For Halloween this year I have to post one of my favorite “ghost ballads.” You have to listen to the whole song to find the ghost, but it’s worth it. I first heard it off of Connie Dover back in the mid ’90s. Here’s it’s sung by Mary McPartlan.
The Holland Handkerchief
A wealthy squire he lived in our town
And he was a man of high renown
He had one daughter, a beauty bright
And the name he called her was his Heart’s Delight
Many young man far to court her came
But none of them could her favour gain
Till there came one of the low degree
And above them all why she’d fancy he
But when her father he came to know
That his lovely daughter loved this young man so
Over fifty miles he sent her away
All to deprive her of her wedding day
Another performance from the late Bert Jansch, here live from Relix. He sings this British ballad about a servant girl who is seduced and then abandoned by a sailor lad. The story is found in several songs, including “Bell-Bottomed Trousers,” “Ambletown,” and “When I Was Young.” You can find more discussion of the origins from the wonderful and highly informed people over at mudcat.org
When I was in service in the Rosemary Lane,
I won the good will of my master and dame.
Till a sailor came there one night to lay;
That was the beginning of my misery.
He called for a candle to light him to bed;
And likewise a silk kerchief for to tie up his head.
To tie up his head as the sailors will do,
And he said, “My pretty Polly, will you come too?”
Two of my favorite singers, Christy Moore and Sinead O’Connor, sing this song by Ewan MacColl. There seems to be difference of opinion on the origin of the song, but the majority point to the song being written for an experimental production by the Critics Group, based on Romeo and Juliet, which was broadcast by the BBC to schools in May 1966. Moore sang it first on the first Planxty album, which was released in 1973.
Sweet Thames Flow Softly
I met my girl at Woolwich Pier beneath a big crane standing
And oh, the love I felt for her it passed all understanding
Took her sailing on the river, flow, sweet river, flow
London town was mine to give her, sweet Thames, flow softly
Made the Thames into a crown, flow, sweet river, flow
Made a brooch of Silvertown, sweet Thames, flow softly
At London Yard I held her hand at Blackwall Point I faced her
At the Isle of Dogs I kissed her mouth and tenderly embraced her
Heard the bells of Greenwich ringing, flow, sweet river, flow
All the time my heart was singing, sweet Thames, flow softly
Limehouse Reach I gave her there, flow, sweet river, flow
As a ribbon for her hair, sweet Thames, flow softly