FS44: The trees they do grow high

This is one of my very favourite songs, in this version (learned from Tony Rose) above all. (I know two other versions with completely different tunes; they’re nowhere near as good, though.) I always get absorbed in this when I sing it; however carefully and deliberately I’ve begun the song, by the time I get to the last verse I’m always lost in it, conscious of nothing but the words and the notes. I think it’s something to do with the tune – that and the heart-wrenching story, and the starkness of the last two verses in particular.

The last verse of this version, in particular, is a bit of an oddity; it adds nothing at all to the story, contains bits of the previous two verses in more or less garbled form, and generally sounds as if it was made up on the spot by someone who was convinced there was another verse but couldn’t remember what it was. And it’s wonderful. It reminds me of the story about the last verse of “Hey Jude” (“So let it out and let it in…”). Supposedly Paul McCartney, when he first played the song to John Lennon, apologised for the thinness of that verse and for the fourth line in particular: “the movement you need is on your shoulder”, a blatant placeholder. Lennon, the story goes, told him it was a brilliant line and he mustn’t change it. Bizarrely, he was right – it is a great verse and a great line. Something similar’s going on with the last verse of this song. Sometimes a placeholder is not just a placeholder.

Recorded in the open air, in one take (with editing).

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Filed under folk song, Tony Rose, traditional

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