Unfortunate Lass


Jon says, “Another one taught to me by Eliza Carthy for the Rough Music album. The choice of verses is by Eliza, as is choice of tune (there are hundreds of versions of this song).” A fair comment and Mainly Norfolk has further thoughts on the matter from Bert Lloyd and some links to follow through to other songs with a similar theme. It’s one of those that doesn’t quite make sense in retaining what seems like a ceremonial funeral procession with it’s military overtones, but is a sad tale none the less. Unsurprisingly Jon follows Eliza’s version that by her own admission is a hybrid of several different strands and songs from different traditions. I guess that’s the folk process in action.


13 Responses to “Unfortunate Lass”

  1. John says:

    A lovely version of this song and a great way to start the day…..despite the sadness of the tale. I must now listen again to the ‘Rough Music’ version and also to Norma Waterson on ‘Mighty River of Song’. This project has continually encouraged me to go back and listen again to songs on other CDs that I hadn’t listened to for a while, so many thanks for that.

  2. muzza says:

    I enjoyed this…peaceful to listen to despite the sad, std story. Perhaps a freudian slip as the lady is now blonde?…and she shouldn’t be salivating all over the place as the ‘mercury pills’ verse is omitted in Jon’s version….mind you, some ales can do that to you.

  3. Dave Eyre says:

    This is clearly a reference to yesterday’s news of the forthcoming toffbinding. Well done to JB for prescience.

  4. John Bryson says:

    Not the most cheerful of tales, but a lovely song – always a pleasure listening to Jon

  5. Phil says:

    Bravo! Just beautiful – I love the “front-room harmonium” quality of the accompaniment. Streets of Laredo, Pills of White Mercury, When I Was on Horseback, St James Infirmary Blues – you could do an entire album just from this family of songs (and somebody probably has done).

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    “A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury” (which sounds dreadful! See below!)

    “Mercury, ‘a medicine which has become celebrated in the history of syphilis’, was the treatment of choice from the late 15th century into the early 20th century.

    The three main methods of application were fumigation, in which the unfortunate sufferer was placed in a tent in an overheated room and cinnabar (mercury oxide) burnt on a stove and breathed in until he (or she) could take no more; inunction or rubbing into the skin of mercury or a mercurial compound; and ingestion of the metal in pill or liquid form, which became increasingly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Painful and debilitating, the mercury ‘cure’ was often accused of being worse than the disease. Large doses of mercury can cause acute and occasionally fatal poisoning, and even smaller amounts of the metal, if absorbed over a long period, can cause chronic poisoning, with symptoms such as salivation, inflammation and ulceration of the mouth and throat, erethrism (a condition of nervousness, irritability, change of temperament and fits of temper), tremor, fatigue, weight loss, gastrointestinal disturbances and kidney problems.

    Just how effective the remedy was is still a matter of debate. Mercury is spirilocidal, and may have occasionally been able to destroy the bacteria in lesions, and due to its anti-mitotic and anti-inflammatory properties may have been able to clear up the ulcers and sores which were the most obvious signs of syphilis, as many writers proclaimed. However, the natural spontaneous disappearance of syphilitic lesions may have confused early doctors.”

    From “Kill or cure? The osteological evidence of the mercury treatment of syphilis in 17th to 19th-century London” by Fiona Tucker:

  7. Lea says:

    Phil: There is, in fact, such an album! It’s a Smithsonian Folkways release: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=2229

  8. Phil says:

    Wow. And that doesn’t include several of the possible candidates!

  9. […] of the plodding grimness of the St James Infirmary Blues, but essentially this arrangement is after Jon’s. Share this:ShareEmailTwitterRedditFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  10. Phil says:

    Again, many thanks for this, Jon – it’s not as if I didn’t know this song (in one form or other), but this rendition really brought it to life for me. One of the more popular songs on 52fs was the ultimate result: The Unfortunate Lass.

  11. Diana says:

    A really sad song but a lovely one just the same. The right amount of pathos in the voice too.

  12. Linda says:

    @Diana see you around the bar tomorrow .Would like to meet before the show if that is possible?

  13. Diana says:

    Linda not sure that is possible before the show. Rather pushed for time have to pick up my son first Meetin the bar at the interval should be fine. Looking forward to meeting you and Colin.

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