The second or third time I heard this song, I completely lost track of time. When silence fell, Bateman having finally married his Sophia and vowed never again to range the ocean, I shook my head like a dog waking up; I’d heard every note, but it felt as if I’d been sitting there for hours. (It was Nic Jones’s version, which comes in at a little under seven minutes, but even so.) Something about the steady forward motion of the story coupled with the swinging repetitions and returns of the melody… I’m drifting off now just thinking about it. Using repetition is something folk music teaches you, I think. James Yorkston once said the two bands he’d most like to play in were Planxty and Can, and in many ways they’re not that far apart.
The song is my version of Nic Jones’s version of one of the many versions of Child 52 (most of which aren’t about anyone called Bateman), with the tune borrowed from Joseph Taylor’s version, some lyrics borrowed from Jim Moray’s version and the musical influence of Dave Bishop. (I think that’s everyone.) It’s unusual among the old ballads in having a happy ending; really, the narrative doesn’t have much drama in it at all, or not by modern standards – I guess at the time it was composed the idea of Sophia packing up all of her gay gay clothing and making it all the way from Turkey to Northumberland was a marvel in itself.
Anyway, here it is; see what you think. (I can’t promise to induce a trance state.)