Streams Of Lovely Nancy


Jon rightly calls this a “Surreal little number this one. We have a currently-dormant version of this with Bellowhead that may well make a comeback at some point. The melody here is a bit of a mash up of the Bellowhead tune and James & Nancy’s excellent version on Starry-Gazy-Pie.”

I’ll add a link to Mainly Norfolk that has versions from Linda Adams and a slightly longer one form John Kirkpatrick. It does seem most odd but then I believe that the simple explanation is that this is a conflation of two or three songs that all shared common elements. This Mudcat thread explains it quite well enough. The research looks to be better than I can muster, with the intrigue of the various feeds and the dual purpose religious and erotic imagery. I guess this is more a case of folk-confusion than the folk process as such and an example of how the oral tradition can carry something despite the meaning becoming obscured, or in this case seemingly lost completely. Still, nonsensical or not, Jon gives brings this to life and the line about “It is drinking of good liquor that made my heart to sing,” creates a kind of wayward logic to the whole thing.



26 Responses to “Streams Of Lovely Nancy”

  1. Phil says:

    Very nice. I sing “Come all you little streamers”, which both is and isn’t the same song.

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    I see comments are virtually non-existant, no doubt due to the difficulty in understanding what this song. lovely as it is, is all about! This may be covered somewhere on Mudcat, given I’ve only looked cursorily, but here are 2 most ingenious (if not far-fetched even!) attempts to shed some light on the subject matter. Given the provenance of the first, Steve Roud, apparently worthy of consideration:

    “The Streams of Lovely Nancy proved no more difficult to my incisive analysis [than that of ‘The Banks of the Sweet Dundee.’] On checking the original manuscripts, I discover that Cecil Sharp’s informant had no teeth, and Cecil himself had a head-cold on the day in question, so it is not surprising that he mis-heard the title and first line, which should be “O the dreams of lovely Nancy are divided in three parts..”. This is thus an excellent example of the psychological folksong. Freud, whose work on dreams is justly famous, pointed out the three-fold nature of the human psyche – the Id, the Ego and the Super Ego. The song is therefore patently concerned with a young female’s erotic nocturnal fantasies – the second line is “where the young men and maidens will meet their sweethearts”. Other verses speak of diamonds, sailors, flying high and the “noise in the valley” making the “rocks for to ring.”

    from Jan 1998, Songs Through The Periscope…… Or, Folk Song Detective In Action (whatever that is! But described as “an eccentric view of folk song analysis pioneered by our Chairman as an antidote to real life.”)

    This line of thought is furthered Apr 98 by one Ruairidh Greig (sounds musically-connected!) as follows:

    “Now, as for the “Streams of Lovely Nancy”, you will note the line in the first verse, “And the noise in yonder village … etc”. ” Noise ” is, of course, an early term for a group of musicians. The short-sighted broadside printer has misread the first word of the title, which should refer to the choir practice , “where young men and maidens do meet their sweethearts”, at the “SCREAMS of Lovely Nancy” this being an equivalent early term for a choir. I suspect the white ivory castle on black sands refers to teeth on the blackened gums of the open-mouthed singers, but I’m still working hard on the rest…. more revelations to come!”

    (As to the ‘screams of lovely Nancy, I would have thought the ‘strains of lovely Nancy’ would have been more harmonious, if not made any more sense. Are they having a giraffe? Lol!)

    I think this all comes from (members of) The Traditional Song Forum, but I’m not able to delve further as it is under reconstruction.

    Anyhow, here’s another version from circa 1974 by The Martin Best Consort:

    And a set of lyrics not at all as ‘equally mysterious’ as it says all versions are on Mudcat:

    The streams of lovely Nancy divide in two parts,
    Where young men in dancing do meet their sweethearts.
    There drinking strong liquor I carol and sing,
    And the sound of the viol doth make my heart ring.

    On yonder tall mountain a castle doth stand;
    It is built of white ivory above the black strand.
    With ivory builded and diamonds bright,
    It’s a pilot for sailors on a dark wintry night.

    On yonder high moorland the wild fowl do fly;
    There’s one fair among them flies than others more high.
    If I had my true love near the diamond’s black strand,
    How soon I would tame her by the slight of my hand.

    We march-ed from Chester to Liverpool Town,
    And there we spied lasses, some fair and some brown,
    But of all the fine lasses I ever did see,
    The voice of my angel is the darling for me.

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    The above lyrics are taken from Hendrickson’s Song Page at:

    For some of the songs, there is a midi file of Stewart Hendrickson singing. Click the song title first from the long list, then click under the title where it says ‘sung by.’

  4. Diana says:

    I loved the lyrics to this song but felt a livelier tune would have done it more justice.

  5. Muzza(NW Surrey, UK) says:

    @Jane……………….hey there my little folk song investigator….the theories you put forward are most becoming…….and the explanations are reminiscent of Ted Rogers enlightening us as to the clues to win the ‘Dusty bin’ prize…but we get there in the end.

    I do love the tune and who cares if the words make sense. I think ‘The Dreams of Lovely Nancy’ a better theme. I love the thought of Cecil Sharp cycling along a country road when suddenly a toothless old man jumps out from the hedgerow and croaks “Good morning fine sir-do you want me to sing you unintelligable folk song!”

    I like Jon’s rendition(are you still there Jon?)…..On the Mainly Norfolk video, the folk at the Eden project racked up the pace a bit too much.
    @Jane……thankyou for that Stewart Henderson link……..On the following direct link the fellow singing in ‘The Martin Best consort’ had a wonderful voice
    I have never heard of the group before and will seek them out.

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: I know I was posting at 1.30am, but it ain’t me who needs to wake up! Did I or did I not post the direct link to Martin Best? That version is considered to be one of the Best, by-the-way, but from a long time ago. More on the man here:

    Critics have dubbed Martin Best a “contemporary troubadour” for his energetic performances of minstrel music from the Middle Ages. Best has made over two dozen recordings as a solo singer, often accompanying himself on early guitars and lutes. His recordings include solo songs (notably of the Swedish poet/songwriter Carl Michael Bellman) and ensemble work with his own groups the Martin Best Medieval Ensemble and the Martin Best Consort. He has also performed and recorded music from Shakespeare’s England and was a musician at the Royal Shakespeare Company for over 20 years. In 1983, he won the International Edison Award and Gramophone Magazine’s Critics’ Award. Best has lectured on medieval music at numerous universities in England and the United States.

    And more on his music:

    Martin Best, founder of the medieval music ensemble that bears his name, has lived a life of latter-day minstrelsy. He first learned the craft of music as an apprentice: he studied classical guitar with two of the twentieth century’s greatest masters, Andrés Segovia and John Williams. He spent his journeyman years, however, among the peasants of a rural Spanish village. This part of Best’s musical career was devoted to a simple lifestyle and the music of the folk. In this vein, he began a recording career with a wide variety of vocal and instrumental albums ranging across centuries (English popular music from Shakespeare to the twentieth century) and across linguistic groups (English, Spanish, French, and Provençal). Yet in 1981, Best narrowed his specialty to the European troubadour traditions, what he had once called his “first love.” At this time, he formed the Martin Best Medieval Ensemble.

    In the 1980s, the Martin Best Medieval Ensemble (and the Martin Best Consort) took England’s early music scene by storm. They released a popular series of recordings, each an acoustically fresh read on a group of poets and composers: Guiraut Riquier, Bernart de Ventadorn, Italian and southern French contemporaries of Dante, other Troubadors and Trouvéres, the Lamento di Tristan, and the Cantigas de Santa Maria. Simultaneously, the ensemble presented a series of medieval concert programs for the BBC, and debuts in Britain’s most prestigious concert venues: Wigmore Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the Proms. Their recordings principally appear on Nimbus records.

    All part of the service, Muzza… and are you really a vegetarian?

  7. Jane Ramsden says:

    PS If Nancy is a corruption of Nantsian, from the Cornish word ‘Nant’ meaning ‘valley,’ then the ‘Streams’ of Lovely Nancy makes more sense, but makes the song slightly less intelligible than if Nancy is a woman. However, it may be some kind of cross-play on words.

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    PPS It ain’t me putting forward the toothless theory, but the eminent Mr Roud! He’s ‘avin’ a giraffe, methinks!

  9. Diana says:

    Nant means small river in Welsh so perhaps it is not a woman after all.

  10. Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Jane…………I acknowledged that you put the link in for stewarthendrickson….my link was one step farther-directly to Martin best….and I have listened to several of his songs on Youtube…very impressed.

    @Jane…..yes….although I love meat…I don’t eat it….I am an ‘ethical vegetarian’…don’t think we should kill unless desperate…then it’s all hands to the pumps and I’d kill and eat anything…..your cats are safe for the moment.(pass me that halo and my open toed sandals)

    @Diana……down here in the ‘sarf’…a Nant… a smally, creepy, strong little creature wot lives in colonies and causes great damage to dams and rubber tree plants.

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: And I stand by what I said – the link above the indirect Stewart one is the same direct link you have! See above where I posted the song lyrics. Doh! All those ethical carrots are not improving the sight in yer pork pies any! Hahahahahahaha!

  12. Diana says:

    @Muzza: Up here in the “norf” we would put “an ant ” and not “a Nant” cos us lot are clever clogs you know. Live and let live is my motto – I rescue bees, spiders and wasps – though not fond of the latter. I actually talk to bees and persuade them onto a piece of paper and carry them though the house and out to the flowers. My son sometimes rings me to come and get rid of a bee he has found in this home. Only ever stung once.

  13. Muzza(NW-Surrey, UK) says:

    @Diana……….I have just fished a very wet moth out of the shower…..placed him on a bit of kitchen roll to dry out ..and he has just flown off…aaaaahhhhh

  14. Diana says:

    Jolly good show old bean! Muzza I expect you think I must be mad with all my trying to save the planet’s creepy things. Not fond of earwigs or beetles thought – leave them to their own devices.

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana/Muzza: Well done, you two. I also rescue creepy-crawly & flying-buzzing things. I see now why the microwave for all the veggies, Muzza. Do you eat fish/shellfish? A lot of my long-time veggie friends do. Or do you substitute with beans, quorn and soya a lot? I’m partial to both the latter, but not mad on beans, save baked on toast!

  16. Muzza(NW-Surrey, UK) says:

    @Diana……..I pay no attention to insects thoughts either…they seem to live in a different world.
    @Jane.Ref Martin Best….you are quite right…the Old Muzza had a senior moment and looked at the wrong link and is completely in error..grovel, grovel. grovel.
    Hey…not quite sure what you were trying to say ref the microwave above.
    The technology to produce edible, meatless substitutes has improved so much since I chewed products that tasted like cardboard back in 1967.
    These days, I’ll bet carnivores would be hard pressed to tell the difference should they venture into the meatless world. The down side would be that sheep/cows/pigs/cats would disappear from the countryside.
    I drink soy milk rather than cow’s milk (because you take the calf away)
    BUT…BUT…I must confess that….now and then…on special occasions…….. the old constitution faulters and, despite the voices in my head…..I crumple, yes crumple dear reader and indulge…yea INDULGE in cod and chips!….

  17. Muzza(NW-Surrey, UK) says:

    @Diana………I think Nant could be a woman as I have just realised that I have an Uncle and a Nant….and a very nice lady she is as well.

  18. Diana says:

    @Muzza: You spotted my mistake then – I realised afterwards I had got it wrong , not that that’s anything new.

    As for your Nant I don’t suppose her name is Nancy cos if it is then I can understand your confusion. Still it is nice to see you like your chish and fips. Nothing wrong with being a vegetarian as long as you eat protein in some other form.

  19. Phil says:

    John Kelly does a lovely version of this one. I did both Streams and Come all you little streamers last March, and did my best to disentangle them; not easy!

    The Streams of Lovely Nancy

    Come all you little streamers

  20. OldMuzza (N.W Surrey-UK) says:

    Oh I do miss the chit chat on AFSAD…………Now I have nobody to tell about the disaster of the car oil & filter change I went through yesterday…….car up on ramps…me crawling underneath…plug out of sump…oil going into handheld container…..Then…..undetected LEAK IN CONTAINER..aaarrgghh…..oil everywhere…and that ain’t a pretty sight dear reader…………..I could write a folk song about it…….
    ‘As I crawled out one June morning/
    One June morning quite early/
    Hot oil splashed out upon the grass/
    And turned it black and pearly.

    Makes you Wanna cry dunnit!

  21. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    I knew it…………..another year flown by and not one message of sympathy for my disaster with the leaky oil container!

  22. Peter Walsh says:

    Awww Muzza, I sympathize with you! I used to do my own car servicing (a rarity nowadays), so I can appreciate the frustration you went through. Funnily enough, my company sells mobile waste oil collection drainers…

    To return to the song; a masterly vocal performance, but I can see what Diana means about a livelier tune.

  23. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Hey………Peter old fella
    .lovely to hear that you are still around young man……….I have no complaints about this performance…..lovely strong voice and the tune that I am familiar with.(with which I am familiar)
    Mobile oil collection drainers………… that impressed the gals!

  24. Roy Harris (the late) sings the definitive version for me


  25. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Blimey….we did go on a bit in the old days but lovely to read all the old comments

  26. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ha……..The screams of lovely Nancy
    I did not realise that she was in the shower m’lud and I reassure you that I had no evil intentions-I hereby rest my case!”

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