The Turtledove. An Extract from One Fine Day, with Singing.

copyright Julian Dicken

This is a slightly different draft of the edited version that appears in the book, One Fine Day, published by September Books

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Music was only my third love, after girls and books, but it’s a close run thing. I suspect it won’t be my last, either; grandchildren trump even music, I find. I’m unlikely to meet my great-grandchildren, but I feel sure that the love you feel for your children becomes sharper as the generations tick by. And pop music is by and for young people, so if you like pop music, you have to find out what they like. If, as I hope, my seven times great great-grandchildren discover this book, I would say to them, ‘Hello. I love you very very much. This is where we are from. I tried to be a good ancestor, in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. Er… what music is cool in 2321? What should I be listening to?’

I actively listen to music for an hour or so most days, and have done for as long as I remember. There was always music on at home, and all three of my parents were accomplished singers. When it comes to music, I am Mummy’s Boy. Her Nat King Cole/Ella Fitzgerald/Sarah Vaughan collection was always on the turntable – until Birth Dad Alan came home and put on records by the Clancy Brothers and suchlike. I knew from the age of six which I preferred. One kind of music featured very cool people singing great songs in astounding voices. The other was beardy old geezers going on about pubs and Irish nationalism and stuff. One kind had great piano, swinging rhythm sections, and beautiful strings. The other had some bloke tweedling on a penny whistle. One kind had the jitterbug, the other country dancing, and you know what they say about that.

The transistor radio in the kitchen was always playing sixties pop, tuned to pirate station Radio London when Mum was in control. When Alan was home, it was the Light Programme – the tedious World Wide Family Favourites, or Sing Something Simple, even duller than it sounds. He liked ‘Inchworm’ by Burl Ives, but didn’t rate the Beatles, because hair. The Fabs were the first band I remember, doing ‘She Loves You’ on TV. And so on. Lives are marked out by pop music; mine is, anyway.

I’ve sung in dozens of bands. I joined my first band at eight. We were called the Marmites. I was in a band until 2016, when I lost my hearing. We were called The Same Tokens. I’ve sung opera, rock, and rock opera. I’ve sung in church choirs, punk bands, ska bands, pop bands, soul bands, funk bands, funk/soul bands, punk/funk bands, nu-country bands, two anarchist collective bands, a comedy band, and a high concept covers band doing Prefab Sprout songs. I’ve bellowed, crooned, and rapped. I’ve sung in duos and with a 28-piece orchestra. And in all those years, and in all those iterations, I’ve never knowingly sung a folk song. But if I’m going to stand in front of the fire at Little Park Farm, and sing a song for Thom and Elizabeth, like a precocious child singing to his indulgent grandparents, the moment has come.

In October 2019 I made a trip to Lancaster, to work for three days hosting a couple of stages at the Lancaster Music Festival. Compering festival stages suits my personality, as it’s a cross between stand-up comedy and community policing, and I’ve done a fair bit over the years. I was also in the City by the Bay to record a song. A very old traditional folk song, for which I had tried to put all my long-cherished prejudices aside. In July, the Lancaster songwriter and guitarist Stuart Anthony had come to stay with me in Presteigne to work on the arrangement for a few days; now we were recording it in his studio. It was a huge honour to work with Stuart, who writes a lot with Larry Beckett, the Californian songwriter/poet who wrote many of Tim Buckley’s lyrics, including ‘Song to the Siren’. Stuart had recorded guitar, harmonium, and a pulsing drum, and all I had to do was to try to remember how to sing. At least my deafness meant I didn’t have to stick my finger in my ear. The song is called ‘The Turtle Dove’. This is the version I sang:

Fare thee well my dear, I must be gone,

and leave you for a while.

If I roam away, I’ll come back again,

though I roam ten thousand miles, my dear,

though I roam ten thousand miles.

The sea will never run dry my dear,

nor rocks melt with the sun,

and I’ll never be false to the woman I love

till all these things be done, my dear,

till all these things be done.

Oh say don’t you see that little turtle dove,

sitting under the mulberry tree?

Hear him making a mourn for his own true love

as I shall mourn for thee, my dear,

as I shall mourn for thee.

Fair thee well my love, I must be gone,

and leave you for a while.

If I roam away, I’ll come back again,

though I roam ten thousand miles, my love,

though I roam ten thousand miles.

I adapted them slightly from one of the best-known versions, because that has the words ‘bonny lass’ in it, and I had to draw the line somewhere. I did a pop songwriter’s trick, so in the repeated first verse, I changed ‘my dear’ to ‘my love’, to add a bit of passionate emphasis.

‘The Turtledove’, also known as ‘Fare Thee Well’, or ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ is a folk standard, and has been performed by hundreds and recorded by dozens of singers over the years including Joan Baez, Mary Black, Eliza and Martin Carthy, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Marianne Faithful, June Tabor, and Alan’s favourites Burl Ives and Liam Clancy. I am straying into his world, and it makes me uncomfortable. No one knows why Alan was the way he was. He was not a cheerful Burgundian, hail-fellow-well-met kinda guy. He was a cruel, manipulative charmer. Donald Trump scared me, because he reminded me of my father. That’s how I knew Trump was dangerous and unfit for office. Most people who knew Alan; my sister, his sister, his brother, his ex-wives (all five of them), described him as sociopathic, and turning into him is my biggest fear. Still – it’s just a song. I put my hands behind my back, and take a deep breath…

7 Responses

  1. Bernie Bell says:

    Here’s my review of ‘One Fine Day’. I don’t tell people much – just, hopefully, enough to tempt them to read the book…..

    I am, however, telling people I know that they might like to read it.

    I like the drawing on page 269 – I wonder what Thomas looked like?

  2. Bernie Bell says:

    Bugger – it should have read – “haven’t eaten meat”….

    Distracted by the image of a bacon butty, oozing juices ……

    You’re a very good writer!

  3. Bernie Bell says:

    This isn’t about ‘One Fine Day’, it’s about ‘In Southern Waters’, which I’ve just finished reading.

    I have eaten meat for a long time, and the one thing I really miss is a bacon butty – exactly as you describe them in the chapter entitled ‘Bacon Sandwiches’ (clever use of plural, by the way). White bread, butter ( not healthy spready stuff), tomato ketchup, crispy grilled bacon.

    Your description made my mouth water. You little bugger you.

  4. Bernie Bell says:

    I’m pluggin’ yer books again….

    Beltane Greetings!

  5. Bernie Bell says:


    Season’s greetings – however you see it!


  6. Ian says:

    Bernie Bell – I used to know you, and I’d describe you as a force of nature, interested, interesting, and a person it was a pleasure to know you…

  7. Bernie Bell says:

    Well Ian – different strokes for different folks and all that ….listening to The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem reminds me of my Mum and Dad – who were Irish – loving, funny – full of life.

    Mum also listened to what we referred to as ‘Them Old Blues Blokes’….that’s how I know the words of the songs…and recognized Zeppelin ‘nicking them.

    This is what went into my blog about your book ….

    And tomorrow there will be this….

    “I read Jackie Morris’ Tweets about drawing maps….

    ….and sent her this….which was in my blog last August….

    ‘Notes From An Island’……

    Mike came across a book by Tove Jansson that I didn’t know about – tho’ I should say by Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietila as ‘Tooti’ did the paintings, some of which put me in mind of the images in ‘After Orcadia’….. Not surprising, really.
    I’m jumping ahead of myself – here’s the tale……

    Mike had called by Stromness Books & Prints to collect a couple of books which we’d ordered and there, on display on the counter was ‘Notes From An Island’ so, being the good man that he is, he bought a copy and brought it home for me. I had no idea this book existed, though I’m a great admirer of Tove Jansson, not just the ‘Moomin’ books, but also her ‘Summer Book’ and ‘Winter Book’.
    I’d started to re-read ‘Contact’ by Carl Sagan, but that beautiful book, lying there on the table next to me…..


    …… I had to embark on it and visit the isle of Klovharun with Tove and Tooti.
    What’s it about? It’s about Tove & Tooti living together on a small, wild island and being happy – and all the things going on around them.
    One of my very favourite things is the illustration on the front cover by Tove’s mother Signe Hammarsten Jansson and, in particular, the detail of the two little ‘seahorse’ creatures which to me represent Tove & Tooti – swimming along together through their lives.”

    Then Jackie posted this on her blog …..

    And there’s this, too…

    And – Marchant’s Map…….

    I likes maps.”

    I likes your map – when I read the book – will I find that it’s a map of lives lived?

    I never met your Dad – but I used to know you and, unless you’ve changed a lot – the only descriptive word you use of him that could be used of you would be ‘charmer’ – but not in the manipulative, creepy way.

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