I feel as if I’ve known this song forever. I haven’t, by any means – I heard it for the first time about two years ago, and only learned it properly when Jon Boden featured it on AFSAD (although see NS06). Perhaps it’s more that I feel as if that this song has been there forever.
I love the sinuous, looping melody, and the way it combines a keening, yearning urgency (particularly strong in Jon Boden’s version) with a kind of bedazzled stillness; the overall effect is genuinely magical, almost incantatory. The folk-garbling of the lyrics has resulted in some lines that make no sense whatsoever, as it often does, but in this case it’s startlingly beautiful nonsense:
And she’s played it all over, all on her pipes of ivory
So early in the morning, at the break of day
This version is indebted to Jon Boden (as ever), but also to Jim Moray’s remarkable version; thanks also to Dave Bishop, one of my local folk heroes, whose rendition was the first I heard. But I couldn’t really find my way into it as a singer until I heard Tony Rose’s version on Bare Bones, which handles those ‘feminine’ line endings particularly well. I also thought it needed slowing down, without making the pace a funereal plod.
What all this added up to was singing it in 3/4. I don’t often change the time on songs I sing, but in this case I think it works. See what you think.
(Incidentally, I don’t credit Bellamy on this occasion because I haven’t actually heard his version. Yet!)
Update May 2013 On reflection I decided that the 3/4 time was a mistake, and if it was going to be a slow 4/4, it was going to be a slow 4/4 and that was all there was to it. Again, see what you think.