Archivi categoria: FOLK AMERICANO/ American Folk

Heave away, my Johnny sea shanty

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The second sea shanty sung by A.L. Lloyd in the film Moby Dick, shot by John Huston in 1956, is a windlass shanty or a capstan shanty. As we can clearly see in the sequence, crew action the old anchor winch.
Kenneth S. Goldstein commented on the cover notes of the album “Thar She Blows” by Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd (1957)”A favourite shanty for windlass work, when the ship was being warped out of harbour at the start of a trip. A log rope would be made fast to a ring at the quayside and run round a bollard at the pierhead and back to the ship’s windlass. The shantyman would sit on the windlass head and sing while the spokesters strained to turn the windlass. As they turned, the rope would round the drum and the ship nosed seaward amid the tears of the women and the cheers of the men. This version was sung by the Indian Ocean whalers of the 1840s“.

The song starts at 1:50, when the catwalk is pulled off and the old spike windlass is activated, model replaced by the brake windlass around 1840

There’s some that’s bound for New York Town
and other’s is bound for France,
Heave away, my Johnnies, heave away,
And some is bound for the Bengal Bay
to teach them whales a dance,
and away my Johnny boys, we’re all bound to go.
Come all you hard workin’ sailors,
Who round the cape of storm (1);
Be sure you’ve boots and oilskins,
Or you’ll wish you never been born.
1) the curse of every sailor at the time of sailing ships: Cape Horn

This sea shanty presents a great variety of texts even with different stories, so sometimes it is a song of the whaleship other times a song of emigration. (a collection of various text versions here).


Dubbing Cape Horn was a feared affair by sailors, being a stretch of sea almost perpetually upset by storms, a cemetery of numerous unlucky ships.
The wind dominated the bow, so the ship was pushed back for days with the crew exhausted by effort and icy water that was breaking on all sides.

Louis Killen from Farewell Nancy 1964  “capstan stands upright and is pushed round by trudging men. A windlass, serving much the same function, lies horizontally and is revolved by means of bars pulled from up to down. So windlass songs are generally more rhythmical than capstan shanties. Heave Away is usually considered a windlass song. Originally, it had words concerning a voyage of Irish migrants to America. Later, this text fell away. The version sung here was “devised” by A. L. Lloyd for the film of Mody Dick

There’s some that’s bound for New York town,
And some that’s bound for France;
Heave away, my Johnny heave away.
And some that’s bound for the Bengal Bay,
To teach them whales a dance;
Heave away, my Johnny boy
we’re all bound to go.
The pilot he is awaiting for,
The turnin’ of the tide;
And then, me girls, we’ll be gone again,
With a good and a westerly wind.
Farewell to you, you Kingston girls (1),
Farewell, St. Andrews dock;
If ever we return again,
We’ll make your cradles rock.
Come all you hard workin’ sailor men,
Who round the cape of storm;
Be sure you’ve boots and oilskins,
Or you’ll wish you never was born.

1) Kingston upon Hull (or, more simply, Hull) is a renowned fishing port from which flotillas for fishing in the North Sea started from the Middle Ages. In the song, the departing ships also head for the Indian Ocean (see routes )


Genevieve Lehr (Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook # 49) was released by Pius Power, Southeast Bight,  in 1979 Genevieve Lehr writes “this is a song which was often used to establish a rhythm for hauling up the anchors aboard the fishing schooners. Many of these ‘heave-up shanties’ were old ballads or contemporary ones, and very often topical verses were made up on the spur of the moment and added to the song to make the song last as long as the task itself.”

The Fables from Tear The House Down, 1998 a cheerful version with a decidedly country arrangement

Come get your duds(1) in order ‘cause we’re bound to cross the water.
Heave away, me jollies,
heave away.
Come get your duds in order ‘cause we’re bound to leave tomorrow.
Heave away me jolly boys,
we’re all bound away
Sometimes we’re bound for Liverpool,
sometimes we’re bound for Spain.
But now we’re bound for old St. John’s (2) where all the girls are dancing.
I wrote me love a letter,
I was on the Jenny Lind.
I wrote me love a letter and I signed it with a ring.
Now it’s farewell Nancy darling, ‘cause it’s now I’m going to leave you.
“You promised that me you’d marry me, but how you did deceive me.(3)”

1) duds in this context means “clothes” but more generally the large canvas bag containing the sailor’s baggage
2) Saint John’s, known in Italian as San Giovanni di Terranova for the Marconi experiment, is a city in Canada, capital of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, located in the peninsula of Avalon, which is part of the Newfoundland island
3) clearly a “flying” verse taken from the many farewells here is Nancy answering

The Banks of the Sweet Dundee ( Short Sharp Shanties)
 emigration song: Yallow girl


Blood Red Roses, a whale shanty

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Ho Molly, come down
Come down with your pretty posy
Come down with your cheeks so rosy
Ho Molly, come down”
(from Gordon Grant “SAIL HO!: Windjammer Sketches Alow and Aloft”,  New York 1930)

To introduce two new sea shanties in the archive of Terre Celtiche blog I start from Moby Dick (film by John Huston in 1956) In the video-clip we see the “Pequod” crew engaged in two maneuvers to leave New Bedford, (in the book port is that of Nantucket) large whaling center on the Atlantic: Starbuck, the officer in second, greets his wife and son (camera often detaches on wives and girlfriends go to greet the sailors who will not see for a long time: the whalers were usually sailing from six to seven months or even three – four years). After dubbing Cape of Good Hope, the”Pequod” will head for Indian Ocean.
It was AL Lloyd who adapted  “Bunch of roses” shanty for the film, modifying it with the title “Blood Red Roses”. It should be noted that at the time of Melville many shanty were still to come

Albert Lancaster Lloyd, Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger

It’s round Cape Horn we all must go
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down
For that is where them whalefish blow
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down
Oh, you pinks and posies
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down
It’s frosty snow and winter snow
under’s many ships they ‘round Cape Horn
It’s your boots to see again
let you them for whaler men

Oswald Brierly, “Whalers off Twofold Bay” from Wikimedia Commons. Painting is dated 1867 but it shows whaling and the Bay as it was in the 1840s

Assassin’s Creed Rogue (Nils Brown, Sean Dagher, Clayton Kennedy, John Giffen, David Gossage)

Me bonnie bunch of Roses o!
Come down, you blood red roses, come down (1)
Tis time for us to roll and go
Come down, you blood red roses, Come down
Oh, you pinks and posies
Come down, you blood red roses, Come down
We’re bound away around Cape Horn (2), Were ye wish to hell you aint never been born,
Me boots and clothes are all in pawn (3)/Aye it’s bleedin drafty round Cape Horn.
Tis growl ye may but go ye must
If ye growl to hard your head ill bust.
Them Spanish Girls are pure and strong
And down me boys it wont take long.
Just one more pull and that’ll do
We’ll the bullie sport  to kick her through.

1) this line most likely was created by A.L. Lloyd for the film of Mody Dick, reworking the traditional verse “as down, you bunch of roses”, and turning it into a term of endearment referring to girls (a fixed thought for sailors, obviously just after the drinking). I do not think that in this context there are references to British soldiers (in the Napoleonic era referring to Great Britain as the ‘Bonny bunch of roses’, the French also referred to English soldiers as the “bunch of roses” because of their bright red uniforms), or to whales, even if the image is of strong emotional impact:“a whale was harpooned from a rowing boat, unless it was penetrated and hit in a vital organ it would swim for miles sometimes attacking the boats. When it died it would be a long hard tow back to the ship, something they did not enjoy. If the whale was hit in the lungs it would blow out a red rose shaped spray from its blowhole. The whalers refered to these as Bloody Red Roses, when the spray became just frothy bubbles around the whale as it’s breathing stopped it looked like pinks and posies in flower beds” (from mudcat here)
2) Once a obligatory passage of the whaling boats that from Atlantic headed towards the Pacific.
3) as Italo Ottonello teaches us “At the signing of the recruitment contract for long journeys, the sailors received an advance equal to three months of pay which, to guarantee compliance with the contract, it was provided in the form of “I will pay”, payable three days after the ship left the port, “as long as said sailor has sailed with that ship.” Everyone invariably ran to look for some complacent sharks who bought their promissory note at a discounted price, usually of forty percent, with much of the amount provided in kind. “The purchasers, boarding agents and various procurers,” the enlisters, “as they were nicknamed,” were induced to ‘seize’ the sailors and bring them on board, drunk or drugged, with little or no clothes beyond what they were wearing, and squandering or stealing all sailor advances.

Sting from “Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys” ANTI 2006. 
The textual version resumes that of Louis Killen and this musical interpretation is decidedly Caribbean, rhythmic and hypnotic ..

Our boots and clothes are all in pawn
Go down, you blood red roses,
Go down

It’s flamin’ drafty (1) ‘round Cape Horn
Go down, you blood red roses,
Go down

Oh, you pinks and posies Go down,
you blood red roses, Go down
My dear old mother she said to me,
“My dearest son, come home from sea”.
It’s ‘round Cape Horn we all must go
‘Round Cape Horn in the frost and snow.
You’ve got your advance, and to sea you’ll go
To chase them whales through the frost and snow.
It’s ‘round Cape Horn you’ve got to go,
For that is where them whalefish blow(2).
It’s growl you may, but go you must,
If you growl too much your head they’ll bust.
Just one more pull and that will do
For we’re the boys to kick her through

1) song in this version is dyed red with “flaming draughty” instead of “mighty draughty”. And yet even if flaming has the first meaning “Burning in flame” it also means “Bright; red. Also, violent; vehement; as a flaming harangue”  (WEBSTER DICT. 1828)

Jon Contino

“Go Down, You Blood Red Roses” is a game for children widespread in the Caribbean and documented by Alan Lomax in 1962

(second part)


Hurrah For the Black Ball Line!

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At the beginning of the nineteenth century the commercial demands of ships always faster and less “armed” compared to the previous century (era of massive galleons, vessels and frigates): so the Clipper was born, ships for the transport of goods, without frills and with more sails. They are the latest models of sailing ships, the apogee of the Age of sailing, then soon the engines will take over .. and the repertoire of the sea shanties will end up among the curiosities of antique dealers (or in the circuits of Folk music).


Clippers traveled the two most important trade sea routes: China – England for tea and Australia – England for wool, they were competing with each other to reach maximum speed and arrive first, because the higher price was fixed by the first ship that reached the port. (see more)
The ships were famous for the harsh discipline on board and for the brutality of its officers: but the recruitment of the sailors was constant given the brevity of the engagement. The ships with the most terrible name were called “bloodboat” and its crew (mostly Irish sailors) “packet rats“.


The Black Ball Line was the first shipping company to offer a transatlantic line service for the transport of passengers and goods. Born in 1817 from the idea of Jeremiah Thompson, with four clippers covering the route between Liverpool and New York, the Black Ball remained in business for about sixty years. The Black Ballers, were also postal and derived the name from their flag (the company logo) red forked with a black disk in the middle.

In addition to the red flag, the Black Ball were distinguished by a large black ball also designed on the bow sail

The Company was renowned for its scrupulous organization of departures that took place on the first of the month, with any weather; it had very fast ships and the journey from England to America, mostly against the wind, lasted generally “just” four weeks, while the return, with the wind in its favor, could last less than three weeks. The business was profitable despite the competition, in fact in 1851 the company James Baines & Co. of Liverpool adopted the same name and the same flag of the Black Ball Line! The Black Ball Line of James Baines & Co. also operated on the route between Liverpool and Australia.

Given the premises it could not therefore miss a sea shanty on the Black Ball line (probable origin 1845): the text versions are many, compared to few recordings on YouTube

W. Symons. – Patterson, J.E. “Sailors’ Work Songs.” Good Words 41(28) (June 1900) Public Domain

 “Hurrah For the Black Ball Line”

Peter Kasin  with  introduction and demonstration of the type of work combined with the singing
 Ewan MacColl – The Blackball Line 0:01 (Rare UK 8″ EP record released on Topic Records in 1957)

I served my time in the Black Ball line
To me way-aye-aye, hurray-ah
with the Black ball line I served me time
Hurrah for the Black Ball Line
The Black Ball Ships are good and true
They are the ships for me and you (1)
(For once there was a Black Ball Ship
That fourteen knots an hour could clip
You will surely find a rich gold mine(2)
Just take a trip in the Black Ball Line)
Just take a trip to Liverpool (3)
To Liverpool, that Yankee school
The Yankee sailors (4) you’ll see there
With red-top boots (5) and short-cut hair
(At Liverpool docks we bid adieu
To Poll and Bet and lovely Sue
And now we’re bound for New York Town
It’s there we’ll drink, and sorrow drown)

1) even if it seems an advertising spot, the reality for the crews boarded on the Black Ballers was harder: the first officer was usually ruthless and violent to maintain discipline and keep the speed standard of the crossing high
2) this verse refers, at the time of the gold fever that broke out in California in 1848
3) between the beginning and the mid-nineteenth century the majority of British immigrants boarded from the port of Liverpool
4) even if the captain was American (the ships were equipped with the best captains money of the time could buy), the sailors were not only American but often English, Irish and Scandinavian
5) red was the dominant color of sailors uniform also in the cuffed boots

Foc’sle Singers & Paul Clayton (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 1959) 

In the Black Ball line I served my time
Hurrah for the Black Ball line
In the Black Ball line I had a good time
Hurrah for the Black Ball line
The Black Ball Ships are good and true
They are the ships for me and you
For once there was a Black Ball Ship
That fourteen knots an hour(1) could clip(2)
Her yards were square(3), her gear all new,
She had a good and gallant crew
One day whilst sailing on the sea,
They saw a vessel on their lee,
They knew it was a pirate craft,
All armed with guns before and aft,
They did not fear as you may think
But made the pirates water drink

(text from here, see also an extended version here)
1)1 knot is worth 1 mile / h, so 14 knots means 14 miles per hour
2) To clip it = to run with speed
3)  “in seamens language, the yards are square, when they are arranged at right angles with the mast or the keel. The yards and sails are said also to be square, when they are of greater extent than usual. “

Roger Watson from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor (Vol 1)

Tozer calls this shanty an anchor song, Whall gives it for windlass, Colcord for halyard. Hugill says that he disagrees with the collectors who attribute shanties to specific jobs. Short, who gave it to Sharp as a capstan shanty, gave only one verse (“In Tapscott’s Line…”) and the words Sharp published are, frankly, unbelievable (e.g. “It was there we discharged our cargo boys” and “The Skipper said, that will do, my boys”). Both Colcord and Hugill also comment on Sharp’s published words. We have utilised fairly standard Blackball Line verses, slightly bent towards Short’s Tapscott Line theme. There is a degree of cynicism in this text—Tapscott was a con-man: he advertised his ships as being over 1000 tons when, in reality, they were 600 tons at the most!” (from here)

In Tapscott (1) line we’re bound to shine
A way, Hooray, Yah
In Tapscott line we are bound
to shine
Hooray for the Black Ball Line.
In the Black Ball line I served my time
in the Black Ball I wasted me prime.
Just you’ll take a trip to Liverpool
To Liverpool, a Yankee school.
Oh the Yankee sailors you’ll see there
With red-top boots and short-cut hair.
Fifteen days is a Black Ball ride(2)
but Tapscott ship are a thousand
At Liverpool docks we bid adieu
for Tapscott ship and golden crew.
In Tapscott line we are bound to shine
In Tapscott line we are bound to shine

1) William and James Tapscott were brothers who organized the trip for immigrants from Britain to America (the first based in Liverpool and the second in New York) often taking advantage of the ingenuity of their clients. Initially they worked for the Black Ball Line and then set up their own transport line that provided a very cheap trip to the Americas, so the conditions of the trip were terrible and the food poor. In 1849 William Tapscott went bankrupt and was tried and convicted of fraud against the company’s shareholders.  see more
2) legendary racing competitions were hired between the American and British companies: under the motto “play or pay” two ships left New York on February 2, 1839, it was the first challenge between the Black baller Columbus, 597 tons, Captain De Peyster and the Sheridan of the Dramatic Line 895 tons; Columbus won the race in 16 days, while Sheridan arrived in Liverpool two days later
“England, frankly confessing herself beaten and unable to compete with such ships as these, changed her attitude from hostility to open admiration. She surrendered the Atlantic packet trade to American enterprise, and British merchantmen sought their gains in other waters. The Navigation Laws still protected their commerce in the Far East and they were content to jog at a more sedate gait than these weltering packets whose skippers were striving for passages of a fortnight, with the forecastle doors nailed fast and the crew compelled to stay on deck from Sandy Hook to Fastnet Rock.” ~ Old Merchant Marine, Ch VIII. “The Packet Ships of the Roaring Forties”


Billy Riley sea shanty

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The halyards shanties were very common on nineteenth-century ships (postal, merchant or whaler).

National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“Blackwall frigate” National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


The song “Billy Riley” is considered one of the first sea shanties, probably born of a cotton-hoosiers song sung by black slaves. The vessels on which it was sung were of the “Blackwall frigate” type, a three-masted ship built between the end of 1830 and the mid-1870s.
The sea shanty “Billy Riley” fits the rhythm of fast pulling and quick breathing.
Stan Hugill writes in his Shanty Bibble “They used Jackscrews to pack the cotton into the holds of vessels, to ram them up tight and so get more in the cargo hold. Lots of negroes were used in this labour, and their chants turned into shanties when the sailors used them for other jobs, often the tune remained and the words were changed to suit Sailor John. Negroes formed a large part of the crew of some vessels, and took their chants to sea with them, and a hell of a lot of ‘white mans shanties’ had negro origins.”

Stevedores (un)loading a ship in the late 19th century. There may have been some steam-driven winches but most of it was brute strength from man and beast using ropes and pulleys. from the Library of Congress collection


The shantyman plays on the words and teases Billy the commander of the ship, the degree of “master” is compared to that of a “dancing master”, but certainly captain is a rude and authoritarian kind and certainly not a dandy!
The term “master” is however little used in the sea songs in which the name “Captain” prevails or as in the sea shanty that it’s preferred “Old man”. What about unchaste thoughts that come to mind to the crew, addressed to Billy Riley’s wife (or daughter), while they were loading the ship?

Assassin’s Creed

Johnny Collins

AC Black Flag version
Old Billy Riley was a dancing master(1).
Old Billy Riley, oh, Old Billy Riley!
Old Billy Riley’s master of a drogher(2).
Master of a drogher bound for Antigua.
Old Billy Riley has a nice young daughter(3).
Oh Missy Riley, little Missy Riley.
Had a pretty daughter,
but we can’t get at her.
Screw her up(4) and away we go, boys.
One more pull and then belay, boys
Johnny Collins version
Oh Billy Riley, Mister Billy Riley
Oh Billy Riley oh
Billy Riley, Mister Billy Riley
Oh Billy Riley oh
Old Billy Riley was a dancing master(1).
Oh Billy Riley shipped aboard a droger(2)
Oh Billy Riley wed the skipper’s daughter(3)
Oh Mrs Riley didn’t like sailors
Oh Mrs Riley had a lovely daughter
Oh Missy Riley, pretty Missy Riley
Oh Missy Riley, screw her up to Chile(4)

Droger1) it’s referred to the captain in an ironic sense
2) drogher was a slow cargo ship for transport along the West Indies coast, more properly a triangular fishing boat. More generally, the West Indies for Europeans of the fifteenth century were one with the American continent, so even in 1507 Amerigo Vespucci sensed that the Europeans had “discovered” a new continent the term remained in use for many centuries. Thus the drogher is located in the Caribbean and sails to Antigua, the island of the Lesser Antilles, where sugar and cotton are produced. I think the term is used in a derogatory sense always against the commander because his is not really a ship that plows the oceans !!
3) droger- daughter word games for assonance
4) “screw her up to Chile” is probably a modegreen for “screw her up so cheerily”. Cheerily is a typical seafaring expression for “with a will” or “quickly.” The word screw though two-way has the primary meaning of “tighten up” (compress). “Cotton was” “screwed”. Cotton was “screwed” into the hold of a ship using a kind of enormous horizontal jack. Stan Hugill says: “They are used to pack the cotton into the vessels of vessels.”


Jeff Warner from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 3

Both Sharp and Terry comment that they have not come across any version other than Short’s – although Fox-Smith and Colcord (who published later) both give versions.  Hugill notes the “remarkable resemblance between Billy Riley and Tiddy High O!” and feels that “it probably originates as a cotton-hoosiers song.” It may be that it was an early shanty that became less and less used, for Fox-Smith states that: “I have come across very few of the younger generation of sailormen who have heard it. All versions seem fairly consistent and what words there are in Short’s text fit the usual pattern and so have been augmented from the other sources.  Sharp’s notes, after the text, say: “and so on, sometimes varying ‘walk him up so cheer’ly’ with ‘screw him up etc”. (from here)

Oh Billy Riley, little Billy Riley
(Oh Billy Riley oh)
Oh  Billy Riley walk her up so cheerily
Oh Billy Riley, little Billy Riley
Oh  Billy Riley screw her up so cheerily
Oh Mister Riley, oh Missy Riley.
Oh Missy Riley screw her up so cheerily
Oh Billy Riley was a boardinghouse master
Oh Billy Riley had a lovely daughter
Oh Missy Riley how I love your daughter
Oh Missy Riley I can’t get at her
Oh Missy Riley, little Missy Riley
Oh Missy Riley, screw her up so cheerily
Oh Billy Riley hauling and hung together
Oh  Billy Riley walk her up so cheerily


Concealed death: Clerk Colvill & Georges Collins

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Concealed death


In The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, in Child ballad # 42 Clerck Colven (other titles Clerck Colvill or Earl Colvin) we find the same medieval ballad focused on the meeting between a knight about to marry and a fairy creature (or a jealous lover)


The ballad begins with a quarrel between boyfriends: the future bride beseeches him not to visit his lover, a washerwoman, just on the eve of their wedding!
The knight denies any sexual involvement (normal administration!) but he is anxious to meet his lover again.
For a comparison between the versions A, B, C see the analysis by Christian Souchon (here)

Clerk-Colvill-ArthurRackhamThey have an obvious sexual relationship (in the coded language of the time), but then the man complains about his headache, she gives him a strip of fabric (poisoned) and announces his imminent death (or poisoning him by giving him one last kiss). The woman is clearly a water nymph and in fact as soon as the young man draws his sword to take revenge, she turns into a fish and dives into the water.

Frankie Armstrong from Till the Grass o’ergrew the corn 2006, ♪
The melody is an arrangement by Frankie from the one heard by Mrs. Brown from Falkirk, Stirling County.
Kate Fletcher & Corwen Broch from  Fishe or Fowle 2017, ♪
“One of many ballads from across Europe in which a man is doomed to death by his Other-Worldly lover.
We have used the words of Child 42 version B and the only existing melody for them from Mrs Brown (Anna Gordon) of Falkland. The transcribed melody has given rise to endless debate about how the words should fit to the refrain line of the music. We have chosen to sidestep the argument and sing the verses as given omitting the problematic line of melody.”

Clerk Colven (1) and his gay (2) lady
Were walking in yon garden green,
A belt (3) around her middle so small
Which cost Clerk Colven crowns fifteen.
“O harken to me, my lord,” she says
“O, harken well to what I do say:
If you go to the walls of Stream (4),
Be sure you touch no well fair’d maid.”
“O, hold your tongue,” Clerk Colven said,
“And do not vex me with your din.
I never saw a fair woman
But with her body I could sin.” (5)
He’s mounted on his berry-brown steed
And merrily merrily rode he on,
Until he came to the walls of Stream,
And there he spied the mermaiden (6).
“You wash, you wash you mermaiden”,
“O, I will wash your sark of the silk (7).
It’s all for you, my gentle knight,
My skin is whiter than the milk(8).”
He’s taken her by the milk white hand
And likewise by the grass-green sleeve,
he’s laid her down all on the grass,
Nor of his lady need he ask leave (9).
“Alas! Alas!” says Clerk Colven,
“For oh so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“Aye, even on, till you be dead.”
“But you pull out your little pen-knife,
And from my sark you shear a gore,
And bind it round your lovely head,
And you shall feel the pain no more.”
So he’s took out his little pen-knife,
And from her sark he sheared a gore,
He’s bound it round his lovely head;
But the pain it grew ten-times more.
“Alas! Alas!” cries Clerk Colven,
“For now so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“’twill I be away and you’ll be dead.”
So he’s pulled out his trusty sword,
And thought with it to spill her blood;
But she’s turned to a fish again
And merrily sprang into the flood.
He’s mounted on his berry-brown steed,
And drear and dowie rode he home,
Until he’s come to his lady’s bower
And heavily he’s lighted down.
“O, mother, mother, make my bed,
O, gentle lady, lay me down(10);
O brother, brother, unbend my bow(11),
It’ll ne’er be bent by me again.”
His mother she has made his bed,
His gentle lady laid him down,
His brother he unbent his bow,
It ne’er was bent by him again.

1) according to the Danish folklorist Svend Grundtvig the name Colven is a corruption of Olafur in “Olvill” from the Faroese language (the Norse has long been spoken in the islands of Scotland). Also Clerck is a mispronunciation of Herr for Lord, in the stanza V the siren calls him “gentle knight”
2) as Giordano Dall’Armellina observes, the lady in other versions is defined lusty, that is greedy and ultimately possessive.
3) the belt is clearly a love token, it was customary, in fact, to exchange the promise of engagement, giving a “trinket” to the lady, not necessarily a diamond ring as we use today, but a hair clip or belt (obviously not less expensive)
4) in version B it is “Wells of Slane” misunderstood as “Wall of Stream” in version A; it could refer to the “Loch o ‘Strom” on the Mainland the largest of the Shetland Islands. The sacred well is generally a cleft in the earth in which the magical and healing water flows from the mother goddess’s womb, but if the spirit of the place is not placated it becomes deadly water. But here it represents the erotic energy that attracts the knight
5) translated into simple words: “do you think I’m the kind of man who goes to bed with every woman he meets?”
6) mermaiden is the siren, but he could be a nymph or an undine, the term with which the magical creatures of the inner waters are classified (see more). In Scotland and especially in the islands it is identified with a selkie
7) the beautiful girl is depicted as a washerwoman washing clothes by beating them on a marble stone (variant C and D). The image recalls the girl of the ford of the Irish tradition that is a harbinger of imminent death (banshee)
8) it is known that a snow skin was a fundamental requirement for the sexual excitement of the medieval knight
9) the whole stanza is a coded language to say that they have had a sexual intercourse
10) death in this case is not concealed and even the girlfriend immediately learns the news
11) in other versions says “O brother, take my sword and spear” to indicate that he will be buried with the warrior’s set as it was the custom in burials for people of rank in ancient European civilizations.


Published in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs it is the D version collected by George Gardiner in 1906 from the voice of Henry Stansbridge of Lyndhurst, Hampshire. The version, however, is very corrupt and diversified compared to the ballad of Norse origins.
It is the version on which American variants are modeled, almost transformed into a murder ballad.

Sam Lee The Ballad of George Collins from ‘Ground of its own’ 2012 (winner of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2012 see more) : amazing video clip

Shirley Collins from The Sweet Primroses 1967Alan Moores in a folk-country arrangement by Spud Gravely  version (in Ballads and Song of the Blue Ridge Mountains) also known as George Allen

 Sam Lee Version ( da qui)
George Collins walked out one may
morning, when may was all in bloom
and who  should he see but a fair pretty maid, washing her white marble stone (1)
She whooped she hollered she called so loud,
she waved her lilly white hand
“Come hither to me George Collins -cried she- for your life it won’t last you long”
He put his foot on the broad water side,
across the river sprung he,
he gripped his hands round her middle (2) so small and he kissed her red ruby lips (3)
Then he road home to his father’s old house, loudly knocked with the ring
“arise, arise my father- he cried-
rise and please let me in”
“Oh arise, arise dear mother -he cried-
rise and make up my bed”
“arise, arise dear sister -he cried-
get a napkin (4) to tie round my head.
For if I should die tonight
As I suppose I shall
Please bury me under that marble stone
That lies in fair Ellender’s hall(5)”
Fair Ellender sat in her hall
weaving her silk so fine
who should she see but the finest corpse(6) that ever her eyes shone on
Fair Ellender called unto her head maid
‘Whose corpse is this so fine?’
she made her reply “George Collins is corpse an old true lover of mine”
“Oh put him down my brave little boys
and open his coffin so wide
but I may kiss his red ruby lips
ten thousand times he has kissed mine”
This news been carried to fair London town
And wrote on London gate(7),
“six pretty maids died all in one night
‘twas all for George Collins’ sake”

1) It is the stone on which the washerwoman beats and rubs her clothes. Another “marble stone” returns cited in the VI stanza, the marble slab in the hall or hill of Ellender
2) in the modest language of ballads it indicates a sexual relationship. Despite the jealous lover threatened him with death, George kisses her and embraces her: he probably does not consider her a danger
3) it is the deadly kiss of the nymph, (or the kiss of the plague) the woman is never described as a supernatural creature
4) the poisoned cloth that we saw in version A and B of Clerck Colven still comes back to wrap the sufferer’s head, but this time it’s a normal bandage
5) elsewhere written as hill. George is in his father’s house announcing his imminent death and asking to be buried in Ellender’s property. Shirley Collins sings
Bury me by the marble stone
That’s against Lady Eleanor’s hall.”
6) 6) the coffin was brought into the house of the lady who asked to remove the lid so that she could still kiss the lips of her lover. The sentence is a bit to be interpreted, it is the lady-in-waiting (or the housekeeper) to ask who is the corpse in the coffin. And it is Ellender who answers that he was her lover.
7) The final stanza seems to be a nineteenth-century addition in an ironic key, the six women died because of the venereal disease of George

french and breton versions 


Blow Boys Blow (Banks of Sacramento)

Leggi in italiano

“Blow Boys Blow” or “Hoodah Day Shanty” but also “Banks of Sacramento” is a popular sea shanty with several versions.


With the title “Blow Boys Blow” the version of John Short mixes the verses of “Banks od Sacramento” with the minstrel song “Campton Races” written by Stephen Foster in 1850. But some scholars are inclined to believe that it is the sea shanty on Golden Rush in California, to precede the minstrel song for a few years
Tom Brown Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 1  
The authors write in the project notes “Neither Sharp nor Terry published this shanty.  All the other collectors give it as a capstan song, Hugill, in particular, says it was a favourite for raising the anchor.  Short gave it as a capstan shanty, and sang Sharp one verse only – straight from Stephen Foster’s Camptown Races which was written in 1850.  Doerflinger credits the Hutchinson Family, a famous New England concert troupe with the song Ho For California!, the chorus of which ran: “Then Ho Brothers Ho! To California go, There’s plenty of gold in the world, we’re told, On the Banks of the Sacramento” and dates it to the 1849 gold rush when, between 1849 and 1852, over ninety thousand emigrants shipped ‘round the corner’ (Cape Horn) in the hopes of finding riches in the gold fields. It was Sharp’s editorial policy that made him omit this shanty from his publication: as he said in the introduction to English Folk-Chanteys, “I have omitted certain popular and undoubtedly genuine chanteys, such as ” The Banks of the Sacramento”, ”Poor Paddy works on the Railway”, “Can’t you dance the Polka,” “Good‑bye, Fare you Well,”,etc.,… on the ground that the tunes are not of folk-origin, but rather the latter‑day adaptations of popular, “composed” songs of small musical value.” Doerflinger quotes three different sets of words that have been used for this shanty: we have expanded Short’s verse with others that relate to the message of the chorus. It is another of the many shanties that ultimately derive from contemporary song-writing for the stage in concert-troupe and minstrel show – and this is reflected in our use of fiddle and banjo.”

I went out with my hat caved in
Hoodah(1), to my hoodah,
I went out with my hat caved in
Hoodah, hoodah day,
It’s round Cape Horn(2) in the month o’ May
now around Cape Horn
we are bound to straigh
Blow boys blow,
For California O,
plots of gold
so I’ve been told
On the banks of Sacramento (3).

It’s to Sacramento we ‘ll go
For we are the bullies (4) who kick ‘er through.
Round the Horn an’ up the Line
We’re the bullies for to make ‘er shine.
Around Cape Stiff (2) in seventy days
it’s two thousand miles or so they said
Breast yer bars (5) an’ bend yer backs,
Heave an’ make yer spare ribs (6) crack.

1) or Doo-dah! From  “Who da hell is dat?” Who-Da…hoodah
2) Cape Horn said by the sailors “Cape Stiff”, is often mentioned in the sea shanties, it’s the black cliff at the end of South America, where the masses of water and air from the Atlantic and the Pacific collide, causing winds that they range from 160 to 220 km / h and an almost prohibitive ascent to the west. Several factors combine to make the passage around Cape Horn one of the most hazardous shipping routes in the world (cemetery of numerous unlucky ships): strong winds, waves and wandering icebergs.
3) the Californian gold rush began in January 1848 right on the banks of the Sacramento
4) “bully” has many meanings: in a positive sense a “very good” sailor, or “first rate”, but “bully” is also the troublemaker always ready to fight.
5) Breast the bars: leaning deeply so as to push the weight of the body at the chest against the capstan bars.
6) “spare ribs” are pork ribs


The Bold Princess Royal

Leggi in Italiano

Ahar, me hearties!” or a narration of the legendary naval pursuit between an british merchant ship and a pirate ship. A popular sea song in the British Isles, America and Canada, which tells of an attempt at pirate attack against the “Princess Royal”; some witnesses claimed it was an event that actually happened, but the dates changed, as did the place of departure and arrival of the vessel. In fact, the name “Princess Royal” was widespread at the time of the great sailing ships and so James Laurenson in the archives of Tobar an Dualchais asserts “This song was written in honour of a Shetland captain, Houston of Otterswick in Yell, who outsailed a pirate in his ship Princess Royal around 1840, and became famous on this account” (from here)
Yet already in 1905 George Gardiner had brought back a testimony of the attack between the “Princess Royal” and the French corsair ship “The Adventure” which occurred in 1789 which it was then widely disseminated in numerous boadside between the mid and late 1800s.
At daybreak on 21 June 1789, HM packet Princess Royal, nine days out from Falmouth on her way to New York (other accounts say Halifax) carrying mail, was accosted and pursued by a brig which was later identified as the French privateer Aventurier. At 7 pm the Aventurier hoisted English colours and fired a shot, which the Princess Royal returned. After a further shot, the brig continued the pursuit. It was not until 3.30 am on 22 June that the Aventurier resumed its attack, this time with a broadside and musket fire. The Princess Royal was outmanned, with a crew of thirty-two men and boys with seventeen passengers as opposed to the Aventurier’s 85 men and boys; and out-gunned too, with six cannons against the brig’s sixteen. Nevertheless, the English ship gave a good account of herself, holding the privateer off for two hours; at the end of which time the Aventurier moved away, sustaining further damage to her stern. The French ship was obliged to return to Bordeaux for refitting, while the Princess Royal resumed her course, eventually arriving home on 31 October. (from here)
Combined with different melodies, the standard version of “The Bold Princess Royal” follows a melody collected in South East England by Vaughan Williams that he reported in his “Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties” (1908)
Luke Kelly

Mary Black from General Humbert, 1976  (text here)

Chris Foster from Traces, 1999 (who learned it from the version recorded in 1938 by Velvet Brightwell, a traditional Suffolk singer, born in 1865)

Luke Kelly version
On the fifthteenth of February
we sailed from the land
On the bold Princess Royal
bound for Newfoundland.
We had fifhty brave seamen
for ship’s company
as boldly (bound) from the eastward
to the westward sailed we.
We had not been sailing
scarce days two or three,
When the man from our masthead
a strange sails he did see.
She came bearing down on us
for to see what we were
And under her mizzen black colours she wore.
“Oh Lord!” cries our captain,
“What shall we do now? (1)
Here comes a bold pirate
to rob us, I know.”
“Oh no!” cries the chief mate,
“That never shall be so.
We’ll let out our reef 2), boys,
and from him we’ll go”
Well this so bold pirate,
he hove alongside,
With a loud-speaking trumpet (3),
“Whence come you?” he cried,
Our captain being up, my boys,
he answered him so:
“We come from fair London;
and we’re bound for Peru(4).”
“Come, heave up your courses
and bring your ship to (5)
I have a long letter
to send home by you.”
“Oh, I will not heave up my courses
nor bring my ship to
That will be in some harbour,
not alongside of you.”
And he chased us to the windward
to all that long day.
He fired shots after us
but they could not make way.
He fired shots after us
but none could prevail
And the bold Princess Royal
soon show them her tail.
“Oh Lord!” cries our captain,
“Now the pirate is gone,
Go you down to your grog (6), my boys, go down, everyone.
go you down to your grog, my boys,
and be of good cheer,
While the Princess has sea-room,
brave boys, never fear.”

1) a sentence typicall from the commedia dell’arte
2) the first rule at sea: if you see a pirate ship, run away quickly. In fact it was the diversionary maneuvers performed by the few sailors on board to save their ship from the boarding! Fear of pirates cruelity played in their favor, many crews preferred to surrender without fighting, hoping to obtain clemency.
3) In the third volume of the series of Monaldi & Sorti entitled “Mysterium” they describes a boarding at the end of 600 by barbarian pirates: the blare of trumpets was a customary signal of the Dutch to greet the other ships at sea. The strange thing in this ballad is that the pirate ship already beat the black flag: it would have been more logical that at first they showed a “camouflage” flag to make sure that the other ship was approached without suspicion and only later replace the first flag with the pirate one.
4) Point of departure and arrival of the vessel changes according to the versions, Mary Black says Callao, Chris Foster says Kero, Luis Killen Peru. But also St. John pheraps Saint John’s, known in Italian as San Giovanni di Terranova, although there is a Caribbean St. John
5) inexistent request to join the ship is a clumsy attempt to approach the ship without resorting to the fire of guns.
6) Grog is a drink introduced in the Royal Navy in 1740: rum after the British conquest of Jamaica had become the favorite drink of sailors, but to avoid problems during navigation, the daily ration of rum was diluted with water. (see more)

Princess Royal tune

Princess Royal is also the title of a melody attributed by collector Edward Bunting to the irish harper O’Carolan, (in The Ancient Music of Ireland, 1840), with the note “composed by Carolan for the daughter of MacDermott Roe, the representative of the old princes of Coolavin.”), the air has become a popular Morris dance

Elisabeth Brogeby


Get Up, Jack! John, Sit Down

Leggi in Italiano

Entitled “Jolly Roving Tar” but more frequently “Get Up, Jack! John, Sit Down” here is a forebitter song that ironizes on the idle occupations of a sailor when he is ashore.
For my money’s gone,” says the sailor who is well liked and fondled by the ladies when his pockets are full, but immediately put aside for another sailor when the money ends!

A similar song (we do not know if original or a traditional version rewriting) was written in New York in 1885 by Ed Harrigan & David Braham for the music hall entitled ‘Old Lavender‘ (text and score here); a version published by John and Alan Lomax in “American Ballads & Folk Songs” was attributed to John Thomas, a Welsh sailor who was on “the Philadelphian” in 1896. (text here), but the main source of the best known variant comes from “Grammy” Fish .


Mrs. Lena Bourne Fish (1873-1945) spent the first 24 years of her life in Black Brook, NY, not far from the Canadian border. Lena’s main source of songs was her own family, the Bourne; his ancestors were the first settlers of Cape Cod and a lot of songs (with many English and Irish traditional tunes) had passed to the family generations since emigration . As a lumber trader, her father  collected many songs from the people he met in the New England woods in his travels.
Once married, Lena moved to Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Two collectors of traditional songs (Helen Harkness Flanders and Marguerite Olney) interviewed her in 1940 and recorded about 175 songs; the following year Anne and Frank Warner collected a hundred songs in four recording sessions half of which completly new ones.
“Grammy” Fish had taken her role as a witness of the past to heart so as to transcribe the “old songs” in many notebooks to leave them to the new generations.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Sea Shanty Edition

Bootstrappers live

Ships may come and ships may go
as long as the seas do roll
But a sailor lad just like his dad
he loves the flowing bowl
a woman ashore he does adore
a girl who’s plump and round
when your money’s all gone,
it’s the same old song
“Get up, Jack! John, sit down!”
Come along, come along,
me jolly brave boys,
There’s plenty more grog(1) in the jar
We’ll plough the briny ocean line
like a jolly roving tar
When Jack’s ashore, he’ll make his way
To some old boarding house(2)
He’s welcomed in with rum and gin,
likewise with pork and scouse
He’ll spend and spend and never offend
Till he lies drunk on the ground
When his money’s all gone…
Then Jack will slip(3) on board
some ship bound for India or Japan
and in Asia there, the ladies fair
all love a sailor man
He’ll go ashore and he’ll not scorn
to buy some girl her gown
when his money’s all gone…
When Jack is worn and weatherbeat
too old to cruise about
they’ll let him stop in some rum shop
Till eight bells(4) calls him out
Then he’ll raise hands high
and loud he’ll cry “Thank Christ, I’m homeward bound!”
when his money’s all gone…

1) grog= drink
2) Boarding houses are pensions for sailors, present in every large sea port. “They are held by boarding masters, of dubious reputation, which the sailors define as” recruiters “, who provide” indifferently lodging and boarding “. They often welcome sailors “on credit”. On the advance received by boarders at the time of enrollment, they recover for food and accommodation, and with the rest they provide them with poor quality clothing and equipment “. (Italo Ottonello)
3)  or “He then will sail aboard some ship
4)”When it’s the end” his watch on board is finished as well as his life. On the old vessels the ringing sound of a bell regulated the time, every 4-hour guard duty was signaled by 8 bell strokes. (the eight bells were ringed at 4, at 8, at 12, at 16, at 20 and at midnight). An hourglass was used to calculate the time.

Great Big Sea from Play 1997. Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne & Frank Warner Collection, #71.

Ships may come and ships may go
As long as the sea does roll.
Each sailor lad just like his dad,
He loves the flowing bowl.
A trip on shore he does adore
With a girl who’s nice and round.
When the money’s gone
It’s the same old song,
“Get up Jack! John, sit down!
Come along, come along,
You jolly brave boys,
There’s lots of grog(1) in the jar.
We’ll plough the briny ocean
With the jolly roving tar.
When Jack comes in, it’s then he’ll steer
To some old boarding house(2).
They’ll welcome him with rum and gin,
And feed him on pork scouse.
He’ll lend, spend and he’ll not offend (3) Till he’s lyin’ drunk on the ground
When the money’s gone
It’s the same old song,
“Get up Jack! John, sit down!
Jack, he then, oh then he’ll sail
Bound down for Newfoundland.
All the ladies fair in Placentia(4) there
They love that sailor man
He’ll go to shore out on a tear
And he’ll buy some girl a gown.
When the money’s gone
It’s the same old song,
“Get up Jack! John, sit down!
When Jack gets old and weather beat,
Too old to roam about,
They’ll let him stop in some rum shop
Till eight bells(5) calls him out.
Then he’ll raise his eyes up to the skies,
Sayin’ “Boys, we’re homeward bound.”
When the money’s gone
It’s the same old song,
“Get up Jack! John, sit down!

3) meaning that he will not offend the innkeeper with a refusal
4) Placentia is a small Canadian city formed by the union of the villages of Jerseyside, Townside, Freshwater, Dunville and Argentia .
5)”When it’s the end” his watch on board is finished as well as his life. On the old vessels the ringing sound of a bell regulated the time, every 4-hour guard duty was signaled by 8 bell strokes.


In the nineteenth century there was a completely different version in which poor Susan was distraught because the fine William was still far from the sea, she decided to follow him as a sailor. The version is still popular in Newfoundland. As much as I searched the web at the moment I did not find a video to listen to.
It was in the town of Liverpool, all in the month of May,
I overheard a damsel, alone as she did stray,
She did appear like Venus or some sweet, lovely star,
As she walked toward the beach, lamenting for her jolly, roving Tar.

Jolly Roving Tar by “Irish Rovers”

The text was written by George Millar the founder of the “Irish Rovers” and although a different song borrows some phrases from “Get Up, Jack! John, Sit Down” other equally famous sea songs on sailors.
The Irish Rover from Another Round 2005: various dances taken from fantasy films and animations

Well here we are, we’re back again
Safe upon the shore
In Belfast town we’d like to stay
And go to sea no more
We’ll go into a public house
And drink till we’re content
For the lassies they will love us
Till our money is all spent
So pass the flowin’ bowl
Boys there’s whiskey in the jar
And we’ll drink to all the lassies
And the jolly roving tar
Oh Johnny did you miss me
When the nights were long and cold
Or did you find another love
In your arms to hold
Says he I thought of only you
While on the sea afar
So come up the stairs and cuddle
With your jolly roving tar
Well in each other’s arms they rolled
Till the break of day
When the sailor rose
and said farewell
I must be on me way
Ah don’t you leave me Johnny lad
I thought you’d marry my
Says he I can’t be married
For I’m married to the sea
Well come all you bonnie lasses
And a warning take by me
And never trust an Irishman
An inch above your knee
He’ll tease you and he’ll squeeze you
And when he’s had his fun
He’ll leave you in the morning
With a daughter or a son


To Hear the Nightingale Sing One Morning in May

Leggi in Italiano

”The Bold Grenader”, “A bold brave bonair” or “The Soldier and the Lady” but also “To Hear the Nightingale Sing”, “The Nightingale Sings” and “One Morning in May” are different titles of a same traditional song collected in England, Ireland, America and Canada.


The story belongs to some stereotypical love adventures in which a soldier (or a nobleman, sometimes a sailor) for his attractiveness and gallantry, manages to obtain the virtue of a young girl. The girls are always naive peasant women or shepherdesses who believe in the sweet words of love sighed by man, and they expect to marry him after sex, but they are inevitably abandoned.


soldierIn the nursery rhyme above “Where are you going my pretty maid” this seductive situation is sweetly reproduced and the illustrator portrays the man in the role of the soldier. Walter Craine (in “A Baby’s Opera”, 1877) represents him as a dapper gentleman, but in reality he is the archetype of the predator , the wolf with the fur inside and the woman of the nursery rhyme with his blow-answer seems to be a good girl who has treasured the maternal teachings

In other versions is the girl (bad girl !!) to take the initiative and to bring the young soldier in her house (see more), only the season is always the same because it is in the spring that blood boils in the veins; as early as 1600 there was a ballad called “The Nightingale’s Song: The Soldier’s Rare Musick, and Maid’s Recreation”, so for a song that has been around for so long, we can expect a great deal of textual versions and different melodies. An accurate overview of texts and melodic variations starting from 1689 here

FOLK REVIVAL: “They kissed so sweet & comforting”

This is the version almost at the same time diffused by the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers, the most popular version in the 60’s Folk clubs.

The Dubliners

Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maker, from Live in Ireland, 1965
The Nightingale

As I went a walking one morning in May
I met a young couple so far did we stray
And one was a young maid so sweet and so fair
And the other was a soldier and a brave Grenadier(1)
And they kissed so sweet and comforting
As they clung to each other
They went arm in arm along the road
Like sister and brother
They went arm in arm along the road
Til they came to a stream
And they both sat down together, love
To hear the nightingale sing(2)
Out of his knapsack he took a fine fiddle(3)
He played her such merry tunes that you ever did hear
He played her such merry tunes that the valley did ring
And softly cried the fair maid as the nightingale sings
Oh, I’m off to India for seven long years
Drinking wines and strong whiskies instead of strong beer
And if ever I return again ‘twill be in the spring
And we’ll both sit down together love to hear the nightingale sing
“Well then”, says the fair maid, “will you marry me?”
“Oh no”, says the soldier, “however can that be?”
For I’ve my own wife at home in my own country
And she is the finest little maid that you ever did see

1) soldier becomes sometimes a volunteer, but the grenadier is a soldier particularly gifted for his prestige and courage, the strongest and tallest man of the average, distinguished by a showy uniform, with the characteristic miter headgear, which in America was replaced by a bear fur hat.
2) it is the code phrase that distinguishes this style of courting songs. The nightingale is the bird that sings only at night and in the popular tradition it is the symbol of lovers and their love conventions (vedi)
3) perhaps the instrument was initially a flute but more often it was a small violin or portable violin called the kit violiner (pocket fiddle): it was the popular instrument par excellence in the Renaissance. It is curious to note how in this type of gallant encounters the soldier has been replaced by the itinerant violinist, mostly a dance teacher, so it is explained how any reference to the violin, to its bow or strings could have some sexual connotations in the folk tradition


John Jacob Niles – One Morning In May

Jo Stafford The Nightingale


The melody spread in Dorsetshire, so vibrant and passionate but with a hint of melancholy, a version more suited to the Romeo and Juliet’s love night and to the nightingale chant in its version of medieval aubade, also closer to the nursery rhyme “Where are you going my pretty maid” of which takes up the call and response structure.

To savor its ancient charm, here is a series of instrumental arrangements



Le Trésor d’Orphée
Redwood Falls (Madeleine Cooke, Phil Jones & Edd Mann)

Isla Cameron The Bold Grenadier from “Far from The Madding Crowd”

As I was a walking one morning in May
I spied a young couple a makin’ of hay.
O one was a fair maid and her beauty showed clear
and the other was a soldier, a bold grenadier.
Good morning, good morning, good morning said he
O where are you going my pretty lady?
I’m a going a walking by the clear crystal stream
to see cool water glide and hear nightingales sing.
O soldier, o soldier, will you marry me?
O no, my sweet lady that never can be.
For I’ve got a wife at home in my own country,
Two wives and the army’s too many for me.


Hares on the Mountain with Sally the dear

Leggi in italiano

Cecil Sharp has collected nine different versions of the ballad “Hares on the Mountain”, a love hunt perhaps derived from “The Two Magicians
amorinoSome believe that the text was written by Samuel Lover (1797-1865) because he appears in his novel “Rory o ‘More”. But the theme of this love-hunting is antecedent and recalls an ancient initiation ritual if not a true enchantment of transformation (or concealment) fith fath.

Still popular in England, we find it more sporadically in Ireland, the United States and Canada, but in the 60s and 70s it was very popular in folk clubs, less widespread, however, the version from the male point of view.

Steeleye Span from Parcel of Rogues 1973: a sweet lullaby

Young women they’ll run
Like hares(1) on the mountains,
Young women they’ll run
Like hares on the mountains
If I were but a young man
I’d soon go a hunting,
To my right fol diddle de ro,
To my right fol diddle dee.
Young women they’ll sing
Like birds in the bushes,
If I were but a young man,
I’d go and bang those bushes.
Young women they’ll swim
Like ducks in the water,
If I were but a young man,
I’d go and swim after

1) hare, birds and duck are animals associated with the three kingdoms, the middle world (Earth), above (Heaven) and below (Sea)


The same pattern is taken up in a ballad called with the same title or “Oh Sally my dear” of which we know mainly two melodies. Here the textual part is rendered as a blow and a response between the two lovers.

Shirley Collins & Davey Graham .  Fine arrangement of Davey on guitar

Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell slower melody, very magical

Alt-J in Bright: The Album 2017,  indie-rock version (I, III, IV, VI)

“Oh Sally, my dear,
it’s you I’d be kissing,
Oh Sally, my dear,
it’s you I’d be kissing,”
She smiled and replied,
“you don’t know what you’re missing”.
“Oh Sally, my dear,
I wish I could wed you,
Oh Sally my dear,
I wish I could bed you”
She smiled and replied,
“then you’d say I’d misled you”.
“If all you young men
were hares on the mountain,
How many young girls
would take guns and go hunting?
If the young men could sing like blackbirds and thrushes,
How many young girls
would go beating the bushes?
If all you young men
were fish in the water,
How many young girls
would undress and dive after?”
“But the young men
are given to frisking and fooling (1),
Oh, the young men are given to frisking and fooling,
So I’ll leave them alone
and attend to my schooling”

1) to take relationships with the girls lightly, without serious intentions. In this version the ballad has become a warning song on the old adage that man is a hunter


Same ballad handed down with another title
Niamh Parsons from “Blackbirds & Thrushes” 1999

Catherine Merrigan & Marion Camastral from “Wings O’er The Wind

Seamus Ennis

If all the young ladies
were blackbirds (1) & thrushes
If all the young ladies
were blackbirds & thrushes
Then all the young men
would go beating the bushes
Rye fol de dol diddle lol iddle lye ay
If all the young ladies
were ducks on the water..
Then all the young men
would go swimming in after
If all the young ladies
were rushes a-growing..
Then all the young men would get scythes and go mowing
If the ladies were all
trout and salmon so lively
Then divil the men
would go fishing on Friday(2)
If all the young ladies
were hares on the mountain
Then men with their hounds
would be out without counting

1) In the Celtic tradition: The blackbird (druid dhubh) is associated with the goddess Rhiannon. Legend has it that the birds of Rhiannon are three blackbirds, which are perched and sing on the tree of life on the edge of the otherworldly worlds. Their song, puts the listener in a state of trance, which allows him to go to the parallel worlds. (from here) see more
2) the expression perhaps refers to the fact that in the weekend you go fishing or that on Friday you eat fish