This is one of those songs that possibly has more to it than meets the ear, as Jon explains, “Having studied Old Norse literature at university I’m interested in the idea that the character of the blacksmith (who crops up in many folk songs) may be an oral-tradition descendant of Volundr (or Weland) the smith – a very significant cult figure on Norse and Anglo-Saxon heathenism. Certainly blacksmiths in folk song seem to have a slightly ‘outlandish’ other-worldly feel to them, whether they are jilting lovers or severing hands of rival suitors.” I’ll add that I’ve read somewhere in my delving that the blacksmith is associated with virility and the hammer is an obvious phallic symbol! Anyway, the tune has an immediate familiarity to it as Vaughan Williams used it for To Be A Pilgrim. The tune became known as Monks Gate, named after the Sussex hamlet near Horsham from where Vaughan Williams first collected it, apparently from the singing of a Mrs Verral. He collected it again form the singing of a Mrs Weobley in Herefordshire five years later. This link gives you a couple of variations of the tune and lyrics with midi files. This Mainly Norfolk link gives you nice detail of many of the recordings, particularly those by Shirley Collins. It’s worth noting that her original EP was recorded by Bill Leader and released in that format at least partly because of the parlous state of Topic Records finances at the time. It’s also worth following the link on Mainly Norfolk through to Our Captain Cried All Hands, which shares the same tune and some of the lyrical sentiment, although the leaving seems to be a more noble quest for war and the last verse suggest resulting death. This Mudcat offers a slight lyrical variation and also suggests that Cecil Sharp collected it from A York broadside circa 1825. You’ll find more discussion on Mudcat here.
The buy links should now work properly. We had some problems with a duplicate track and everything needed to be updated, but I’ve just tested them and they are now OK!
You can buy the digital album now from the following stores: