Submitted by George Stephens

One of Rudyard Kipling’s “Barrack Room Ballads,” the poem, set to a tune by Peter Bellamy, describes a tragic night in March, 1879, when the British 10th Hussars attempted to cross Kabul River to occupy Kabul, Afghanistan. The river was high with water from melting snow, and 46 men and many horses were lost.

Afghanistan, at a strategic cross roads linking North, South, East, and West, has been unsuccessfully invaded multiple times through recorded history, most recently by the British, the Russians, and UN forces, led by the United States. It has gained the nickname “the place where empires come to die.” This song seems a fitting comment on the current military adventurism taking place in Ukraine. “Gawd ’elp ’em if they blunder.”

As sung by (the late!) Tony Barrand, accompanied by John Roberts:

Sheet music for "Ford o' Kabul River"


Words – Rudyard Kipling
Tune – Peter Bellamy

Kabul town’s by Kabul river—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

There I lef’ my mate for ever, wet an’ drippin’ by the ford. 

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!

There’s the river up and brimmin’, an’ there’s ’arf a squadron swimmin’

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town’s a blasted place—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

’Strewth I sha’n’t forget ’is face wet an’ drippin’ by the ford!

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark! 

Keep the crossing-stakes beside you, an’ they will surely guide you 

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town is sun and dust—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

I’d ha’ sooner drownded fust ’stead of ’im beside the ford.

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!

You can ’ear the ’orses threshin’, you can ’ear the men a-splashin’,

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town was ours to take—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

I’d ha’ left it for ’is sake—’im that left me by the ford.

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!

It’s none so bloomin’ dry there; ain’t you never comin’ nigh there,

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark?

Kabul town’ll go to hell—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

’Fore I see him ’live an’ well—’im the best beside the ford.

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!
Gawd ‘elp ’em if they blunder, for their boots’ll pull ’em under,
By the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.

Turn your ‘orse from Kabul town—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
‘Im an’ ‘arf my troop is down, down an’ drownded by the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!
There’s the river low an’ fallin’, but it ain’t no use o’ callin’
‘Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.

George Stephens writes: I’ve always had a somewhat latent, but strong, interest in music. Minor childhood prodigy on clarinet, then immersion in ’50’s Philadelphia pop and soul, early exposure to the Weavers from older brothers’ records, Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary; most importantly, discovery of Folk-Legacy Records. And the rest, as they say… I’ve sung with the cowboy/civil servant band Sidekicks, my late wife, Mary LaMarca, and my wife Kathy Westra Stephens, at festivals, house concerts, benefit concerts ,and where ever they’ll have us. Kathy and I have released a CD, Birds of Passage, on Folk-Legacy, now available (as are all F-L releases) from Smithsonian-Folkways.

Submitted by Ian Robb

This well-known sailor’s farewell, in its many versions, seems to have become a favourite memorial song in recent years. There are several versions of the chorus going around, and I always find myself trying to guess, usually wrongly, which one to sing, so I’ve used the simplest version I know, and also kept the song fairly short.

The term “white stocking day” refers to the happy day on which the wives, sweethearts or mothers collected an advance on their absent sailor’s pay. The last verse I’ve added from the text of the Georgian Sea Islands song, “Good-bye My Riley-O.”

Bold Riley sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Bold Riley.”


Oh the rain it rains all day long
Bold Riley-o, bold Riley
And the northern wind, it blows so strong
Bold Riley-o has gone away

Goodbye my darling, goodbye my dear-o
Bold Riley-o, bold Riley
Goodbye my darling, goodbye my dear-o
Bold Riley-o has gone away

We’re outward bound for the Bengal Bay
Crack on my lads, it’s a hell of a way

Now Mary, Mary, don’t look so glum
Come white stocking day you’ll be drinkin’ rum

Oh Riley, Riley, where are you?
Oh Riley’s gone, and I’m going too.

Self-described “singer and writer of old songs” and concertina player, Ian Robb started singing English folk songs during the 1960s British folk scare. He emigrated to Ontario in 1970, gravitated to Toronto’s Fiddler’s Green coffeehouse and was an original member of The Friends of Fiddler’s Green. He moved to the Ottawa area in 1973, co-founded that city’s Old Sod Folk Music Society, and sang for 25 years with the celebrated harmony trio Finest Kind. More recent projects include a transatlantic collaboration with the Arrowsmith:Robb Trio, and a 2021 recording project with James Stephens, “Declining with Thanks,” which includes “Bold Riley.”

Submitted by Nick Dow

Early in this century, Nick Dow and his wife visited The White Lion at Broadwindsor. Nick writes, “The landlord was Dick Corbett, a prolific singer. The button accordion was played by ‘Flash’ Phelps, and the numerous locals were entertained by two brothers, Doug and Sam Phillips.

“I was able to record the whole evening. The repertoire consisted of a catholic selection of songs, from the hit parade to the music hall, from country music to folk song proper. Dick Corbett, an ex-military man sporting a large handlebar moustache, regaled us with old favorites from his service days. ‘Widdicombe Fair’ was followed by ‘I Am the Music Man.’ Then, with no warning, Dick produced three verses of ‘The Foggy Dew,’ and as if by prior arrangement, Doug and Sam Phillips, singing in unison, gave voice to ‘The Ball of Yarn,’ with Flash Phelps playing for all he was worth.

“The Phillips brothers then launched into a selection of music hall songs. Some were reasonably well known. ‘Fireworks,’ written by T.W. Connor, was followed by ‘Slap Bab’ and the less common ‘Nobody Noticed Me!,’ sung originally by Jack Pleasance, the shy comedian, famous for his song ‘I’m Shy, Mary Ellen.’”

Sheet music for The Foggy Dew
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “The Foggy Dew.”


I am a bachelor, I lives by myself, and I work at the weaver’s trade
The only thing I ever did wrong was to woo a fair young maid
I wooed her in the summertime
And part of the winter too
And the only thing I ever did wrong was to save her from the foggy foggy dew.

One night as I lay on my bed as I was fast asleep
She came that night to my bedside and bitter did she weep
She wept, she cried
She damn near died
Says I, “What can I do?”
So I took her into bed and covered up her head
Just to save her from the foggy dew.

In the first part of that night, how we did sport and play
In the second part of that night, she in my arms did lay
When broad daylight did appear
She cried, “I am undone!”
“Hold your tongue, you silly young fool
The foggy dew, he’s gone.”

“When will you come on, my love? When will the child come on?”
“When the winter leaves they turn to green and the summer ones come on.”
When nine long months were gone and past,
I cried, “What can I do?”
For as she begun to bear my son
She died from the foggy dew.

Now still a bachelor, I lives with my son
We work at the weavers trade
Every time I look into his eyes, he reminds me of that fair young maid
He reminds me in the summer time
and part of the winter too
Of the many times I held her in my arms
To save her from the foggy, foggy dew.

Nick Dow has been singing and collecting Traditional Folk Songs for over forty years. Nick has gleaned songs from the West Country, and been given songs by the Travelling people with whom he has lived and worked.

Submitted by Ken Willson and Kim McKee

Written in 1840 by Sandy Glendening with music by Fowke, this song relates the loneliness felt by immigrating Scots after the battle of Culloden and then the Highland Clearances. The Highland chieftains were compelled by the victors in the struggle (British government) to increase income from their land, and so began to clear off the crofters by the thousands. Many of these people wound up in Canada and America.

My own family (MacDonald) wound up in Greenfield, Canada and from there to North Dakota, which gives me a deep appreciation for the sentiments within. Scarborough is located by Toronto.

"Scarborough Settler's Lament" sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Scarborough Settler’s Lament.”


Away with Canada’s muddy creeks and Canada’s fields of pine
Your land of wheat is a goodly land, but oh, it is not mine
The heathy hill, the grassy dale, the daisy-spangled lea,
The purling burn and craggy linn; auld Scotland’s glens give me.

Oh, I would like to hear again the lark on Tinny’s Hill
And see the wee bit gowany that blooms beside the rill
Like banished Swiss who views afar his Alps with longing e’e
I gaze upon the morning star that shines on my country.

No more I’ll win by Eskdale glen or Pentland’s craggy comb
The days can ne’er come back again of thirty years that’s gone
But fancy oft at midnight hour will steal across the sea
And yestereve, in a pleasant dream I saw the old country.

Each well-known scene that met my view brought childhood’s joys to mind
The blackbird sang on Tushey linn; the song he sang, ‘lang syne’
But like a dream time flies away. Again, the morning came
And I awoke in Canada three thousand miles from hame.

Willson & McKee have been touring and playing Celtic and original music since 1990. The Covid pandemic assured us that we were retiring, and we now do occasional concerts and educational programs for libraries. See us at (our rarely edited site) or on Facebook. We live in southern Colorado.

Submitted by Tim Edwards

The lyrics come from the early 17th century, and it has been described as the finest anonymous poem in the English language (though there is a theory that Shakespeare might have contributed to it). Tom in the song is a licensed beggar discharged from the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London (“Bedlam”).

I first heard it sung by Dave “Steve” Stephenson of the wonderful Songwainers of Cheltenham in the early 70’s, and loved it at first hearing. I learnt it shortly afterwards after finding the words in a poetry book of my father’s (Other Men’s Flowers, collected by A.P. Wavell—full of gems) and have been singing it ever since. Dave found the tune as a virginal arrangement in a Drexel manuscript—now in the New York Public Library.

It’s always been one of my very favorites, and for me, the last verse in particular is sublime.

"Tom o'Bedlam" sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Tom o’Bedlam.”


From the hag and hungry goblin, that into rags would rend ye,
From the spirit that stands by the naked man, in the book of moons defend ye,
That of thy five sound senses ye never be forsaken
Nor wander from yourselves with Tom abroad to beg your bacon
So I cry any food, any feeding, feeding, drink or clothing;
Come dame or maid, be not afraid, poor Tom will injure nothing.

With a thought I took for Maudlin, and a cruse of cockle pottage,
With a thing thus tall, sky bless you all I fell into this dotage:
I slept not since the conquest, till then I never waked,
Till the roguish boy of love, where I lay, me found and stripped me naked
While I cry…

When I short have shorn my sour face, and swigged my horny barrel
In an oaken inn I pound my skin, as a suit of gilt apparel;
The moon’s my constant mistress, the lowly owl my marrow;
The flaming drake and night-crow make me music for my sorrow
And I cry…

I know more than Apollo, for oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars, in the wounded welkin weeping;
The moon embrace her shepherd, the Queen of Love her warrior,
The first doth horn the Star of Morn, the next the Heavenly Farrier
And I cry…

With an host of furious fancies, whereof I am commander
With a burning spear and a horse of air, to the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows I summoned am to journey,
Ten leagues beyond the wild world’s end; methinks it is no journey
Yet I cry…

Tim Edwards writes: Born and brought up in Hertfordshire, my first experience of something close to folk was my parents’ 78’s of Peter Pears and Owen Brannigan. At school, some friends started a folk club and I started singing (and dancing) at my local club—Herga in Wealdstone (still going after nearly 60 years)—and I was a resident there for a number of years before moving north to Cheshire, where I live now.

I’ve been singing regularly at both clubs and festivals, and have run many sessions over the years, especially at Sidmouth Festival. My main interest is unaccompanied traditional song, although I sing a good number of contemporary pieces, including the occasional self-penned one. In particular, I love traditional ballads and lyrical songs. During lockdown, I’ve ‘travelled’ widely, including visiting festivals in the US as well as many British clubs and festivals.

Introduced by Gwilym Davies

There are many songs in the English tradition praising the virtues of farming life, such as “All Jolly Fellows that Follow the Plough,” “Jim the Carter’s Lad,” and the song presented here. It is particularly popular in the English South and Midlands, where sheep farming was dominant. It is no older than the 19th century in this form, but is based on an older song praising sailing life.

Richard Chidlaw learned this version from singer William Chappell in Tresham, Gloucestershire, hence the reference to Tresham Hill. Other versions place the action elsewhere. Gwilym Davies recorded Richard singing it in on October 4, 2003 in Dursley, Gloucestershire. You still hear the song fairly regularly in local sing arounds.

Just out of interest, here is a different version of it, collected by Sharp in Gloucestershire and sung by Jon Doran, who is making a name for himself on the circuit. I hope you enjoy it.

"We Shepherds Are the Best of Men" sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “We Shepherds Are the Best of Men.”


1. We shepherds be the best of men that e’er trod English ground,
When we come to an alehouse, we value not a crown
We spends our money freely and pays before we go
With no ale in the vale where the cold wintry winds do blow.
(Repeat last two lines)

2. A man that is a shepherd doth need a valiant heart,
He must not be faint-hearted but boldly do his part,
He must not be faint-hearted be it rain or frost or snow,
With no ale in the vale where the cold wintry winds do blow.
(Repeat last two lines)

3. When I kept sheep on Tresham Hill it made me heart to ache
To see the ewes hang out their tongues and hear the lambs to bleat,
Then I set out with courage and o’er the hills did go
And penned them there in the fold while the cold wintry winds do blow.
(Repeat last two lines)

4. As soon as I had penned them there I turned me back in haste
Unto some jovial company some liquor for to taste,
For drink and jovial company they are me heart’s delight
While me sheep lie asleep all the forepart of the night.
(Repeat last two lines)

Gwilym Davies hails from southern England but also has Welsh ancestry. He is an experienced singer of traditional songs, both accompanied and unaccompanied. For more than 40 years, he has been tracking down and recording traditional singers, and more than half his repertoire is based on songs from those singers. He has learned a large number of songs first-hand from the English Traveller community. He is a tireless researcher of folk song and has given many presentations on the subject. He recently had a book published, Catch it, Bottle it and Paint it Green, which recounts some of his experiences of meeting and recording source singers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Introduced by Pete Coe

“Catch Me If You Can” is a broadside I did at the time when the original recordings were released on Veteran Tapes’ Songs from Cornish Travellers, later re-released on Veteran/Backshift on CD, then recorded by me on “In Paper Houses.” I seem to remember that a copy of the original release on VT was sent to the Library Of Congress.

For anyone who’s interested, the Veteran recordings of Betsy and Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg are available on downloads from Proper. Their tape/CD was also titled “Catch Me If You Can.” My recording of the song is also available on the usual downloads, and I’ve still got CDs available via my website.

So….in March 1978, I headed down to Bodmin in Cornwall to record family and travellers’ songs from Betsy (78) and Charlotte Renals (76) and Sophie Legg (60). I’d been introduced to their songs by Sophie’s son Vic at Bodmin Folk Club, and then to the ladies themselves on previous visits. Betsy, as head of the family, wanted to know why a young man like me was interested in these old songs sung by old ladies. I realised this was a test, so I sang her “The Banks of Red Roses,” which met with her approval, and the recording dates were set.

Vic told me that all three sisters had spent a lot of time recalling and practicing songs they hadn’t sung much in recent years. Charlotte had most songs, including “Ball Of Yarn” and “Lord Lovel;” Betsy had “Game Of All Fours” and “The Old Miser;” and Sophie had “Thorneymore Woods” and “Catch Me If You Can.” They all had several rare music hall ditties too, like “Good for Nothing Man” and “Just Beginning To Sprout.”

Although I’d met the ladies before, I didn’t record anything on the first day. Charlotte came round to Betsy’s, and we chatted about their life as travellers and as the main hawkers in the Orchard Family, and how they’d met up with and married two Methodist farmers’ sons, Bob and Jack Renals (their parents did not approve). They lived under canvas in Penrose Army tents (as used in the American Civil War!). Father, Edwin Orchard, was a shrewd business man, so when all three sisters came off the road in the 1920s, he bought a terrace of about eight houses, where Betsy, Charlotte and Sophie and families were still living in 1978.

Sophie’s daughter Viv has moved back into the terrace in recent years, and both Vic and Viv Legg have recorded CDs for Veteran. Looking back to that March in 1978 when I became a folk song collector, and after a 50-year career as a professional folk musician, I regard that week of the company and recording of Betsy, Charlotte and Sophie as one of my most worthwhile and proudest achievements.

Listen to Pete sing “Catch Me If You Can:”

"Catch Me If You Can" sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Catch Me If You Can.”


It was early, early all in the spring,
Down in those meadows growing green.
A fair pretty maiden I chanced to meet,
And I asked her if she would walk with me.

I asked her if she would walk with me,
Down in those meadows growing green.
I’d show her flowers and pretty things
And I’d show her what she had never seen.

As this young couple went strolling along,
He sang to her some sweet pretty song.
He sang to her some sweet pretty song,
And soon he gained her favour.

Now that you’ve had your will of me,
And stolen away my sweet liberty.
You have stolen away my sweet liberty,
Won’t you please tell me your name, sir?

My name is Catch me, that’s if you can,
I’ll marry you when I return.
I’ll marry you when I return,
But I’m going over the ocean.

Now three long months they had gone and past,
And six long months he never returned.
Nine long months it had come at last,
And the child had got no father.

I’ll search this wide world, around and around,
I’ll find that young man if I can.
I’ll find that young man, if I can,
If I catch him at his pleasure.

Sung by Sophie Legg on Veteran Tapes
Backshift Broadsheets, Ripponden, West Yorkshire.

Notes on Pete Coe from Colin Irwin of Mojo magazine:

“Pete Coe in many ways represents the backbone of the modern folk revival. A fine solo performer and an energetic activist for the scene as well, founding Ryburn 3 Step, running folk clubs, dances and workshops in Ripponden and beyond, while also teaching music and dancing in schools. He’s still one of the most committed, most versatile, most important folk artists in Britain.”

Join us each month in song!

Since 2016—our designated Year of Song—CDSS has featured a traditional song each month. Lorraine Hammond spearheaded this effort, and it was such a popular feature that Judy Cook volunteered to continue the tradition in 2017 and beyond. 

Note: Many of these old songs should be looked at as “fairy tales for adults” in that they often address very strong, and sometimes scary, subject matter. They allow us to deal with difficult situations and emotions with the distance afforded by putting it in a song. They are cautionary tales, and had their use as such.

This month’s song:

  • Vintage image of a woman traveling with a banjo case March 2023: Free and Easy to Ramble Along
    Submitted by Sue Burgess

    This is a re-written version of a traditional Irish song called “Free and Easy to Jog Along,” sung by—among many others—Kevin Mitchell and Roisin White. 

    A man goes on his rambles in Ireland and Scotland, having a good time meeting women, and perhaps breaking a few hearts along the way. In 2007, I was interested to hear well-known singer Peta Webb sing a version where the genders are reversed and the story told from a woman’s point of view. As I was very keen on the ‘equality’ idea for my own repertoire, Peta kindly gave me her revised text and a recording. 

    After a while, I realized that the Irish tune just didn’t suit my singing style, but eventually found an English one which did. My choice grew out of listening to Sam Larner’s tune for “Bold Princess Royal,” which is very like that sung for “Yellow Handkerchief.” Unfortunately, it has a lot more notes in it, so I had to re-write the re-write with a few ideas of my own, and now very much enjoy singing the result. 

    Listen to Sue singing “Free and Easy to Ramble Along:”

    Sheet music for 'Free and Easy to Ramble Along'
    Download the sheet music for “Free and Easy to Ramble Along”


    (trad, arr Sue Burgess, after Peta Webb)

    It’s a tale of my rambles that I surely will sing
    Just like any small bird or thrush in the spring
    When the sun she arises for to greet every morn
    I am free and I am easy for to ramble along

    Now the first one of my rambles, it was to Derry Quay
    For to see all the lads there, and lasses so gay
    And I sat me down among them for to sing them a song
    I sang free and I sang easy for to ramble along

    Well, the next one of my rambles, it was to Glasgow Green
    Where the lads and the lasses were all to be seen
    And I was the merriest all among that fine throng
    For I was free and I was easy for to ramble along

    Now I had not been there but a very short space
    When a handsome young man he did smile in my face
    He said: had I a husband or any such one?
    No, I’m free and I am easy for to ramble along

    I went along then with this young man all into some inn
    Where we did drink brandy, strong ale and some gin
    Then he asked it of me for to pledge heart and hand
    And forget free and easy for to ramble along

    Oh, no, my jolly young man, such things cannot be
    For I’ve a fine notion to cross the stormy sea
    When a girl she gets married, all her joys they are done
    She’s no more free and easy for to ramble along

    But if ever I return it will be in the spring
    Once more of my rambles I surely will sing
    I’ll drink a health to the lasses that will join me in song
    That remain free and easy for to ramble along

    Ever since her early years with the Songwainers at Cheltenham Folk Song Club in Gloucestershire, Sue Burgess has been a distinctive voice in several well-known harmony groups (notably Regal Slip) and duos; her love of traditional music has remained constant ever since.

    Now living in Yorkshire, these days Sue appears regularly as a solo performer, recognised for her interpretation of a unique repertoire which has often been re-arranged to give a fairer representation of female characterization in traditional folk song. 

    Most recently, Sue has also become part of The Gilchrist Collective—together with Peter & Barbara Snape and Brian Peters—in a project celebrating the work of Lancashire collector Anne Geddes Gilchrist, with a CD entitled Most Truly Yours.

Past Songs

Introduced by Shelley Posen

One of my all-time favourite traditional songs was originally titled, “Somebody’s Waiting for Me,” but the traditional singer who performed it best, as far as I am concerned, called it “Country Garden.”

That singer was Mac Masters, a Newfoundland sea captain I met in the early 1970s through my fellow Folklore graduate student, Wilf Wareham. Wilf’s father had been the merchant in Harbour Buffett, a fishing settlement on an island in Placentia Bay off the south coast of Newfoundland.

Old Mr. Wareham used to send Mac and his schooner around the bay every fall to pick up the salt fish made that summer. Wilf told me Mac was an especially welcome visitor in each outport, because evenings, after the fish had been loaded into the schooner’s hold, there’d be a “time” or party, and Mac would sing.

Mac must have been a splendid singer back then, because when I first heard him perform decades later, his strong, reedy voice still kept excellent pitch, and he beguiled the ear with a quirky sense of melody and changes of rhythm. His large repertoire was replete with late Victorian sentimental ditties such as “Country Garden.“

“Somebody’s Waiting for Me” was composed in 1902 by Andrew B. Sterling (words) and Harry von Tilzer (melody), two pioneers of Tin Pan Alley long before it was called that. The song’s first line set the narrative in a “concert garden”—a small beer garden or hall, usually attached to a tavern, where customers could drink and party while entertainers performed on a small stage. Concert gardens were American cousins of the Parisian café concert and the English music hall of the same era. They preceded vaudeville by a decade or two.

There’s only one recording I know of Mac performing this song, made by Wilf Wareham in the field. On the tape, Mac has a hard time putting the first verse together and finally just pushes through to the chorus, then nails the second verse and final chorus. He says he got the song from—well, the name sounds like “Martin Godden:” “We always got Martin to sing that, and he could sing it too, mister.”

The song lyric as Mac sings it differs in slight but interesting ways from the original, making it more, well, “Newfoundland.” In his version, as his title would indicate, “concert garden” is replaced by “country garden”—a concept he as a Newfoundlander would be more familiar with. And the second line’s “All were joyful and the wine began to flow” in Mac’s version becomes “Where ‘twas joyful and the wind began to blow.” Again, very Newfoundland. Whether Mac himself made these changes, and if so, on purpose or inadvertently, there’s no way of knowing.

The rest of the song’s story as Mac sings it is pretty much as written. But not the tune. Mac has an uncanny way of leaping and lingering as he makes his way through the song, shaping melody to lyric. Recorded versions of “Somebody’s Waiting For Me” by other performers (see Resources) present a workaday melody belonging to the time. Mac takes that melody and knocks it here, pulls it there, and pushes it somewhere else until it becomes quite new and altogether better. The song is already magically written in two time signatures: 4/4 for the verses, 3/4 for the chorus. Mac spins that gold into platinum. He also sublimes it into a melody that could never be accompanied by any instrument, except perhaps a solo fiddle playing the exact notes as he sang them. As with many traditional songs, this one is best performed alone.

I certainly can’t imagine “Country Garden” sung any other way. In fact, that’s the way I sing it myself now—or try to. The other day I was in a restaurant with a friend: I found myself telling her about Mac and the song, and I couldn’t resist quietly singing it to her across the table. She was moved to tears by the time I finished. It wasn’t me—it was Mac singing, through me, a grand old song.

[Thanks to the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archives (MUNFLA) for a copy of the recording 70-008_C775 from the collection of Wilf Wareham, Arnold’s Cove, 10.6.70.]

Listen to Shelley sing “Country Garden:”

"Somebody's Waiting for Me" sheet music from 1902
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Somebody’s Waiting for Me” from 1902.

"Country Garden" sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Country Garden,” edited by Shelley Posen.

Lyrics: Country Garden as sung by Mac Masters

It was in a country garden when the fun was to its height
Where ‘twas joyful and the wind begin to blow
Stood a table in the corner where a young man slowly [said]
He said, “It’s growing late, boys, I must go.”

“Take another seat, set down, Jack, why the fun has just commenced!”
“Why, it’s only twelve o’clock yet!” someone cried … *
[Lines forgotten, replaced with:]
He said, “It’s growing late, boys, I must go.”

“Somebody’s waiting for me, someone who loves me I know
“Somebody’s wondering where I can be or what can be keeping me so
“Somebody’s heart is sad waiting so anxiously
“There’s a light shining bright in the window tonight
“For there’s somebody waiting for me.”

“I have got a sweetheart somewhere,” one among them softly said
“If she’s handsome Jack, please introduce us, too”
“If you’ll come ’long with me, I will show her to you, boys
“She’s the only sweetheart that I ever knew.”

He took us to a cottage, pointing through a windowpane
Where an old grey-headed woman sat with bowed down head
“She’s my mother and my sweetheart, she’s the one I meant tonight
“So you see I told the truth, boys, when I said:

“Someone is waiting for me, someone who loves me I know
“Someone is wondering where I can be or what can be keeping me so
“Somebody’s heart is sad waiting so anxiously
“There’s a light shining bright in the window tonight
“For there’s somebody waiting for me.”

* Two last lines for this verse should be:
“I’ve a sweetheart waiting somewhere, and she waits for me tonight
And he slowly shook his head as he replied:”


“Somebody’s Waiting for Me” is Roud #15784. Other titles: “The Concert Garden,” “My Only Sweetheart.” There is one Newfoundland entry, but it is not Mac Masters’s “Country Garden.”

Recordings (other singers):

Shelley Posen is a retired folklorist and songwriter living in Ottawa, Canada. Formerly Curator of Canadian Folklife at the Canadian Museum of History, his Ph.D. dissertation was based on research he conducted into singing in the Irish-French Ottawa Valley community of Chapeau, Quebec. Shelley has sung at folk festivals, in clubs and kitchens, and on concert stages in the U.S. and Canada. He was a member of the close harmony folk trio, Finest Kind, who toured North America and the U.K. for two and a half decades and recorded some 7 CDs. Shelley has recorded 4 CDs of his own.

Introduced by Harry Tuft

My early introduction to folk music was a recording of Burl Ives, and on that one he sang “Waly, Waly.” Not too long after, I was introduced to the recordings of Pete Seeger—that’s where I first heard “The Water Is Wide,” and I was struck by the fact that there were similar verses in the two songs. Wikipedia tells me that it was Cecil Sharp in 1906 who constructed the song we now universally sing from previous related versions. For fun, look there and you’ll see the diversity of artists who have recorded it.

Over the years, I heard so many versions of the song, and interestingly, most of them included the same verses—no “folk process” here, apparently. And I always liked the song, but particularly the versions by Steve Goodman and James Taylor—they both “Americanized” the lyric, and I appreciated that. So, when it came to my version, I did make three changes: 1) a slightly Reggae beat; 2) I end all verses on the “four,” never resolving to the “one;” 3) I have written one verse (can you tell which it is…?).

Listen to Harry sing “The Water Is Wide:”

"The Water Is Wide" arrangement
Download a PDF of the arrangement by Mike Tooley.
"The Water Is Wide" simplified sheet music
Download a PDF of the simplified sheet music with lyrics.


The water is wide, I can’t cross over, and neither have I wings to fly.
Build me a boat that can carry two, and both shall row, my love and I.

There is a ship and she sails the sea. She’s loaded deep as deep can be.
But not so deep as the love I’m in, I know not how I sink or swim.

I leaned my back up against an oak, thinking it was a trusty tree
But first it bended and then it broke, and thus did my false love to me

Where is the love that I once knew, that was so real, love that was so true
Gone like the light at the close of day, never to return, it just fades away

For love is gentle and love is kind, and love is sweet when first it’s new
But love grows cold as love grows old, til it fades away like the morning dew.

The water is wide, I can’t cross over, and neither have I wings to fly.
Build me a boat that can carry two and both shall row, my love and I.

Harry Tuft writes: Grew up in Philadelphia in a family that enjoyed music. I owe my first interest in folk music to the recordings of Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy, and to Roger Abrahams and Bob Coltman, early influencers. I credit the Gilded Cage coffee house also as a great incubator in the late fifties in Philadelphia. I started a folk music store in Denver in 1962, which I ran until I sold it to friends in 2016, which has allowed me to concentrate on making music. I also was a member of the group Grubstake, which had a run for over forty years, dormant now.