When Andy Irvine revisited his recording career for the "Old Dog Long Road Vol. 2" album, he unsurprisingly stumbled over a couple of Child ballads. Let's have a closer look.
Willie O Winsbury is Child Ballad 100 (Roud 64). The song, which has numerous variants, is a traditional Scottish ballad that dates from at least 1775, and is known under several other names, including "Johnnie Barbour" and "Lord Thomas of Winesberry".
A king is away for a long time. His daughter becomes pregnant by the hero, William or Thomas. The king threatens to hang him, but is struck by his beauty and offers him the heroine, gold, and land. The hero accepts the lady but declares the gold and the land to be his lady's, not his own.
This ballad closely parallels Child ballad 99, "Johnie Scot".
In one variant, the lands are specifically described: he will be king when he returns to Scotland. It may, in fact, be based on James V's courtship of and marriage to Madeleine de Valois of France; James came to see the woman he was betrothed to in disguise, and went on to meet the princess, who fell in love with him.
Nowadays the song is often sung to the tune of "Fause Foodrage", rather than its own traditional tune.
Andy Irvine sang "Willy O'Winsbury" on Sweeney's Men's eponymous debut album in 1968, accompanying himself on guitar. The recording featured the tune of "Fause Foodrage" (Child 89), which is now commonly used for "Willie O' Winsbury". On the album's sleeve notes, band member Johnny Moynihan wrote, "A ballad for which Andy is renowned. He got the text from Child's 'English and Scottish Ballads'; looking up the tune he got his numbers confused and emerged with the wrong air. By chance it suited the song very well". In 2010, Irvine re-recorded the song with a fuller arrangement of the same tune for his album Abocurragh, adding: "This is Child 100. I collected the words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101. I'm not sure if this is true but it's a good story".
The song "Farewell, Farewell", recorded by Fairport Convention on their album Liege and Lief in 1969, is an adaptation featuring new lyrics by Richard Thompson. A recording of "Willie O' Winsbury" played and sung by Thompson was included in the 2006 boxset RT - The Life and Music of Richard Thompson.
Following is a list of notable recordings of the ballad including, for each entry, the year of release, artist, song title, and album title:
|1968||Sweeney's Men||"Willy O' Winsbury"||Sweeney's Men|
|1969||Fairport Convention||"Farewell, Farewell"||Liege & Lief|
|1971||Anne Briggs with Johnny Moynihan||"Willie O' Winsbury"||Anne Briggs|
|1971||Tony Capstick (with Hedgehog Pie)||"Sir Thomas of Winesberry"||His Round|
|1971||John Renbourn||"Willy O' Winsbury"||Faro Annie|
|1972||Pentangle||"Willy O' Winsbury"||Solomon's Seal|
|1972||Barbara Dickson||"Lord Thomas Of Winesberry and The King's Daughter"||From the Beggar's Mantle...Fringed with Gold|
|1975||Robert Cinnamond||"The Rich Shipowner's Daughter"||You Rambling Boys of Pleasure|
|1978||Dick Gaughan||"Willie O' Winsbury"||Gaughan|
|1994||Connie Dover||"Willie of Winsbury"||The Wishing Well|
|1999||Frankie Armstrong||"Thomas of Welshbury"||The Garden of Love|
|2001||Nic Jones||"William of Winesbury"||Unearthed|
|2004||Great Big Sea||"John Barbour"||Something Beautiful|
|2006||Richard Thompson||"Willy O' Winsbury"||RT - The Life and Music of Richard Thompson|
|2007||Meg Baird||"Willy of Winsbury"||Dear Companion|
|2007||Kate Rusby||"John Barbury"||Awkward Annie|
|2007||Joel Frederiksen||"Willie O' Winsbury"||The Elfin Knight|
|2009||Nathan Rogers||"Willie O' Winsbury"||The Gauntlet|
|2010||Andy Irvine||"Willy of Winsbury"||Abocurragh|
|2010||The Owl Service||"Willie O' Winsbury"||The View From a Hill|
|2013||Snorri Helgason||"Willie O' Winsbury"||Autumn Skies|
|2013||Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer||"Willie of Winsbury (Child 100)"||Child Ballads|
|2017||Olivia Chaney (as Offa Rex with The Decemberists)||"Willie O' Winsbury"||The Queen of Hearts|
|2019||Ye Vagabonds||"Willie O Winsbury"||The Hare's Lament|
Listen to Willie O Winsbury from: Dick Gaughan, Andy Irvine, Dougie Mackenzie, Nathan Rogers Watch Willie O Winsbury from: Andy Irvine, Dougie Mackenzie, Anaïs Mitchell, Pentangle, Nathan Rogers, Sweeney's Men, Martha Tilston, Ye Vagabonds Lyrics (© Mainly Norfolk): Willie o' Winsbury / Tom the Barber
"The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter" is an English ballad, collected by Francis James Child as Child Ballad 110 and listed as number 67 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
A knight persuades a shepherd's daughter to give him her virginity. Afterward she chases after him to the royal court, on foot while he is on horseback, and demands marriage. He attempts to bribe her, but she insists he must marry her or be executed. After the marriage it is revealed, either by the woman herself or by Billy Blin, that she is in fact the daughter of royalty or high nobility; it may also be revealed that the man is a noble instead of a mere knight.
Her pursuit of the knight on foot while he is on horseback also appears in Child Ballad 63, "Child Waters", where it fits a very different plot. The motif is very similar to that of the loathly lady, particularly the variant found in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale".
Lise et Mainfroi, a 1740 French imitation of this ballad, has an actual shepherdess as the heroine; she announces at the altar that she is satisfied without the wedding, and the king and his court must persuade her to agree.
A version of the tune and lyrics were included by William Chappell in his 1859 book Popular Music of the Olden Time. Sabine Baring-Gould collected a version written in 1785, and notated another version she personally found in Lewdown, Devon in 1887, whilst Frank Kidson collected a version sung by a Benjamin Holgate of Leeds, West Yorkshire in 1891. The famous composer and folklorist Percy Grainger collected and notated a version in 1906 performed by William Roberts of Burringham, Lincolnshire, and another by Joseph Leaning of Brigg, Lincolnshire in 1908.
The song reached North America, where a handful of traditional versions were found to exist.
The folklorist Alan Lomax recorded John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire singing a version in 1957, which is publicly available online. Many Scottish versions had previously been recorded by James Madison Carpenter in the 1930s. A later version was performed by Lizzie Higgins of Aberdeenshire in the 1970s, and is now available on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website.
Desmond and Shelagh Herring recorded Emily Sparkes of Rattlesden, Suffolk singing a version of the song in 1958, and another sung by Charlie Carver of nearby Tostock, both of which can be heard online via the British Library Sound Archive.
Steeleye Span recorded a version as "Royal Forester" on their 1972 album Below the Salt, based on the aforementioned recording of John Strachan by Alan Lomax.
There are various versions in the Argo Records series of ballads by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, The Long Harvest record 4.
Other recorded versions are by The Young Tradition on the album So Cheerfully Round (entitled "Knight William") and by Dave Burland on the album Dave Burland (entitled "Earl Richard").
Listen to The Royal Forester from: Malinky, Steeleye Span Watch The Royal Forester from: Steeleye Span Lyrics (© Mainly Norfolk): Knight William / Royal Forester / Shepherd's Daughter
"The Lochmaben Harper" or "The Blind Harper" is a traditional British Folk ballad (Child # 192, Roud # 85) and is one of the ballads collected by Francis Child in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–1898).
A blind harp-player resolves to steal King Henry of England's brown horse, in some versions, as a result of a bet for substantial stakes. He tells his wife of his plans and that he needs their good grey mare to achieve them. She agrees, and tells him to leave the foal behind, as the mare will quickly return to her still suckling young. He sets off and, at Carlisle, he meets the king, who asks for a song. The harper replies that he'd rather have a stable for his mare. The king tells his stable boy to house the grey mare next to his own brown horse. Now the harper plays and sings so beautifully that he spellbinds his audience and they all fall asleep. He tiptoes out of the room, makes his way to the stable, tethers the two horses together and releases them. The good grey mare makes her way back home taking the stolen brown horse with her. When the morning comes, the harper falsely mourns the loss of his horse, saying that, as a result, her foal will die. The king tells him not to fret and makes good the harper's losses by paying him for the foal and three times the worth of the good grey mare. Thus the harper not only wins his bet but also gets handsomely remunerated for the animals that he never lost.
This is another of the songs Robert Burns came across and contributed to a Scots Musical Museum. It is one of several songs about blind harpers from all over Britain and Ireland (for example, On a Blind Harper, The Blind Harper (traditional Welsh Song), The Blind Harper of Johnson Hall, The Blind Harper of Tyrone and Lament for a Blind Harper) although Roud only indexes the one. Blind harpers crop up frequently in British folklore and one features in another Child ballad, The Cruel Sister, where he is called to play at the wedding of the surviving sister. There are a number of paintings of them including The Blind Harper of Conway (1792) by Julius Caesar Ibbetson. In fact, traditionally, a good proportion of harpists were blind and these were often the most accomplished, for example, Turlough O’Carolan from Ireland (1670–1738), Ruairidh Dall Morison from Scotland (1646–1725) and John Parry (Bardd Alaw) from Wales (1760–1765). It has been suggested that this is because blind people were encouraged to take up a musical instrument.
Many artists have recorded this song including:
Listen to The Lochmaben Harper / The Wanton Brown from: Rakoczy, Emily Smith Watch The Blind Harper from: Andy Irvine Lyrics (© Mainly Norfolk): Lochmaben Harper / Blind Harper / Wanton Brown
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: June 2021.
Photo Credits: (1),(10) Andy Irvine, (2) Sweeney's Men, (3) Anne Briggs, (5) Ye vagabonds, (6) Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span), (10) Joshua Burnell, (12) Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, (15) Rakoczy (unknown/website); (4) 'Willie O Winsbury', (9) 'The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter', (14) 'The Lochmaben Harper' (by ABC Notations); (6) Andy Irvine, (8) Malinky (by Walkin' Tom); (13) Emily Smith (by Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup).