Archivi tag: Steeleye Span

The Grey Silkie of Sule Skerry

Leggi in italiano

5494853578_b8a653b169Selkie / silkie / Selchie are the dialectal terms with which in Scotland and Ireland the shapeshifting creatures of sea are called; derive from selich, the Scottish archaic word for  gray seal of the oceans and the Atlantic seas: they are guardians of the sea, seal in the sea and man on earth.


The power of shapeshifters seems to be contained in their mantle (seal skin), selkies can no longer transform themselves without it and are forced to remain human. This condition is understood in a negative way, a sign of a lack or deprivation, as if the skins of Selkie there were also their soul.
Some researchers wanted to see the origin of the legend in the Finfolk, ( probably the Sami people) Scandinavian men who arrived on the islands and on the coast of Scotland aboard their leather kayaks, while gradually they were advancing at sea their canoe had absorbed water and  sank until only part of their trunk it could be seen.

Both male and female, they are described in their human form as beautiful creatures (long hair and big dark eyes, agile limbs), docile but at the same time endowed with seductive power. The legend says that to reproduce a selkie-male must be in human form and transmit his power to descendants: when his child is weaned on dry land, the selkie will return from the sea. Once when the infant mortality rate was very high, only children over the age of seventh could be considered out of danger and it was at the end of the seventh year that the selkie returned to take his child.
Selkie males were invoked by girls in search of lovers, pouring seven tears in the tide, while sailors were attracted to the female selkie who tried to take as their brides.

Selkie by Maryanne Gobble


The best known of the Orkney ballads, also known as The Gray Silkie of Sule Skerry, it tells of a selkie living on the rocky cliff of Sule. Skerry derives from the Norse “sker” which means rock in the sea .
The ballad was also collected by professor Child ( # 113).

tumblr_loialeB04U1r04h5zo1_500A young girl has a child from an unknown man who turns out to be a selkie: man on earth, seal at sea whose dwelling is the rocks of Sule. After seven years the sea creature returns to claim his son, giving him a chain of gold, and the mother lets him go.
She after some time gets married with a hunter who trades with animal skins. One day he returns home with the skins of two seals he had killed to give them to his wife: one was of an old gray seal, the other of a young seal with a golden chain around his neck! She dies, overwhelmed by the pain of this vision: her heart breaks or she chooses to follow selkie and son throwing herself into the sea to prevent the prophecy from coming true.


The enchantment of the story lies in particular in the narrative choice: the story is often described as in a nocturnal dream in which a man who claims to be silkie and father of the child, appears almost magically and, next to the cradle of the newborn as in fairy godmothers of fairy tales, he traces child’s destiny.


A first melody, which was shot in the folk revival of the 70s, it was written by the American James Waters in 1954 (popularized by Joan Baez); another melody is instead traditional and it was collected in 1938 by Otto Anderson from the voice of John Sinclair of the island of Flotta and transcribed in notation.


A funeral lament in a lullaby form.

Castelbar  (I, II, IV, V, III, VI, VII, I)

Very intense version of Steeleye Span from Cogs, Wheels and Lovers, 2009, Maddy Prior and Peter Knight

Cécile Corbel ( I, II, IV as refrain, III, V, VI)

Seriouskitchen (Nick Hennessey, Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer ) live: magic instruments, beautiful voices, intense expressiveness

An earthly nurse (1) sits and sings,
And aye, she sings by lily wean,
“And little ken (2) I my bairn (3)’s father,
Far less the land where he dwells in.
For he came one night to her bed feet (4),/And a grumbly (5) guest, I’m sure was he,/Saying, “Here am I, thy bairn’s father,/Although I be not comely.”
He had ta’en a purse of gold/And he had placed it upon her knee/ Saying, “Give to me my little young son,/And take thee up thy nurse’s fee.”
“I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie on the sea,
And when I’m far and far frae land,
My home it is in Sule Skerrie.”
“And it shall come to pass on a summer’s day,/When the sun shines bright on every stane,/I’ll come and fetch my little young son,/And teach him how to swim the faem.”
“Ye shall marry a gunner good/And a right fine gunner I’m sure he’ll be,/And the very first shot that e’er he shoots/Will kill both my young son and me.”
“Alas! Alas! this woeful fate!
This weary fate that’s been laid for me!”/And once or twice she sobbed and sighed/and she joint to a sun and grey silkie (6)

1) nourris = nurse
2) ken = know
3) bairn = child
4) bed fit = foot of the bed
5) grumly = strange, scary but also sad
6) or: And her tender heart did break in three

traditional tune


Lord Olaf (Herr Olof) and The Elves

Leggi in Italiano

 Concealed death



This medieval ballad ( from the North to the South of Europe) tells the story of a knight (Oluf, Olof or Olaf) and his meeting with a fairy creature asking him to dance (or to drink) with her: the knight refuses as he will be married in the morning, and the girl (elf or mermaid) places a curse on him (a quickly death for tomorrow).


Robert Anning Bell, La belle dame sans merci

The fairy is the fatal woman archetype, with her irresistible appeal, who kills her lover.
The real situation behind this tale is clear: a jealous woman because her lover has chosen to marry another one, kills him; in the norse version, he does not yield to the sexual charme, in the Scottish one he lets himself be tempted for the last time; but the result is always death: the man who let himself be guided by lust is entrapped and addicted by sex.


The fairy creatures love to dance and they do it in a circle holding hands and intertwining in a farandole from the unbridled rhythm. Fairies dance all moon night from dusk to dawn, but the time spent in their ring can be during seven years (or even centuries). Once you enter the circle you are forced to stay until the end of the dancing party, losing track of time and freedom. Sometimes the megalithic stones circles are considerated a Fairies Ring

Ängsälvor (Meadow Elves) Nils Blommér, 1850: we see our knight approaching the Elven Garden in the distance towards the forest

Olaf returns home, meets his mother and sends her to call his relatives and his bride. At the arrival of his bride everyone tries to hide her the evidence of the groom death by vaguely answering the perplexed questions of the future wife, until at the time of consuming the marriage on their wedding bed, the woman he finds him dead.


In a very dramatic ending both the bride and the mother of Olaf kill themselves or die for pain!
A derivation-conclusion of the story goes on in another red thread drawn for all Europe, “the poisoned testament“, in which the son on his deathbed after being poisoned by a mysterious lady, returns home to his mother and declares his last wishes.


The story is partial: Olof is the son of the King and meets the mermaid on the beach, but he accepts her magic wine and remains enchanted. The siren will certainly lead him to death.

Sjungande Danse live



Herr Olof han sadlar sin gångare grå
Så rider han sig till havsfruns gård
Herr Olof han red guldsadeln flöt
Han sjunker i havsfruns sköt
Välkommen välkommen herr Olof till mig
I femton år har jag väntat på dig
Var är du födder och var är du buren
Var haver du dina hovkläder skuren?
På konungens gård är jag födder och buren
Där haver jag mina hovkläder skuren
Där har jag fader och där har jag mor
Där har jag syster och bror.
Men var har du åker och var har du äng?
Var står uppbäddad din bruaresäng?
Var haver du din fästemö
Med henne vill leva och dö?
Där har jag åker och där har jag äng
Där står uppbäddad min bruaresäng
Där haver jag min fästemö
Med henne mig lyster att leva och dö
Men hör riddar Olof kom följ med mig in
Och drick ur min kanna det klaraste vin.
Var är du födder var är du buren
Var haver du dina hovklädder skuren
Här är jag födder och här är jag buren
Här haver jag mina hovkläder skuren
Här har jag fader och där har jag mor
Här har jag syster och bror
Men var har du åker och var har du äng?
Var står uppbäddad din bruaresäng
Var haver du din fästemö
Med henne vill leva och dö
Här har jag åker och här har jag äng
Här står uppbäddad min bruaresäng
Här haver jag min fästemö
Med dig vill jag leva med dig vill jag dö
English translation
Sir Olof has saddled his good grey mare,
And off he has ridden to the mermaid’s lair.
His saddle of gold floated high on the waves
And down sank Sir Olof to the mermaid’s embrace (1).
“O welcome, Sir Olof, and welcome to me!
Full fifteen years I have  waited for thee.
“Where were you born, and where you raised,
And where   were your courtly garments made? (2)”
“Twas in the king’s castle I was born and raised,
And it’s there that my   courtly garments were made.
“There lives my father, there lives my   mother,
And there live my sister and brother.”
“But where are your fields and where are your lands,
And where in the   world does your bridal bed stand?
“Where in the world does your true love lie,
With whom you will live and die?”
“There are my fields and there are my lands,
And there is the place   where my bridal bed stands.
“There is the place where my true love does  lie,
With whom I have sworn to live and to die.”
“Come in now, Sir Olof, sit down by me here,
And drink from my goblet of wine so clear.
“Now where were you born, and where were you raised,
And where were your courtly garments made?
“Here I was born, and here I was raised,
And here is where my courtly garments were made.
“Here lives my father,   and here lives my mother,
And here are my sister and brother.”
“But where are your fields and where are your lands,
And where in the   world does your bridal bed stand?
“Where in the world does your true love lie,
With whom you will live and   die?”
“Here are my fields and here are my lands.
Here is the place where my   bridal bed stands.
“Here is the place where my true love does lie,
With you I will live and   with you I will die.”

1) this is clearly the last love meet, in view of the upcoming marriage
2) the siren always poses the same question, just as in the inquisitorial technique typical of the secret services and the state police, the same questions are obsessively repeated until the physical and mental exhaustion of the suspect; but only after drinking the love filter Olof is completely subjected to the siren and he has forgotten his human life.

Ogham live, instrumental version

In the Swedish folk tradition we also find other melodies and text versions, see for example “Herr Olof och Älvorna”.


The Danish version follows the pattern: the knight who runs in the night is invited to dance with elves and he is hit by a curse (ie he is poisoned with a magical drink) after his refusal, he preferred death rather than being subjected to the fairy kingdom .

Valravn their version stops at the point where the fairy hits the knight to death

Ólavur ríður eftir bjørgunum fram,
– Kol og smiður við –
Fann hann upp á eitt álvarann.
– Ungir kallar, kátir kallar,
Gangiðupp á gólv,dansð lystillig!
Út kom eitt taðálvafljóð,
flættað hár á herðar dró.
”Ver vælkomin, harra Riddararós,
kom og dans og kvød fyri os”
Ungir kallar, kátir kallar,

Gangiðupp á gólv,
Ungir kallar, kátir kallar,
Gangiðupp á gólv,
dansð lystillig!

(“Eg kann ikki meira hjá álvum vera,
í morgin lati eg mítt brúdleyp gera”)
”vilt tú ikki meiri hjá álvum vera,
sjúkan skai eg titt brúdleyp gera.”
”Fyrr vil eg i morgin til moldar gå,
enn eg vil sjey vetur liggja á strá”
Hon skonkti honum í drykkjuhorn
har fór i táð eiturkorn
English translation *
Olaf rides along the mountains
with coal and smith (1)
He came upon an elven house
Young lads, happy lads, step up on the floor (2), dance merrily
Out came an elven maiden
Braided hair on shoulders lay
“Be welcome Olaf Knightrose
come to the dance and sing for us”

Young lads, happy lads,
step up on the floor
Young lads, happy lads,
step up on the floor
dance merrily
(“I can no longer stay with the elves
for tomorrow I will wed”)

Will you no longer stay with the elves
Sick I shall make your wedding
I would rather  be buried tomorrow
Then lie ill for seven winters (3)
She filled him a drinkinghorn
in it went a grain of poison

* from here
1) the interlayer recalls the telluric forces and the world below
2) fairy ring because of the typical dance in the circle preferred by fairies, the fairy circles are visually highlighted by a ring of mushrooms, flowers or trampled grass.
3 )seven years is the time that the rider will have to spend in the fairy world because he will no longer be able to leave the fairy ring until the dance stops (time flows differently in the fairy world)

Another title and melody from Sweden it is Elveskud (or Elverskud)

Himmerland live


Folque Dans, dans Olav Liljekrans

Olav rie til berget fram,
– Det leikar under fjøll –
dei elvekvinner gjekk i dans.
– Stig av hesten og dans –
Elvemøyi rette hand frå seg,
– Det leikar under fjøll –
kom du Olav, trø dans’ med meg.
– Stig av hesten og dans,
dans Olav Liljekrans,
stig av hesten og dans –
Danse med deg eg inkje må,
i morgo’ skó mitt bryllaup stå.
Olav, Olav, trø dans’ med meg,
eit hovud av gull så gjeve eg deg.
Eit hovud av gull det kan eg vel få,
men danse med deg eg alli må.
Olav, Olav, trø dans’ med meg,
ei silkje skjorte så gjeve eg deg.
Stig av hesten og dans,
dans Olav Liljekrans,
stig av hesten og dans –
Ei silkje skjorte det kan eg vel få,
men danse med deg eg alli må.
Høyre du Olav Liljekrans,
du stig av hesten og trø i dans’.
Stig av hesten og dans,
dans Olav Liljekrans,
stig av hesten og dans –
English translation *
Olav was riding towards the mountains
They play under the high mountains
The elven women broke into dance.
“Dismount your horse and dance”
The elf maid reached out her hand,
“Come now, Olav, dance with me”
“Dancing with you – I can not,
for tomorrow my wedding is to be held.”
Olav, Olav, come dance with me,
a “head”(1) of gold, I shall grant thee.
A “head” of gold, I wouldn’t mind having,
but dancing with you – that I’ll never do!
Olav, Olav, come dance with me,
a silken shirt so I will give you.
A silken shirt, I would gladly have,
but dancing with you – that I’ll never do!
Listen up, Olav Liljekrans,
you get off your horse, and start dancing!(2)

* from here
1) ancient unit of measurement
2) the ballad breaks in half, the modern versions in practice halve the ancient narration, leaving at the same time space for an open ending


The English version takes up the story as handed down by the Norwegian tradition.
In his essay Giordano Dall’Armellina highlights the erotic link between knight and fatal woman: “eroticism is permeated with magic, where reason loses touch with rational reality and promises magnificent gifts.”

Steeleye Span from All Around My Hat, 1975

A knight he rode his lonely way
Thinking about his wedding day (1)
As he rode through a forest near
The elf king’s daughter did appear
Out she stepped from the elfin band
Smiling she held out her hand
“Welcome Sir Knight, why such speed?
Come with me the dance to lead”
Dance, dance, follow me
Round and round the greenwood tree
Dance, dance, while you may
Tomorrow is your dying day
Dance with me, dance with me
“Listen Sir Knight come dance with me,
Spurs of gold I’ll give to thee”
“Dance neither I will give nor may
Tomorrow is my wedding day”
“Please Sir Knight come dance with me
A shirt of silk I’ll give to thee
A shirt of silk so white and fine
My mother has bleached
in the moon-beams shine”
“Please Sir Knight come dance with me
A crown of gold I’ll give to thee”
“Your crown of gold I’ll freely take
But I’ll not join your elfin wake”
“Do you refuse to dance with me
A plague of death shall follow thee”
Between his shoulders a blow she dealt, such a blow he’d never felt

1) while in the Scandinavian versions we imagine that the knight runs from his lover for a last night of passion, here and in the poetic version of Johann Gottfried von Herder a motive (or excuse) is more explicit: bring invitations to the guests for the imminent marriage

The Danish versions (Elverskud) had influence on German literature and the poet Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) translated the ballad into German with the name of Der Erlkönigs

Even Goethe was inspired by history to write a romantic ballad – taken from italian Carducci with the title “La figlia del Re degli Elfi”.

second part


The Saucy Sailor Boy

Leggi in italiano

The nineteenth-century image of sailor is rather stereotypical: Jack Tar is a drunkard and a womanizer, perhaps a slacker and troublemaker, always ready to fight.
In sea songs from the female point of view sailor is often an unfaithful liar who has a girlfriend in every port even if he has a wife and children at home. Ridiculed and rejected by some, he is instead sought by others who absolutely prefer the love of a sailor (Sailor laddie)!
Sailor is watched more often with distrust by women, as in the sea song entitled “The Saucy Sailor Boy” where a young “saucy” sailor courts a country girl: it’s a “love contrast” that fits in a long popular tradition of bucolic argument, in which a man and a woman duet with amorous skirmishes; generally woman refuses man’s proposals, to preserve her virtue or to better stimulate his desire; man, on the other hand, promises seas and mountains, as well as eternal love, riches and the certainty of a comfortable life, just to conquer the woman’s graces.
In Saucy Sailor, however, she rejects the sailor with ill grace, because his clothes still smell of tar; the music changes when sailor shows his money but it’s too late and sailor doesn’ t want  to marry her anymore!


Clothes of Poor Jack, a British sailor of the late eighteenth century, are anything but poor: he is wearing a popular variant of the knee-length trousers, a sort of very wide trouser skirt. He wears a black tall round hat, and his long hair is loose on his neck, a white shirt with a stiff collar and a red neckcloth; characteristic yellow double-breasted waistcoat with narrow vertical red stripes, and an elegant blue short jacket with a long row of white buttons; light blue socks and black shoes with a beautiful metal buckles.

Poor Jack, Charles Dibdin, 1790-1791, British Museum: he wears slops, wide knee-length pants. The hair worn long until the mid-nineteenth century were kept in order, stopping them behind the back of the neck in a tarred tail, hence the nickname Jack Tar

But sailors like all the workers and men of the people also wore long trousers which became a standard of men’s clothing after the French revolution.


Text is found in many nineteenth-century collections and broadside especially in Great Britain and America, and probably it has eighteenth-century origins (William Alexander Barret in his “English Folksong” published in 1891 believes that this song appeared in print in 1781 and he cites its great popularity among girls who work in Eastern London factories.
The Tarry Sailor from trad archives (Andrew Robbie of Strichen, Aberdeenshire)  
Quadriga consort: early-music version
Harbottle & Jonas (from Cornwall): a swing version

Steeleye Span from Below the Salt, 1972 ( I, and from III to VIII): standard version in the repertoires of singers and folk groups

Wailin Jennys 

“Come, my dearest, come, my fairest,
Come and tell unto me,
Will you pity (fancy) a poor sailor boy,
Who has just come from sea?”
“I can fancy no poor sailor:
No poor sailor for me!
For to cross the wide ocean
Is a terror to me.
You are ragged, love, you are dirty, love,/And your clothes they smell of tar./So begone, you saucy sailor boy,
So begone, you Jack Tar(1)!”
“If I’m ragged, love, if I’m dirty, love,
If my clothes they smell (much) of tar,
I have silver in my pocket, love,
And of gold a bright (great) store.”
V (2)
When she heard those words come from him, On her bended knees she fell./”To be sure, I’ll wed my sailor,
For I love him so well.”
“Do you think that I am foolish?
Do you think that I am mad?
That I’d wed with a poor country girl
Where no fortune’s to be had?
I will cross the briny ocean/Where the meadows they are green (3);
Since you have had the offer, love,
Another shall have the ring.
For I’m young, love, and I’m frolicksome, (4)
I’m good-temper’d, kind and free.
And I don’t care a straw (5), love,
What the world says (thinks)of me.

1) Jack Tar is a common English term originally used to refer to seamen of the Merchant or Royal Navy, particularly during the period of the British Empire. Seamen were known to ‘tar’ their clothes before departing on voyages, in order to make them waterproof, in the eighteenth century they were usually used to tar their long hair in a ponytail to prevent it from getting wet or that the wind ruffled it
2)  Steeleye Span :
And then when she heard him say so
On her bended knees she fell,
“I will marry my dear Henry
For I love a sailor lad so well.”
3) Steeleye Span: I will whistle and sing
4) Steeleye Span :
Oh, I am frolicsome and I am easy,
Good tempered and free,
5) or “I don’t give a single pin”


Stan Hugill in his Shantyman Bible (Shanties from the Seven Seas) tells us that The Tarry Sailor (Saucy Sailor Boy) in addition to being a forebitter song was occasionally sung during the boring hours of pumping water from the bilge when the pumps were operated by hand!  (see sea shanty)

Hulton Clint 

Come on my fair ones,
Come on my fan ones,
Come and listen unto me.
Could you fancy a boldly sailor lad
That has just come home from sea?
Could you fancy a boldly sailor lad
That has just come home from sea?
No, indeed, I’ll wed no sailor
For they smell too much of tar!
You are ruggy, you are sassy,
get you gone Jackie Tar.
I have ship on all the ocean,
I have golden great galore
All my clothes they may be all in rags,
but coin can buy me more
If I am ruggy, if I am sassy
And may by a tarry smell
I had silver in my pockets
For they knew can every tell
When she heard him that distressed
down upon her knees she fell
Saying “Ruggy dirty saylor boy
I love more than you can tell”
Do you think that I’m foolish,
Do you think that I’m mad?
That I’d wed the likes of you, Miss,
When there’s others to be had!”
No indeed I’ll cross the ocean,
And my ships shall spread her wings,
You refused me, ragged, dirty,
Not for you the wedding ring.

Scottish sailors were excellent dancers and part of their training consisted of practicing Sailor’s Hornpipe

second part


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


Beltane Love Chase: The Two Magicians

Leggi in italiano

63_rackham_siegfried_grimhildeLove Chase is a typical theme of popular songs, according to the proper ways of the courting song it is the contrast between two lovers, in whice he tries to conquer her and she rejects him or banters in a comic or coarse situation
So the ballad “The Twa Magicians” is a Love Hunt in which the natural prudery of the maid teases the man, because her denial is an invitation to conquer.


The ballad originates from the north of Scotland and the first written source is in Peter Buchan’s “Ancient Ballads and Song of the North of Scotland” – 1828, later also in Child # 44 (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child ). It is believed to come from the Norse tradition. The versions are numerous, as generally happens for popular ballads spread in the oral tradition, and even with different endings. In its “basic” form it is the story of a blacksmith who intends to conquer a virgin; but the girl flees, turning into various animals and even objects or elements of Nature; the man pursues her by changing form himself.
There is a written trace of the theme already in 1630 in a ballad entitled “The two kind and Lovers” – in which however the woman is to chase the man.
The ballad begins with the woman who says

if thou wilt goe, Love,
let me goe with thee
Because I cannot live,
without thy company
Be thou the Sunne,
Ile be the beames so bright,
Be thou the Moone.
Ile be the lightest night:
Be thou Aurora,
the usher of the day,
I will be the pearly dew,
upon the flowers gay.
Be thou the Rose,
thy smell I will assume,
And yeeld a sweet
odoriferous perfume

It is therefore a matter of complementary and non-opposing couples, a sort of total surrender to love on the part of the woman who declares her fidelity to man. Let us not forget that ancient ballads were also a form of moral teaching.
And yet we find buried in the text traces of initiation rituals, pearls of wisdom or druidic teachings, so the two wizards are transformed into animals associated with the three kingdoms, Nem (sky), Talam (Earth) Muir (sea) or world above, middle and below and the mystery is that of spiritual rebirth.
Other similarities are found with the ballad “Hares on the Mountain


In general, the Love Chase ends with the consensual coupling.
Today’s version of “The Two Magicians” is based on the rewriting of the text and the musical arrangement of Albert Lancaster Lloyd (1908-1982) for the album “The Bird in the Bush” (1966);

(all the verses except XV and XVI)

Celtic stone from Celtic Stone, 1983: (American folk-rock group active in the 80s and 90s), an ironic vocal interpretation, a spirited musical arrangement that happily combines acoustic guitar with the dulcimer hammer (verses from I to VII, XI, IX, XIV, X, XV, XVI, XVII)

Damh the Bard from Tales from the Crow Man, 2009. Another minstrel of the magical world in a more rock version (verses from I to VII, XI, IX, XII, X, XIV, XV, XVI,XVII, XVIII)

Jean-Luc Lenoir from “Old Celtic & Nordic Ballads” 2013 (voice Joanne McIver) 
– a lively and captivating arrangement taken from a traditional (it’s a mixer between the two melodies)
Owl Service from Wake The Vaulted Echo (2006)
Empty Hats from The Hat Came Back, 2000 the choice of speech is very effective

The lady stood at her own front door
As straight as a willow wand
And along come a lusty smith (1)
With his hammer in his hand
Saying “bide lady bide
there’s a nowhere you can hide
the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride”.
“Well may you dress, you lady fair,
All in your robes of red  (2)
Before tomorrow at this same time
I’ll have your maidenhead.”
“Away away you coal blacksmith
Would you do me this wrong?
To have me maidenhead
That I have kept so long”
I’d rather I was dead and cold
And me body in the grave
Than a lusty, dusty, coal black smith
Me maide head should have”
Then the lady she held up her hand
And swore upon the spul
She never would be the blacksmith’s love
For all of a box of gold  (3)
And the blacksmith he held up his hand/And he swore upon the mass,
“I’ll have you for my love, my girl,
For the half of that or less.”
Then she became a turtle dove
And flew up in the air
But he became an old cock pigeon
And they flew pair and pair
And she became a little duck,
A-floating in the pond,
And he became a pink-necked drake
And chased her round and round.
She turned herself into a hare  (4)
And ran all upon the plain
But he became a greyhound dog
And fetched her back again
And she became a little ewe sheep
and lay upon the common
But he became a shaggy old ram
And swiftly fell upon her.
She changed herself to a swift young mare, As dark as the night was black,
And he became a golden saddle
And clung unto her back.
And she became a little green fly,
A-flew up in the air,
And he became a hairy spider
And fetched her in his lair.
Then she became a hot griddle (5)
And he became a cake,
And every change that poor girl made
The blacksmith was her mate.
So she turned into a full-dressed ship
A-sailing on the sea
But he became a captain bold
And aboard of her went he
So the lady she turned into a cloud
Floating in the air
But he became a lightning flash
And zipped right into her
So she turned into a mulberry tree
A mulberry tree in the wood
But he came forth as the morning dew
And sprinkled her where she stood.
So the lady ran in her own bedroom
And changed into a bed,
But he became a green coverlet
And he gained her maidenhead
And was she woke, he held her so,
And still he bad her bide,
And the husky smith became her love
And that pulled down her pride.

1) in popular songs the blacksmith is considered a synonym of virility, a very gifted lover with a portentose force. Here he is also a magician armed with a hammer while the girl is a antagonist (or complementary) holds a willow wand.
One thinks of a sort of duel or challenge between two practicing wizards
2) in ancient ballads some words are codes that make the alarm bells ring out in the listener: red is the color of fairies or creatures with Magic powers. Red was also the color of the bride in antiquity and is a favorable color for fertility
3) also written as “pot of gold” and immediately it come to mind the leprechaun
4) the hare-hound couple is the first of the transformations in the Welsh myth of Taliesin’s birth. Gwion is the pursued that turns into a lunar animal, takes in itself the female principle symbol of abundance-fertility, but also creativity-intuition, becomes pure instinct, frenzy.
The dog is not only predator, but also guardian and psychopomp ‘The dog plays with many populations the function of guardian of the sacred places, guide of the man on the night of death, defender of the kingdom of the dead, overseer in all cases of the kingdom spiritual.
In particular among the Celts it was associated with the world of the Warriors. In fact, the dog was present in the Warrior initiations. Hunting, like war, was a sacred act that could be accomplished only after an initiation and a ritual preparation of divine protection. (Riccardo Taraglio from Il Vischio e la Quercia) 
see more
5) scottish pancake: a special tool to cook the Beltane bannock.The two iron griddle could be smooth or variously decorated honeycomb or floral carvings, written or geometric designs, were hinged on one side and equipped with a long handle: placed on the fire it was turned over for cooking on the other side. In the Middle Ages they had become masterpieces of forging made by master wares or refined silversmiths, and they were a traditional engagement gift. see more

Ferro da cialde, Umbria, sec. XVI


The song is reported by Cecil Sharp in One Hundred English Folksongs (1916) in the notes he says he heard it from Mr. Sparks (a blacksmith), Minehead, Somerset, in 1904.

Steeleye Span from “Now we are six”, 1974 – a funny video animation

She looked out of the window
as white as any milk
And he looked in at  the window
as black as any silk
Hello, hello, hello, hello,
you coal blacksmith

You have done me no harm
You never shall  have my maidenhead
That I have kept so long
I’d rather die a maid
Ah, but then she said
and be buried all in my grave

Than to have such a nasty,
husky, dusky, fusky, musky

Coal blacksmith,
a maiden, I will die

She became a duck,
a duck all on the stream
And he became a water dog (1)
and fetched her back again.
She became a star,
a star all in the night
And he became a thundercloud
And muffled her out of sight.
She became a rose,
a rose all in the wood
And he became a bumble bee  (2)
And kissed her where she stood.
She became a nun,
a nun all dressed in white
And he became a canting priest
And prayed for her by night.
She became a trout,
a trout all in the brook
And he became a feathered fly
And caught her with his hook.
She became a corpse,
a corpse all in the ground
And he became the cold clay
and smothered her all around (3)

1) water dog is a large swimmer retriever dog or a dog trained for swamp hunting,
2) the bumblebee is related to the bees, but does not produce honey and is much larger and stocky than the bee
3) “Which part of the word NO do not you understand?” that is, the categorical and virginal refusal of the woman to the sexual act repeatedly attempted by an ugly, dark and even stinking blacksmith. In escaping the man’ s longing she turns into duck, star, rose, nun and trout (and he in marsh dog, cloud, bumblebee, priest, fishing hook); apparently the girl prefers her death rather than undergoing a rape: this is a distorted way of interpreting the story, it is the “macho” mentality convinced that woman is not a victim but always in complicit with the violence and therefore to be condemned.
In my opinion, instead, it is the return to the earth with the fusion of the feminine principle with the male one; the two, now lost in the vortex of transformations, merge into a single embrace of dust and their death is a death-rebirth.

Beltane Fire Festival


The hunter man here is a “supernatural” figure, the blacksmith was considered in ancient times a creature endowed with magical powers, the first blacksmiths were in fact the dwarves (the black or dark elves) able to create weapons and enchanted jewels. The art of forge was an ancient knowledge that was handed down among initiates.
So in the Middle Ages the figure of the blacksmith took on negative connotations, just think of the many “forges of the devil” or “the pagan” that gave the name to a place once a forge.

Vulcan Roman God, Andrea Mantegna

By virtue of his craft, the smith is a mighty man with well-developed muscles, yet precisely because of his knowledge and power the smith is often lame or deformed: if he is a mortal his impairment is a sign that he has seen some divine secret, that is, it has seen a hidden aspect of the divinity thus it is punished forever; it is the knowledge of the secret of fire and of metals, which turn from solid to liquid and blend into alloys. In many mythologies the same gods are blacksmiths (Varuna, Odin), they are wizards and they have paid a price for their magic.
The lameness also hides another metaphor: that of the overcame test that underlies the research, be it a spiritual conquest or a healing or revenge act (a fundamental theme in the Grail cycle).

But the magicians of the ballad are two so the girl is also a shapeshifter or perhaps a shaman.


Cerridwen_EmpowermentThe theme of transformation is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: a succession of Olympian gods who, through their lust, transform themselves into animals (but also in golden rain) and seduce beautiful mortals or nymphs.
The pursuit through the mutation of the forms recalls the chase between Cerridwen and his apprentice in the Welsh history of the the bard Taliesin birth (534-599) . A boy is escaping, having drunk the magic potion from the cauldron he was watching over; he escapes the wrath of the goddess by becoming various animals (hare, fish, bird). At the end he is a wheat grain to hide like a classic needle in a haystack, but the goddess changed into a hen eating it. From this unusual coupling is born Taliesin alias Merlin

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

That is, in order to become Wisdom, to Understand, one must experience the elements …

This poem by Taliesin could condense the mystery of the initiatory journey, in which Wisdom is conquered with the knowledge of the elements, which is profound experience, identification, through the penetration of their own essence, becoming the same traveler the essence of the elements.
Changing shape means experiencing everything, experiencing oneself in everything in continuous change and experiencing the encounter between the self and the other, prey and predator, not separated but inseparably linked, as in a dance.from here)


The main characteristic of the shaman is to “travel” in conditions of ecstasy in the spirit world. The techniques for doing this are essentially the ecstatic sleep (mystical trance) and the transformation of one’s spirit into an animal. As a magical practice it involves a transformation of a part of the soul into the spirit of an animal to leave the body and travel in both the sensitive and the supersensible world. Another technique is to leave your body and take possession of the body of a living animal.

In this way the shaman “rides”, that is, takes as a means to move, the bodies of animals that are also his driving spirits. In some rituals, psychoactive plants are used, or the drum beat, or the skins or the mask of the animal that you want to “ride” are worn. This practice is not free from risks: it may happen that the shaman can no longer return to his body because he forgets himself, his human being, or travels too far from the body and falls into a coma or the physical body dies because too weakened by separation.
The spirit can be captured in the afterlife or the animal can be wounded or killed on the ground level and therefore, as the soul of the shaman is captured or wounded or killed, so does his body report its consequences.

second part 


Lark in the Morning

Leggi in italiano

The irish song “The Lark in the Morning” is mainly found in the county of Fermanagh (Northern Ireland): the image is rural, portrayed by an idyllic vision of healthy and simple country life; a young farmer who plows the fields to prepare them for spring sowing, is the paradigm of youthful exaltation, its exuberance and joie de vivre, is compared to the lark as it sails flying high in the sky in the morning. Like many songs from Northern Ireland it is equally popular also in Scotland.
The point of view is masculine, with a final toast to the health of all the “plowmen” (or of the horsebacks, a task that in a large farm more generally indicated those who took care of the horses) that they have fun rolling around in the hay with some beautiful girls, and so they demonstrate their virility with the ability to reproduce.

The Plougman – Rowland Wheelwright (1870-1955)

The Dubliners

Alex Beaton with a lovely Scottish accent

The Quilty (Swedes with an Irish heart)

The lark in the morning, she rises off her nest(1)
She goes home in the evening, with the dew all on her breast
And like the jolly ploughboy, she whistles and she sings
She goes home in the evening, with the dew all on her wings
Oh, Roger the ploughboy, he is a dashing blade (2)
He goes whistling and singing, over yonder leafy shade
He met with pretty Susan,, she’s handsome I declare
She is far more enticing, then the birds all in the air
One evening coming home, from the rakes of the town
The meadows been all green, and the grass had been cut down
As I should chance to tumble, all in the new-mown hay (3)
“Oh, it’s kiss me now or never love”,  this bonnie lass did say
When twenty long weeks, they were over and were past
Her mommy chanced to notice, how she thickened round the waist
“It was the handsome ploughboy,-the maiden she did say-
For he caused for to tumble, all in the new-mown hay”
Here’s a health to y’all ploughboys wherever you may be
That likes to have a bonnie lass a sitting on his knee
With a jug of good strong porter you’ll whistle and you’ll sing
For a ploughboy is as happy as a prince or a king
1) The lark is a melodious sparrow that sings from the first days of spring and already at the first light of dawn; it is a terrestrial bird which, however, once safely in flight, rises almost vertically into the sky, launching a cascade of sounds similar to a musical crescendo.
Then, closed the wings, he lets himself fall like a dead body until he touches the ground and immediately rises again, starting to sing again . see more
2) blade= boy, term used in ancient ballads to indicate a skilled swordsman
3) The story’s backgroung is that of the season of haymaking, starting in May, when farmers went to make hay, that is to cut the tall grass, with the scythe, putting it aside as fodder for livestock and courtyard’s animals . While hay cutting was a mostly masculine task, women and children used the rake to collect grass in large piles, which were then loaded onto the cart through the use of pitchforks.. see more

George Stubbs – Haymakers 1785 (Wikimedia)

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017, from Paddy Tunney (only I, II) (Paddy Tunney The Lark in the Morning 1995  ♪), the most extensive version comes from the Sussex Copper family, but Lisa further changes some verses.

The lark in the morning she rises off her nest
And goes whistling and singing, with the dew all on her breast
Like a jolly ploughboy she whistles and she sings
she comes home in the evening with the dew all on her wings
Roger the ploughboy he is a bonny blade.
He goes whistling and singing down by yon green glade.
He met with dark-eyed Susan, she’s handsome I declare,
she’s far more enticing than the birds on the air.
This eve he was coming home, from the rakes in town
with meadows been all green and the grass just cut down
she is chanced to tumble all in the new-mown hay
“It’s loving me now or never”, this bonnie lass did say
So good luck to the ploughboys wherever they may be,
They will take a sweet maiden to sit along their knee,
Of all the gay callings
There’s no life like the ploughboy in the merry month of may



This version was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904 as heard by Ms. Harriet Verrall of Monk’s Gate, Horsham in Sussex, but already circulated in the nineteenth-century broadsides and then reported in Roy Palmer’s book “Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams”. Became into the English folk music circuit in the 60s the song was recorded in 1971 by the English folk rock group Steeleye Span with the voice of Maddy Prior.

The refrain is similar to that of the previous irish version, but here the situation is even more pastoral and almost Shakespearean with the shepherdess and the plowman who are surprised by the morning song of the lark, but with the reversed parts: he who tells her to stay in his arms, because there is still the evening dew, but she who replies that the sun is now shining and even the lark has risen in flight. The name of the peasant is Floro and derives from the Latin Fiore.

Steeleye Span from Please to See the King – 1971

Maddy Prior  from Arthur The King – 2001

“Lay still my fond shepherd and don’t you rise yet
It’s a fine dewy morning and besides, my love, it is wet.”
“Oh let it be wet my love and ever so cold
I will rise my fond Floro and away to my fold.
Oh no, my bright Floro, it is no such thing
It’s a bright sun a-shining and the lark is on the wing.”
Oh the lark in the morning she rises from her nest
And she mounts in the air with the dew on her breast
And like the pretty ploughboy she’ll whistle and sing
And at night she will return to her own nest again
When the ploughboy has done all he’s got for to do
He trips down to the meadows where the grass is all cut down.

1)plow the field but also plow a complacent girl


“Lark in the morning” is a jig mostly performed with banjo or bouzouki or mandolin or guitar, but also with pipes, whistles or flutes, fiddles ..
An anecdote reported by Peter Cooper says that two violinists had challenged one evening to see who was the best, only at dawn when they heard the song of the lark, they agreed that the sweetest music was that of the morning lark. Same story told by the piper Seamus Ennis but with the The Lark’s March tune

Moving Hearts The Lark in the Morning (Trad. Arr. Spillane, Lunny, O’Neill)

Cillian Vallely uilleann pipes with Alan Murray guitar

Peter Browne uilleann pipes in Lark’s march


Obby Oss Festival

Leggi in italiano


On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination.

padstow oss
Oss and his teazer

The Oss are two, one of the Red group(the old horse) and the other of the Blue group (a more recent addition of the Victorian era): the masks are identical, looking fierce and black dressed , which emerge from a characteristic round shape (a circle of 2 meters) edged to the ground by the black fabric: the horses are led by their “teazers” a jugglers with a characteristic stick followed by a cortege of dancers and musicians (mostly drums and accordions): the dominant color in the parade is the white with red or blue depending on the group.

The Oss during his dance – revolving on himself and kicking – seems to war with the teazer or he is courting the young women, who if dragged under the mantle of the oss will become pregnant within the year (or they will get married by the year if they are still young maids)!

Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy and filmmaker George Pickow collected footage at Padstow in 1951


It is not easy to find the origins of the ritual that is celebrated in Padstow, some indications come from the history of the village: the first settlement was the monastery built by St. Petroc in his mission of evangelization (VI century), but it was destroyed by a Viking raid in 981. Thus the monks moved further inside to Bodmin. Some hypothesize that the ceremony took place on that occasion as an extreme attempt at defense.
obby_oss_sHistorical references of the Oss date back to the late Middle Ages (early 1500) with traces still in the Victorian era: in 1803 is documented the presence of a horse made with the skin of a stallion with a man inside who sprinkled water on the crowd.

Some scholars trace the ritual to pre-Christian celebrations, connected with the Celtic festival of Beltane. Donald R. Rawe compare the oss to thehobby  horses of the Morris dances that are associated with the May fertility rites. (see also the Robin Hood games for the May day). The branches of the May brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts by the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
Equally numerous are the references to the winter rituals of Samain that began at the end of October and ended after about twelve days. During the Christmas period the disturbing mask of a horse (hodden or hooden horse), is led through the streets of the village by a “tamer” who held it by the bridle: the children tried to mount the horse and people throw sweets or coins into the mouth of the animal as propitiatory offers. see more


In the singing the Padstow May Song (mostly they repeats the first verse) at some point the music stops the Oss collapses to the ground, the teaser caresses him with his characteristic bat and they sing a kind of dirge funeral
Oh where is Saint George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
The oss dies then the “teaser” screams “Oss Oss” and the crowd answers “We Oss” thus the Oss comes back to life and gets up again to resume the dances..

Death-Resurrection of the Oss

Once between the two Oss was engaged a dance-fight, now the two parades march through the streets without ever meeting until late in the evening around the May Pole, before returning to their respective stables.



The parade lasts all day from the morning around 11 am until evening and obviously several men alternate to play the Oss. At the end of the festival the Farewell to the Oss is sung with the phrase:
Farewell farewell my own true love
Farewell farewell my own true love

How can I bear to leave you
One parting kiss I’ll give you
I’ll go what ‘ere befalls me
I’ll go where duty calls me
No more will I behold thee
Nor in my arms enfold thee
With spear and pennant glancing
I see the foe advancing
I think of thee with longing
Think though while tears are thronging
That with my last faint sighing
I whispered soft whilst dying

NIGHT SONG : Drink To The Old ‘Oss

The ritual of the oss begins, however, the night of May 1, at the stroke of midnight and until about two o’clock, with the Night Song, a clear song of begging, in which the youngsters are alerted to go into the woods to cut the branches of May: whoever sings asks in exchange for good phrases (prosperity, health, happiness) a little beer!

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
I warn you young men everyone
For summer is a-come unto day,
To go to the green-wood and fetch your May home
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mr. —- and joy you betide
For summer is a-come unto day,
And bright is your bride that lies by your side,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mrs. —- and gold be your ring,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And give to us a cup of ale the merrier we shall sing,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Miss —- all in your gown of green
For summer is a-come unto day,
You are as fine a lady as wait upon the Queen,
In the merry morning of May.
Now fare you well, and we bid you all good cheer,
For summer is a-come unto day,
We call once more unto your house before another year,
In the merry morning of May

Steeleye Span live (they have recorded the song several times)

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin’ today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.
The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.
The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin’ today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

Unite and unite
For summer is a-come unto day,
Unite and unite,
In the merry morning of May.
With the marry ring
For summer is a-come unto day
Adieu the marry spring
In the merry morning of May
Arise up Mr. …
In the merry morning of May.
Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George?
Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat,
all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite,
down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood,
she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.


The May branches brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts from the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
The young people who build a ship and cover it with gold, could symbolize the solar ship, and the theme of rebirth in a new afterlife it is the journey of purification of the soul of the deceased to the Hereafter.
The garland of red and white roses of young women (the colors of Beltane) symbolizes the union of the masculine principle with the feminine one and takes up again the theme of fertility propitiation. Even the last stanza is a clear reference to the lark, a messenger between the human and the divine, representation of youthful exaltation, a sacred and solar bird, symbol of good luck.
The interpretation of the verse already mentioned on the occasion of the funeral dirge in which the apparent death of the Oss is represented is very problematic!
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?

The reference to the Hanover dynasty would start any historical dating to 1700, but on closer inspection the king is actually Saint George: it is precisely at this point when the Oss is about to die killed by the jester, that is Saint George who defeats the dragon, he is the solar god, who defeats the darkness, the Spring that defeats Winter.
But the most enigmatic of all is Aunt Ursula Birdhood with her old sheep! And here is the fantasy gallops and a local legend recalls an old woman who brought together the women of Padstow to drive away the Viking raiders (in another version become French) while the men were all out to sea to fish: disguised with the Obby Oss and guiding the women in a dancing procession to the beach Orsola has managed to get rid of the marauders convinced to see a monster!!
Some scholars see Birdwood as a mispronunciation of Birdwood and then link it to the figure of Robin Hood extensively connected to the celebration of May since the Middle Ages. Others recall the pagan myth concerning the goddess Freyja (or Sant’Orsola) who, with the name of Horsel or Ursel, welcomed the dead girls into the aftermath.

 second part


Lovely On The Water

Leggi in italiano  

Lover’s separation is a theme widespread in the english balladry and that of a sailor and a young maid it’s probably originated in the eighteenth century, as we find it in the illustrations of the time.


The ballad “Lovely on the water”, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the early 1900s, come from a broadside titled “Henry and Nancy, or the Lover’s Separation“. The story begins in the idyll of spring with two lovers walking, but that’s their farewell, the sailor has enlisted in the Royal Navy and wants her to stay home waiting for him. Although he professed to face the war for his country, the need for a wage is certainly the primary cause of his patriotism.

The Sailor’s Farewell, Charles Mosley (mid-eighteenth century) in National Maritime Museum .

Steeleye Span recorded Lovely on the Water in 1971 for their second album, “Please to See the King” and the sleeve notes commented”Certain folk songs had great popularity, and have been reported over and again, from end to end of the country. Others—including some masterpieces—seem to have had but tiny circulation. So Lovely on the Water, with a gorgeous melody and significant words, has been found only once, by Vaughan Williams at South Walsham, a few miles from Norwich. The song starts idyllically and ends ominously, like a sunny day that clouds over. The singer, a Mr Hilton, had fourteen verses, but Vaughan Williams, often a bit careless about texts, mislaid some. Missing verses probably concerned the familiar situation in which the girl volunteers to disguise herself as a seaman, in order to sail with her lover, but is hurriedly dissuaded.” (from here)
We find those missing verses in the text of the broadside “Henry and Nancy” (here)
Steeleye Span in “Please to See the King” 1971

Ken Wilson in “Not Before Time

Dhalia`s Lane in Hollymount 2005

Martha Tilston & Maggie Boyle in The Sea 2014 in  

As I walked out one morning
in the springtime of the year
I overheard a sailor boy
likewise a lady fair
They sang a song together
made the valleys for to ring
While the birds on the spray in the meadows gay
Proclaimed the lovely spring
Said Willy unto Nancy
“Oh we soon must sail away
For its lovely on the water
to hear the music play.
For our Queen she do want seamen
so I will not stay on shore
I will brave the wars for my country
Where the blund’ring cannons roar
Poor Nancy fell and fainted,
but soon he brought her to,
For it’s there they kissed and they embraced
and took a fond adieu.
“Come change your ring (1) with me my love
For we may meet once more;
but there’s One above that will guard you, love,
Where the blund’ring cannons roar
Four pounds it is our bounty
and that must do for thee
For to help the aged parents
while I am on the sea
For Tower Hill[2] is crowded
with mothers weeping sore (3)
For their sons are gone to face the foe
Where the blundering cannons roar” 

1) the ring will be the proof of identity of the lovers who will sometimes remain separated for long years
2) Tower Hill in in London,London Borough of Tower Hamlets
3) while the men go to fight the enemy, the women greet them weeping because they know that many of them will never return home

Ralph Vaughan Williams: LOVELY ON THE WATER
american/irish version: ADIEU MY LOVELY NANCY
sea shanty: HOLY GROUND


General Taylor gained the day

Una sea shanty dal titolo “Carry him to his burying ground” o “General Taylor” ; riguardo alle origini c’è chi parteggia per i marinai inglesi e chi per gli schiavi afro-americani. AL Lloyd la imparò da ‘Harding the Barbadian Barbarian’ e Cecil Sharp la collezionò dal marinaio John Short.
Ci sono due riferimenti incrociati ad altri canti marinareschi: Santy Ano e Stormalong; Stormy è un marinaio del mito, il suo funerale è una sorta di ultimo addio alla gloriosa era dei grandi velieri, sconfitti sul finire dell’Ottocento dai battelli a vapore.

ASCOLTA Steeleye Span (voce Tim Hart) 1971

ASCOLTA Sam Lee in Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor Vol. 1 su spotify, che la interpreta secondo la versione della collezione John Short così è scritto nelle note dell’album
Another shanty that refers to Stormy. Despite its popularity in recent years, this is a rare shanty in the collections. The extraordinary melodic lines of the shantyman’s lead, in what might be regarded as “chorus”, were, with difficulty, meticulously notated by Sharp, and are virtually impossible to replicate in performance—Sam [Lee] has followed the style rather than the exact notation. Other shantymen tend to sing a very simplified version—or give it all to the crew as chorus.

ASCOLTA Richard Thompson w/ Jack Shit Son Of Rogues Gallery ‘Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys ANTI 2013 su Spotify

General Taylor gained the day(1)
Walk him along, John, carry him along
Oh General Taylor he gained the day
Carry him to his burying ground
To me way hey, you Stormy (2)
Walk him along, John, carry him along
To me way hey, you Stormy
Carry him to his burying ground
Oh I wish I was old Stormy’s son
I’d build a ship ten thousand tons
I’d load her down with ale and rum
And every shellback should have some
Oh we dig his grave with a silver spade
And his shroud of the softest silk is made
And we lower him down on a golden chain
On every link we’ll carve his name
General Taylor’s dead and gone

We dig his grave with a silver spade
shroud of the finest silk is made
And we lower him down on a golden chain
On every link we’ll carve his name
General Taylor died long ago
He’s gone where the stormy winds won’t blow
General Taylor’s dead and gone
General Taylor’s dead and gone
Tell me where you’re Stormy
Tell me where you’re Stormy
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Il generale Taylor ha vinto il giorno(1)
accompagnalo John, portalo con te
il generale Taylor ha vinto il giorno
portalo al suo cimitero
a me via, ehi tu Stormy
accompagnalo John, portalo con te
a me via, ehi tu Stormy
portalo al suo cimitero
Se fossi il figlio del vecchio Stormy
costruirei una nave di mille tonnellate. La stiverei con birra e rum
e tutti i marinai ne avrebbero un po’.
Scaviamo la fossa con una spada d’argento,
il sudario è fatto della migliore seta
e lo caliamo giù con una catena d’argento,
a ogni anello incideremo il suo nome
Generale Taylor è morto stecchito

Scaviamo la fossa con una spada d’argento, il sudario è fatto della migliore seta e lo caliamo giù con una catena d’argento,
a ogni anello incideremo il suo nome
il Generale Taylor morì molto tempo fa
è andato dove i venti di tempesta non soffiano più
Generale Taylor è morto stecchito
Generale Taylor è morto stecchito
Dimmi dove sei Stormy
Dimmi dove sei Stormy

1) Il generale Zachary Taylor sconfisse il generale messicano Santa Ana a Buenavista nel febbraio 1847, contribuendo ad assicurarsi il Texas e ad ottenere la California, per gli Stati Uniti. Divenne Presidente degli Stati Uniti dopo la guerra con il Messico, ma morì dopo solo un breve periodo in carica. Nelle versioni irlandesi la verità storica viene stravolta ed è Santa Ana ad aver vinto la battaglia di quel giorno  (vedi)
2) al Generale Taylor viene tributato un funerale rituale come al leggendario Stormy



Jenny dei Pirati

Seeräuberjenny  è una canzone tratta dall'”Opera da tre soldi” di Bertold Brecht (1928) su musica di Kurt Weill, uno dei brani più famosi di tutta la pièce. Rielaborazione della “Beggar’s Opera” (L’opera del mendicante) di John Gay la commedia si svolge nella Londra vittoriana del malaffare, per smascherare nello stesso tempo il mondo aristocratico e borghese. il suo cinismo e i suoi affari molto simili a quelli della malavita (in realtà metafora della Berlino del tempo).

Nella produzione originale è  Polly a cantare “Jenny dei Pirati” nell’osteria dove lei e il bandito Mackie Messer fanno festa con gli amici durante il loro banchetto nunziale, Polly la imparò da Jenny, sguattera-prostituta, che narra il suo sogno -il sottotitolo della canzone è “Sogni di una sguattera”-: un giorno i pirati arriveranno in città, la raderanno al suolo e la incoroneranno regina, facendola fuggire  dalla sua miserabile vita.  Ma Polly è una figlia della borghesia che si è appena sposata con “il capo dei pirati” e quindi il suo sogno si è già avverato!
“Cantando la storia di Jenny dei pirati, Polly crea un momento di teatro nel teatro: all’interno dell’azione principale viene infatti inserita una seconda azione, in cui alcuni personaggi recitano di fronte ad altri, che assistono proprio come fossero spettatori. Prima di cantare la canzone, Polly ricrea l’ambiente della taverna dove lavorava Jenny e chiede ai presenti di partecipare alla messinscena con le battute adeguate. E’ un chiaro esempio del teatro didattico brechtiano, con il suo scopo di messaggio politico-sociale e con le sue tecniche di straniamento” (tratto da qui)
Nelle versioni successive è Jenny a cantare la sua canzone “È una canzone che esprime il sentimento rivoluzionario – scrive Greta Giavedoni- In essa compaiono, infatti, i simboli della nave (antitesi della casa borghese) e dei pirati (uomini che non permettono ad alcuna regola o legge di assoggettarli, ovvero emblema del potere sovversivo). Queste sono le figure che evoca Jenny, la sguattera d’un albergo d’infimo ordine (che rappresenta tutti coloro che stanno in basso), esprimendo la propria sete di vendetta, secondo alcuni, e di giustizia secondo altri, nei confronti di coloro che l’additano e la deridono senza sapere chi lei sia”.

E’ stata Nina Simone negli anni sessanta a farla diventare un canto di ribellione sociale.

La versione inglese “Pirate Jenny” dalla “Threepenny Opera” è però una riscrittura del testo per mano di  Brecht e Kurt Weill
ASCOLTA Shilpa Ray w/ Nick Cave & Warren Ellis in Son Of Rogues Gallery ‘Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys ANTI 2013

ASCOLTA Ute Lemper in una versione cabarettistica con un testo on cui apporta delle marginali modifiche alla versione inglese (e alterna all’inglese le strofe in tedesco).. quando il cabaret era teatro non di svago ma di satira politica.

ASCOLTA Steeleye Span – con il titolo The Black Freighter

You people can watch (1) while I’m scrubbing these floors
And I’m scrubbin’ the floors while you’re gawking
Maybe once ya tip me and it makes ya feel swell
In this crummy Southern town (2)
In this crummy old hotel(3)
But you’ll never guess (4) to who you’re talkin’.
No. You couldn’t ever guess to who you’re talkin’.

Then one night there’s a scream in the night
And you’ll wonder who could that have been (5)
And you see me kinda grinnin’ while I’m scrubbin’
And you say, “What’s she got to grin?”
I’ll tell you.

There’s a ship
The Black Freighter
with a skull on its masthead
will be coming in (6)

You gentlemen can say, “Hey gal, finish them floors! Get upstairs! What’s wrong with you! (7)
Earn your keep here!”
You toss me your tips
and look out to the ships (8)
But I’m counting your heads
as I’m making the beds
Cuz there’s nobody gonna sleep here, honey (9)

Then one night there’s a scream (10) in the night
And you say, “Who’s that kicking up a row  (11)?”
And ya see me kinda starin’ out the winda
And you say, “What’s she got to stare at now?”
I’ll tell ya.

There’s a ship
The Black Freighter
turns around in the harbor (12)
shootin’ guns from her bow (13)

You gentlemen can wipe off that smile off your face
Cause every building in town is a flat one
This whole frickin’ place will be down to the ground
Only this cheap hotel standing up safe and sound
And you yell, “Why do they spare that one?”
That’s what you say.
“Why do they spare that one?”

All the night through, through the noise and to-do
You wonder “who is that person that lives up there?”
And you see me stepping out in the morning
Looking nice with a ribbon in my hair

And the ship
The Black Freighter
runs a flag up its masthead
and a cheer rings the air

By noontime the dock
is a-swarmin’ with men (14)
comin’ out from the ghostly freighter
They move in the shadows
where no one can see
And they’re chainin’ up people
and they’re bringin’ em to me
askin’ me,
“Kill them NOW, or LATER?”
Askin’ ME!
“Kill them now, or later?”

Noon by the clock
and so still by the dock
You can hear a foghorn miles away
And in that quiet of death
I’ll say, “Right now (15).
Right now!”

Then they’ll pile up the bodies
And I’ll say,
“That’ll learn ya!(16)”

And the ship
The Black Freighter
disappears (17) out to sea
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Lor signori vedono mentre
passo il cencio sui pavimenti
e passo il cencio sui pavimenti,
mi guardate infastiditi,
e forse mi date  la mancia
solo per sentirvi meglio,
in questa sudicia città del Sud
in questo miserabile vecchio albergo
Ma non indovinerete mai a chi state parlando
Ma non indovinerete mai a chi state parlando

Poi una sera ci sarà un grido nella
e vi domanderete che cosa potrebbe essere stato
e mi vedrete un po’ sogghignare mentre passo il cencio
e direte “Che cosa avrà da ridere?”
Ve lo dirò

C’è una nave
il Vascello Nero
con un teschio sull’albero maestro
e arriverà qui

Lor signori dicono “Ehi ragazza, finisci questi pavimenti!
Vai di sopra! Cos’hai che non va!
Guadagnati da vivere!”
Mi lanciate le vostre mance
e fate attenzione alle navi.
Ma io conto le teste
mentre rifaccio i letti
perchè non ci sarà nessuno che verrà a dormire qui, tesoro,

Quella sera ci sarà un grido nella
e direte:”Che cos’è tutto questo subbuglio?”
e mi vedrete affacciata alla
e direte “Che cosa avrà da  guardare proprio adesso?”
Te lo dirò

C’è una nave
il Vascello Nero
che gira nel porto
sparando con i cannoni di prua

signori, potete cancellare
quel sorriso dalla faccia
perchè ogni edificio in città
tutto questo posto marcio sarà raso al suolo
tranne questo albergo scadente che resterà in piedi, sano e salvo
e voi direte “Perchè hanno rispiarmiato proprio quello?”
questo è quello che direte
“Perchè hanno rispiarmiato quello?”

Tutta la notte tra il rumore e la confusione
vi chiederete “Chi è quella persona che vive lassù?”
E mi vedrete uscire in mattinata
tutta carina con un nastro
tra i capelli

E la nave
il Vascello Nero
isserà la bandiera in cima all’albero
e l’aria risuonerà per il tripudio.

A mezzogiorno il molo
brulicherà di uomini
che usciranno dal vascello fantasma
per muoversi nell’ombra
dove nessuno possa vederli
e incateneranno le persone
e me le porteranno
e mi chiederanno
“Li uccidiamo adesso o più tardi?”
e mi chiederanno
“Li uccidiamo adesso o più tardi?”

Nel pomeriggio al rintocco
ci sarà silenzio al molo, si potrebbe sentire un corno da nebbia in lontananza e in quella quiete mortale
dirò “Adesso
proprio adesso!”

Allora ammucchieranno i corpi
e io dirò
“Che vi serva da lezione!”

e la nave
il Vascello Nero
scompare in mare
ci sono

1) oppure “gawk”
2) Steeleye Span dicono: ratty waterfront
3) oppure ratty hotel comunque un albergo dei poveri
4) oppure ” you never know to whom”
Steeleye Span dicono: And a yell: what the hell is that din”
6)  Steeleye Span dicono:Sails into the bay
7) Steeleye Span dicono “hey girl, scrub the floors Make the beds, get up the stairs”
8)  Steeleye Span dicono “And you pass out the tips as you look out at the ships”
9) Tonight none of you will sleep here
10 oppure banging
11) oppure And you yell: what the hell is that row
12) oppure With fifty long cannons
13) oppure Opens fire on the town
14) oppure Then just before noon there’ll be hundreds of men
15 Steeleye Span dicono  kill ‘em now
16)  Steeleye Span dicono hoopla!come nella versione tedesca; la rivalsa di Jenny è un grido di vendetta per gli abusi subiti, la sua è sete di sangue (così come accade nelle sommosse e rivoluzioni popolari, quando il popolo sobillato e al giusto punto di cottura esplode la sua rabbia e furia cieca); Jenny non rivendica la giustizia sociale, vuole “diventare” uguale ai suoi aguzzini, è pronta a prenderne il posto per poter avere la sua fetta di torta.
17) oppure Sails away

Lotte Lenya “Seeräuber Jenny” nel film Die Dreigroschenoper del 1931 (testo qui)- (strofe I, III, IV)

Meine Herren, heute sehen Sie mich Gläser abwaschen
Und ich machte das Bett für jeden.
Und Sie geben mir einen Penny und ich bedanke mich schnell
Und Sie sehen meine Lumpen und dies lumpige Hotel
Und Sie wissen nicht, mit wem Sie reden.
Und Sie wissen nicht, mit wem Sie reden.
Aber eines Abends wird ein Geschrei sein am Hafen
Und man fragt: Was ist das für ein Geschrei?
Und man wird mich lächeln sehn bei meinen Gläsern
Und man sagt: Was lächelt die dabei?
Und ein Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird liegen am Kai.
Man sagt: Geh, wisch deine Gläser, mein Kind
Und man reicht mir den Penny hin.
Und der Penny wird genommen, und das Bett wird gemacht!
(Es wird keiner mehr drin schlafen in dieser Nacht.)
Und Sie wissen immer noch nicht, wer ich bin.
Und Sie wissen immer noch nicht, wer ich bin.
Aber eines Abends wird ein Getös sein am Hafen
Und man fragt: Was ist das für ein Getös?
Und man wird mich stehen sehen hinterm Fenster.
Und man sagt: Was lächelt die so bös?
Und das Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird beschießen die Stadt.
Meine Herren, da wird wohl Ihr Lachen aufhörn
Denn die Mauern werden fallen hin
Und die Stadt wird gemacht dem Erdboden gleich
Nur ein lumpiges Hotel wird verschont von jedem Streich
Und man fragt: Wer wohnt Besonderer darin?
Und man fragt: Wer wohnt Besonderer darin?
Und in dieser Nacht wird ein Geschrei um das Hotel sein
Und man fragt: Warum wird das Hotel verschont?
Und man wird mich sehen treten aus der Tür gen Morgen
Und man sagt: Die hat darin gewohnt?
Und das Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird beflaggen den Mast.
Und es werden kommen hundert gen Mittag an Land
Und werden in den Schatten treten
Und fangen einen jeglichen aus jeglicher Tür
Und legen ihn in Ketten und bringen vor mir
Und frage: Welchen sollen wir töten?
Und frage: Welchen sollen wir töten?
Und an diesem Mittag wird es still seinam Hafen
Wenn man fragt, wer wohl sterben muß.
Und dann werden Sie mich sagen hören: Alle!
Und wenn dann der Kopf fällt, sage ich: Hoppla!
Und das Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird entschwinden mit mir.

La versificazione in italiano è molto più aderente al testo tedesco che non la versione inglese
Milva in Jenny dei Pirati
La traduzione è simile a quella allestita da Giorgio Strehler per l’Opera da tra Soldi presentata  al Teatro Piccolo di Milano nelle stagioni del 1958-59 e del 1972-73 (che dirigerà proprio Milva nel ruolo di Jenny delle Spelonche).

Oh signori voi mi vedete asciugare le posate disfare i letti,
e mi date tre spiccioli di mancia e guardate i miei stracci
e questo albergo tanto povero e me,
ma ignorate chi son io davvero,
ma ignorate chi son io davvero.
Ma una sera al porto grideranno e ci si domanderà:
“cosa diavolo mai c’è?!”
Si vedrà che io servo il vino sorridendo,
si dirà “da ridere che c’è?!”
Tutto vele e cannoni
una nave pirata
al molo starà.

M’han detto “asciuga i bicchieri ragazza” e m’han dato di mancia un cent,
mi son presa il soldino e sono andata a rifare un letto
che nessuno domani disferà,
chi son io non c’è nessuno che lo sa,
chi son io non c’è nessuno che lo sa.
Ma ecco gran rumore laggiù al porto e ci si domanderà
“che succede mai laggiù?!”
mi vedranno apparire alla finestra,
si dirà “qualcosa certo c’è!”
Tutto vele e cannoni
il vascello pirata
raderà la città.
Oh, signori quando vedrete crollare la città vi farete smorti,
questo albergo starà in piedi in mezzo a un mucchio di sporche rovine
e di macerie e ci si chiederà il perchè,
il perchè di questo strano caso,
il perchè di questo strano caso.
Poi s’udranno grida vicino a noi e ci si domanderà
“come mai non sparan qui?!”
verso l’alba mi vedranno uscire in strada,
si dirà “chi è dunque quella lì?!”
Tutto vele e cannoni
il vascello pirata
la bandiera isserà.

E più tardi cento uomini armati verranno avanti e tenderanno agguati,
faranno prigionieri tutti quanti,
li porteranno
legati davanti a me,
mi diranno “chi dobbiamo far fuori?!”
mi diranno “chi dobbiamo far fuori?!”
E il cannone allora tacerà e ci si domanderà
“chi dovrà morire?!”
ed allora mi udranno dire
e ad ogni testa mozza io farò
Tutta vele e cannoni
la galera di Jenny
lascerà la città.