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Before I Knew What Had Begun I Had Already Lost

by Jon Wilks

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    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality downloads of Before I Knew What Had Begun I Had Already Lost, The Cruel Mother, Up The Cut, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Mary Ashford's Tragedy, Tell Old Bill, The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove [Roud 29], Toryanse - 通りゃんせ, and 3 more. , and , .

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Tape Machine 03:36
At the age of just 22 I discovered my calling Watching streets as they come alive At five or six in the morning You can really define a town By the first light of day Like a face before the paint goes on Shadows carved out of grey I’d been given a tape machine It lived here in my satchel I’d sneak it out to a cheap cafe I’d hide it under the table From Nagasaki to old Soho Greetings cast on the rise Voices hewn in the analogue And there I severed my ties In Jeddah I taped the prayer call In Porto, Christ on the breeze In Singapore, well I caught them all Floating in from the seas From a Tokyo window ledge I heard the morning begin Same way it does everyday From Tokyo to old Medellín Won’t you please take good care of yourself And without words understand Because I love every part of you Because you’re all that I am
Johnny Sands 01:41
Well, a man whose name was Johnny Sands He’s married old Betsy Hague And though she’s brought him gold And she’s bought him land She’s proved him a terrible plague For, oh, she was a scolding wife She’s full of caprice and whim When he said he was tired of life Well, she was tired of him Right fa la Right fullerum fullerum For she was tired of him Oh, says he, “Then I will drown myself In the river that runs below” Says she, “I pray you do, You silly old elf, I’ve wished long ago” Says he, “Upon the brink I’ll stand And you run down the hill And push me in with all your might” She says, “My love, I will” Right fa la Right fullerum fullerum She says, “My love, I will” “All for fear that I should courage lack And try to save my life, I pray you tie my hands behind my back” “I will,” replied his wife She’s tied them fast as you may think And when securely done “Now stand,” says she, “upon the brink And I’ll prepare to run” Right fa la Right fullerum fullerum “And I’ll prepare to run” Well, all down the hill his loving bride She’s run with all her force All to push him in… …but he’s stepped aside And she’s fell in, of course Now splashing, dashing like a fish “Oh save me, Johnny Sands” “I can’t my dear, though much I wish, For you have tied my hands” Right fa la Right fullerum fullerum “For you have tied my hands”
Greek Street 06:52
It’s of a Soho morning in shades of dirty grey At 6am, well I stumbled once more into the day The street’s in need of hosing down to wash away the gloom And I was 19 years of age, the time has gone so soon ‘Twas there I spied a maiden with glitter in her hair And it fell in shards of crimson and it lit the morning air She’s teetered on her platform heels and scaffolded my mind Me, without a hard hat on, just begging to be fined Chorus And I would recommend And I’d write it in a song A night that ends on Greek Street To anybody young Well, she took her name from winter, no robin went without And she fluttered on the petrol breeze as neon picked her out The soul of Cambridge Circus, a phoenix from the frost Before I knew what had begun I had already lost So we took a bus to Lewisham where her mother had a place And against the kitchen sideboard, well I kissed her on the face And on a Swedish packing bed I kissed her naked breast And it wasn’t ‘til the midnight moon we stopped to take a rest Chorus It’s strange what I remember - it’s strange what I recall I don’t remember conversations - I don’t remember words at all I remember trips to Brighton, wrapped warm against the cold I remember thinking time had stopped and we weren’t growing old And that’s the wonder of the transient; a sense of life alive And the magic of the twilight sky and fingers intertwined And fingers then unravelled, and distance in the sheets And distance in the way she gazed way back on down the street Chorus So we lingered in the summer months, my winter maid and me And in the Soho evenings I loved her tenderly But by the time the autumn came, her eye began to roam And I wandered back to Lewisham all longing and alone So she took her Swedish packing bed for some other blade to game And I tried my best to blame her but the blame it never came For she was but 18 years of age and barely in her bloom That one sweet misty morning on old Greek Street in the gloom
‘Twas was in the merry month of may In the springtime of the year When down in yonders meadow There runs a river clear To see those little fishes How they do sport and play Calling many a lad and many a lass All there to making hay Then in come both Will and Tom With pitchfork and with rake And likewise black-eyed Susan The hay all there to make With sweet jug and sweet jug How the nightingale does sing From the morning to the evening As we go haymaking Then just as Bright Phoebus The sun was going down Along came two piping men Approaching from the town They pulled out their tabor and pipes Which made those pretty girls to sing Then they all put down their forks and rakes And left off haymaking
As we were gone sailing Five cold frosty nights Five cold frosty nights And four days It was there we a-spied A lofty tall ship She’s come bearing down on us Brave boys Now, where are you going You lofty tall ship How dare you to venture so nigh? For I have turned robber All on the salt seas To maintain my two brothers and I Now heave up your courses And let go your main sheets And bring yourself under my lea For I shall take from you Your rich merchants, goods merchants And I’ll point your bow guns to the sea I’ll not heave up my courses Nor let go my main sheets Nor bring myself under your lea Nor you shall take from me My rich merchants, goods merchants Nor you’ll point my bow guns to the sea Now broadside to broadside These two vessels they went They were fighting for hours or more When at length Henry Martin Gave her a broadside And she’s sank and she’s rose never more Bad news Henry Martin Bad news I must tell Bad news it is going around Of a lofty tall ship Lost on the salt seas And the most of her merry men drowned
Will Watch 05:12
One morn when the wind From the northward blew keenly, When sullen roared The big waves on the main, A famed smuggler, Will Watch, Kissed his Susan serenely Took helm, and to sea Boldly steered out again. Will had promised his Sue That this trip, if well ended, Should coil up his ropes, And he'd anchor on shore; When his pockets were lined, Why his life should be ended, The laws he had broke He would never break more. His sea-boat was trim Made her port, took her loading, Then Will stood to sea, Reached the offing, and cried, ”This night, if I've luck, Furls the sails of my trading. In dock I can lay - Serve a friend or two besides.” We lay to ‘til night Came on darksome and dreary, To crowd every sail Then he piped up all hands; But a signal soon spied - 'Twas a prospect uncheerly, 'Twas a signal that warned him To beat from the land. “The Philistians are out”, Cries Will, “we'll take no heed on't, Attacked, who's the man That will flinch from his gun? Should my head be blown off I shall ne'er feel the need on't, We'll fight while we can; When we can't, boys, we'll run.” Through the haze of the night A bright flash now appearing, “Oh ho!” cried Will Watch, ”The Philistians bear down. Bear a hand, my tight lads, Ere we think about sheering. Our broadside poured in; Should we swim, boys, or drown?” “But should I be popped off, You, my mates left behind me, Pay regard of my last words, See 'em kindly obeyed. Let no stone mark the spot, And, my friends, do you mind me, Near the beach with this grave Where Will Watch should be laid.” Poor Will's yarn was spun up - For a bullet next minute Laid him low on the deck And he never rose more. The crew fought the brig While a shot remained in him, Then sheered, and Will's hulk To his Susan they bore. In the dead of the night His last wish was complied with, To few known his grave And to few known his end; He was borne to the earth By the crew that he died with; He'd the tears of his Susan, The prayers of his men. Near his grave dash the billow, That wild low last billow, Yon ash struck with lightning That marked his cold bed. Will Watch, the bold smuggler, That famed lawless fellow - Once feared, now forgot - Sleep in peace with the dead.
Oh, who’ll replace this old miner? And who will take my place below? And who will follow the trepanner Oh, dear god, when I go? Oh, who will wield my heavy pick? That I did wield for forty years? And who will hew the black, black cole? Who, dear god, when I go? Oh, who will ride the miner’s train That takes him to the dark coal face? Who’ll take my place upon that train? Who, dear god, when I go? Oh, who will load this great iron tub? Oh, who will strain his bending back? And who will work, sweat and ache like hell? Who, dear god, when I go? Oh, who will cry when the roof caves in When friends are dying all around? And who will sing the miners’ hymn? Who, dear god, when I go? For forty years I’ve loved this mine For forty years I’ve worked down there Now, who’ll replace this old miner When I’ve paid my god my fare?
There was a bold boatswain and in Dover he did dwell And a handsome wife had whom a tailor’s loved well And when the bold boatswain was out of the way His frolicsome young wife and the tailor they would play To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay One day she’s gone a-walking and she’s out into the street When this loving tailor man, well she has chanced there to meet “My husband is on board with the rest of the crew So on this very night I shall frolic here with you” To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay Now as it all fell out, about twelve of the clock Well, the boatswain he’s returned and on the door there he did knock Which surprised them in their frolics, for neither were to sleep, Says the tailor, “loving woman, O where shall I creep?” To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay So there they’ve laid a-pondering and musing in the bed When a comical fancy has come into her head “My husband’s chest’s a-waitin ‘neath the dresser, there,” she’s cried Where in it my young tailor you may certainally hide To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay So down the stairs she goes and she’s opened up the door Where she’s found the boatswain there with sailors three or four “My dear I am so sorry I’ve disturbed you in your rest But here I am returned for I need to have my chest” To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay From the chest the tailor whispers, “woman, pay me some regard They’ll be breaking all my bones and they’ll be cutting off my yard And if that were to happen then I’m ruined I’m afraid For I get more from my yard than from the tailor trade” To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay Well the sailors scarcely carried that old chest from the town When the weight of it had drenched them in sweat all running down They sat themselves all comfy on their baggage for to rest Saying one to another, well the devil’s in the chest To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay Now, neither of these sailors this old chest could undo So up comes the boatswain and the rest of the crew He’s opened up the cargo and in view of them all There lay the tailor like a dog inside a stall To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay “Now, what have we here, bold fellow,” the boatswain cried “I’ve been cuckolded on shore many times I’m afraid” So he pressed this bold tailor and took him off to sea Saying, “he’ll not be staying at home with his yard to cuckold me” To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay
Erin, Sad Erin, it grieves me to ponder The wrongs of thy injured isle Thy sons in their thousands deploring do wander On shores far away in exile O give me the power to cross o’er the main America might yield me some comfort from pain Though I’m only lamenting whilst here I remain For the joys I shall not see no more With wonder I gazed at that lofty high mountain As in grandeur it rose o'er it's lord With sorrow I beheld my own garden yielding The choicest of fruits for his board Oh, where is my father's low cottage of clay Where I have spent many a long happy day? Alas has his lordship contrived it away It is gone I shall not see no more The sloe and the berry hung ripe on the bushes I’ve gathered them off without harm And I went to the fields for to view the green bushes Preparing for winter's cold storms And I’ve sat by the fire on a cold frosty night Along with my friends telling tales of delight Those days gave me pleasure and I could invite But they're gone I shall not see no more So, farewell then to Erin and those I’ve left weeping Upon this disconsolate shore Farewell to the grave where my father lies sleeping The ground I do dearly adore Farewell then to pleasure, I’ve once had a home Farewell, now a stranger in England to roam Oh give me my freedom or give me my tomb Friends, in pity, I ask for no more
The Fowler 03:50
Well, come all you bold fellows who handle a gun I would have you come home by the light of the sun For young Jimmer was a-fowling, and a fowling alone And he shot his own true love by the light of the sun When Polly was walking in a shower of rain Well, she stopped by a green bush, her beauty to save With her apron wrapped ‘round her, well he’s took her for a swan And he shot his own true love by the light of the sun When first he’s come to her and he found it was she He was shaking and trembling, his eyes couldn’t see For now you are dead love, and your sorrows are o’er Fair thee well my dear Polly, I’ll see you no more Well, home ran young Jimmer with his dog and his gun Crying uncle, dear uncle, d’you see what I’ve done? Cursed be the old blacksmith who made me this gun ‘Cause I’ve shot my own true love by the light of the sun Well, up spoke his uncle, his locks hanging grey Saying, Jimmer, oh Jimmer, don’t you run away Don’t you leave this old country ‘til your trial it comes on For you never will hang for the death of a swan When his trial it’s come on Polly’s ghost did appear Crying honor, your honor, let Jimmer go clear With my apron wrappen ‘round me, well he’s took me for a swan Now his poor heart lies bleeding for Polly his own


With his fourth solo album, Before I Knew What Had Begun I Had Already Lost, Jon Wilks takes a step away from the Birmingham songs that brought him recognition on his previous two collections and instead focuses on the songs that have moved him most over the last few, difficult years. Still heavily focused on lesser-known traditional songs, the acclaimed guitarist and singer includes three compositions of his own, and brings together a collection of musicians that he has grown to love playing with.

“While I adore researching and arranging Midlands songs,” Wilks explains, “this album grew out of a different place. Just before I started recording it, I fell quite seriously ill and ended up spending three months at home. I spent a lot of time picking away at the guitar, trying different tunings, and then Martin Simpson showed up with a 5-string banjo and prescribed ‘banjo therapy’. Music and friends were a great help, and these songs and musicians kind of coalesced during that time.”

Aside from Martin Simpson’s banjo, the album sees Wilks renewing friendships young and old. He has worked for over a decade with keyboardist, Jon Nice, so it’s no surprise to find him here. The pair first worked with Lukas Drinkwater on their well-loved Nick Drake covers during lockdown, when Katherine Priddy joined them on vocals. “Those sessions formed a kind of sonic template for this album”, says Wilks. “I was keen to explore their organic simplicity further, and I think you can hear that on some of these recordings.” Drinkwater makes a welcome return on this record.

The album also sees Wilks recording with Jackie Oates, with whom he has recently begun performing as a duo. “We first met when I supported her in about 2018, and we hit it off straight away. I helped out on her recent album, Gracious Wings, and then we started playing together more often around the time our mutual friend, Paul Sartin, died. ‘Haymaking Song’, on this album, is a traditional song local to where Paul and I got to know each other, and we used to play it together whenever we had a chance. We never got around to recording together, though, so I hummed Paul’s fiddle parts - as best I remembered them - to Jackie, and that’s largely what she’s playing here. I hope we got it right.”

The album title comes from a line in Wilks’ own ‘Greek Street’. “That lyric, along with the rest of the song, fell out in a single sitting. It could be interpreted as quite a melancholy thing to say, but I think it comes from my tendency to throw myself wholeheartedly into things, whether that’s relationships, work, art or anything else. Take traditional music, for instance. Before I knew what had happened, I was in up to my chin!”


released May 5, 2023

Recorded in Whitchurch, Hampshire.
‘Tape Machine’ recorded in East Harling, Norfolk.

Produced and performed by Jon Wilks.
Mastered by Nick Cooke.

Lukas Drinkwater, double bass (3, 9, 12).
Tom Gregory, percussion, backing vocals (9).
Jackie Oates, backing vocals and viola (tracks 1, 3, 5, 11). Viola (2, 12).
Jon Nice, keyboards (1, 3, 12). Backing vocals (1). Electric guitar (1).
Knees Thompson, knees (4).

Advice and occasional tweaking, Jim Moray.
Art direction, Alex Merry.
Design, Charlotte Lloyd.

Huge thanks to Emi, Kai & Hana Wilks for being the best family ever. Eliza Carthy for extensive title advice. Richard Davies and Angeline Morrison for listening and moral support. Alex Merry for her arty skills and folkie enthusiasm. Jim Moray for participating in the Accountability Club. Jon Nice, Jackie Oates & Lukas Drinkwater for being wonderful musicians and friends. Claire Patterson for agenting and general Claireness. Martin Simpson for the banjo, the friendship, and the banjo friendship. Rachel Wilkinson for correcting all the words and dishing out the gold stars.


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Jon Wilks Whitchurch, UK

'The sort of performer folk circles mean when they talk of the living tradition' - Mike Davies, Folking.com

“One of the best of the New Wave of Folk Blokes. As a guitar player and arranger of traditional songs, Jon Wilks already deserves speaking of in the same breath as your Simpsons and your Morays.” – Ian A. Anderson, fRoots Mag
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