Captain Wedderburn


Jon rightly claims,” I’m really proud of the Bellowhead version of this strange little riddle song. I wonder whether ‘worse than a woman’s voice’ may be a mondegreen (woman’s scorn maybe?), but it makes me chuckle so I’ve left it.. this one is learnt from Tim and Maddy’s lovely version.”

Another Child ballad (#46), which Wiki has dating back to at least 1785. But the interesting part of this is the riddle element, which Bellowhead have somewhat abridged, doubtless to keep their excellent arrangement within a sensible time frame. It seems these basic riddles are very old indeed. Greek mythology, Norse legend and even The Bible all use riddles in some form. The questions asked here easily date back to songs from the C15th if not before and have been brought into this courtship song. They also appear in the very first of the Child ballads known as Riddles Wisely Expounded and in the second Child ballad, The Elfin Knight, the riddles are replaced with impossible tasks.  It’s worth persevering with this Mudcat thread as it doesn’t get off to the most promising start, but gradually develops to expand on what I’ve said above and much more. Mainly Norfolk covers Ewan Maccoll as well as Tim & Maddy and Bellowhead.

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


25 Responses to “Captain Wedderburn”

  1. the_otter says:

    I like my ballads a bit more pacey (one reason I love Tim Hart and Maddy Prior’s version with the driving guitar), but nicely sung for all that.

    When I first heard CWC, I had a reverse mondegreen moment – I thought I heard Maddy sing ‘The cock was the first bird that did crow and the Jew did first down fall’. I can remember being rather surprised that she’d left that part in! Was happy to discover I had misheard ‘dew’.

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    Beautifully sung, Jon!

    And my father used to sing a song to me very like this when putting me to bed as a child. It had some of the same riddles, but perhaps not the lady lying in the bed against the wall! Hahahaha!

    I liked the pace of the song, as then you hear all the words of the story. This could be a contender for my this month’s vote along with Grey Funnel Line, but then again, yesterday’s song was good too… decisions, decisions…

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

    The fair maid’s option seems to be between “a rock and a hard place!”(snarf, snarf). Ref Mainly Norfolk-In Ewan MacColl’s version “verse 5..”He held her by the middle jimp”…is there no end to this dastardly captain’s perversions!

  4. Shelley says:

    And so you should be proud of Bellowhead’s version of this Jon – it’s quite magical and this stripped down version is great too.

    (Just listened to Maddy and Tim’s for a compare and contrast exercise.)

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Now you’ve got me wondering what Ewan MacColl’s version meant by ‘jimp’ which generally means neat, slender or even scantily clad! Given the context, he might have helped her from his horse by holding her at her slender waist lest she fell. ‘Jimp’ is also sometimes an alternative spelling of ‘gimp,’ one meaning of which is a narrow flat braid or rounded cord of fabric used for trimming,’ so maybe a cord around the waist of her dress. Think French ‘guipure.’

    Interestingly, the word is used today and can be found in the Urban Dictionary to mean a hypothetical orgasmic experience, as in the thrill of sthg other than sex with a comparable high. ‘Jimp’ is often an alternative or mis-spelling of ‘jump,’ which has dual connotations. All-in-all, a nicely suggestive song then and now!

    I have the Maddy & Tim version as well as Bellowhead’s so should also do a compare & contrast exercise.

    @ Skyman: I have finished Longitude! How dastardly was that Nevil Maskelyne! And a Reverend to boot! I was pleased major recognition was more or less bestowed on Harrision in his lifetime, but sorry that the likes of Maskelyne may have contributed to many problematical sea voyages (through the vanity of his 1-track ideas re: lunars) when they could have been easier, and even lives saved, by a combined approach.

    On the plus side, I now understand why clocks gain and lose time and what a gridiron and a bilateral metallic strip are! In addition, I realised my father was in the school of the inventive, highly-skilled and versatile tradesmen who could make such things. Plumber by trade; carpenter, joiner, and master woodturner by diversification, and highly inventive into the bargain! Also (not mentioned in the audiobook) is the possibility that there was a sixth Harrison clock (H6). Now that would be a valuable find!

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

    @Jane………awwwwh…I was going to read Longitude and now you have given the plot away!……What’s the next one on the “Book Club” list?…
    incidently..”Gimp” has rather more sinister connotations Dahn Sarf!

  7. Mark says:

    Really good, and one of my favourite Bellowhead songs. It’s very sinister on Hedonism, intriguing and I love Rachael’s harmonies. The song says they’re happy, but for me it twins with Broomfield Hill as slightly creepy… All makes for great listening though!

    I suspect ‘voice’ is a mondegreen, I’m sure I have heard (or more probably read) that it’s a woman’s curse which is referred to. I like the variation though.

  8. Sarah says:

    Yes, I’ve heard (or read) “curse” as well as “wish” and “vice”. I think I like “curse” best!

    I agree it’s an intriguing song – the title Earl of Rosslyn was created in 1801 for Alexander Wedderburn, but he didn’t have a daughter (or a son, so the title was inherited by his nephew in 1805). Also, had there been a daughter, she would have had the same surname as the Captain………
    As the Child ballad dates earlier, I think the lady in question could be the 19th Baron of Rosslyn’s daughter, who married Peter Wedderburn and was the mother of the first Earl. But I could be completely wrong!

    Capt. W. by Bellowhead live at the Junction in Cambridge last November – fabulous.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: How can I have been a spoiler for Longitude? John Harrison’s part of history! We already know ‘his story.’ Hahahahaha! I’m sure you will still get a lot out of the written book, Muzza, even more than my audio version.

    My reading list has more gory stuff on it like forensic serial killer crimes by Karin Slaughter. More up your street might be Tom Knox and Tom Harper. I am about to start The Lazarus Vault by the latter. These are Da Vinci Code style novels with very well researched & accurate historical backgrounds. Can be checked out on their web sites.

    What’s a ‘gimp’ dahn sarf? Do I want you to answer that question? Hereabouts, it means a limp, or a person with a limp. Not a limp anything… just a limp….

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

    @Jane……..Oh mistress of t’internet…add “mask” and look it up yourself. I do not wish to go there. Ref my reading..I’m a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn man me sel’.
    With your reading list I can see why these Grim songs” go well with you!

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: I am not that kind of mistress! I do not want to go there either! Those sorts of masks scare me! (I have never heard that expression before… I do not get out much…)

    How many times can a person read Huck Finn? I don’t think there will be a sequel now. Hahahahaha!

  12. Joe Offer says:

    There aren’t many Child ballads with a happy ending – this is one. Jon’s recording sounds so solemn at first, but it nicely brings out the humor (and joy) of this song.
    The first message links to this Mudcat thread: about “I Gave My Love a Cherry.” You might want to try this link:
    It will lead to other threads with a more comprehensive discussion of the song.
    The coverage at Mudcat leaves something to be desired. We’ve done better on other songs.
    -Joe Offer-

  13. Harriet Connides says:

    Just beautiful! Sinister and evocative – my current favourite from your album full of wonderful things!

  14. Diana says:

    A clever song. Bellowhead’s version I really like but must admit that Jon’s version is excellent.

    There was reams of stuff to print off, thanks to Reynard – 5 pages today.

  15. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    I suspect there is an even racier song out there called “Captain Carpetburnn”

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    Piling on the humour again, I see, Muzza… hahahahahaha!

    Did you ever get to read ‘Longitude?’ Diana says there is a 4-part dvd of the same. Reading list this year has some new inclusions as well as the usual forensic thrillers. I’ve read nearly all of the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum bounty hunter books (Girly fun! The first, ‘One For The Money,’ has just been released in film form and is in cinemas now.) But I’m also reading ‘The idiot’s Guide To Irish History And Culture,’ as part of my more serious ‘edukashun.’

    I just love this song. And beautifully sung, Jon.

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

    Isn’t it strange how there is such interest in dissecting a folk song and searching for hidden meanings. I would be content in knowing a bit about the author/composer and the date it was written….if I don’t understand what it’s all about….he/she has failed and it would, therefore, have to have a stunning tune to survive the ravages of time.

  18. Diana says:

    A great song, like both Jon’s and Bellowhead version. I wasn’t sure about this the first time I heard it but it does grow on one.

  19. Old Muzza(N.W surrey.UK) says:

    Cor Blimey Guvnor……….first she wants supper of Blossom/egg and a bit of dove stirred in……and then she asks a load of questions……my ardour would have cooled off long before she gave me the answers!…… that time I think I would have preferred a night with a nice stony wall to cuddle up to………an experience,incidentally, that comes to us all after 50 years of marriage!

  20. Diana says:

    Yes a great ballad and well sung as usual.

  21. Diana says:

    Yes a great ballad and well sung as usual. I was told it had been dupliaated but I don’t even see it up once so try the submit button yeat again.

  22. Alex says:

    I have a version of the song with “women’s chide”, if that helps!

  23. oldMuzza (NWSurrey UK) says:

    Still enjoying the daily (if ancient) comments…..and I hope to continue…if the Corona virus doesn’t get me….just heard that they are giving younger folk treatment priority and we old folkies can go sing!…… let me see…how does Fiddlers green go again.

  24. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Drat…..the Covid vaccine station gave me a first Pfizer Viagra shot by mistake….they said it would stop me rolling out of bed and thereby taking up a hospital bed! Who would have thought that this virus would hang on so long!

  25. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Well…it’s 2023 and the majority of UK folk seem to think that the Covid scare is over and lots of us have survived.( I still wear a mask in shops and enclosed places!)
    I enjoy hearing these songs again and seeing old friend’s comments.
    Sooooo tempted to put in a DELIBERATE spelling mistake in the hope that Our Dainer woukd respond!

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