Bruton Town


A song with a story line that is undoubtedly ancient and much used, which Jon here and Bellowhead before (for Matachin) picked up from Maddy Prior & Tim Hart from their Folk Songs Of Old(e) England. Jon says, “I love the sense of antiquity in this song and think there’s a version of the story in Boccacio. I also love the lack of sentimentality and the rawness of the depicted emotions.”  Boccacio includes the story as part of his Decameron (Wiki here), where it is known as Isabella And Lorenzo. Keats also reused the story and followed Boccacio, having the poor maiden cut off her dead lovers head and store it in a pot of basil.  Hans Sachs, who put it into verse before Keats omits the basil pot/head details and it’s therefore his version that is closest to this song, albeit originally in German. The various titles variants for the song including Bramble Briar, The Jealous Brothers, The Murdered Servantman, The Merchant’s Daughter to name but four, point to this also having a long and varied life in that form. Mainly Norfolk has a very good page on this and you can Wiki further on the song itself here. The town of Bruton in Somerset, which claims this as its own seems steeped in history and is located between Glastonbury and the alleged site of Camelot. Given the wider European echoes of the story, however, any historical connection with an event in the town would seem a little unlikely. Maybe it’s been retro-fitted to suit a local legend.



22 Responses to “Bruton Town”

  1. Shelley says:


    This was one of the first folk songs I ever learned to sing, and in fact, my version was the first I heard! I sang the same tune as Jon, but with some variations in the words. I think I should dust it off and start singing it again.

  2. Phil says:

    This is the stuff. Like a lot of the older songs it’s quite difficult to put across, thanks to its length and lack of melodic variation, but this is a fine performance – I’m listening to it for the third time as I write. I particularly like that laconic last verse: you’re all prepared for another two or three scenes, but then it just ends – and you realise the story was all there.

    Shelley: my version was the first I heard

    I’m not sure I can claim that about any of mine, but I’ve learnt a couple of songs from written sources and wound up singing a tune nobody else sings. Question for Jon (maybe the next time he does an interview): I’m curious about whether he’s made much use of written sources, particularly the classic collections (Marrow-bones, Roy Palmer’s book of sea songs, the English Book of Penguin Folk-Songs, etc).

  3. The Tim Hart/Maddy Prior version was the first that I heard. However, the version that I grew up with was the one that was published in the Penguin Book of English Folk Song in 1958 (1959? haven’t got the copy in front of me). That particular version was collected by Lucy Broadwood from a Mrs Joiner in Hertfordshire in September 1914 . Mrs Joiner was a strawplaiter, a pretty strenuous job, and Lucy recorded that her songs were delivered with a strong rhythm, caused, she reckoned, by the nature of the work that Mrs Joiner was doing, as the singing was done while working. She had learned her songs from her family, and in some cases, from her husband. I found it intriguing that such a bloodthirsty and very old story should be sung by someone undertaking this work. I’ve been singing the song now for more years than I care to remember, and find it still has the power to move me …. particularly the verse (in my version) which has the words

    The blood upon his cheeks was drying
    Her tears came salt as any brine
    She sometimes kissed him, sometimes crying
    “Here lies the only friend of mine”

    The use of the understated word “friend” rather than “love” just seems to heighten the despair.

    Interestingly enough Lucy titled Mrs Joiner’s version “The Bramble Briar or Lord Burling’s sister” … and there is an extra line in it over and above the Hart/Prior version and the printed version in the Penguin Book…. “Lord Burling told his eldest brother” …. the name in it seems to make it a bit more personal IMHO.

    There is another version with a beautiful title “Strawberry Town” which I can remember Nancy Kerr singing during a Folk South West Easter course week – nice tune!

    Not an easy song to sing … it took me a long time to get to grips with it, and get feeling into it.. Nice version Jon 🙂

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’ve always loved this song for every reason listed above! The first version I remember hearing is Jacqui McShee’s. Still have it on a Pentangle Light Flight album, as well as the Maddy Prior and Sandy Denny versions. Makes a change to hear a man sing it. Good choice, Jon. Thanks.

  5. Shelley says:

    Phil – wasn’t meaning to blow my own trumpet there!

  6. Phil says:

    Wasn’t meaning to imply that you were! We’re not driven by self-aggrandising pride or the lust for glory, we who get old songs out of books and sing them in pubs. The songs are their own reward, which is just as well really.

  7. wilmott says:

    @ Irene – Interesting point about the use of ‘friend’, I remember my grandfather (born in the 1880’s) using the word in much the same way.

  8. Jacki Page says:

    Brings back fond memories of the old Yeovil Folk Club run by the Yetties at the Half Moon in the 1960s. Chris Foster was one of the floor singers, and this was one of the songs he sang. Haven’t heard it for years!

  9. Diana says:

    A strange sad haunting tale beautifully sung.

  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: You’ve said it in a nutshell! Very ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ -ish and other songs of lost-love spiritual visitation. As Phil says. ‘This is the stuff!’ Couldn’t agree more, but now for something completely different!

    I note from FaceBook that Bellowhead have posted a link to a free MP3 download from their touring support band, ahab. Here is a link to their website, where the said download can be obtained!

    They sound good, and perform very much in the style of the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band I mentioned a few days ago.

    “ahab is the real deal – top-notch UK Americana featuring tight four-piece harmonies.” ~ Simon Mayo, BBC R2

    “I loved ahab’s terrific performance at Cropredy festival. They are blistering live – alt-country edge and sheer class.” ~ Bob Harris, BBC R2

    @ Skyman: I note you’d heard of the other very talented support group I mentioned under ‘A Chat With Your Mother’ i.e. The Leisure Society, seen at Manchester Cathedral on Laura Marling’s tour. Their musical provenance is excellent, as per this Wiki link, which mentions that actor Paddy Considine used to play with them in their 90s’ indie guise of ‘She Talks To Angels.’


  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    More of and from them can be found at MySpace:

    But here is a sample of their beautiful song ‘The Last Of The Melting Snow’ from YouTube:

    (PS @ Simon: Splitting my comments here, because I know the spammy filter does not like too many redirections to other sites!)

  12. Diana says:

    @ Jane: Got sidetracked by my son so unable to complete message and he pressed the submit button. He is going to see Bellowhead in Manchester this coming week so will see ahab as well. Will keep you posted.

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Lucky son! I am not seeing them this tour as they are not doing Bradford, but a Leeds venue as nearest to me this time. Got to divide their performances across cities to be fair. If he does FaceBook, son may have seen their short, funny A Bus Song a Day tour bus diary. Here’s a thisisbellowhead YouTube sample:

    Ref ahab, Jon Palmer (Jon Palmer Acoustic Band) who I think has a similar sound, said on FB tonight that they are his fave new band at the moment.

  14. Diana says:

    @ jane: He is seeing them for the umpteenth time as he travels far and wide to see them. I would have gone to Manchester as well, as we live in Saddleworth, but its a standing only and I only see them when they perform in a theatre. Steve texted me last night to tell me about the bus tour diary so managed to see it myself.

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Yes, I try to avoid the standing-only venues, esp when they are a medieval mosh-pit! I’d travel more to concerts if I didn’t have a menagerie to look after at home. Leeds is near to me, of course, but I am not so keen on the various venues there.

  16. Linda says:

    another one beautifully sung. Has a haunting quality to it.

  17. Muzza+10days (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    These young folk and their moshing…what are they like………I looked up the rules and chuckled to find ‘over 65 funeral plan’ featured in the attached link’s instruction!
    ‘Copping a feel’ also features and this could be the reason for it’s inclusion.

  18. Diana says:

    Still as haunting and sad as I remarked last year.

  19. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Oh I wish I was young again…….I’d head straight for the nearest Mosh pit!…..
    ‘ang on….looking around my house………I think I live in one!!

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, it looks diabolically dangerous to me, so I reckon nowt to moshing…. And there is nothing moshier than my pit! Hahahahahahaha!

  21. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Janie(JJ-Yorkshire) Ha….I’ll bet my mosh pit is moshier than yours…and you wont cotradict me as you haven’t been commenting for yonks!

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