Blood & Roses Volume 3

by Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger

As I walked over old London's Bridge It was in the morning early, There I espied a most pretty fair maid Lamenting for her Georgie. She said, Now saddle to me my black, Bridle him right gaily, And I will ride now this livelong night And beg for the life of Georgie. She rode, she rode until she came there, It was in the morning early, Down on her bended kneed she fell Saying, Spare the life of Georgie! She now took out her purse of gold Crying, Lawyers, money a-plenty! Just fee yourself now and think on me And plead for the life of Georgie! Then Georgie's lawyer he rose up Says, I've nothing at all against him. By his own confession now he must die And the Lord have mercy on him. The judge looked over his left shoulder; He looked both sad and sorry; My pretty fair maid, you have come too late, Georgie's gonna be hung tomorrow. Georgie walked up and down the hall, Bidding adieu to many, But when he came to his own true love That grieved him worse than any. Georgie was hanged in them golden chains, Such chains you don't see many; Georgie he come of a noble race And loved a virtuous lady. Georgie is buried in Harlan State And over him grows a willow, With a marble slab at his head and feet And his true love's arm for a pillow.
Listen, good people, to my tale, Listen to what I tell to thee; The King has ta'en a poor prisoner The wanton Laird o' Ochiltree. When news it cam' tae the Queen, She sighed and sair richt mournfully: O, whit will come o' Lady Margret Wha bears sic love for Ochiltree? The queen she's gane intil the King And louted low doon til her knee; I never asked a boon but noo: O, spare the life o' Ochiltree. Gin ye had asked for hoose or land I'd freely gie them a' to thee, But a' the gowd fair Scotland Winna buy the life o' Ochiltree. The Queen she tripped doon the stair, And doon she gaed richt mournfully; A' the gowd in fair Scotland Winna buy the life o' Ochiltree. Lady Margaret tore her yellow hair, And aye the saut tear blint her e'e; I'll tak' a knife and end my life' And lie in the ground wi' Ochiltree. always, blinded her eye O na, na, na, then, quoth the Queen, O haud your tongue, this maunna be! I'll set ye on a better way To free the Laird o' Ochiltree. The Queen she slippit up the stair, And up she gaed richt privilee; And she has stolen the prison keys And lowsed the Laird o' Ochiltree. She's gi'en to him a purse o' gowd And anither o' the white money; She's gi'en him twa pistols by his side, Says, Fire them baith when ye gang free. When he cam' tae the Queen's window, Whaten a joyfu' cry gi'ed he! He's fired the pistols and he's awa', The wanton Laird o' Ochiltree. The King he rose up in his bed. O, wha is this has waukened me? I'll pledge my lands and a' my rents It's the wanton Laird o' Ochiltree. Then ca' to me my jailors a', Ca' them by thirty and by three! I swear that e'er the clock strikes twal' That hangit high they a' shall be. O na, na, na, then cried the Queen, Na, na, na that cannae be! Gin ye are gaun tae hang them a' Ye maun, my love, begin wi' me. The tane was shippit at the pier o' Leith, Lady Margaret at the Queen's ferry. And she's gotten a faither tae her bairn, The wanton Laird o' Ochiltree.
My love she is a gentlewoman, Has her living by the seam; I ken nae how she is provided This nicht for me and my foot-groom. Willie's gane tae Annie's bower-door And tirled gently at the pin; Sleep ye or wake ye, my dear Annie? Open the door and let me in. Wi' her white fingers lang and sma', She's lifted gently at the pin; Flang her airms a' aboot him, Kindly welcomed Willie in. O, will ye gang tae cairds or dice, Willie, will ye hang tae play? Or will ye gang tae a weel-made bed And lie and sleep awhile till day? My love Annie, my dear Annie, I would be at your desire, It it wasnae for yon Auld Matrons Sitting by the kitchen fire. Willie dear, keep up your hairt, Keep up your hairt and dinnae fear; For seiven year and mair hae passed Since last her feet did file the fleer. They hadnae kissed nor gi'en love's handsel The way of lovers when they meet; When up arose yon Auld Matrons, And sae well she spread her feet. first exchange O wae befa' yon Auld Matrons Sae clever as she took the gate, And she's gane up yon high high hill And chappit at the sheriff's yett. Sleep ye or wake ye, my good lord, And areye no' your bower within? There's a knicht in bed wi' your dochter And I fear she's gotten wrang. Ye'll gae doon through Kelso toon, And wauken a' my merry men; And when ye hae this wark weel done Then I will come and tak' command. She's done her doon through Kelso toon And waukened a' his merry men; And when she had this wark weel done Then he has come and ta'en command. He has his horse wi' corn foddered, A' his men were armed in mail; He's gi'en Auld Matrons half a wark Tae lead his men oot ower the hill. Willie slept but Annie waukened When she heard their bridles ring; She shook her Willie by the shouther Rise, my love, ye sleep ower lang. O, gi'e nae sign, my ain dear lassie Till I've pit on my shooting gear; Then I wadna fear the King himsel' Though he and a' his men were here. They shot their arrows through the window, ane o' them grazed Willie's broo, The lassie grat and tore her hair This nicht we'll a' hae cause to rue. Willie shot his arrows oot Until the bow brunt in his hand; And aye he kissed her rosy lips, Says, See they fa' on ilka head! He set his horn intil his mouth And blawn a blast sae lood and shrill; It was heard by Jock, his brither, In Rindlewood whaur he lay still. The firsten shot his brither lowsed It stretched twa men oot on the green; The neisten shot his brother lowsed Then it's ca'd oot the sheriff's e'en. Wha will be my e'en? he cried, Lend me an airm or mebbe twa! And they that come for strife this nicht Tak' horse! Tak' horse and ride awa'! But wae befa' ye, Auld Matrons And an ill deith may ye dee! I'll burn ye on yon high hill-heid And blow your ashes in the sea.
I have a sister, young Clifford he said, A sister no man knows; She hath a colour in her cheek Like drops of blood in snow, Like drops of blood in snow. She hath a waist, a waist, a waist Like to my silver cane; And I would not for ten-thousand worlds Have King Henry know her name, Have King Henry know her name. King Henry was in his bower Hidden close and still; And every word young Clifford spoke He wrote down in a bill, He wrote down in a bill. Now, the first fair line she looked on She did begin to smile, And the next fair line she looked on Down the tears did fall, Down the tears did fall. Cursèd be my brother Clifford, O, cursèd may be be! Why don't he dote on his hawks and hounds But he must dote on me, He must dote on me.
Glenkindie was a harper guid He harpit tae the King. Glenkindie was the best harper That ever harped on a string. He could harpit a fish oot o' saut water Or water oot o' a stane; He could harpit the milk fae a maiden's breist Whe ne'er gied souk tae wean. He's harpit in the King's castle, He's harpit them a' asleep; A' but the bonnie young countess Wha love did wauken keep. First he harpit a dowie air And syne he harpit a gay; And mony a sigh between the hands I wat the lady gie. When day is dawen and cocks are crawin' And wappit their wings sae wide; It's ye may come unto my bower And lie doon by my side. But mind that ye tell na Jock, your man, Whatever that ye dee! For if an ye tell Jock, your man, He'll beguile baith you and me. He's ta'en his harp intil his hand He harpit and he sang; And he is hame tae Jock, his man, As fast as he can gang. I think that I could tell ye, Jock, Gin I a man had slain; Ay, that ye micht, my maister dear, Although ye had slain ten. When day is dawen and cock hae crawin', And wappit their wings sae wide, I'm bidden to yon lady's bower Tae lie doon by her side. Then harken weel noo, Jock my man, And tak' tent whit I say! Gin ye dinna wauken me in time, High hangit ye shall be. Then gang tae your bed, my maister dear, I fear ye've waked ower lang, I'll wauken ye in as guid time As any cock in the land. Jock's ta'en his harp intil his hand He harpit and he sang; Until Glenkindie laid him doon And fast asleep did gang. Then he has gane tae the lady's bower As fast as he could rin; And when he ca' tae the bower door, He tirled at the pin. O, wha is this, the lady cried That tirls at the pin? Wha but Glenkindie, your ain true love? O, rise and let me in. She kent he was nae gently knicht That she had letten in; For neither when he came or went Kissed he her cheek nor chin. He neither kissed her when he cam' Nor clappit her when he gaed; And in and at her bower window The moon shone like a gleid O, ragged is your hose, Glenkindie, Riven are uour sheen; A' raivelled is your yellow hair That I saw late yestreen. The stockings they are Jock, my man's, Cam' first intae my hand; The sheen as well belong tae him, At my bed-foot they stand; And I raivelled a' my yellow hair Wi' rinnin against the wind. He's ta'en his harp intil his hand, He harpit and he sang, And he's awa' tae his maister dear, As fast as he could gang. C'wa, c'wa, my maister dear, I fear ye sleep ower lang. There's no' a cock in a' the land But had wappit his wings and crawn. Glenkindie's ta'en his harp in hand, He harpit and he sang; And when he cam' to the lady's bower He chappit wi' his hand. He chappit at the lady's bower And tirled at the pin; Rise up, rise up, my bonnie may, O rise, and let me in! O, wha is that at my bower door That tirls at the pin? Wha but Glenkindie, your ain true love? O, rise and let me in. O, hae ye left behind wi' me Your harp or else your glove? Or are ye come to me again To ken mair o' my love? Glenkindie swore a muckle oath By airn, by oak, by thorn, I was never in your chamber, lass, Frae the day that I was born. Then God forbit, the lady cried, Sic shame should e'er betide, That I should first be a wild loon's thing And then a young knicht's bride. Then she has ta'en her wee penknife That hung doon by her gair, My body's kent a man this nicht But it shall ken nae mair. Glenkindie's rode up yon high hill As fast as he could gae, C'wa, c'wa, noo, Jock, my man, And I will pay your fee. Then he has ta'en him, Jock his man, And hangit him fu' high; He's hangit him ower his ain yett As high as high could be. He's ta'en his harp intil his hand Saw sweetly as it rang; But wae and weary was to hear Glenkindie's dowie sang. His lady she was cauld and deid And didna hear his mane; And gin he harps till doomisday, She'll never hear him again.
The Queen fell sick and very, very sick She was sick and like to dee And she sent for twa friars oot o' France To come to her speedily. The King has sent for the Earl Marshall, And an angry man was he: The Queen has sent for twa friars oot o' France To shrive her presently. It's ye'll put on the Greyfriar's goon And I'll put on another; And we will gang and shrive the Queen, Two holy friars thegither. O, God forbid, said the Earl Marshall Sic and orra ploy should be; Gin I beguile Queen Eleanor I dout that she would hang me. King Henry swore by the sun and the moon, He swore by the Trinity; He swore by his sceptre, he swore by his sword, Earl Marshall he shouldnae dee. When they cam' before the Queen, The louted low til their knee; What matter, what matter, our gracious Queen That you've sent for us speedily? O, I am sick and very, very sick, I am sick and like to dee; O, pray to God for my poor soul, Some comfort gi'e to me. Confess, confess! the King he cried, Confess your sins to me! Confess, confess! said the Earl Marshall And ye shall pardoned be. The first vile sin I ever did commit, I'll tell to you the deed: I played the whore wi' the Earl Marshall When he got my maindenheid. O, wasna that a sin and a muckle great sin? I hope it will pardoned be. Amen, Amen! said the Earl Marshall And a very feart hairt had he. The neisten sin that e'er I did To you I will discover: I poisoned fair Lady Rosamund A' in fair Woodstock bower. O, wasna that a sin and a muckle great sin? And I hope it will pardoned be; Amen, Amen! said the Earl Marshall And a very feart hairt had he. The neisten sin that e'er I did The truth I'll tell to thee; I carried a box seiven years in my breist To poison King Henry. O, wasna that a sin and a muckle great sin? And I hope it will pardoned be. Amen, Amen! said the Earl Marshall And a very feart hairt had he. O, see ye no' yon twa bonnie boys As they play at the ba'? The auldest is the Earl Marshall's son And I lo'e him best o' a', And the youngest is King Henry's son And I dinna lo'e him at a'. He's heidit like an orra bull, He's backit like a bear. Amen! cries the King in his ain voice And I lo'e him a' the mair. O, wae betide ye, Earl Marshall, And an ill deith may ye dee; Gin I hadna sworn by my sceptre and my croon High hangit ye should be.
Whaur hae ye been, Peggy, Whaur hae ye been? In the garden 'mang the gillyflooers 'Tween the hours o' twelve and ane. Ye werena yoursel', Peggy, No there your lane, Your faither saw ye in Jamie's airms 'Tween the hours o' twelve and ane. Whit through we were seen, mither, Though we were seen? I would sleep in Jamie's airms Though his grave was growing green. Your Jamie's a rogue, peggy, Jamie's a loon; For the trystin' o oor ae dochter And her sae very young. Jamie's no' to blame, mither, The blame lies on me, For I was sleep in Jamie's airms Though a' the world should dee. She's gane tae her ain chaulmer. Jamie was there. I'm blithe to see ye, Jamie dear, Though we maun meet nae mair. We'll tak a pairtin' glass, laddie, Poor oot the wine, And since we maun meet nae mair, my love, We'll drink your health and mine. Tak' me in your airms, laddie, Here's kisses five, And since we maun meet nae mair, my love, We'll drink weel may we thrive. Come to my airms, lassie, Close tae my hairt, And as lang's the sun hings i' the lift I swear we'll never pairt. Your faither keeps a crawin' cock Divides nicht frae day. And in the middle-watch o' the nicht In greenwood ye'll meet me. When mass was sung and bells were rung And a' bound for bed, She's kilted up her gay clothin', Met Jamie in the wood. Twas early in the mornin', The clock chappit twa, Her faither rose up in his bed Cryin', Peggy, she's awa'! They've mounted their horses And fast they did run, But lang ere they won tae the tap o' the hill, The lad and lass were ane.
Johnny he promised he'd marry me. I fear he's with some fair one and gone; There's something that ails him and I don't know what it is, But I'm weary of lying alone. Johnny he came at the appointed hour, Knocked on her window so slow; This young girl arose and she hurried on her clothes And she bid her true love welcome home. She took him by the hand and she laid him down, Found he was as cold as the clay. She said, My dearest dear, if I only had my wish, This long night would never turn to day. Where is your soft bed of down, my love? Where are your white holland sheets? And where is the fair girl that watches over you As you lie every night in your sleep? The sea is my soft bed of down, he said, Sand be my white holland sheet; The little hungry fishes they do feed off of me As I lie every night in the deep. Then, O, my little cock, my handsome little cock, Don't crow till 'tis long after day; Your cage it will be of the purest beaten gold And your door of the sweet ivory. But him a-being young, he crowed so very soon, Crowed three long hours before day; This young man arose, and he hurried on his clothes Farewell, love, for I must go away. When will you come back again, my love, When will you come back again? When little fishes fly and the seas they do run dry, And the hard rocks do melt in the sun.
Young Johnson and young Connel They sat drinking at the wine; Gin ye wad marry my sister It's I wad marry thine. I wadnae marry your sister For your houses and your land But I'll keep her for my leman Whe I come over the strand. I wadnae marry your sister For a' your gowd sae gay! But I'll keep her for my leman When I come by this way. Young Johnson had a little wee sword Hung low doon by his gair; And he stabbed it through young Connel's hairt And word he ne'er spak' mair. Then he's awa' tae his sister's bower And tirled at the pin; Whaur hae ye been, my brither dear, Sae late as ye come in? I hae been at the school, sister, Learnin' young clerks tae sing. I dreamed a dreary dream this nicht I dout it means nae gude; I dreamed the ravens tore your flesh And the wolves did drink your blood. ae dream o' blood, my sister dear, I dout means muckle ill; For I hae slain young Connel And they're seekin' me to kill. If ye hae slain young Connel Then ye'll get nae help fae me; May wolves and ravens tear your flesh As you hing on the gallows-tree. Then he's awa' tae his true love's bower And tirled at the pin; Whaur hae ye been, young Johnson, Sae late as ye come in? I hae been at the school, my love, Learnin' young clerks tae sing. I dreamed a dreary dream this nicht I dout it means nae gude. They were seekin' ye wi' hawks and hounds And the wolves did drink your blood. Hawks and hounds they may seek me, As I trow weel they be; For I hae killed young Connel, The ae brither was he. Gin ye hae slain my ae brither, Alas and wae is me! But gin your body's free frae wounds The easier I will be. Lie doon, lie doon, then, young Johnson, Lie doon and tak' your sleep; It's ower this chaulmer I will watch, Thy fair body to keep. He hadnae slept within' that bower An hour but barely three, When four-and-twenty belted knichts Did seek his fair body. And when they cam' unto the gate Unto her they did say: O did you see yon bloody knicht As he rode by this way? Whit colour was his hawk, she said, Whit colour was his hounds? Whit colour was his gallant steed That bore him frae the toon? O, bloody, bloody was his hawk And bloody was his hounds; But milk-white was the gallant steed That bore him frae the toon. Gin his hawk was red wi' blood, And bloody was his hounds, He's ower yon hill and far awa' He's gane tae Embro toon. They've turned their high horses' heids And fast they rode awa'; And she's gane whaur young Johnson lay And softly she did ca'. Lie still, lie still, my young Johnson, Lie still and tak' your sleep; But he's ta'en up his twa'edged sword And wounded her fu' deep. Whit aileth thee, my young Johnson, Some ill deith may ye dee! First ye hae slain my ae brither And noo ye hae slain me. O live, O live, my ain true love, O live but half-an-hour! And the best doctor in Embro toon Shall come within your bower. How can I live? How shall I live? Young Johnson, dinna ye see The red draps o' my bonnie hairt's blood Rin trinklin' by my knee? Tak' aff, tak' aff my holland sark And rive't frae gair tae gair; And stap it in my bloody wound That it may bleed nae mair. Syne he's ta'en aff her holland sark, And rive't frae gair tae gair; And stapped it in her bloody wound But aye it bled the mair. Then he has ta'en his twa-edged sword And leaned it on the ground, And he has gi'en his ain body A deep and deadly wound.
Young man fair, young man free, Where was you born and in what country? In Ireland I was bred and born Back to Ireland I will return. When they was parting she give to him Her heart's true love and a guinea gold ring, When you looks at the ring and it's bright and true, You know your lover is true to you. If this ring he's bright and clear, You know I'm constant to my dear. But if this ring he's pale and wan, Your lover's gone with another man. He took ship and away went he, Till he come to that strange country, When he looked at the ring, it was pale and wan, He knows she's gone with another man. So he took ship and back sailed he Till he come to his own country; He was a-riding over the plain, The first he met was the begging man. What news, what news, what news? cried he, Sad and sorry I'be to tell to thee; Sad and sorry I'be to tell to thee, Today is your true lover's wedding day. You'll lend me your begging rig, You'll put on my riding stage; No, the begging rig's too poor for thee, The riding stage too good for me. Be it right, be it wrong, The begging rig it will go on. Now tell me as fast as you can, What is the work of the begging man? You may walk as fast as you will Till you come to yonders hill, But when you come to yonders gate, Lean on your staff with a trembling step. Beg fom Pitt, beg from Paul, Beg from the highest to the lowest of all, But from them all you need take none Till you come to the bride's own hand. He stepped on with a fine good will, Till he come to yonders hill; When he came to yonders gate, Leaned on his staff with a trembling step. The bride come trembling down the stair, Gold rings on her fingers, gold bobs in her hair; A glass of wine all in her hand, All for to give to the begging man. Out of the glass he drunk up the wine, Into the glass goes a guinea gold ring; Did you get it by sea? Did you get it by land? Or did you get it from a drowned man's hand? Neither did I get it by sea or land, Neither did I get it from a drowned man's hand - I got it from my love in a courting way, I give it to my love on her wedding day. Gold rings from her finmgers she did let fall, Gold bobs from her hair she throwed agin the wall, I'll follow you for evermore Though I'm begging from door to door. He that was blackest among them all Now shines the fairest in the hall. He that was single at the break of day, Stole the bride from the groom away.
Four-and-twenty Hielan' men Cam' frae the Carron Side, To steal awa' Eppie Morrie For she wadna be a bride, a bride, She wadna be a bride. Then oot it's cam' her mither then, It was a moonlicht nicht, She couldnae see her dochter For the water shine sae bricht, sae bricht, The water shine sae bricht. Haud awa' frae me, mither, Haud awa' frae me! There's no' a man in a' Strathdon Shall wedded be with me, with me, Shall wedded be with me. They've taken Eppie Morrie, then, And a horse they've bound her on, And they hae rid to the minister's hoose As fast as horse could gang, could gang, As fast as horse could gang. Then Willie's ta'en his pistol oot And set it to the minister's breist, O marry me, marry me, minister, Or else I'll be your priest, your priest, Or else I'll be your priest. Haud awa' fae me, Willie, Haud awa' fae me! I daurna avow to marry you Except she's willin' as thee, as thee, Except she's willin' as thee. Haud awa' frae me, good sir, Haud awa' frae me! There's no a man in a' Strathdon Shall marrièd be by me, by me, Shall marrièd be by me. They've taken Eppie Morrie then, Sin' better couldna be, And they hae rid ower Carron Side As fast as horse could flee, could flee, As fast as horse could flee. Then mass was sung and bells were rung And the're awa' to bed, And Willie and Eppie Morrie, In ane bed they were laid, were laid, In ane bed they were laid. He's ta'en the sark from off his back And kicked awa' his shoon, And thrawn awa' the chaulmer key And naked he lay doon, lay doon, And naked he lay doon. Haud awa' fae me, Willie, Haud awa' fae me! Before I'll lose my maidenheid, I'll try my strength wi' thee, with thee, I'll try my strength wi' thee. He's kissed her on the lily breist And held her shouthers twa, Bye aye she grat and aye she spat And turnèd tae the wa', the wa', And turnèd tae the wa'. Haud awa' fae me, Willie, Haud awa' fae me! Before I'll lose my maidenheid, I'll fecht wi' you till day, till day, I'll fecht wi' you till day. A' through the nicht they warssled there Until the licht o' day. And Willie grat and Willie swat But he couldna streitch her spey, her spey, But he couldna streitch her spey. Then early in the morning, Before the licht o' day In came the maid o' Scallater, Wi' a goon and shirt alane, alane Wi' a goon and shirt alane. Get up, get up, young woman, And drink the wine wi' me! Ye micht hae ca'd me "maiden" For I'm sure as hale as thee, as thee, I'm sure as hale as thee. Weary fo' you, Willie, then, That ye couldna prove a man, Ye micht hae ta'en her maidenheid, She would hae hired your hand, your hand, She would hae hired your hand. Haud awa' fae me, lady, Haud awa' fae me! There's no a man in a' Strathdon Shall wedded be with me, with me, Shall wedded be with me. Then in there cam young Breadalbane Wi' a pistol on each side. O, come awa', Eppie Morrie, And I'll mak' you my bride, my bride, And I'll mak' you my bride. Gae get to me a horse, Willie, Get it like a man, And send me back to my mither A maiden as I cam', I cam', O a maiden as I cam'. The sun shines over the westlin hills By the lamplicht o' the moon, O --- saddle your horse, young John Forsythe, Just whistle and I'll come soon, some soon, Just whistle and I'll come soon.
Jellon Graeme sat in the wood He whistled and he sang; He called for his servant boy Who quickly to him ran. Hurry up, hurry up, my pretty little boy, As fast as ever you can. You must run for Rosy Flower Before the day is gone. The boy buckled on his yellow belt And through the woods he sang. Ran till he come to the lady's window Before the day was gone. Are you awake, little Rosy Flower? The blood runs cold as rain; I was asleep but now I'm awake, Who's that that calls my name? You must go to the Silver Wood Though you never come back again. You must go to the Silver Wood To speak with Jellon Graeme. I will go to the Silver Wood Though I never come back again. The man I most desire to see Is my love, Jellon Graeme. She had not rid about two long mile, It were not more than three; Till she come to a new-dug grave Beneath that white oak tree. Out and sprang young Jellon Graeme From out of the woods nearby. Get down, get down, you Rosy Flower, It's here that you will die. She jumped down from off her horse Then down upon her knee. Pity on me, dear Jellon Graeme, I'm not prepared to die! Wait until our babe is born And then you can let me lie. If I should spare your life, he said, Until our babe is born, I know your pa and all your kin Would hang me in the morn. Pity on me, dear Jellon Graeme, My pa you need not dread; I'll bear my baby in the Silver Wood And go and beg my bread. No pity, no pity for Rosy Flower On her knees she pray; He stabbed her deep with the silver steel And at his feet she lay. No pity, no pity for Rosy Flower She was a-lying dead, But pity he had for his little young son A-smothering in her blood. He's torn the baby out of the womb Washed him in water and blood; Named him after a robber man He called him Robin Hood. Then he took him to his house, And set him on a nurse's knee; He growed as much in the one-year-time As other ones do in three. Then he took him to read and write And for to learn how to thrive. He learned as much in the one-year-time As other ones do in five. But I wonder now, said little Robin If a woman did bear me; Many a mother do come for the rest But never one come for me. It fell out in the summertime When they was a-hunting game. They stopped to rest in the Silver Wood Him and Jellon Graeme. I wonder now, said little Robin, Why my mommy don't come for me? To keep me hid in the Silver Wood I calls it a cruelty. But I wonder now, said little Robin, It the truth would ever be known? Why all this woods is a-growing green And under that tree there's none! You wonder now, said Jellon Graeme, Why your mommy don't come for thee; Lo, there's the place I laid her low Right under that white oak tree. The little boy chose him an arrow Was both keen and sharp, Laid his cheek all along his bow And pierced his father's heart. Lie there, lie there, you Jellon Graeme, The grave you never will see; The place where lies my mommy dear Is far too good for thee. I should have torn you out of the womb And thrown you upon a thorn! Let the wind blow east and the wind blow west And left you to die alone.


WHEN IS A BALLAD NOT A BALLAD? WHEN IT HAS NO TUNE. It is with this conundrum and its answer that Bertrand Bronson opened his introduction to The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads. While agreeing with the spirit of the answer, we would go a little further and say that "a ballad is not a ballad until it is sung."

We had been singing ballads for quite a long time when this recording was made. Of the hundred-and-forty albums we had made, more than half have contained at least one or two ballads; and as far as live concerts and clubs are concerned, we have both regarded the ballads as a necessary part of any program.

What is it about the ballads that we find so fascinating? Well, the stories themselves are first rate. They have certainly stood the test of time, and that isn't a bad recommendation. Then again--the poetry can be breathtaking. Most of the ballads we've sung contain some memorable lines: perhaps it is just a phrase, a line of incremental repetition, or it can be an entire stanza: but however brief the moment of pure poetry, it generally generates enough heat and light to radiate an entire ballad. Finally, there is the element of challenge. The mere length of most of the ballads is challenge enough. We sometimes regard them as actors regard the great classic roles of Hamlet, Lady MacBeth, Clytemnestra and King Lear.

On the face of it, the challenge is a formidable one. You are faced with an audience made up of a number of separate individuals who may or may not share anything in common (other than the more or less sophisticated attitude to life and each other, which is the result of long exposure to TV and radio, with its instant news, instant politics, instant simulated passion yelled, sobbed and moaned by a never-ending succession of pop-singers).

And the ballad singer, for the next eight or ten or twelve minutes is going to sing a tale in the form of a long narrative poem organised into twenty or thirty (or more) quatrains, tied to a melody that will be repeated every four lines. Not much room for manoeuvre! Furthermore, the poetry is of a kind that few people in the audience have had the opportunity to become familiar with. It is full of odd usages, repetitions, strange combinations of romantic love and incredible violence. To complicate matters still further, some of the texts are in braid Scots. A challenge indeed...!

Occasionally, the challenge has been taken up with results that have been less than encouraging. "Sir Patrick Spens" with spangles and a rock accompaniment; they have dragged "Barbara Allen", protesting, into the Middle Ages to the (albeit skilled) thrumming of shawns and crumhorns. But the ballads don't lend themselves to this kind of treatment. They don't make good "production numbers". The poetry gets in the way: too much action, too many incidents, and the quality of the language leads to a kind of rock parody. The words of the ballads have something of the feeling of stones fashioned into a smooth perfection by endless tides. Attempts to create settings, arrangements for the poetry only succeed in making it seem overdressed--like putting a silk garter on the Venus de Milo. Also, in a curious way, a ballad appears to have difficulty breathing inside an arrangement, for though the bond that fuses the ballad text and tune into a single whole is oddly flexible and appears to be constantly shifting its centre of gravity, it appears to be unable to function in the proximity of foreign musical influences.

Our own feelings for the ballads are something that we have nurtured throughout most of our joint working life as singers. Time and again we have returned to this or that ballad and discovered

something new in it. Occasionally we have been led to conduct major explorations into territory that we thought we already knew. The end result has been the complete reworking of a ballad...and a new search for the degree of tension to match one's new understanding of the piece. Finding the right amount of tension and sustaining it over thirty or forty stanzas: That's where the skill lies!

And what is tension? It is compounded of many elements. It is the right weight of vocal attack, the weight which best suits the theme and the nature of the ballad; it is the right tempo, the one in which the action of the story has time to unfold without confusing the listener; it is the right pulse, that is the right combination of breathing, articulation, sense and shape of the tune; it is complete empathy with words and music; it is the right length of pause, of silence between the verses, during which both listener and singer make the jump into thinking to a new unit of the story; and finally, it is creative judgment, the singer's knowledge of how far tune and text can be teased out and worked in each performance without destroying any part of the ballad's structure; it is the singer's ability to add colour to a word, to thicken or attenuate a line, to let a hint of harshness creep into the tone, to suggest that somewhere--not far off--there is a laugh lying in wait..and to be able to do all these things without upsetting the delicate balance of the ballad, and, moreover, without the listener being aware that it is being done.

There comes a moment during the singing of a long ballad when everything is working. You have moved into the story crabwise, not giving too much of yourself at first. Then, suddenly, for a moment you are conscious of the people listening, and they are all breathing in time with you! And all around you there is silence, except for the voice guiding you through the ineluctable dark landscape of the ballad.

© Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (1979)

About Child and Bronson:

The definitive collection of traditional ballad texts was made by Francis J. Child (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1882-1892, five volumes).

The definitive collection of tunes was made by Bertrand Barris Bronson (The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, Princeton, New Jersey, 1959-1972, four volumes).


released September 14, 1982

Produced by Neill MacColl
Engineered by Nick Godwin
Recorded at Pathway Studios, London


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Ewan MacColl London, UK

This site is maintained by the MacColl family, aiming to make Ewan's catalogue available to download.
Ewan MacColl is known to most as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. ... more

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