Jul 122011

I received an e-mail about the song “The Ballad of William Bloat.” The writer said:

Your site still doesn’t give proper credits for copyright material.  William Bloat was written by Raymond Calvert and should be credited to him.

The e-mail was signed, but because the writer comes off as being a bit of a jerk I’ve decided to save this person from herself and not post her name with her e-mail.

Despite any implication in this rather terse e-mail that there were past e-mails, there were not. And while it is easy to claim that I “still” don’t give credit for a song, the fact is if there is information available about a song that I have always heard as being “traditional” or “anonymous,” I’m interested. My first goal with this site is advancing the playing of a somewhat obscure instrument that many toss into the convenient and overused “folk” box (with the understanding that something so easily dismissed as “folksy” is worthy of little serious consideration,) nevertheless a significant part of meeting that goal is to come to at least some understanding of where the music for the tinwhistle originated (and continues to originate). It is the people behind the music that gives the music soul, and so the people interest me as much as the music itself interests me.

In searching for information on this song, I found this interesting quote posted on a discussion board:

“Raymond Colville Calvert, the only son and second child of William Henderson Calvert (1865-1952) and Barbara (nee Williamson) (1865-1938). Raymond was born at Banchory House, Helen’s Bay, County Down, on Oct.30, 1906 and was educated at Bangor Grammar School and Queen’s University, Belfast, where he took his degree in English in 1927 at the age of 20. He was a leading member of the University Dramatic Society, and it was for a cast party in 1926 that he composed “The Ballad of William Bloat,” which has so firmly become part of Irish folklore that some well-known literary critics have erroneously believed it to be a traditional ballad. It was first published in a collection called Brave Crack in 1950 and more recently in an illustrated edition by the Blackstaff Press; as a song it has been recorded in the United States by the Clancy Brothers.”

This quote was attributed to something called the EARLS FAMILY CHRONICLES of Christopher Earls Brennen, but when I followed the link provided to that site, the information above was not there.

The basic information in the quote above was echoed by someone named Gay Firth, also commenting on that discussion board and writing:

Raymond Calvert, a lifelong friend and colleague of my father’s in Northern Ireland, wrote The Ballad of William Bloat in 1926, while a student at Queen’s University in Belfast. The text given here is nearly correct – but not quite. The last two lines should read: “For the razor blade was foreign made,/But the sheet was Irish linen.” Mrs Gay Firth, London, UK

So, it appears the song today called “The Ballad of William Bloat” and sung by troubadours at Renaissance Festivals all across America (and, for that matter, perhaps in other countries as well; I don’t know if the Renaissance Festival is something that is done in other countries or not!) found its beginnings at the pen of a 19-year-old student in Belfast more than 80 years ago.

It’s a long, long way from Belfast to Raytown… but that’s another song. Still, you have to wonder if the young Raymond Calvert, in reading his poem for the first time at a cast party, ever suspected that it might endure all these years to the point of becoming a staple of Irish folksinging. I hope after he read his poem, someone else at that cast party said something along the lines of, “Good man, Ray,” or whatever might have been the proper way to say “very well done” in Belfast in the 1920s.

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