Folk Music on the Silver Screen: The 3rd episode of season 17 of Midsomer Murders, The Ballad of Midsomer County, mixes bizarre murder and humour in the way the series does so well.
The British TV series Midsomer Murders, broadcast since 1997, is based on the Chief Inspector Barnaby novels by best-selling crime author Caroline Graham. Though there are only seven novels, the series is going strong at well over 100 episodes. It has become a TV institution and England's biggest TV export.
The Ballad of Midsomer County is the 3rd episode of season 17, first aired in February 2015. It is the day of the Lower Crosby Folk Festival and festival organiser Toby Winning (played by Stuart St Paul) is found drowned in a bowl of eggs and eels. Shortly before, he had announced plans to move the festival away from the village and nearer to London.
Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) realizes that the murder has been inspired by a local folk song, The Ballad of Midsomer County, made famous by the legendary singer Johnny Carver, who committed suicide 25 years ago. The album he was recording at the time had never been found.
Winning's assistent Brian Grey (Daniel Brocklebank) is crushed by a huge loudspeaker; businessman and former musician Frank Wainwright (Clarke Peters) is impaled with a large parasol. The roses stuffed in Grey's mouth and the juniper bush left near Wainwright's corpse are again relating to the ballad. It turns out that Johnny Carver's death actually has been murder.
Midsomer is a fictional English county. Lots of the village scenery has been filmed in Oxfordshire. The folk festival takes place at Nettlebed Village Hall, where the Nettlebed Folk Club (NFC) meets. Several of NFC's regular singers are featured in the episode.
Actor Clarke Peters (The Wire) has drawn on his own musical heritage to play former folkie Frank Wainwright. He explains: "Frank is a guy who is not that far from where I am," he explains. "His journey is something I am very familiar with as I played guitar with a group called the Dylanites. Singing and playing in Midsomer Murders was a journey down memory lane and it all came back to me."
Dean Andrews, who plays the local hotel keeper, had been a professional singer before he started acting. He was discovered by film director Ken Loach who was looking for people from Yorkshire to appear in The Navigators.
Starring as Johnny Carver's niece and a budding folk singer, Melody, is X Factor finalist Lucie Jones. She's got to sing the ill-omened traditional ballad,
and relates: "I felt very comfortable going into my own territory. I listen to folk music but hadn't sung it for a few years so it was very refreshing."
In fact, the lyrics (and the screenplay) have been written by Paul Logue,
and set to music by folk singer-songwriter Seth Lakeman, who also accompanies Lucie Jones on guitar and fiddle on the soundtrack.
Come sit by me all you And pale was the skin Fine lords and laddies, Of the Midsomer maiden, And I'll tell you the tale Blue were her eyes Of the young John Henry. As blue as the sea. And he met a fair maiden, And on her fair head One bright may morning, Lay a garland of flowers. As he went a-hunting Sweet were the roses In Midsomer County . Of Midsomer County. But young men don't stray. This maiden will lead you away. 'Come to go rest now, ' She led him on through Said the Midsomer maiden, The Midsomer Greenwood 'You're weary from traveling, ' 'Til they came to a hut 'That I can see.' By a juniper tree. 'Let us go home now, ' She said, 'Sir, won't you' 'Over yonder the Greenwood.' 'Come sit by my fire, ' 'Come taste the fruits' 'You'll eat like the king' 'Of Midsomer County.' 'Of Midsomer County.' But young men don't stray. This maiden will lead you away. She brought him fine ale She said, 'Come, eat your fill.' And 'Alas I cannot stay, ' 'And I thank ye for supper' And she brought him supper. 'And when you are sated' Said young John Henry, 'My kind and fair maiden.' Fresh eggs and live eels 'You'll stay with me here' 'I'm bound to another, ' 'Now I must leave here' For young John Henry. 'In Midsomer County.' 'Soon married I'll be.' 'Midsomer County.' But young men don't stray. This maiden will lead you away. Well up went the cry 'You're bound to me now' Cold was the blade And warm was the blood Of the Midsomer maiden. 'And I am your lover.' Of the Midsomer maiden. That flowed from his body. 'For shame and for shame, ' 'I swear you'll not leave here' And soft was the neck Red as the roses 'For you have tricked me! ' 'Midsomer County.' Of young John Henry. Of Midsomer County. But young men don't stray. This maiden will lead you away. But deep in the Greenwood No headstone to mark him, Of Midsomer County No lover to grieve him, Lies young John Henry Save from the roses As cold as can be. Of Midsomer County. But young men don't stray. This maiden will lead you away.
Photo Credits: (1) Midsomer Murders (unknown/website); (2) Seth Lakeman (by Walkin' Tom).