The Ghost



Jon says “Of all the girl-friend murdering songs this must be the one with the most inappropriate tune. Somehow that makes it all the more horrific, particularly with the unusual denoument. Don’t know of any other versions where she gets her own back. Nice.”

This one seems to be from the same root and essentially the same story as The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter and they all seem to spring from a song called The Gosport Tragedy. The earliest printed version of that dates from 1767 and apparently it’s a bit of an epic with over 30 verses. The song combines the fairly common murder of the pregnant girl with the Jonah tradition. The latter is of course very old, but is essentially the simple idea that a becalmed or storm tossed ship is being punished on account of the wrong doing of one or more of the crew. I was going to add a link in here, but came across so much tripe trying to work out how Jonah could have survived I gave up. So, (ahem!) anyway There are numerous versions of this on both sides of the Atlantic and it seems to have been particularly popular in the US with lots of comparatively recent recordings. You can Wiki here where the song is called Pretty Polly and apparently feeds directly into Dylan’s The Ballad Of Hollis Brown and Nirvana’s Polly.


25 Responses to “The Ghost”

  1. Reinhard says:

    Jon got his version from Sam Larner (The Ghost Ship on his LP Now Is the Time for Fishing, 1961) and Peter Bellamy (The Ghost Song on his album The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate, 1969), see Mainly Norfolk.

  2. Mark says:

    Mary Hampton’s version – as Pretty Polly – is excellent, and available on one of her ‘Book’ albums, can’t remember which. I love this one though Jon: jaunty tune, grim tale!

  3. Nick Passmore says:

    That Nirvana connection is an interesting and unexpected one….

  4. Nick Passmore says:

    There’s also a great version of this on Mick Ryan and Jon Burge’s LP “Fair Was The City” (which is the first line of the song, as I remember.) Sadly I think it’s never made it onto CD, though I could be wrong….

  5. Nick Passmore says:

    Sadly I appear to be right about the CD, but vinyl fans might like:
    Folk LPsRyan, Mick/ Jon Burge, Fair Was The City, Transatlantic LTRA506, VG+/EX, £8.00. Samuel, Edgar/ Acc. Roy Clark, Songs Of Love And Action, Melodisc MLP BS 206 … – Cached – Similar

  6. Maureen Musson says:

    Can’t see where the connection to Dylan’s Hollis Brown is supposed to be – that is about a man who shoots his wife, his children and himself because they are starving and he cannot see any other way out.

  7. Diana says:

    There are so many different versions of this song on Reynard’s site, and they all have tragic oonsequences, although the lady concerned does wreak vengeance on her murderer. Good for her!

  8. Phil says:

    I did this on my Yellow album. I’d forgotten that Jon had done it & was following Bellamy fairly closely; I’m not sure there’s any other way to follow Bellamy!

    The Ghost Song (and others)

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

    @Jane………thanks for the lyrics…had to check on thingys behind lady’s ear….they are Bougainvillea…me just being helpful….in case Reynard wants to correct spelling.
    Loved the Brampton Bugle and from the songs I can see where “The Inbetweeners” got their inspiration…….loved the bit about killing off musicians ’cause the blighters can’t dance anymore.
    @Diana…….(What have I got?)well me gal…you really make a daft old fella work hard…I had to trawl back to Beggar Laddie 3rd June to find the reference and my last comment was that I hadn’t got a clue. Still none the wiser as you had discounted all my efforts.

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

    @Jane…daft old Muzza has commented under the wrong song….ref the correction….this should have been under yesterday’s song “The Lock keeper” DOH!

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

    @Phil…..Your website is a joy to behold……..clear,attractive and concise.
    but talk about the evolving folk song…bless your little cotton socks… have managed to evolve the words of ‘the Ghost’ in the short time from what you typed to what you sang, in one fell swoop! No wonder old Cecil Sharp had a hard time(Blokes…I ask yer!)

  12. Diana says:

    Muzza my dear chappie, you have got what you have been searching for. Return to The Lock Keeper go up to your comment about Twilight Jewellery and ta-dah as you would say. I will give you another clue to help you on your way. My nickname at school was one I have used on this site before “Skippy”. Got it now?

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    Great! I agree that the tune seems almost music-hall-melodramatic-inappropriate to the full graphic horror of the song content, but some cracking lines with lots of mind’s eye visual impact. Nice choice, Jon.

    @ Phil: Not done your 52 Songs anything like the justice it deserves, as I only have capacity for one big venture at a time & I’m not done with AFSAD yet. It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings, but not sure this fat lady is up to honing a song in time now. I keep practising in my cellar! Good acoustics! I’m dying to read all your song notes, Phil-fount-of-all-folk-knowledge, so please keep the songs accessible for a while to come!

    @ Diana: If he hasn’t got ‘Skipton’ by now, he never will so I’m saying it! Still you do keep ‘skipping’ abaht a bit between back numbers! If you were Skippy at school (I remember the Australian show!) I was Rammy… it was well before the days of Rambo, of course! Both sheep-related nicknames – Skipton means ‘sheep town’ – but actually Ramsden means Rams dene, a sort of valley where wild garlic grows. However, the song I have been practising in the cellar is the rose in June sheep-shearing one… only I have noticed that my words are neither of the versions Reinhard has on his Mainly Norfolk – they are close, but no banana! I think mine are a conglomeration, probably of my own making, with bits of both versions in there somewhere… so ref the evolving folk song, not just blokes, Muzza!

    @ Muzza: Ref ‘loved the bit about killing off musicians ’cause the blighters can’t dance anymore’ – morris men who still play the melodeon are excepTed!

  14. Diana says:

    @jane you decided to put the dear fella out of his misery, although I did think he had spotted it for himself. I feel very sheepish not knowing about the pair of us being somehow having nicknames related to the Ovis genus.

    I don’t know why you feel that you have to retreat to the cellar to warble. Stand up straight and let it all out. My best effort is “Bold Sir Rylas” and I always join in that on my ipod. Is the song you are practising “The Rose in June” – it is not very clear from your note above, and more to the point, when and where do you intend singing same.

    I am sorry that you had so much trouble obtaining the words for “The Lock Keeper” – I began to wonder whether you thought I was pulling your leg when I wrote I had got them. I would not do that to a Rammy. Still I have no connection with a kangaroo and when I think about it there are far worse nicknames aren’t there? As long as MUzza does not start calling up silly sheep we should be okay. Better than silly moos.

  15. Phil says:

    you have managed to evolve the words of ‘the Ghost’ in the short time from what you typed to what you sang,

    Oops. Not sure what happened there, except that I like the words I sang better!

    More Bellamy/Kipling anyone? (Track 2.)

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

    What’s that you say Skippy- thank goodness Rammy cut to the chase and put poor,Old, confused Muzza straight about maiden names…phew…he’s have been stressed for ever and never got it.

    What’s that you say Skippy?- you wish you’d been called Rammy at school…respect from the girls and all that…phwoa-me to!

    Sorry Skippy..I’m tuckered with translating anymore today…
    I’m going for a Kippered Bellamy on Phil’s site……
    Why don’t you go and play with that crocodile.

  17. Skippy says:

    (He says he has just listened to Phil’s two new Orange Album songs and is impressed)

  18. The Genuine Skippy says:

    What is it with all this squeaking Muzza there ain’t no mice here. Do not take my nickname in vain now that Jane has helped you out.

  19. Diana says:

    Well Muzza I am glad that you will be able to sleep peacefully at night and will no longer have to wonder what my maiden name was.

    As for the crocodile I am afraid that there is not one here for me to play with, and now all the mice have run away – I think they want to visit you as you appear to speak their language.

  20. Phil says:

    Muzza/Skippy – thankyou!

    Jane – the 52 Folk Songs project will finish when we get to the 52nd week, logically enough – we’re currently up to week 40. But the songs will stay around for a while.

    Meanwhile, if you’re interested in notes on the songs you could always download one of the albums, which come complete with lyrics, notes & artwork. The Green one’s probably the best so far. (Pedantic note: when I say ‘download’ I actually mean ‘buy’. But they’re very cheap.)

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

    Skippy and Rammy…………..names to conjure with….
    ewe are ‘avin’ a laff……oh I do miss the old chit chat

  22. Old Muzza9N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    Dear Rammy and Skippy….looking forward to hearing your versions of ‘Rosebud in June’ and ‘Bold Sir Rylas’ when you enter them in the Islington Folk ‘Trad2Mad’ competition.
    Your efforts should be well honed by now with all those years of practise…..I hope that you have both recovered from the attack of ovus genus that has been referred to.

  23. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    That 9 in my avatar should have been a bracket.. ’tis still me and not an imposter

  24. Diana says:

    Managed to bring up AFSAD today so read your postal though posible you won’t see this.

  25. oldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Nope…..still don’t understand Diana’s last comment….and would you believe that, as I am typing this, on tv has come the Skipton building society advert.
    I take that as a hi from Diana….hang in there old gal!

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