bartnicki have put together a huge bibliography of music inspired by Joyce over at Waywords and Meansigns. They've discovered that 'Joyce’s ghost is found in nearly every genre of music, from experimental noise and Korean rap to the pillars of classical. Perhaps James Joyce music is actually its own genre, complete with subgenres: Finnegans Wake music; Ulysses music; Dubliners music; Pomes Penyeach music; dirty letters music; and so on.'

One of the songs in their list is Joyce's song 'Molly Bloomagain', a parody of 'Molly Brannigan', which I've never heard anybody sing, though it would be ideal for Bloomsday.

This got me thinking about Joyce's own singing. I think he did talk about making a record, of Irish songs, but sadly it never happened. I would love to have heard him sing 'Molly Bloomagain' and his other party piece, a mysterious and haunting Irish ballad called 'The Brown and Yellow Ale'.

'Often in the evening, or rather about two o'clock in the morning, whenever he felt in the mood, he sat at the piano and started to shed his treasury of Irish melodies. We remained suspended on the doleful and nostalgic cadences; we could have spent all night listening to the nightingale.'

Louis Gillet, 'Farewell to Joyce', Portraits of the Artist in Exile p.168

'To hear Joyce sing with his beautiful tenor was an enchanting experience. It meant access to the sound of his innermost being....the human voice, when elevated into song, seemed to him the highest and purest manifestation of music.'

Carola Giedion-Welcker, 'Meetings with Joyce', Portraits of the Artist in Exile p.274

Herbert Gorman describes Joyce singing these songs in his biography:
There were evenings when he sang to his guests old Irish songs, 'The Brown and Yellow Ale', for instance, and the new parody of Molly Brannigan which he had written in honour of his own Molly Bloom.

Man dear, did you never hear of buxom Molly Bloom at all,
As plump an Irish beauty, Sir, as Annie Levi-Blumenthal .
If she sat in the vice-regal box Tim Healy’d have no room at all,
But curl up in a corner at a glance from her eye.
The tale of her ups and downs would aisy fill a handybook
That would cover this wide world of ours from Gib across to Sandy Hook.
But now that tale is told, ahone, I’ve lost my daring dandy look
Since Molly Bloom has gone and left me here for to die.

Man dear, I remember when my roving time was troubling me
We picknicked fine in storm or shine in France and Spain and Hungary
And she swore I’d be her first and last while the wine I poured went bubbling free
Now every male you meet with has a finger in her pie.
Man dear, I remember with all the heart and brain of me
I arrayed her for the bridal but, O, she proved the bane of me.
With more puppies sniffing round her than the wooers of Penelope
She’s left me on her doorstep like a dog for to die.

My left eye is wake and its neighbour full of water, man.
I cannot see the lass I limned for Ireland’s gamest daughter man.
When I hear her lovers tumbling in their thousands for to court her, man,
If I was sure I'd not be seen I’d sit down and cry.
May you live, may you love like this gaily spinning earth of ours,
And every morn a gallous sun awake you to fresh wealth of gold
But if I cling like a child to the clouds that are your petticoats
O Molly, handsome Molly, sure you won’t let me die?

James Joyce A Definitive Biography, 1941, p 279

Molly no longer belonged to Joyce, who could no longer even see her clearly, but to the readers of UlyssesThis was written in 1925 as Joyce's sad farewell to Molly and to Ulysses, and titled 'Post Ulixem Scriptum'. 

Gorman has a footnote explaining the origin of the song in a dream.

La Duse was the great Italian stage actress, Eleanora Duse, who Joyce saw acting in two D'Annunzio plays in London in 1900.  Stanislaus Joyce tells us that his brother kept a photograph of her on his desk and 'addressed some adulatory verses to her, of which I did not think much.' (MBK 189).
La Duse

Padraic Colum remembered hearing Joyce singing the same two songs in 1931 in his apartment in Square Robiac:

'After dinner we all went back to the Joyces' apartment, where there was much jollity....James Joyce sang. Joyce said to me: 'John McCormack's voice and mine are so similar in texture...that more than once when a disc of McCormack's has been on, the girl in the kitchen has thought it was me.'
   Joyce was persuaded to do ''Mollie Bloomagain'', his famous parody of a humorous Irish ballad, which he rendered with gusto, and with the phrasing and intonations an old ballad singer would have given it. And then he sang a tragic and colourful country song I had never come across in any collection, nor heard anyone else sing. it is about a man who has given his wife to a stranger – he may be from Fairyland, he may be death himself:

'I was going down the road one fine day,
Oh, the brown and the yellow ale!
And I met with a man who was no right man.
Oh love of my heart!
And he said to me, 'Will you lend me your love
For a year and a day, for a year and a day?
Oh the brown and the yellow ale,
The brown and the yellow ale.' 

Those refrains in Joyce's voice had more loss in them than I have ever heard in any other singer's.'

Padraic and Mary Colum, Our Friend James Joyce, p184-5

According to James Stephens, Joyce learned 'The Brown and Yellow Ale', from his father.  He hoped that his son Giorgio would also sing it, and sent him the lyrics in a letter:

As I was going down the road one fine day,
(Oh the brown and the yellow ale!)
I met with a man that was no right man
(Oh love of my heart)

He asked was the woman with me my daughter
(Oh the brown etc)
And I said that she was my married wife
(Oh love etc)

He asked would I lend her for an hour and a day
And I said I would do anything that was fair.

So let you take the upper road and I'll take the lower
And we'll meet again at the ford of the river.

I was walking that way one hour and three quarters
When she came to me without shame.

When I heard her news I lay down and I died
And they sent two men to the wood for timber.

A board of alder and a board of holly
And two great yards of sack all about me.

And but that my own little mother was a woman
I could tell you another pretty story about women.

To Giorgio Joyce, 24 December 1934, Letters Volume III, p336

So in Joyce's dream and this song, the rejected man is presented with a coffin! 

Ellmann's footnote to Joyce's letter says 'Joyce's version leaves out some of the connections. A fuller version in Irish has been found by Roger McHugh; its refrain line is 'Cuach mo lionndubh bui', 'O my flagon of yellow porter.' This version was translated by Lady Gregory in the Celtic Christmas, the supplement to the Irish Homestead published at Christmas 1901.'

Four days after sending the lyrics, Joyce wrote again to Giorgio, explaining his interpretation of the words. The footnote is by Stuart Gilbert.
To Giorgio and Helen Joyce, 28 December 1934, Letters Volume 1 p355
Stephens later wrote his own rhyming translation of the lyrics, published by Dominic Behan in Ireland Sings.

You can hear Dominic Behan's own version on youtube. But the best recording is this one by Luke Kelly of the Dubliners.

Here's John McCormack's beautiful version of Molly Brannigan.

1 comment:

  1. There are a few versions of the Brown and Yellow Ale. Here's a complete lyric which plays down the supernatural nature of the young man (he's not 'a man who was no right man' but 'a young man'). In this version the wife has a say in the matter, saying 'I'll take off with him' (she has none in James Stephens' version)

    As I was going down the road one fine morning
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    I met with a young man without any warning
    Oh love of my heart

    He asked me if the woman by my side was my daughter
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    When I said she was my wife, well, his manner did not alter
    Oh love of my heart

    He asked me if I'd lend her for an hour and a day
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    I said, 'If she thinks it fair, you may take her away'
    Oh love of my heart

    She said, 'You take the high road, and I'll take off with him'
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    'And we'll meet again by the ford in the river'
    Oh love of my heart

    I waited by the ford for an hour and a quarter
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    And when she came to me, 'twas without shame I saw her
    Oh love of my heart

    She told me her story, I lay down and I died
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    She sent two men out for timber, oh she never even cried
    Oh love of my heart

    A board of alder and a board of holly
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    And two greater yards of a shroud all about me
    Oh love of my heart

    Now if my own little mother, she had never been a woman
    Oh the brown and the yellow ale
    I would sing you many's another song about the women
    Oh love of my heart