Jon says, “I heard this first round a campfire on FSC sung beautifully by Meg. I later heard a version on the Fellside Anne Briggs compilation – this is a conflation of the two versions I think.”

Anne’s A Collection CD is still available via Topic in a slightly expanded form. The notes from Bert Lloyd are interesting on this and you can read those at Mainly Norfolk. This Mudcat thread picks up the idea of it being a shanty. Whilst I can’t say categorically that it’s Anne’s version being discussed the suggestion of a slow tempo shanty being quite serviceable is interesting. It does however seems a little mournful and I also think Bert’s idea of a surviving ballad fragment is possible, but having also read he was prone to putting his own spin on things, I wonder. As a ballad it surely belongs in the night visiting group.
You can buy the January digital album now from all good download stores.


29 Responses to “Lowlands”

  1. the_otter says:

    Always pleased to hear this song.

    I’ve never been able to imagine sailors singing it, however. At least, not as a shanty. Maybe when they’re drunk and melancholy in harbour somewhere.

    Waulking songs often have lost love as a topic, but I can’t think of any shanties that do.

  2. Neil says:

    There’s a brilliant version of this voiced by June Tabor on the Oysterband’s ‘Big Session Vol I’ album.

    And a somewhat less successful version on the Show Of Hands album ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’..

  3. Johno says:

    Great stuff! One of my favourite songs and always sung fantastically by a good mate of mine (Boot!). A great refrain for those rousing harmonies and always a good one for sessions.

    Another great rendition from Mr B and fine concertina playing too……must dust off that Maccann Duet and concentrate on Mr Gaskin’s fine chord book…..

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

    Lovely song and rendition…….eyes closed..head slowly nodding in time..soothing.

  5. Shelley says:

    I agree with the otter here – it doesn’t have the raucous qualities of a shanty. It’s a great one for harmonising though, and so easy to pick up even if you haven’t heard it before.

    Beautifully done (as ever) Jon.

  6. Sue says:

    I have a version collected by W B Whall in Sea songs and Shanties. He calls it a Windlass shanty, a favourite for pumping and says it is American origin from the cotton ports.

    Lowlands lowlands away, my John, my old mother she wrote to me, my half dollar a day.
    She wrote to me to come home from sea, Lowlands, lowlands away, my John, she wrote to me to come home from sea. My dollar and a half a day

    A dollar a day is a hoosiers pay, Lowlands lowlands away, my John
    Yes a dollar a day is a hoosiers pay, my dollar and a half a day

    O was you ever in Mobile Bay
    A screwing coton by the day !

    These he says are the regulation verses.

  7. Nick Passmore says:


  8. Julia says:

    Fabulous – this is the current Turner prize winner if I remember rightly..Beats the light going on and off in a room any day..

  9. Maggie says:

    Yes, it is the current Turner prize winner – which is how I first heard this song. I was rather hoping Jon would include it here. The Turner prize exhibition has now finished – so you’ve missed it if you haven’t been! I loved hearing this song at the Tate and enjoy this version also. Many thanks Jon,

  10. Phil says:

    If you hear this done with a big chorus – as on Shirley Collins’s version, which was where I first heard it – it’s a bit easier to picture it as a shanty. I quite like the idea of a shantyman singing a song about a sailor being lost at sea and his girlfriend taking a vow of celibacy – it’s another way of singing about the perils & hardships of life at sea, which was always a favourie subject.

  11. Mark says:

    Great job, Jon. I love Rufus Wainwright’s version of this on the Rogue’s Gallery CD too.

    I had no idea a folk song had won the Turner prize! Will have to investigate…

  12. Mark says:

    I’m sure I’ve missed the boat a bit, but if anyone’s interested here’s a video about Susan Phillipsz’ installations:


    I was pretty cynical at first but there is something indefinably beautiful about it. I like the idea of soundtracking a place, and folk songs are of course ideal. Interesting themes like haunting come through as well. Good stuff!

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    Knew this from Show of Hands & a friend has just copied me Rogues Gallery (there’s a very naughty song on there, I believe!) but thanks also for all the other versions signposted here, as well as the link above, Mark. Missed the boat? Are you having a giraffe? Hahahaha!

    Beautifully sung, Jon, and I can imagine it being sung in both a lull and full- swing shanty style, according to the time of day or job required.

  14. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    Ref my comment from 2011…………
    I have been asleep on the sofa since 7pm(nothing unusual). woke2:30am..
    Checked AFSAD while electric blanket warms bed……eyes closed…head nodding……fell asleep again till now..aarrgghh(I said it was soothing!)

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    An absolute favourite of mine, appealing in a lull-aby way.

    @ Rip Van Muzzal: That’s quite some sleep… since 2011… hahahahahaha! I am going to post something to wake you up, after I’ve finally been to bed and had some kip missen! I have been to a gig at Halifax Square Chapel tonight that got elongaTed due to my friend’s car refusing to start when we got back. 2½ hour wait for the only RAC man covering West Yorkshire tonight, so I am even more of a night OWL than usual! Anyway, the band are called The Old Tire Swingers (that’s ‘tire’ not ‘tired’, Muzza!) and you will enjoy them as very jolly! Here’s a little ‘Something’ to be going along with:

  16. Diana says:

    What a beautiful sad song and Jon did it justice.

    @ Jane: Didn’t realise you had had the Toshiba for that long – thought it was a replacement for your p.c. which wasn’t functioning as well as it should. Re: bills there is no way to avoid them – they just keep coming. But I can imagine your vet bills with 12 cats. If you do find a workhouse these days I don’t suppose they would let you take your pets with you so advise you to stay away from such a place.

    @ Muzza – sleep will do you the world of good and help you recover from whatever ailed you.

  17. Peter Walsh says:

    Oh dear Ted! You must have got frozen. This sudden cold snap is taking its toll on the cars; should’ve used Ted’s reliable Renault instead of Janine’s!

    Love Jon’s version of Lowlands, but my most played one is by Show of Hands – I’m just addicted to Beer (the Phil variety of course!!!).

  18. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Every time I hear this beautiful song, it haunts me for days afterwards.
    I see a small group of sailors huddled in a corner of the ship, resting, or repairing a sail or piece of rigging. Behind them the sun is setting and they are thinking of home far away. Very quietly one of them starts to sing this song and the others join him in the refrain. Ah, the imagination runs away with me sometimes!
    Thank you Jon, your version does it for me.

  19. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    Lordy, Lordy Jane……….followed your link…….yup…sure shakes the old bones but I wish that it had been audio only………there be dragons in them beards and the stretched earlobes and green fingernails finished me off!…..I’m gonna join John B’s sailors in the tight huddle and sing while watching the sun go down.

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    The Old Tire Swingers are a Fresno band comprising Paul Chesterton – banjo, vocals; Nick Kennedy – guitar, vocals; Nathanael Felon – mandolin, vocals; & Frick Dau – upright bass. (Frick has no beard at the moment!) Influenced by the Appalachian string bands as well as their own Central California country roots, they play a style that’s somewhere between old time, bluegrass, and country. They are 4 grand lads who have given up everything to follow their dream to play music on the road and across the ocean for a roughly 20-date tour here. More samples of their songs (new original and old-time), dates and venues of their tour in this country (for anyone near enough to go) can be found at this FaceBook link. Hope it works:


    Paul’s informative chat inbetween the songs is every bit as interesting and authentic as their music, now available on their first CD.

    PS Muzza: You’ve got a beard and dress up as a Morris man! Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? Hahahahaha!

  21. Maggie says:

    loved hearing this again – many thanks Jon. This is definitely mournful enough for me!

    Jane as the old song goes ‘where, where did you get that hat, where did you get that hat?’ 🙂


  22. Tedd O'Ramsden says:

    @ Maggie: It is supposed to be a cardinal’s hat, given me by a friend last Christmas on a wild night out. Actually, she got me a headband with large rabbit ears attached, but I insisted on a swap for the cardinal’s hat, less on the grounds of looking ridiculous than the biting cold! Methinks is time to change the pic for another one, but Muzza misses the hat when I do!

  23. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    @Tedd…………………headband with rabbit ears……………phwoah!

  24. Tedd O'Ramsden says:


  25. Phil says:

    Meanwhile back at the song…

    Here’s me with overdubbed harmonies; mournful enough for anyone, I think.

    Lowlands (52 Folk Songs)

  26. Muzza+440days (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Tedd…..forget the red hat………I’m ready for the ears now!
    @Phil.excellent version, Harmonies great with all your brothers in the garage..
    you were so laid back, I even heard you doing a bit of woodwork and light dusting as you sang.

  27. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    still waiting for those rabbit ears Janey!

  28. Barbara says:

    Very sad that I can no longer play these on my iPhone 🙁

  29. Linda says:


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