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The Goons Sing British Folksong
Bushes and Briars (1903) (arr. Vaughan Williams)
Salley Gardens (1943) (arr. Britten)
Tarry Trowsers (1904) (arr. Vaughan Williams)
Little Sir William (1943) (arr. Britten)
A Bold Young Farmer (1904) (arr. Vaughan Williams)
The Trees They Grow So High (1943) (arr. Britten)
The Lost Lady Found (1904) (arr. Vaughan Williams)
Oliver Cromwell (1943) (arr. Britten)
As I Walked Out (1904) (arr. Vaughan Williams)
Foggy Foggy Dew (1947) (arr. Britten)
The Lark in the Morning (1904) (arr. Vaughan Williams)
O Waly Waly (1947) (arr. Britten)
Spike MILLIGAN (1918-2002)

Ying Tong
Harry Secombe (tenor), Peter Sellers (piano), Spike Milligan (trumpet)
rec. live, April 1 1957, location not recorded.
SPON RECORDS 001 [38:05]

When Spike Milligan passed away in 2002, it would have been reasonable to think that we had heard the last of the three great men who made up the Goons. But no! Who would have thought that hidden in Spike Milligan’s attic would be a tape of the three Goons performing a group of British folksong arrangements of Britten and Vaughan Williams? And performing them seriously!

After the seventh series finished – The Histories of Pliny the Elder was the last episode in the 1956/7 series, broadcast on 28 March 1957 – the cast met a few days later for an end-of-series party. For some reason which history hasn’t recorded, Harry Secombe had with him a folder of sheet music, containing a collection of folksongs in arrangements by Vaughan Williams and Britten. Spike Milligan took his trumpet to every Goon Show recording and rehearsal, presumably to add to the general riotous atmosphere.

History also hasn’t documented who suggested that the three not only perform the songs, but also record the event. Fifty years on, those of us for whom The Goon Show was a considerable influence in their adolescence can only be grateful. Unfortunately, no photographs of the event apparently remain.

The five Vaughan Williams arrangements are from a set of fifteen collected from the Eastern Counties, while the Britten songs are from his two volumes of British folksong arrangements. While originally arranged for voice and piano, Milligan, not wanting to be left out, doubled the voice part on trumpet. Yes, that seems a totally unlikely combination, but it does, for the most part, work.

How does one judge this musically? The Britten arrangements have been recorded many times in the past by many great singers (Pears, Terfel, Keenleyside and Bostridge, for example). These particular Vaughan Williams arrangements are not on record to the best of my knowledge, and that in itself begs the questions: why not? It would be clearly pointless to compare these versions to those in front of me now. While Secombe’s qualities as a tenor are well known, Milligan’s trumpet playing and Sellers’ pianistic abilities are rather less so.

To their credit, and the listener’s amazement, the three perform the works in all seriousness, despite the presence of the other partygoers, who are heard very prominently in the first two songs, but quieten down as they realise that something quite special is happening. The contribution of Milligan on trumpet, is surprisingly restrained, only occasionally threatening to overwhelm Secombe. For Sellers to accompany them from sight suggests that he was a far more accomplished pianist than generally given credit for.

It would be unimaginable for the three Goons to remain in "serious" mode for an extended period - it must be said that there are occasional muffled giggles from Secombe throughout - and so the "recital" finishes with Milligan’s Ying Tong song. The audience joins in lustily if not particularly harmoniously, and there are contributions from Neddy Seagoon, Bluebottle, Bloodnok, Grytpype-Thynne, Eccles and the other great characters.

This CD is an unbelievable document of another side of three men who changed the face of English comedy forever.

David J Barker


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