Category Archives: Yellow

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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Week 35: William Taylor, The ghost song

More songs with sea voyages (or at least trips to the coast) and deaths.

William Taylor dumps his fiancee to enlist for a sailor (although as far as we can tell he never actually makes it as far as the sea). She’s not pleased. The last verse appears to derive from a later, comic version of the song, but I liked it enough to keep it in. Learned from John Kelly’s recording; accompanied with drum and zither.

The ghost song (a.k.a. The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter) is a murder ballad of sorts: another William, also keen to go to sea, kills his (pregnant) fiancee. She’s not pleased either. A fairly chunky narrative with an extraordinary tune, learned from Peter Bellamy’s version, which itself derived from Sam Larner; sung unaccompanied.

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Week 34: The lofty tall ship, Lowlands

We’re still at sea for week 34, and still suffering losses.

The lofty tall ship is a surprisingly laconic ballad about an episode in the life of a pirate; it’s one remnant of a much longer ballad, about a real (sixteenth-century) pirate, which ended with his execution. Featuring concertina (in drone mode).

Lowlands is about a haircut. A ghost, heartbreak, seaweed and a haircut. Based quite closely on Shirley Collins’s version, and featuring improvised harmonies.

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Week 33: The valiant sailor, The Dolphin

With week 33 we leave the songs of love behind and begin the Yellow album, which (despite the name) is going to be mostly warlike. There will be deaths. There will also be non-traditional songs, but not this week.

The valiant sailor (a.k.a. Polly on the shore) is a song from the Napoleonic wars with an interesting narrative standpoint. Sung with concertina, and with thanks to John Kelly. (I recorded the concertina separately, but give me time.)

The Dolphin goes back to an incident in the eighteenth century, involving a ship that wasn’t called the Dolphin and didn’t sail from Liverpool. Sung with drones and drums, and with thanks to Tony Capstick.

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