Not a folk song, but oh my.
This is the song that Peter Bellamy gave June Tabor – at the time, an up-and-coming singer with one solo album to her name – for The Transports. I don’t know, but I like to think that (a) he wrote it for her and (b) he wrote it for her after hearing her take on Jamie Douglas; the melody seems designed to showcase the kind of effortless vocal artistry that she displayed on that song. (Mine is strictly effortful.)
Peter Bellamy was, among other things, an extraordinarily accomplished writer in traditional styles; if, instead of giving this song to June Tabor, he’d faked up a nineteenth-century broadside and sneaked it into the Bodleian, I’m not sure it would have been discovered to this day. Perhaps the only element that’s out of keeping with the style is the unrelieved bleakness of the song, culminating in the numb despair of the last verse – it’s not easy listening, particularly for anyone who’s lost a loved one. Bellamy himself knew that feeling only too well.