I originally learned this song from Anne Briggs’s recording, which I found simultaneously inspiring and frustrating – the latter because I couldn’t see a way to break the song out of her arrangement, with the song framed quite tightly and squarely in the guitar part. Sue van Gaalen’s unaccompanied version helped me get to grips with the song, as did Rapunzel and Sedayne’s version on their album. Ironically, what I’ve ended up with here is closer to Anne Briggs’s version than to either of those.
Apart from a semi-improvised D whistle part, the accompaniment you hear on this one is all played on zither (the righthand channel as well as the lefthand one). I love the almost mechanical regularity of a simple repeated pattern like this, ticking quietly away in the background of a song. The arrangement is indebted to Jon Hopkins’s work on his and King Creosote’s album Diamond Mine – lovely singing, amazing production, shame about the songs. (When’s Kenny going to do a Folk Songs?)
It’s difficult to know what to say about this song, other than that it’s one of the greats, and – if you haven’t done so already – there are lots of other versions you can hear. In some ways folk has more of an affinity with classical music than with pop – the repertoire’s there, the question is what you’re going to do with it. Here’s what I’ve done with this one.