Widow’s Curse


I think Jon hits the nail on the head when he calls this “A truly horrible song – only really useful if you get in to a ‘who can sing the most gruesome song’ contest (it happens). Pete Flood discovered this in a broadside and set it for the Bellowhead version. The tune he wrote is great for Bellowhead but doesn’t work unaccompanied so I’m using Rounding The Horn.”

I’ve never had the ‘pleasure’ of a most gruesome song competition, but having been through a fair degree of murder, death and general misfortune in the course of this project, it’s fair to say the climax of this one takes the biscuit. A warning then to all you fair maidens on the dangers of drink and a all you idle, rich lotharios beware your wanton ways as upsetting the wrong widow can have dire consequences for the tootsies amongst other parts(Oo-er!) To be found on Matachin of course and you can check Mainly Norfolk for the details of that. As a distraction from the festering remains, this Mudcat thread offers an entertaining beginners guide to cursing and I’d have to agree it’s rather a shame its gone out of fashion… I can think of a few I’d lay a hex on!!

You can buy the February digital album now from all good download stores.


22 Responses to “Widow’s Curse”

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

    Not a song that I would treasure, however, having read the ever-educational Mudcat thread, as curses go…… it’s a toss up between Mr Plotnik and being boned by an Aboriginal!

  2. Joe Offer says:

    I found an 1810 version of the song and posted it in a new thread at Mudcat:

    I can’t count the number of verses in this early version. I think it’s about fifty verses, but it’s really hard to count verses when you’re scrolling down a computer screen. Jon’s recording is long enough – the early version has at five times as many verses, at least. Still, the longer version is worth reading at least once. The ballad would make a wonderfully gruesome bedtime story, but the kids would all be fast asleep before Daddy ever got to the really gruesome part…

    -Joe Offer-

  3. Simon Dewsbury says:

    Perhaps Nick Cave has a more gruesome one somewhere in his repertoire, but I doubt it. I hope Jon enjoyed the AFSAD tour as much as the we did.

  4. the_otter says:

    When I first heard Steeleye’s Long Lankin I can remember thinking: ‘This has got to be the most gruesome folk song ever.’

    How wrong I was.

  5. Shelley says:

    Young Bellowhead fans have been known to faint when hearing this one performed live! The first time they did it Jon said we weren’t to listen to the words because it was “horrible”!

  6. mab says:

    I’ve always liked this one, no idea why. Long Lankin’s also a favourite though. There’s nothing like a really gruesome murder sung about in a really cheery way.

  7. Lea says:

    I do think that for sheer gore it’s a tossup between this and Child Owlet, though…

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    I rather like the inventiveness of this song. The imagery is gruesome, but biological nonsense, so more fascinating than just horrible. Woman have been used to ‘the Curse’ for years. The absence of it here the age-old start of the descent into murder and mayhem, though ironically only because the woman was of an age to be ‘cursed’ in the first place. Hence, a little not-so-divine retribution on the licentious male is a scale balancer!

    Loved your singing of it, Jon, and Admin for providing the hilarious Mudcat curse discussion. Yorkshire folk are steeped in curse, of course, from Emily Bronte’s towering literary curse through Heathcliff “… Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living! You said I killed you – haunt me then!” to present day comical Bullsh*t Merchants, who can supply their A4 framed Yorkshire Curse Certificate in several formats (polite, but direct language; crude and direct language, or crude and direct Yorkshire dialect – please state your preference when ordering!)

    The Merchants assure that the curse will certainly grab the attention of the recipient, but they think it’s anatomically impossible and will (almost certainly) have no physical effect on the recipient.

    Enter a land of giants and curses in North Yorks’ Thirsk with the story of The Busby Stoop:


    But I like the Yorkshire dialect Witch’s Curse (1) below:

    Fire coom,
    Fire gan,
    Curlin’ smeak
    Keep oot o’ t’ pan.
    Ther’s a tead(2) i’ t’ fire, a frog on t’ hob,
    Here’s t’ heart frev a crimson ask(3);
    Here’s a teath fra t’ heead
    O’ yan at’s deead,
    At niver gat thruf his task.
    Here’s prick’d i’ blood a maiden’s prayer,
    At t’ ee o’ man maunt(4) see;
    It’s prick’d upon a yet warm mask,(5)
    An’ lapp’d(6) aboot a breet green ask,
    An’ it’s all fer him an’ thee.
    It boils,
    Thoo’ll drink;
    He’ll speak,
    Thoo’ll think:
    It boils,
    Thoo’ll see;
    He’ll speak,
    Thoo’ll dee.

    (1) From R. Blakeborough’s T’ Hunt o’ Yatton Brigg, p. 12; see also the same author’s Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore, and Customs, p. 169. (2) Toad. (3) Newt. (4) May not. (5) Brew. (6) Wrapped.

    And that’s from the county that boasts the last town in England to burn a witch. Old Wife Green was burnt as a witch in the Market Town of Pocklington in 1630. Real life can be more gruesome than this song.

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

    @ Jane..in short…meddle with a Yorkshire girl and her mum at your peril. Simples!

  10. Dave Rogers says:

    Interesting to hear about the Pocklington witch burning. Contrary to popular belief, it was unusual for anyone to be burnt for witchcraft in England – that was reserved for heresy, treason, or sometimes murder, and witchcraft, being a “civil” crime, was punished by hanging.

    Scotland and the rest of Europe did treat witches as heretics though, and quite cheerfully burnt them at the stake!

  11. the_otter says:

    Lea –

    Just looked up the lyrics to Child Owlet on Mudcat. Definitely gives The Widow’s Curse and Long Lankin a run for their money!

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: I would never use the curse wantonly… hahahahaha!

    I agree re: Child Owlet. The songs are always sadder and more truly horrific when the gruesome deeds are born out of malice aforethought against the innocent. As if the gory crime were not bad enough, passion is one thing, cold calculation another. It is the compound (in)human sin that’s the worst of all, likely unpunished, and possibly repeated.

  13. sarah says:

    Blimey, the cat has just fallen off the windowledge listening to this one!

  14. Diana says:

    What a grim tale. Sung a cappella it sounds even more depressing than the Matachin version which had a slightly livelier and different tune and the musical accompaniment makes it easier on the ear.

  15. Muzza (N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    @Jane……’Yorkshire Curse Certificate in several formats (polite, but direct language; crude and direct language, or crude and direct Yorkshire dialect’……..can you post them here for us?
    ALSO……ref my original comment (way above)…
    I realise that some folk haven’t got time to browse the magnificent ‘Mudcat’ eulogy on ‘Curses’ and so the two to which I refer are noted below (Mr Plotnik & the Aboriginal.)

    Mrs. Ginsberg runs into Mrs. Plotnik and as they converse, Mrs. Ginsberg remarks, “That’s a lovely diamond ring. So big.”
    “This,” says Mrs. Plotnik, “is the Plotnik diamond.”
    “The Plotnik diamond?” says Mrs. Ginsberg. ” That sounds romantic. Is there a story behind it?”
    “The diamond,” says Mrs. Plotnik, “comes with a curse.”
    “A curse?” gasps Mrs. Ginsberg, glancing apprehensively about her. “What is the curse?”
    “Mr. Plotnik!”

    In Australia, the traditional tribal Aboriginal method of cursing someone is to point the bone at them, a form of ritual execution by curse.

    A graphic description of the effects on bone pointing is given in Dr. Herbert Basedow’s book “The Australian Aboriginal,” published in 1925:

    A man who discovers that he is being boned by an enemy is, indeed, a pitiable sight. He stands aghast, with his eyes staring at the treacherous pointer, and with his hands lifted as though to ward off the lethal medium, which he imagines is pouring into his body. His cheeks blanch and his eyes become glassy, and the expression on his face becomes horribly distorted…He attempts to shriek, but usually the sound chokes in his throat, and all one might see is froth at his mouth. His body begins to tremble and the muscles twist involuntarily. He sways backwards and falls to the ground, and for a short time appears to be in a swoon; but soon after he begins to writhe as if in mortal agony, and covering his face with his hands, begin [sic] to moan. After a while he becomes more composed and crawls to his wurley (hut). From this time onwards he sickens and frets, refusing to eat, and keeping aloof from the daily affairs of the tribe. Unless help is forthcoming in the shape of a counter-charm, administered by the hands of the “Nangarri,” or medicine-man, his death is only a matter of a comparatively short time. If the coming of the medicine-man is opportune, he might be saved.

  16. Diana says:

    Oh Muzza a joke and then the grim tale which follows. Almost depressing as today’s song.

  17. Linda says:

    Listen to todays song then went onto Mainly Folk watched the youtube video then got distracted by some of the Bellowhead new year / disco songs , back here found Muzza’s joke . the Widow’s Curse while very sad led to a rather amusing half hour. You never know where things are going to lead you.

  18. Diana says:

    Not one of my favorites I am afraid.

  19. Little old Muzza(N.W surrey.UK) says:

    Diana………your American spell check needs switchin’ to Brit mode….See..I’m still picky after all these years

  20. Little old Muzza(N.W surrey.UK) says:


  21. OldMuzza(NWSurrey Uk) says:

    Ha……good to be reminded of Mr Plotnik and the Aborigional curse!

  22. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK)) says:

    Just in case…may I say that I think all Yorkshire ladies are wonderful and that goes for Aboriginal fellas as well ………phew..that should do it!

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