Willy’s Lady


Jon says, ”I heard this first from Australian duo Cloudstreet, who I’m excited to see have now launched an Australian folk song a day. I think I’m right in saying that Martin Carthy pretty much wrote this, presumably based on a folk tale. I’m not sure though.”

Martin Carthy doesn’t take the credit for this and his notes at Mainly Norfolk give that to Ray Fisher for marrying Child Ballad #6 with a Breton tune. You may want to research Ray more and should start here. She looks to be an important figure in the revival and Martin Carthy obviously thought highly enough of Ray to seek her permission before following her lead. It’s the wicked mother involved here and some heavy cursing afflicting the unfavoured bride of her son. The Billy Blind character is interesting too, possibly a throwback to Odin he makes regular appearances under various names in song and folklore. This tale too is found around Europe, particularly Scandinavia, but has elements of the birth of Hercules (or should that be Heracles) from Greek mythology involved. High-brow stuff this, you know! As for the Australian Folk Song A Day, it’s John Thompson of Cloudstreet fame behind it and you can link here.


29 Responses to “Willy’s Lady”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    Wonderful and weird! I really like the words, story, tune and delivery – no pun intended! Well sung, Jon. A definite contender for song of the month.

    Thanks for the informative links too, Admin. Not sure I’ve got the energy for the whole of Australian AFSAD, but I’ll give it a go!

  2. the_otter says:

    Love the song. Good choice for AFSaD.

    I’m probably wrong, but isn’t there a Swedish version of this? Balladen om den Fortroellade. Frifot do a good version.

  3. Shelley says:

    Wow, that’s a hefty sing, and what an unusual tune. Really enjoyed that!

  4. Susan Churchman says:

    Emily Portman of Rubus sings this song on their 2008 album “Nine Witch Knots”.

  5. Nick Passmore says:

    The tune is a Breton tune called “Son ar Chiste” (The Song of Cider), written by a a piper in 1930, and. according to the sleeve notes of “Crown of Horn” by Martin Carthy, it was Ray Fisher who first married the words to the tune. John in his version returns to the low tonic note at the end of each phrase, whereas the original tune unds on the dominant note. (No harm in that, of course…)

  6. Jane Mickelborough says:

    the tune is very well known here in brittany – we play it sometimes at sessions, but I haven’t attempted to sing the song!

  7. Shelley says:

    A Facebook contact has sent me this – Martin Carthy singing it at Watford Folk Club last year, with an explanation of the story.

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

    @Shelley..thanks for the link…Martin C’s is a good version……..I wonder what he’ll do when somebody invents a guitar that DOESN’T NEED CONSTANT RE-TUNING!!

  9. Phil says:

    That was just magnificent.

  10. David says:

    There seems to be kind of a german version of this tune. It’s mostly sung during carnival (which is happening just now) and roughly translates to “What should we drink?”


    Being familiar with that song before getting to know “Willie’s Lady” actually made this one a lot of fun to listen to!

  11. Cherry says:

    Rather a creepy little song that

  12. The trio Triantan, of which I am a part, based in Australia also have a recording of this song on their self titled cd. We were happy to share our arrangement, based on the Martin Carthy version with Cloudstreet some years ago and are well pleased that they have in turn done a wonderful job in making the song their own and sharing it with so many. Judy often relates the story of being at The National Folk Festival, in Canberra, Australia the year Martin Carthy was performing and asking if it would be ok to perform Willie’s Lady if he was not including it in his set. He was more than generous in his reply and it has become a firm favourite of ours ever since. It really does seem to have a life of it’s own and never fails to mesmerise an audience.

  13. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    Let’s hear it for good old Blind Willie……….HUZZAH!
    constipation is bad enough…but constant pregnancy…phew!

  14. Diana says:

    Strange – can’t say I like it.

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, I can see where you’re coming from, Diana! It’s the peculiar concept story that gives it interest for me – the witchcraft coupled with the never-ending pregnancy. Mind, in t’olden days, with end on pregnancies, it must have felt like that for some women. This curse would happily have been substituted by the other one!

    To put a positive spin on it, the cruel mother is not the baby’s mother, but the mother-in-law (though it’s her own son’s child she’s also punishing). Good triumphs over evil and the baby is delivered safely. Not the usual ‘Cruel Mother’ story we have had on here earlier. Kerfuffle do a haunting version of this – ‘Down By The Greenwood Side’ – sung here at Otley’s Black Sheep Folk Festival 2008. I have it on their excellent CD from the same year called ‘To The Ground.’

  16. Reinhard says:

    And Kerfuffle’s own Hannah James with her current outfit Lady Maisery does a brilliant version of Willie’s Lady. You can find this on Youtube too.

  17. Diana says:

    Jane I got the gist of the tale but it did not like it. I think I have disliked a few songs which I can count on one hand, but it would not do for us all to be of the same opinion or it would be boring. Trust I have not said anything I should’t?

  18. Linda says:

    Can anybody tell me if Jon /Bellowhead/Spiers n Boden have song Edward/Son of David. I have heard Steeleye Span do this and am convinced I have heard it somewhere else but cannot seem to find it on any of the CDs.?

  19. Reinhard says:

    Linda, I know of Nic Jones, the Demon Barbers, Rubus, and most recently June Tabor and the Oysterband doing Edward / My Son David, but I don’t remember a recording by Jon in any of his incarnations.

    @Diana: Just as you said. I’m sure tomorrow or the day after will offer a song you really, really like.

  20. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    @Reynard…………….” will offer a song you really, really like.”………
    Stop teasing Reinhard……….don’t tell me that ‘the Spice girls sing folk!’

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

    Just listened again…more of a story than something that needs to be set to music….made me breathless as the story bowled along……
    just looked at a photo of my son……he’s grown up now but he has always had a glassy eyed look, shiny skin and his mother was always shouting at him to keep away from the hot stove……..and my mother-in law-hated me…it all adds up! aaaarrgghhh!

  22. Diana says:

    Muzza you do write the oddest things.

    Didn’t care for the song so nothing has changed since last year.

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

    Cor Blimey guvnor………….was this story worth telling…it don’t ‘arf go on…and on …and on……………..
    I can image standing up at a folk club and announcing…’I WILL NOW SING ‘willy’s lady’
    I suspect that one would be in fear of one’s life to get caught up in the rush to the bar!

  24. Diana says:

    Third year and no change where this song is concerned I do not care for it at all. Still it wpuld not do for us all to have the same opinion.

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    Yup, not up there with my favourites either, but well-tackled by Jon as always.

  26. Jane Ramsden says:

    PS Diana: Musical package going in post for thee today. returning kind loan of Primeval New World dinosaurs! Do we know how to live or what?!! Lol.

  27. Diana says:

    Yep we certainly do – high on the hog is the expression that comes to mind and goes just as quickly. Thanks Jane in advance.
    As for the song my opinion remains unchanged.

  28. oldMuzza (NWSurrey UK) says:

    In these confusing transgender days….I suspect another song could be in the offing by transposing the song’s title.

  29. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Well….I though my 2020 remark was funny…..just me then!
    (transpose means- change the order of the words round….just testing)

Your Reply

Warning: Undefined variable $user_ID in /customers/a/0/f/afolksongaday.com/httpd.www/wp-content/themes/comment-central/comments.php on line 121