Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick
01 : Two Butchers
02 : Ball o’ Yarn
03 : Farewell Nancy
04 : Lord Franklin
05 : Ramblin’ Sailor
06 : Lowlands of Holland
07 : Fair Maid on the Shore
08 : Bruton Town
09 : Box on Her Head
10 : Newlyn Town
11 : Brave Wolfe
12 : Peggy and the Soldier
13 : A Sailor’s Life
First released in the UK 1966 on Fontana Records STL 5362
Tracks 1-7 (side one of the original release) form side two of the compilation “Round Up”, issued by Fontana Records (date unknown but probably early 1970s) 6852 003
Re-issued 1977 by Topic Records 12TS341
CD issued 1993 by Topic Records TSCD341
Martin Carthy: vocals, guitar
Dave Swarbrick: fiddle, mandolin
1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12 & 13: Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy / Dave Swarbrick
4 & 6: Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy
Fairly common on both sides of the Atlantic, the story stays essentially the same, only varying in the number of butchers, or in the number of robbers who range themselves again Johnson. A treacherous woman has always seemed more despicable than a treacherous man. This version is from the Cecil Sharp MSS.
Ball O’ Yarn
The ball of yarn as a symbol of virginity is probably as old as spinning and weaving themselves. Though the story of Theseus and Ariadne in the labyrinth of the palace of Minos might seem to suggest a nobler ancestry than usual, this is probably pure romantic conjecture. This version was collected in Dorset by Cyril Tawney.
An uncomplicated song of farewell in which the fairly standard offer by the maiden to dress up as “some little sea-boy” and go along with her lover is refused gently but firmly. I suspect that she is more relieved than sorry, as her pleas do not seem to carry the ring of conviction. Printed several times in the “Journals of the Folk-Song Society”.
Sir John Franklin set out with two ships, the “Erebus” and the “Terror”, on his second attempt to discover the North West Passage and was never heard of again. It was almost twelve years before the story of what had actually happened to the expedition was finally pieced together. After sailing round the island in the far north of Canada, the ships, predictably, became trapped in the ice; what was completely unexpected, however, was that the lime juice stored in barrels became useless and half the crews of both ships died of scurvy. Some of the others decided to strike across country for a mission station, but one by one they died on the journey. How they managed to die in country that was full of game where Eskimos had lived for generations is a mystery. The real tragedy was Franklin’s blunder in not allowing for such a contingency: he had taken along beautiful tea-services, flags and dress uniforms for the celebrations when their mission was accomplished, instead of extra food supplies. Several rescue operations were mounted, one by Lady Franklin herself from the proceeds of public fund she started for that purpose, after the Admiralty had washed it hands of the whole affair, having itself failed in a rather desultory rescue attempt. The truth was actually discovered by an expedition in which the United States Navy took part.
Also known as Young Johnson, this is a typical story of a sailor home from a long voyage and a rather frisky whore who robs him of all his possession, leaving him with a physical reminder of the exchange; or, as “Measure for Measure” puts it, “Impiety makes a feast of him.”
Lowlands O’ Holland
Until well into the last century the only way of keeping the Royal Navy up to strength was by pressing men into service, and press gangs terrorised the coastal towns in search of likely young men to serve on board. Although this service was ostensibly for the duration of a campaign, in practice it was more often a life sentence. Apparently the system was never officially abolished by act of Parliament.
Fair Maid On The Shore
Bronson in his Tunes of the Child Ballads lists Fair Maid on the Shore as a variant on the Broomfield Hill theme, where a young girl extricates herself from a nasty predicament by employing a mixture of guile and magic. The story of a siren, whether benevolent, malevolent or just plain amoral, is quite widely diffused in Europe but is not so common in England. Learned originally from the vast repertoire of A. L. Lloyd.
In the Penguin Book of English Verse, A. L. Lloyd writes “this is based on a story that was probably not new when Boccaccio made it famous in the 14th century. Hans Sachs put it into verse some two hundred years later and Keats rewrote it as the Ballad of Isabella and the Pot of Basil”. It would appear that Keats’s version owes more to Boccaccio while the English traditional variants of the song have a lot in common with Sachs’s version. The tune is from Mrs Overd of Langport, Somerset, with a composite text.
Box On Her Head
As the treacherous girl is regarded with the utmost hatred, so is the resourceful girl regarded with the greatest admiration. Having shot the young man who has tried to rob her, she then helps a gentleman who has heard the noise to shoot the rest of the robbers who are in hiding nearby chalking up three to his one. The version here is basically from the Lucy Broadwood collection.
The ballad-mongers at public executions in the 18th century used to do a roaring trade in songs purporting to be the “Criminal’s Last Goodnight”, often in the form of a confession or apologia. This was a great period for the villain-hero, especially for highwaymen. The Beggar’s Opera talks of the “the youth in the car hath the air of a Lord”, and we say “there dies an Adonis”. The whole attitude is summed up in Clever Tom Clinch Going to Be Hanged by Jonathan Swift.
The death of General Wolfe on the plains of Abraham during the taking of Quebec provided the ballad-mongers with a great subject which they seized gladly. This text contains the curious idea that Wolfe and the French general Montcalm walked together chatting like brothers before retiring their own lines to let battle commence. This song (not to be confused with Bold General Wolfe) has not been found in England, but in America, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, from where this version comes, it is widespread. Learned more or less from Cyril Tawney.
Peggy And The Soldier
The unfaithful wife going off to sea with her lover and deserting husband and child is a common enough subject for ballads: witness the House Carpenter; but the clarity with regard to the state of mind of the characters, missing in many variations on the theme, is crystal clear throughout this particular one. It is uncommon in this form, having been reported from tradition only a couple of times and printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1930 (no. 34).
A Sailor’s Life
Often adapted to fit other occupations this is one of a group of songs which includes Early Early All in the Spring and the American song on the same theme, Sailor on the Deep Blue Sea. It was published in various broadsides in the 18th century, but often became confused with Died for Love. It is printed in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
Martin Carthy, 1966