A shepherd plays pan pipes while two young women dancePan Pipes by Walter Crane, 1884

We Shepherds Be the Best of Men (Roud 284)

Submitted 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 musicDownload 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.

     
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