Nottamun Town

This ballad has had a life in a number of traditions, including Medieval English all the way to American Appalachian. The tune even crops up in Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” It’s a great tune with a set of contradicting lyrics that seem to obfuscate a deeper meaning, whether that is true or not. The video is the legendary Bert Jansch‘s gritty version of the song.

From Wikipedia:

The song is fairly popular in the English Midlands, particularly in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Southern Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, which lends credence to the theory that the Nottamun in the song is a corruption of Nottingham.

Theories abound as to the meaning of the song, but two are generally accepted as probable:

1. That it derives from the Feast of Fools or Mummers’ Plays and their absurd topsy-turvy worlds.
2. That it refers to the English Civil War. In this war, Charles I of England raised his first army around Nottingham, and it may be a corruption of that city’s name that gives the song its title. A popular theme at the time with diarists and pamphleteers was ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ and there are many famous woodcuts dating from this period with illustrations of cats chasing dogs, men wearing boots on their hands and the like.

Nottamun Town

In Nottamun Town, not a soul would look up,
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town

I bought me a horse twas called a grey mare
Grey mane and grey tail and green stripe on her back
Grey mane and grey tail and green stripe on her back
Weren’t a hair upon her that was not coal black

Continue reading

Star of the County Down

Dundrum, County Down

From one of the many, many Chieftains and Friends collaborations, Irishman Van Morrison joins the lads for a great song. The tune itself is of English origin, a folk tune called “Kingsfold” that has also been used frequently in hymn settings.

Thought by some scholars to date back to the Middle Ages, KINGSFOLD is a folk tune set to a variety of texts in England and Ireland. The tune was published in English Country Songs (1893), an anthology compiled by Lucy E. Broadwood and J. A. Fuller Maitland. After having heard the tune in Kingsfold, Sussex, England (thus its name), Ralph Vaughan Williams (PHH 316) introduced it as a hymn tune in The English Hymnal (1906) as a setting for Horatius Bonar’s “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (488).

Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Star of the County Down

In Banbridge town in the County Down
One morning last July,
From a boreen green came a sweet colleen
And she smiled as she passed me by.
She looked so sweet fronn her two bare feet
To the sheen of her nut brown hair.
Such a coaxing elf, sure I shook myself
For to see I was really there.

From Bantry Bay up to Derry quay and
From Galway to Dublin town,
No maid I’ve seen like the brown colleen
That I met in the county down.

Continue reading

The Water is Wide

Niamh Parsons version of The Water is Wide just might be one of my favorites. This is one of those songs that is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget it’s traditional roots.  The first texts that date back to the 1600s and the song has several precursors and cousins, including O Waly, Waly.  Peter Seeger is credited with bringing the song back into popular culture during the Folk Revival.

The Water is Wide

The water is wide, I can’t swim o’er
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 sails so deep as deep can be
But not so deep as the love I’m in
I know not how to sink or swim

Continue reading