Banks of Red Roses


Now this is an interesting little insight as Jon says, “This is one of a number of songs that I used as a template when I first started singing – learning each of June Tabor’s ornaments pretty much note for note. I’ve probably strayed a bit from it now but it’s a very good way of assimilating technical tricks of the trade.” This link suggests an Irish oral tradition through the Makem family and Sarah Makem in particular, who according to this at least, was a major font of traditional song. If anyone can add anything here please do. I’ve also seen lyrics for a Scottish version and suspect that the origins are somewhat foggy as I can’t filter a decent Mudcat thread, although this will take you to the lyrics. Again any additional detail you can add will be most welcome. I must confess this one caught me by surprise as I didn’t see the dark deed coming, although hey! This is folk music and I should have guessed. The inferred motive is probably another unwanted pregnancy and as such, I suppose this is simply a warning story to all the young lasses. Although if every such occurrence had followed the folk model, we’d probably have about half the UK population. Those seeking the June Tabor version, by the way, it’s on Aqaba, which is currently awaiting an imminent midprice reissue by Topic.

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:


24 Responses to “Banks of Red Roses”

  1. Kathleen Pickering says:

    There is also great version of this song on Battlefield Band’s Happy Daze Cd, sung by Karine Polwart.

  2. Nick Hallam says:

    More about Banks of Red Rose from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 9 records of Banks of Red Roses in the Library 8 from Celtic sources and one from the USA.

    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. there are 33 records, still predominantly from Scotland, Ireland and the USA, but there is also a version called The German flute collected in Bridgewater.

    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 Archive. This just means that we don’t have digitised versions of the records online (yet).

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.
    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  3. edith lewis says:

    Just been to Cullerlie Singing Weekend and heard a couple of versions of this. This is another great one.

  4. Reinhard says:

    Nick, it’s one less from the VWML entries: The Topic TSCD660 track with Lizzie Higgins was taken from Topic 12T185 Princess of the Thistle.

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    Mysterious stunner, this one! As one commentator said of June Tabor’s version on YouTube ‘how unchristly awesome’! About sums it up!

  6. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Jon Boden… are no gentleman………….at least in the “first link above” version the poor lass got a cup of tea before the dreadful deeed!

    So he took her to his cabin where he treated her to tea
    Saying drink my dearest Mary and come along with me
    Saying drink my dearest Mary and come along with me
    To the bonny bonny banks of Red Roses

  7. Diana says:

    Liked the song but there are so many different versions yet again. Out comes the pocket knife for the umpteenth time and the poor girl lies dead. But why this horrendous crime – he professed to love her!

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Oh, it’ll be the usual ‘sex has reared its ugly head’ again (ref ‘love to sport and play’) so she’d be ‘up the duff’ as one delicately puts it! She didn’t want him to leave; he didn’t want to be tied down, so out comes the pocket knife. Someone must have made a mint out of selling ’em!

  9. Diana says:

    You are right there Jane, there have been so many heinous crimes committed with a pen knife or a pocket knife – probably they are the same thing anyway. But so many poor womem died at the hand of these lotharios – it is about time the worm turned. Only a few men got bumped off in these songs. Mind you he could not have got away with a plea of accidental death as he had already dug her grave. Rotten swine!

  10. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Jane/Diana…………..when I were a lad…a boy scout back in the 50s (1950s),
    we all had sheath knives on our belts as standard kit. Each of these had a 6″ blade at least and even at age 12 we would not think of sticking them into somebody.
    If we had a disagreement it was settled with fists…never thought of the knife……
    and now I find(through AFSAD songs) that in ‘Ye Olde Dayes’,they were part of a chap’s ‘courtin’ kit!’
    I would have been a real ‘Ladies man’ as I also carried a hatchet on my scout belt!

  11. Diana says:

    Muzza would have loved to have seen you as a boy sprout – esecially with a hatchet and a sheath knife – a really ladies’ man then. You would have been great for protection against all these “one track minded” men, with muder in their plans.

  12. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Diana……..FB has granted your wish…(only two left now)

  13. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Diana……….. “one track minded” men, with muder in their plans…or even muuurrrrddder(ala Taggart)…..
    I am watching Olympic ladies play beach volley ball….
    I don’t know why I am watching them or even what plans I would have had I been many years younger……..
    more concerned with trying to remember why I am dribbling.

  14. Diana says:

    @Muzza: Right me deario, where is said picture of boy sprout and why only two wishes left. I am greedy I want as many as I can get.

    Dear me, dribbbling at your age I hope you have got a bib on. Ladies beach volley ball eh? I wonder why you picked that. I like Taggart and his “muder” but why are these chappies always bumbing off these delightful young girls? You would not stoop so low.

    I, on the other hand watched the bike racing where it was a disaster for the GB team and after all the hype that went before. They were counting the medals before the race began – the kiss of death.

  15. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    I’m on somebody else’s computer and am able to make a comment….still can’t from my PC…just to say………I’m still out here and missing you all

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    ‘Allo Muzzy! Is it just here where you can’t make a comment or on FB, for example, as well? I don’t understand it, but am not very techie whizz. Have you tried accessing AFSAD through a different browser, like Google Chrome instead of Internet Explorer? Don’t know if that would make a difference but don’t know what else to suggest, other than System Restore on your pc. It restores your pc to a time when it was working as you want, but this problem has been going on a long time, so you would have to choose a restore point/date a good while back. It does not appear to be an AFSAD problem, as you can comment from elsewhere. Just seen 2 jokey things from you in my inbox. Will email soonest. x

  17. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey) says:

    Has anybody else noted that each song starts playing as soon as you bring up the day…you used to have to wait until you clicked on the little sound bar thingy. Does this mean that Admin Si and techie Ben still lurking around the site!

  18. Peter Walsh says:

    I pointed that out a few days ago Muzza; please scroll back a few songs! It doesn’t ALWAYS autoplay though. Odd! Anway, at least we still get to hear these wonderful songs….

  19. I have never learnt anything from June Tabor ~ as has been said there are a number of sets of words and do like the Sarah Makem one and Pete Coe ~ I do think by and large it is important to seek out the earliest singers and then of course the one you prefer ~ how you sing the song will also be dependent upon the words and story!

  20. Linda says:

    2012 from Diana’s comment to Muzza “a boy sprout” oh the giggles we had

  21. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Hi Lindy Lou…yup she did eventually get to see the pic of me as a boy ‘Sprout’….it would have been nice to meet her……Great fun reading the old exchanges year after year!

  22. Linda says:

    Had to make a comment the fun we had while trying to make some serious comments about the songs miss Diana and them silly days bet you looked a rum brussel sprout….

  23. Old Muzzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Hiya Lindy Lou….you peeked ahead again!
    Strange isn’t it that by keeping the comments going it’s like Dainer is still with us!
    Did I never send you the Boy Sprout pic from 1950…I’ll try and find it!

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