This is one of the briefer examples of this family of songs, as sung by Jean Redpath and subsequently Anne Briggs. There’s little or no overlap with When I was in my prime, showing how much variation can develop in a group of songs over the years. I particularly like the way the nature imagery is developed in the last verse – “Woman is a branchy tree and man a single wand“; concise and to the point.
Sung in the open air – six feet up in the air, in fact – unaccompanied except for birdsong.
I’ve never heard a recorded version of this song. Like When a man’s in love, it’s a song I learned after hearing it sung at my local singaround, in this case by the estimable Dave Bishop.
This is more or less the version sung by Jean Redpath, from which most post-revival versions of this song derive. A seventeenth-century original has been identified, but in most respects it isn’t worth going back to – it’s rather wordy and ornate, and generally looks like a song in need of folk-processing. I liked a few bits of it, though, so I used half of one verse and a few verse-endings.
The tune is a very old pipe tune called (among other things) Sir John Fenwick’s. The accompaniment is melodica, recorder and zither; that includes the weird noisy bits (the nature of which will be clarified if you listen right to the end). The idea was to mark a transition between sections with a bit of musical noise, essentially.