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.”

Lyrics

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.”

Lyrics

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:

  • Tree of Life quilt June 2024: Tree of Life
    Submitted by Mara Levine

    “Tree of Life” was written for the 1983 musical theater production Plain Hearts: Songs and Stories of Midwestern Prairie Women by Lance Belville, with music and lyrics by Eric Peltoniemi. The play features a variety of scenes and songs celebrating the lives of pioneer women who settled in the midwest in the early 1900’s. According to Eric, much of it was based on his grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s lives.

    The first two verses of “Tree of Life” are entirely comprised of the names of quilt block patterns. Eric related to me: “I was inspired by a fabulous hardcover book I found filled with hundreds of quilt patterns. I thought their names were so evocative that I made them the lyrics of the song.”

    Listen to Mara singing “Tree of Life:”

    Track Credits: From the Facets of Folk album
    Written by Eric Peltoniemi, © Eric Peltoniemi Music LLC / ASCAP 
    Mara Levine (lead & harmony vocals), Caroline Cutroneo (harmony vocals & rhythm guitar), Hillary Foxsong (harmony vocals), Ed Trickett (hammered dulcimer), John Guth: Bass 
    Vocal arrangements: Mara Levine/ Bob Harris / Caroline Cutroneo 
    Engineered by Bob Harris; mixed and produced by Bob Harris and Mara Levine at Ampersand Records, Bridgewater, NJ.

    Lyrics and chords to "Tree of Life"
    Download the lyrics and chords for “Tree of Life.”

    Lyrics: Tree of Life

    By Eric Peltoniemi

    Beggar’s Blocks and Blind Man’s Fancy,
    Boston Corners and Beacon Lights,
    Broken Starts and Buckeye Blossoms
    Blooming on the Tree of Life.

    Chorus:
    Tree of Life, quilted by the lantern light,
    Every stitch a leaf upon the Tree of Life.
    Stitch away, sisters, stitch away.

    Hattie’s Choice (Wheel of Fortune), and High Hosanna (Indiana),
    Hills and Valleys (Sweet Wood Lilies)
    and Heart’s Delight (Tail of Benjamin’s Kite),
    Hummingbird (Hovering Gander) in Honeysuckle (Oleander),
    Blooming on the Tree of Life.

    Chorus

    Break

    We’re only known as someone’s mother,
    Someone’s daughter, or someone’s wife,
    But with our hands and with our vision,
    We make the patterns on the Tree of Life.

    Called “one of the best singers of her generation” by Christine Lavin, and “golden voiced” by David Amram, song finder Mara Levine selects songs with inherent beauty, then crafts them to a glittering brilliance. According to folk singer Si Kahn, “Layering harmony line on top of harmony line, Levine creates rich tapestries of sound and emotion.”

    Mara joined Bell Buckle Records in 2020. Her critically acclaimed albums Facets of Folk (2013) and Jewels and Harmony (2019) were each #1 on the Folk Alliance International Folk DJ Chart upon release, and reached #3 for the year. Mara has appeared on radio programs and at venues and festivals in the US, Canada, and Europe. Her performances are known for thoughtful and inspiring interpretations of traditional songs, worthy modern classics, protest music, and some of the sweetest vocalizing you’ll find this side of the golden sounds of the 60s, with songs that stir the emotions, and encourage singing along!

    Chris Spector of Midwest Record described her as “the new standard bearer for folk music” after the release of her latest project, and according to Les Siemieniuk of Penguin Eggs, “The world needs more such interpreters of fine and contemporary folk songs.”


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:”

Resources

“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.

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.

Introduced by Judy Cook

The tragedy retold in this oldest of America’s native ballads, “Springfield Mountain,” took place in southern Massachusetts in 1761. The name of the family varies in different versions of the song. In truth it was Mirick, but Cushman, the one in John Galusha’s version, was one of the oldest family names in that part of Massachusetts. The location, Springfield Mountain, is now known as Wilbraham Mountain, near Springfield, MA. The song has passed into oral tradition, and comic versions are easily found.

John Galusha spent his life in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State – as a logger, game and fishing guide, forest ranger, and farmer. In 1940, when he was 81, he and his wife were living in a farmhouse near North Creek. It was there that Anne and Frank Warner collected “Springfield Mountain” from him. The song can be found in their wonderful book “Traditional American Songs.” I have made a few slight changes to the song.

Listen to Judy sing “Springfield Mountain:”

"Springfield Mountain" sheet music
Click here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

On Springfield Mountain there did dwell
A like-lie youth who was known full well,
Lieutenant Cushman’s only son,
A like-lie youth, scarce twenty-one

One Monday’s morning he did go
Down in the meadow for to mow.
He mowed around till he did feel
A P’izen serpent bite his heel.

When he received his death-lie wound
He laid his scythe down on the ground.
To return home was his intent,
Crying aloud long as he went.

His voice was heard both far and near,
But none of his friends did there appear,
Thinking that he some workman called,
Poor boy alone at last did fall.

It was seventeen hundred and sixty-one
When this sad accident was done.
May this a warning be to all
To be prepared when death does call.

Judy Cook is an author, entertainer, and folk singer. She has been living in Oberlin, Ohio, with her husband Dennis since 2013. Since 1998, she has been touring throughout both Britain and the US. She is known for her repertoire and storytelling ability in song. Judy has one book and several CDs. You can reach her through her website.

Introduced by Dick Swain

A stout drinking song with a great chorus. At least two versions of the song, both probably dating back to the 1870s, have been published and recorded. The “Shanty Song” version was collected from Mrs. Annie V. Marston of Charlestown, Maine and first published in Eckstorm and Smyth, Minstrelsy Maine (1926). The earliest version of the “Raftman’s Song (Old Butler)” I have found is in the Joel Kimball Diary, April 24, 1874, Livingston Manor, NY (Sullivan County) (accessed May 23, 2021).

The most complete version of the “Raftsman’s Song” (with words almost identical to Joel Kimball’s version) was collected by Ellen Stekert from Ezra Barhight of Gallilee, Pennsylvania and published in “Four Pennsylvania Songs Learned before 1900, From the Repertoire of Ezra V. Barhight” in Goldstein and Byington, Two Penny Ballads and Four Dollar Whiskey (1966).

The Maine version, “Shanty Song,” presented here includes lumber mill locations which would have been familiar to many itinerant mill workers and immigrants in the last quarter of the 19th century – Albany, Philadelphia, and Lewiston, Maine. The song gained a new life after verses localizing the song to the Erie Canal were written in the early 1980’s by John Mayberry, a former member of the CDSS Board and a Toronto Morris Man. Verse 4 of the version here includes my modification of one of John’s verses – it’s a good finish to an excellent song.

For more information, check out:

Listen to Cliff Haslam sing “Shove Around the Jug” from his album Leaning in the Wind, © 2012 Cliff Haslam.
“Shanty Song” with additional Erie Canal verses by John Mayberry.

Listen to Dave Ruch sing “Shove Your Grog Around” from The Oldest Was Born First, 2008.“The Raftman’s Song (Old Butler)”

"Shove the Grog Around" sheet music
Click here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

Eckstorm, Fanny Hardy and Mary Smyth. Minstrelsy of Maine. 1927, p. 60
Barry, Phillips. Maine Woods Songster. 1939, p. 17
Last verse by John Mayberry.

I courted a girl in Albany, one in Montreal,
Another in Philadelphia, but the best at Lewiston Falls

Chorus:
Shove the grog around me boys
A chorus ‘round the room
We are the boys who fear no noise
Although we’re far from home

A dollar in a tavern is very easily spent
If we had it in Old Ireland, we’d have to pay down rent

Chorus

When you go to Albany to give the girls a call,
They’re not at all to be compared to the girls at Lewiston Falls

Chorus

The logs are at the mill, me boys. The fish are in the sea.
The cork is in the bottle, but the whiskey is in me

About Dick Swain: Combining his skills as a librarian with a life-long interest in folk music, Dick researches and performs songs from the places he has lived and worked, including the Great Lakes Region, Pennsylvania, and Maine. He accompanied Sandy Ives on several trips to Prince Edward Island and has performed at folk festivals, museums, and libraries in the U. S. and Canada. He was Program Director of the CDSS Pinewoods Folk Music Week four times and was a staff member of the Traditional Music and Dance (TradMaD) Camp in 2017. He is especially proud that Sandy Ives signed his copy of the book Drive Dull Care Away with the words: “For Dick Swain, who sings the old come-all-ye’s the way they should be sung!”

Introduced by Moira Craig

In Scotland, the law concerning the general crime of infanticide took two forms during the period 1660-1800. If a married woman (or less commonly man) was prosecuted for the killing of a newborn child, the charge would remain the common law offence of murder, unless it could be proved that the child was born healthy and that the accused had wilfully killed it.

The only chance a lower-class woman had, if she didn’t want to go into service, was to marry and to try to marry well. Unfortunately, if a girl became pregnant before marriage and the father refused to acknowledge the pregnancy, she was likely to be ostracised and banished from the family or village and her chance of marriage in the future was unlikely. It was probable that she would live a life of penury and destitution. It is not surprising, then, that women would try to hide their pregnancy and kill their babies in an attempt to continue a “normal” life.

“The Cruel Mother” exists in a number of variants, in some of which there are verses where the dead children tell the mother she will suffer a number of penances each lasting seven years, e.g. “Seven years to ring a bell / And seven years porter in hell.” Those verses properly belong in “The Maid and the Palmer” (Child ballad 21). Variants of “The Cruel Mother” include “Carlisle Hall,” “The Rose o Malinde,” “Fine Flowers in the Valley,” “The Minister’s Daughter of New York,” and “The Lady From Lee,” among others. “Fine Flowers of the Valley” is a Scottish variant. “Weela Weela Walya” is an Irish schoolyard version.

A closely related German ballad exists in many variants: a child comes to a woman’s wedding to announce himself her child and that she had murdered three children. The woman says the Devil can carry her off if it is true, and the Devil appears to do so.

Infanticide and illegitimacy have been recurrent themes in many European ballads. This version is from the Greig Duncan collection. The woman kills the babies to conceal the fact that she is no longer a virgin and of marriageable material. However, her conscience plays tricks on her and she awaits her fate.

Listen to Moira Craig singing “The Cruel Mother:”

"Cruel Mother" sheet music
Click here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

There was a king’s daughter in the north,
Hey the rose and the linsie O;

And she has courted her father’s clerk,
And awa’ by the greenwood sidie O.

She courted him a year and a day,
Till her appearance did her betray.

She leaned her back against a tree,
Thinking that she would lighter be.

She leaned her back against a thorn,
And bonny are the boys she has born.

She took out her wee penknife,
And she’s ta’en awa’ their twa sweet lifes.

She took the kerchief fra her neck,
And she’s wrapped them in a winding sheet.

She buried them beneath a marble stone,
Thinking to win a maiden home.

She looked owre her father’s castle wa’,
And she saw twa bonny boys playing at the ba’.

O bonny boys, gin thou were mine,
I’d dress ye in the silk sae fine,

The sovilne* and the green-grass silk
Ye’d never drink nane but the farrow cow’s milk

O mother, mother, when we were thine,
We never saw nane o’ your silk sae fine.

The sovilne and the green-grass silk;
We never drank nane o’ your farrow cow’s milk.

O bonny boys, come tell to me,
The kind of death that I’m tae dee?

Seven years a bird in the bush,
And seven years a fish in the flood,

Seven years a warning bell,
And seven years in the deeps o’ hell.

Welcome, welcome, bird in the bush,
And welcome welcome, fish in the flood.

Welcome, welcome, warning bell,
But God keep me from the deeps o’ hell.

* Sovilne: sable fur

Moira Craig writes: I was born and brought up outside of Glasgow and my home was always full of singing and music. I never thought much about it; it was normal to me. While Scottish traditional songs are my main love, I’ll sing anything at the drop of a hat and hopefully will continue to do so till the day I die.

Introduced by April Grant

I first heard “Katie Catch” from Boston-area singer Gus Reid. He learned it from the singing of Fay Hield, who revived it and, I believe, slightly rewrote/combined versions from the book The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland Volume 2 by Alice Bertha Gomme, and from Iona and Peter Opie’s Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. It’s the kindest of songs, about sweethearts deciding to get married, and looking forward to all the good things that they’ll do together.

When I hear this song, from Gus, Fay Hield, or most recently from Rhode Island singer Cate Clifford, I almost always burst into tears. I’m not the only one, I’ve noticed. None of us can explain it except to say, “It’s so beautiful!” or “It’s the one where everything is OK!” In a genre where tragic endings and complaints make for the most gripping songs overall, sometimes our hearts cry out for one where nobody has to die and we can watch everything go well for a change.

Listen to Fay Hield sing the song on the album “Old Adam” on Spotify, or listen on YouTube below.

"Katie Catch" sheet music
Click here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics as sung by Fay Hield:

Down in yonder meadow where the green grass grows,
Little Katie Catch goes a-washing of her clothes,
She sang, and she sang, and she sang so sweet,
Come over, Johnny Walker, come over the street.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Katie Catch, come draw the latch
And sit by the fire and sing,
Take up a cup and fill it up
And let the neighbours in.

Little Katie Catch she made a pudding nice and sweet,
Young Johnny Walker took a spoon for to eat.
Taste love, taste love, don’t say no,
Tomorrow we’ll be married, to the church we will go.

Bedding sheets and pillow slips and blankets and all,
A little baby on your knee and that’s the best of all.
A guinea, a guinea, a guinea gold ring,
Come take me to the church and hear the little choir boys sing.

A guinea gold ring and a peacock hat,
A penny for the church and a feather for his cap.
She paints her cheek and he curls his hair,
She kisses Johnny Walker at the foot of the stair.

April Grant writes: I’m a singer and songwriter who lives in the Boston area. During the pandemic I’ve been letting out my urge to perform by doing the occasional show over Zoom. I also write short stories and poetry. I dunno, dude, words are fun.

Introduced by Cate Clifford

“A Pilgrim’s Way” began as a Rudyard Kipling poem which, according to Mainly Norfolk, appeared in his book The Years Between. Then Peter Bellamy added his original tune.

When I first heard this love letter to humanity, sung by A.J. Wright, I felt like I’d heard my own heart in song. May it lighten and strengthen yours.

The Amorites were a semi-nomadic people who lived in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Syria during the 3rd millennium BC. They founded the ancient city of Mari, and the first dynasty of Babylon. Eremites are Christian hermits. A “general averagee” is a sailor on a cargo ship.

Listen to Peter Bellamy performing “A Pilgrim’s Way:”

"A Pilgrim's Way" sheet music
Click here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

I do not look for holy saints to guide me on my way,
Or male and female devilkins to lead my feet astray.
If these are added, I rejoice—if not, I shall not mind,
So long as I have leave and choice to meet my fellow-kind.
And as we come and as we go (and deadly-soon go we!)
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

Thus I will honour pious men whose virtue shines so bright
(Though none are more amazed than I when I by chance do right),
And I will pity foolish men for woe their sins have bred
(Though ninety-nine per cent. of mine I brought on my own head).
And Amorite, or Eremite, or General Averagee,
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And when they bore me overmuch, I will not shake mine ears,
Recalling many thousand such whom I have bored to tears.
And when they labour to impress, I will not doubt nor scoff;
Since I myself have done no less and—sometimes pulled it off.
Yea, as we are and we are not, and we pretend to be,
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And when they work me random wrong, as oftentimes hath been,
I will not cherish hate too long (my hands are none too clean).
And when they do me random good I will not feign surprise.
No more than those whom I have cheered with wayside courtesies.
But, as we give and as we take—whate’er our takings be—
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

But when I meet with frantic folk who sinfully declare
There is no pardon for their sin, the same I will not spare
Till I have proved that Heaven and Hell, which in our hearts we have
Show nothing irredeemable on either side of the grave.
For as we live and as we die—if utter Death there be—
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

Deliver me from every pride—the Middle, High, and Low—
That bars me from a brother’s side, whatever pride he show.
And purge me from me all heresies of thought and speech and pen
That bid me judge him otherwise than I am judged. Amen!
That I may sing of Crowd or King or road-borne company,
That I may labour in my day, vocation and degree,
To prove the same by deed and name, and hold unshakenly
(Where’er I go, whate’er I know, or whoe’er my neighbor be)
This single faith in Life and Death and to Eternity:
Chorus: The people, Lord, thy people are good enough for me!

Cate Clifford is a Rhode Island-based singer of traditional and trad-adjacent folk songs who has performed in homes, venues, and festival showcases across New England and New York, and is featured on Lynz Morahn’s EP Kick It Off. When she isn’t singing, Cate collects traditional songs of Robin Hood and King Arthur, traditional and trad-adjacent folk songs about love beyond the romantic and libidinous, and little songs (with Ben Gagliardi); schemes about how to fit more Shakespeare into her setlists; and serves on the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival board. For more about Cate and the songs she loves, visit her website.