Trad. (British), performed by the Kate Rusby Band; Rusby, guitar, vocal; Ian Carr, guitar; John McCusker, cittern and production; Ewen Vernal, acoustic bass; Andy Cutting, accordion. On the CD “Underneath the Stars,”Compass Records, 2003, and the related DVD “Kate Rusby: Live from Leeds.” A tune for Remembrance Day.

War, the omnipresence of tribalism enforced by violence or the threat of it, is very often the setting for the people’s music. In the British tradition, the military is regularly the third party in a love affair – Johnny’s off to war while Nancy’s left behind to prove her loyalty, or to kit herself up as a man and try to follow Johnny into the king’s service, or just to pine away. In this version (whose original dates, scholars say, from about 1750), “Nancy” is unusually bitter, or, on second thought, admirably spunky. She curses the recruiter, who has oiled his pitch with “a flowing bowl” and a shilling, playing to Johnny’s callow weaknesses. Otherwise, the lyrics are insipid, and where shifting narration can add sophistication to traditional songs, here it is disjointed. What makes this “White Cockade” remarkable is its arrangement and performance, by Rusby and a band captained by her first husband, John McCusker, a musician with a profound sense of le son juste. If Kate is The Barnsley Nightingale, John provided her the perfect ecology for her songs.

In English usage it can signify a hat or the decorations on it. So says the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives written examples from 1660. It derives the word from the French cocarde, itself derived from coq (“cock”), possibly from the rooster’s comb:

The first appearance of the word is in Rabelais, in the phrase bonnet à la coquarde, explained by Cotgrave (1611) as ‘a Spanish cap, or fashion of bonnet used by the most substantiall men of yore..also, any bonnet, or cap, worne proudly, or peartly on th’ one side’. Here coquarde appears to be the feminine of coquard, adjective, ‘foolishly proud, saucy, malapert’, as noun, ‘a malapert coxcomb’ (Cotgrave).

 In English (the OED continues), “cockade” signifies a “.ribbon, knot of ribbons, rosette, or the like, worn in the hat as a badge of office or party, or as part of a livery dress. The cockade worn in the hat by coachmen and livery servants of persons serving under the Crown, is a rosette of black leather, originally the distinctive badge of the House of Hanover, as the White Cockade was of the House of Stuart and its adherents.”

Sometimes “My Love Has Listed” features a blue or black or yellow or “blue and orange” cockade, which variations are thought to reflect the colours of the local regiment or politics. So do we hear in the Irish ballad “The Kerry Recruit,” in which the narrator loses his legs to the Crimean War: “Well the first thing they gave me, it was a red coat,/ With a lump of black leather to tie ’round me throat. / The next thing they gave me, I said, ‘What is that?’ / ‘Sure, man, a cockade, for to stick in your hat.’”

Then again, in response to a thread about the origins of “The Blue Cockade” on mudcat.org, the splendid (inevitably splenetic) traditional music website, a poster writes: “The origin of The Blue Cockade is that it used to be a white one, but the missus washed it along with my Chelsea football shirt!” We find there a “blue” version edited down and cleaned up, in the sense that it proceeds logically from recruitment to leave-taking: the recruit provides his love a say-good-morning-to-your-nightcap excuse: “My head was full of drink, love.” Oh, and she curses not the recruiter, but her, uh, ex?-boyfriend.

Like Archie Fisher and Stan Rogers, Rusby is one of those modern performers who really “gets” traditional music, who can “write” a traditional song as well as interpret one so that you feel it’s the One True Version. In her “Cockade,” the simplicity of the arrangement and how it builds tension give lifeblood to the grief of the young woman left behind. As beautiful as Rusby’s voice and phrasing are (as usual), what breaks the heart are McCusker’s single-note cittern phrases against the clutter-free foundational harmonies, spot on tempo (if deliberately lagging, reflecting grief), the sweet weeping of the double-course strings over McCall’s and Cutting’s spare bass and accordion lines. The overall effect is to remind us that the heart of traditional music is the purity of its expression – that it is, after all, the original soul music.

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One thought on “November 11 – Day 316 – “My Love Has Listed” (“The White [Blue, Black…] Cockade”)

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