The Outlandish Knight


Jon acknowledges this as “A very ancient story by all accounts. I think my favourite line is ‘in at her window the knight come a jumping’ ! A great tune by Carthy.”

Martin that is of course. It has several different titles, but the basic plotline is common across Europe and beyond, which at least gives the impression of something properly engrained in folklore and properly very old indeed. It’s in the Child collection as Ballad #4 and was also collected by Vaughan Williams. There are numerous recorded versions of this as you’d expect and Mainly Norfolk covers a fair few of them with sleeve notes and transcriptions. A.L. Lloyd point out that Outlandish in this case means ‘of the outlands’, or wilds, for which you can read Scotland in the British example. Quite why he’s so murderously inclined isn’t explained, but suggests a malevolent spirit or demon, although he could simply be a take-the-money-and-run-serial-killer. Whichever, he is outsmarted here and a good job it is too. I’ll also note that the parrot seems to be an oddity in Britain, although we are somewhat beset by them these days whether they are feral or genuinely migratory (I’ve seen plausible suggestions for both), this still seems a touch exotic. If anyone has a working knowledge of Asian myth you might be able to put Polly in her place. Jon clearly likes this having recorded it in both Spiers & Boden and Bellowhead modes. I’m glad to say that it survives well without the instrumental support of either and is another of the epics that has a strong enough story to carry it through regardless. Marvellous stuff, but remember ladies, be careful what you wish for!!



31 Responses to “The Outlandish Knight”

  1. This is a huge favourite of mine in both the Bellowhead and Spiers & Boden incarnations so I’m delighted to hear it here. Fantastic lyrics that tell a cracking story, and for that reason I agree that it works well with no instrumental back-up.

    I am convinced that the these lyrics, or something very similar, appeared in a book of poetry I had as a child, along with various other ballads full of death and peril. I can even picture an illustration of the girl holding her finger to her lips as she creeps past the parrot. All splendid stuff and so full of sinister intrigue.

    I rather assumed that the parrot had been imported by some merchant or other as an expensive rarity for a rich household. All sorts of exotic animals used to be brought back to Britain by ship as luxury gifts and status symbols (and presumably had a miserable time of it) so I had always put the parrot in that category.

  2. Simon says:

    Right I’m back having just seen Bellowhead in Bristol (the Folk Festival – a good weekend) and Bournemouth (the DVD shoot.) It was brilliant, but I now have next to no time to get several days worth of posts written as I’m off for a few more days for an overdue visit to the folks, amongst other things. I’ll try and catch up with all of your comments, but the most pressing thing is that discussions about the next phase of AFSAD are ongoing and various options are being considered. It’s likely that there’ll be some sort of climax to the first year, which I’ll let you know about. I will post properly to let you know what has been decided about the future as soon as I know. Thanks to all who’ve been posting with questions and additions to the stories (especially Jane R.) I’ll try and go back and answer some other points that have come up, but had better crack on with the days to come.

  3. Shelley says:

    Love this song, such a brilliant story too. It was a real treat to hear Bellowhead perform this in York last week. As soon as the intro started my friend Clare and I looked and each other and said “Ooooh!”

  4. i read somewhere that ‘the Outlands’ were the bits of the English/Scottish borders that no-one was sure which country they were in any more (being as the border moved around a fair bit).

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    An excellent song, with hints of Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci.’

    I don’t know why the Outlandish Knight is so murderous except, if he is deemed to be from the outlands and these are the wilds of Scotland, maybe there is some notion of ‘beyond The Pale.’ Usually referring to a demarcation line in Ireland while under English dominion, “beyond the pale” of any settlement came to suggest unacceptable, uncivilised or even barbaric behaviour:

    I’m more in favour of the Elf-Knight idea though, with similarities to Goethe’s Erlkoenig, the story of which can be found at this Wiki link, and which even mentions a folk song called the Elf King’s Daughter:

    I can’t find much about the parrot so far, other than a suggestion that it could even represent the lady herself – perhaps a version of her who never went away from home, as if the one that did was in a (k)nightmare? – with the knight as the threatening ‘cat’. The King’s only response to danger is to suggest an even prettier gilded cage, rather than to get rid of the danger of the knight!

    But this exchange from Mud-e-Ceilidh made me laugh:

    Thanks for the kind words, Skyman.

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    The Elf King’s daughter appears in Steeleye Span’s ‘Dance With Me’:

  7. Jane Ramsden says:

    Do look at The Smoked Herring Song referred to in the Mud-e-Ceilidh link. I know it’s ‘aving a giraffe’ but someone knows sthg about folk songs to write it! LMAO!

  8. Jan says:

    I did, Jane, and I’m still chortling!

    If you enjoy send-ups, try Sid Kipper’s Polly on the Floor – sorry I can’t provide a link, though.

    Simon, I’m waiting with bated breath for news of further devlopments on the AFSAD front – don’t think I could live without it now!

    And Jon, another fine song well sung.

  9. Jan says:

    Try this:-

    although it’ll be a miracle if I’ve typed it properly.

  10. Kathy says:

    I first ran across a version of this as a kid, probably in the ’70s, in my parents’ big book of American folks ongs collected by Alan Lomax. I remember it had a parrot it it, too, and I think (but, after 40 years, I can’t be sure) it was called “Pretty Polly” after the female protagonist. I AM sure the main reason I remember it is less because of the parrot and the gruesome nature of the story and more because it was one of the few songs in the book that was illustrated, in this case by a pen-and-ink drawing of Pretty Polly wrestling with the murderer on the edge of a sea cliff, bodice completely ripped open and her naked pneumatic bosom fully exposed!

    As a child, it left me with two odd questions: 1. Why did Lomax categorize it as a “New England” song when all the other good murder ballads came from Appalachia? and 2. Who cares about a bunch of sodden dress fabric when murder is in play? It also left me with the impression that the bad guy was a larcenous serial killer and not any kind of supernatural being.

  11. Anthea Rutherford says:

    Judy Collins recorded a version of Pretty Polly on Who Knows Where the Time Goes back in…erm, 1967. Guess that thoroughly dates me. 😉 Her version hasn’t any parrot, though – Polly is the victim, and Willie her opportunist murderer. In this scenario she goes on her knees to beg for her life, but he stabs her to death anyway, ‘leaving nobody there but the wild birds to mourn’.

  12. Reinhard says:

    Speaking of Who Knows Where the Time Goes, Sandy Denny sang Pretty Polly back in…erm, 1967 on the album Sandy and Johnny.

  13. Dave Eyre says:

    As is the way sometimes I have come across a couple of references after the date. The first – a whole book devoted to the ballad is a bit like a post-conference tome. With the ballad in Scandinavia, France, French Canada, and Great Britain. Around 320 pages.

    The second is an article by A.L. Lloyd in a magazine by University College London Folk Song Society dated 1966 (Vol. 1).

    This concludes that the origins of this ballad (and some others in the Child canon) were brought into Western Europe from Asia via the Magyars.

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Jan: Hahahahaha! If the lady had also stuck to ‘who’s a pretty boy then’, all might have been well! It’s a bit Matty Groves/Crazy Man Michael with a difference! Sid Kipper just needs the harp as well as Polly for The Smoked Herring Song. Excellent!

  15. Diana says:

    Love this one solo or by Bellowhead – just glad to see the so-called knight gets his just desserts. Quite a clever woman who got the better of the villain for a change.

  16. Phil says:

    I love this song for the sheer number of variants it has. I’ve recorded two of them – neither of them the same as this one – which I’ll call The Outlandish Knight (Loud) and The Outlandish Knight (Quiet).

  17. Diana says:

    My vote is for the loud version Phil.

  18. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Phil……….good to hear ‘The Brothers’ joing in the chorus of the Loud Roud version!
    Well….another song about the exploits of a mass murderer….though it doesn’t seem so bad when set in a time of fair maidens and knights..and fairyland folk.
    and as for the cat that threatened the parrot…the last verse is missing:
    And that cat did run so fast away
    then stopped for his breath to gain
    But this did then his downfall prove
    Trapped and neutered by Lady Jane

  19. Diana says:

    Muzza I don’t believe that last line – poor Lady Jane! She is maligned all the time with regard to the felines.

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    Hahahahahaha! Lady Jane says it’s for his own good… and certainly that of the furrer sex.

  21. Steve says:

    Love the Smoked Herring Song! I’ll be singing as soon as I’ve learned it (if not before).

  22. Diana says:

    @ Jane: Life is going to be a lot duller when AFSAD finishes. It brightens up the start of my day and also other parts of the day as well. I do wish I had known about it earlier – being a late comer in October last year I have missed so much.

  23. Chris Siddall says:

    This is the most “gangster” traditional folk song I’ve come across. You could make a fairly intense short film out of this.

  24. Anagha Comar says:

    I used to read you blog religiously, I’m sorry I ever stopped! Now I remember what got me addicted in the first place.

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

    What a strange song……………why didn’t it finish where the young, fair maiden outwitted the knight and we leave him ‘drownded in the deep blue sea’.
    What the heck does the parrot bit add to the plot?….that could be a whole new song.
    The parrot and the pussycat could have gone to sea in a pea-green boat or something.

  26. Diana says:

    Deffo Muzza – but the knight got his comeuppance in the end!

  27. Betty says:

    What’s up, always i used to check website posts here in the early hours in the break of day, since i love to gain knowledge of more and more.

  28. Diana says:

    Another great song.

  29. Linda says:

    Nice to hear this simply sung with no backing, One of my favourites still think it’s a well educated parrot though!

  30. Wayne says:

    I do wonder if the references to horses in the the song reflect an origin with the kelpie, the Scottish water horse/spirit.

    Also I find it interesting the lyrics have phrases that were lifted from other songs (or the other way around), “Sometimes he sank and sometimes he swam” from Twa Sisters, “lie there lie there” from Henry Lee/Love Henry and “Pretty Polly” from the song of the same name. The whole parrot thing also seems similar to the Henry Lee story with the talking bird keeping (or not keeping) a secret about a murder.

  31. WendiC says:

    I know it’s years later, but the person who had a childhood memory of this being in a book, that is my first introduction as well. My book was the Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermyer and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund.

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