Tam Lin


A suitably timed epic for Halloween. Jon gives us a nice little insight into the Boden household too saying, “For some reason Fay and I have taken to singing this to Polly (and now Jacob) every night as an ‘off to sleep now’ song, so between us we must have sung it a thousand times over the last few years, we never get bored of it though.” Interestingly Jon’s take seems closest to Anne Briggs’ version according to Mainly Norfolk. Unusually Reinhard even has some musical tab posted for this, which probably says much for its classic status. Although if you follow that link, you’ll also spot that he starts with a disclaimer and points you in this direction. It was the first thing that Goggle delivered to me as well – a whole website devoted to the song. Marvelous stuff and a truly memorable performance!

You can buy the October digital album now from all good download stores:


40 Responses to “Tam Lin”

  1. Maureen Musson says:

    Great song, wonderfully performed (but I hope it doesn’t give the junior Bodens nightmares!)

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    A very long song, very well sung. Do your children take some getting off to sleep? Hahahaha!

  3. muzza says:

    Ecky Thump…………Touch of the Emperor’s new clothes here I fear. I found this a bit of a dirge and what a frightening story…..and no tune to talk of. My kids went to sleep with the threat of a belting and a touch of chloroform..worked every time.

  4. Reinhard says:

    I woke up to a very foggy morning and then heard this – how much better can Halloween be?
    Besides King Henry (Steeleye Span’s ballad, that is, not Fay’s lovely song which I didn’t know until her CD), Tam Lin is the one ballad that enticed me to folk music when I was a teen.

  5. Stephen Witkowski says:

    Did you know that the only film directed by Roddy McDowell was an adaptation of this story?

    I’ve made your day that much better haven’t I?

  6. edith lewis says:


  7. jonathan says:

    Stands comparison with Mike Waterson’s version, and that’s saying something.

  8. StephenH says:

    One of my favourites among the ‘big’ songs. Well done here, Jon. As for singing it to the kiddies, I used to sing all manner of odd songs to my two girls when they were little, eg. “False Knight on the Road”- and let’s not forget that,as per the previous discussion on “Waltzing Matilda”, some seemingly innocuous songs have grim endings. (on a side note, when my older daughter sang “Barbara Allen”, and got to the end, she ciouldn’t quite remember the words and so the briar “grew and grew and it grew and grew and ….”) “Tam Lin’ is a fabulous, spellbinding story – once had the privilege of hearing AL Lloyd hold an audience in rapt attention with his version.
    So, yes, couldn’t think of a better song for the day. cheers.

  9. Jan says:

    Great song, beautifully sung, and I’m glad to hear you sing it to the little ones – mine grew up to a folky soundtrack, and now my son sings his girls to sleep with more of the same.

  10. Phil says:

    A terrific story well told & powerfully sung (and a fine tune). No emperor’s new clothes here, muzza, unless we’re *all* deluded!

  11. Muzza says:

    Point taken Phil………….I’d better keep my head down….lots of others seem to have been more positive than me. I’ll go back to only commenting when I like something.

  12. Simon Dewsbury says:

    Muzza, I think it’s fine to post if you don’t like a particular song, so long as it’s not offensive – I think the blog is probably better for a bit of disagreement. Maybe it’s because the song has a special place for lots of people that you got the comments. for a radically different version, featuring Benjamin Zephaniah, try the Imagined Village version, it’s on youtube under Tam Lyn (retold).

  13. the_otter says:

    I really got my money’s worth with this song. I like the Anne Briggs version – it’s good to hear Jon drawing on it. Love the verse about ‘hearing the bridle/harness ring’ , which FC didn’t use.

  14. Shelley says:

    Really enjoyed this one – I have so many versions of this song in my record collection, each one very different.

    As for singing to the children, Jon and Fay, make the most of it while you can. Quite early on my three would say “Stop singing Mummy” and “Why do you sing all the time?” – charming!

  15. muzza says:

    Thanks for the link to Tam Lin(retold)Simon D……..yessssss…..radically different..
    ermmm.. I think I’d better stop digging-NOW!

  16. Bill Hollowday says:

    The first version I heard was Frankie Armstrong and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad version.

  17. Philip says:

    Has that assured feel of a song that has been sung many times. I really enjoyed the interpretation.

    It was singing both our sons to sleep for many years which got me into singing folk songs. Wanting to sing the songs I enjoyed for them made me realise how few songs I actually knew well enough to sing, and made me start learning properly. The nice thing is they carry many of these with them now, without any worry about what kind of music it is. In the last couple of years the younger one (now a music student) has started coming up with two part arrangements of some of ‘our songs’ for us to sing together. One of life’s really good moments.

    As far as I can see, being brought up with songs of hardship, adultery, unrequited love, murder and maritime violence doesn’t seem to have done them any lasting harm!

  18. Sol says:

    Just catching up on the last few days, and what a fine, fine version of this song!

  19. Liz B says:

    Liked this old tale since reading the version of the story in ‘The Armourer’s House’. Thank you.

  20. Yehudit says:

    “….Did you know that the only film directed by Roddy McDowell was an adaptation of this story?

    I’ve made your day that much better haven’t I?…..”

    Yes! You have! I’m going to track it down if I can.

  21. elfpix says:

    Best version except for Frankie’s that I’ve ever heard. But then I never heard Bert sing it. Anybody got a recording of that?

  22. Diana says:

    A fascinating tale, strange but interesting. Very apt for Allhallows Eve. I much prefer the thought of elves to the idea of ghoulies and ghosties who are reputed to roam about tonight. Jon sings it well, must be hard to sustain the rhythm for nearly 10 minutes.
    The film “Tam Lim” was made in 1969 and starred Ava Gardner should anyone be interested.

  23. muzza(S.E.England) says:

    Here I am…a year older/wiser………I am sayin’ nuthin’…

  24. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    I am having to catch up on songs after a week in the Isle Of Skye, hence my late comments.
    A magical tale of epic proportions, beautifully sung. I feel very humble when I hear what others sing to their children. I am afraid our little lad had to make do with ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’.

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ John B: You sum it up perfectly! – “A magical tale of epic proportions, beautifully sung.”

    I looked up the Roddy McDowell/Ava Gardner film version of ‘Tam Lin.’ That was its original title before it became ‘The Devil’s Widow.’ According to one reviewer (Benjamin Miler) on Amazon: “This was a 1971 movie that was directed by Roddy McDowell. It was filmed in 1968 (or ’69), but shelved until late ’71 (although new sources stated the film was released in the UK in December 1970, and in the U.S. in September 1972). After a limited airing in the theaters, it pretty much disappeared, until 1998, when Republic Pictures finally made it available on VHS. And this is an excellent example of why you should hold on to your VCRs when you upgrade to DVD: there are still titles out there not available on DVD and this is one of them.”

    Ava, of course, plays the ever-youthful Faerie Queen to Ian McShane’s Tom Lynn, rescued from death (and no doubt a fate worse than it!) by the pure virgin love of vicar’s daughter Janet, aka Stephanie Beacham!

    The same reviewer makes special mention of the music: “The film credits both Pentangle and Salena Jones for providing music… Pentangle did do a version of “Tam Lin” just for this film. It sounds completely different from the version Fairport Convention did. It was a slower ballad, heavily acoustic, and with sitar (which the band used on their highly acclaimed 1969 album ‘Basket of Light’). In fact this piece could’ve fit easily on ‘Basket of Light,’ with plenty of the great trademarks you come to expect from Pentangle, not to mention Jacqui McShee’s wonderful voice. Unfortunately their version of ‘Tam Lin’ can only be found in this movie, as it never appeared on any of their original albums. But there is a CD set called ‘Time Has Come 1967-1973’ that does feature this song… a collection of alternate takes, never-before-released material, BBC sessions, and film scores that never became available as a soundtrack album (as in the case of ‘Tam Lin’).

    Two other reviewers described it as “A classic late sixties Art movie” and “a Carnaby Street time capsule!” That might explain why it basically flopped so badly that Roddy McDowell never directed another film, and why we can’t see it (or hear the music) on dvd!

  26. Diana says:

    Thanks Jane for establishing the correct date for the release of the film. I knew it was made in 1969 or thereabouts. I tried for the DVD but did not think of a VHS recording.

  27. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Jane, you look much younger without that hat. Did anyone make a film about Puff, The Magic Dragon ?

  28. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ John: I’m clearly too young to remember yon dragon!

  29. Jane Ramsden says:

    Footnote: Song by Peter, Paul and Mary! I think there might have been a tv series with some episodes transferred to largely unavailable dvd? You might be able to find a used copy.

  30. Jane Ramsden says:

    Happy Halloween from Henri!

  31. Diana says:

    Still like this one – just reading through all the comments above and ir stirs up some memories.

    Hi Jane and will go forthwith and see what Henri is up to now.

  32. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    I hate Halloween…………..gimme back good old Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night

  33. Linda says:

    What an epic ….

  34. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    In the UK…….I hope that you all remembered to put your clocks back an hour as British Summer time ended at 2am early this morning.

  35. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    In case of confusion….clocks go back Sunday 2am 31st Oct (I had posted on 28th)

  36. Jane (Maryland) says:

    For the benefit of any non-Brits: I just looked up the phrase (Ecky Thump) at the beginning of Muzza’s first comment and learned that it derives from the name of a (fictional, obviously) Lancastrian martial art which uses black puddings as weapons. If you’re a fan of British humor (Python, et al.) this site is well worth a look

  37. OldMuzza(NWSURREY UK) says:

    Oh Jane(Maryland)….Ref ecky thump..tongue firmly in cheek on that website!.
    I have always used it as a term of disbelief,

  38. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Ecky Thump…I really don’t like Halloween!!!!
    How the heck did we let this thingy infiltrate Uk society from those damn Yankees (no hard feeling Jane-Maryland!)

  39. Jane (Maryland) says:

    No offense taken, Muzza! Are you inundated with hordes of trick-or-treaters? I understand some of our customs originated with the Celts, though (jack-o’-lanterns and such).

  40. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Oh..that’s good news Jane(Maryland)
    No trick or treaters this year as it was pouring with rain as the
    South was bounced by storm Ciaran!

Your Reply

Warning: Undefined variable $user_ID in /customers/a/0/f/afolksongaday.com/httpd.www/wp-content/themes/comment-central/comments.php on line 121