Week 36: Two pretty boys, Son Davie

For week 36 I’m staying with violent death and going back to Child ballads.

Two pretty boys, generally known as Two brothers (Child 49), is a song about senseless violence. Almost everything in the story is left unexplained; it’s been suggested that it may go back to a sixteenth-century shooting. It’s sung unaccompanied (and after Bellamy).

Son Davie, more widely known as Edward (Child 13), is all about the aftermath of a killing; it’s a song on the general theme of “murder will out”. Some variants of Two brothers feature the distinctive “what’s that blood?” verses, creating the impression that these two might have originally been part of a single ballad telling the whole story of a murder, but this is misleading: older versions don’t have these extra verses, suggesting that they drifted in from this ballad at a later date. The tune used here is after Nic Jones; it’s sung with whistle, drums and (briefly) concertina.

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