Hi Worksongers!Your Weekly Worksong is... Thousands or More (aka. Drive Sorrows Away, aka. Bright Phoebe)
Introduction Here's a song that's been passed down through eight generations of a single farming family in England: the Copper Family. It is a wonderful anthem and we've found it works quite well in the vegetable fields.
Background Hundreds of songs like "Thousands or More" were a part of the village life of farming communities in Victorian England. If they weren't necessarily sung during the work itself they were a part of the everyday, describing the trials and virtues of farming and rural life in general. Sheep was the main farm business in the Copper's hometown, (Rottingdean, in Southeast England), and I have to admit I'm not sure if they sang this while actually shearing.
I do know that they sang it after work at the local pub, "the Black Ram." The farm the Coppers worked was part of a local estate called Challoners Manor, which covered over 3000 acres of pasture and cropland, and the work of hand-shearing the thousands of sheep on the property, as well as herding the animals out on the open hillsides, would have given ample time to learn and memorize songs.
Over the years, these songs have survived through the changes in livelihood and musical taste in rural England due to the great relish the Copper family brings to the songs and the the joy with which they pass them along. As times changed their jobs changed too- from farming to metalsmithing, mechanical work and woodworking in the 20th century. Today the newest generations of Coppers is carrying songs like this into the 21st century. Check out the old and new clips of them on worksongs.org.
Where I learned it My buddy Jeff Davis, of Woodstock, Connecticut, taught me this one. He was good friends with Bob Copper starting back in the 1970s. At that time this song underwent a bit of a popular revival, and people all across England know it today. Jeff has a wonderful deep baritone voice and even though he's a Yankee his version has a sense of authenticity that I really appreciate.
About the same time Jeff taught me the song I discovered that my friends Greg Boardman of Waterville, Maine, and Ellen Gawler of Belgrade, Maine also knew it. They taught me their version, which is a little different but nonetheless it is great fun to sing it with them due to their wonderful sense of harmony.
Why it’s a great song: - Awesome sentiment. - The lyrics of the chorus repeat "Thousands or More" three times. Easy for any crowd. - The third line of the chorus has a build in awesome-harmony spot - The verses are great solo or duet opportunities (I like singin' 'em with my sweetie) - Bonus: also great for toasting ceremonial occasions and general merry-making.
If you try it: - The traditional lyrics of the song have a line "with my bottle and friends you will find me at home." Sometimes it just makes sense to substitute "family" for "bottle" - depends on the crowd and the setting, right? - If you're teaching it to newcomers, you can use hand gestures to indicate the notes in the chorus ala Peter Amidon. Just move your hand up and down an imaginary scale in the air to show people the relative proximity of each note to the next. It really works! - This one is good for the field because the tempo can easily be loosened up. This means if you get spread out from your fellow songsters in a pea patch the song won't *necessarily* fall apart.
Check it out: There is just so much to read and explore when it comes to the Copper Family, and English song traditions in general. Definitely worth reading Bob Copper’s wonderful books about farming life and music and how they connect.
Here is a link to the song on worksongs.org Bob Copper’s extraordinary book “A Song For Every Season” The amazing old recordings “Come Write Ye Down” The Copper Family Website (lists more of Bob’s books) A brief discussion on Mudcat.org
Holler back with any questions or ideas! And let me know if you decide to sing it... -Bennett
PS. If you missed past weeks of Your Weekly Worksong, I’ve posted them here...