Two Pretty Boys

2014
08.10

Jon says, “From Bellamy again. Strange tune – I wonder if Bellamy wrote it. It’s great though and a really dark song. I think the implication may be that the step mother has instructed big brother John to stab his step brother, and he’s done so despite loving his brother like… Er, a brother. Horrific really, or maybe it’s just an accident.” It’s another song that Fay has recorded for Looking Glass.” Also known as The Two Brothers and Child Ballad #49, Mainly Norfolk adds to the story quoting the sleeve notes written by A.L. Lloyd to Bellamy’s recording found originally on his LP The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate. Follow this link and you’ll see Lloyd describe this song as having many variants across many different cultures, with differing reasons behind the deadly deed, everything from arguments over land to incestuous love. I rather like Jon’s interpretation though, as it seems to fit this set of lyrics well. Mudcat will offer a few variations and this link here makes the Child/Scottish connection obvious, scroll down the lyric set to find related posts at the bottom. Those looking for Ballamy’s version are directed to the double CD set Fair England’s Shore on Fellside (FECD216), a massive 38 tracks!

You can buy the August digital album now from all good download stores:

 

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20 Responses to “Two Pretty Boys”

  1. Reinhard Zierke says:

    You can hear Fay Hield’s version of Two Brothers at her website. The CD will be out real soon, and I’m looking forward to enjoy it after listening to this gem.

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    I thought this was just stunning… and the better and more poignant for the possible storylines not being uncovered… if you accept the tale as an unhappy accident of fighting play become tragically real between 2 young boys aware, but not sharing, negative family emotions. The possibilities remain intriguingly endless. Just brilliant, and a strong contender for the August vote. Loving the cover for the July album, by-the-way!

  3. Joan Crump says:

    Peter Bellamy’s tune is not a million miles from Belle Stewart’s, which is the version I’ve recently learned – I always assumed that’s where Peter had got it, too.

  4. Reinhard Zierke says:

    According to the notes on Bellamy’s album he learnt the song from a recording by Lucy Stewart, so it’s in the Stewart family anyway. The Belle Stewart version that I know is on an album seven years younger than Bellamy’s.

  5. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Two Pretty Boys from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 3 records of Two Pretty Boys in the Library having been collected from members of the Stewart family in Scotland.

    http://tinyurl.com/twoprettyboys1

    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 38, this rises to an impressive 204 records, with titles including The Cruel Brother, Little Willie, Martyr John, The Rolling of the Stones, or the Two Brothers, and with versions collected in Mississippi, Kentucky, New York and North Carolina, as well as from Scotland.

    http://tinyurl.com/twoprettyboys2

    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 archive.

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.

    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit http://www.efdss.org/front/access-the-library-online/access-the-library-online/115
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or library@efdss.org.

  6. Phil says:

    Good stuff. I know this one from Nic Jones’s version, and I think you’re a bit ahead – this incongruously sprightly tune works well. I like the lack of a motive – you can think what you like about why one brother killed the other, and people have been for as long as the song’s been sung! I think quite a few of the old ballads are like this – they show senseless or incomprehensible events and concentrate on how people deal with them.

  7. Dave Eyre says:

    This is also sung by Elizabeth Stewart – daughter of Lucy Stewart. This family of settled travellers are known as the Stewarts of Fetterangus presumably to distinguish them from their cousins the Stewarts of Blair. The tune she uses is identical to the one that Jon uses.

    It was first recorded by her on a cassette – “Atween You and Me” in 1992 (Hightop Imagery HTI 001) and then repeated on “Binnorie” EICD002 in the series Traveller Traditions of North-East Scotland. It is the same recording as far as I know.

    There is a review of the record:

    http://www.mustrad.org.uk/reviews/e_stewrt.htm

  8. Diana says:

    Good heavens above! Two years since someone wrote a comment on this song. I have only heard Fay Hield’s version of this which is excellent. Another sad story I am afraid. Jon sings it nicely enough so no complaints.

  9. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    I think this was probably written by an unhappy/jealous/malicious step brother or stepmother who purged their feelings in song rather than the actual deed.
    Rather like the scene in Great Expectations where Magwich is trying to hint to Master Pip, rather than telling him directly, that he is his benefactor i.e.
    ‘and suppose a young gentleman received sums of money from an unknown person’. I wanted to give Pip a good shakin’ as he took ages to catch the drift!

    My first reaction on seeing the title of the song was to think of Rolf Harris….but The sentiments of this song are in direct contrast to those in ‘Two little boys’

  10. Diana says:

    @Muzza: Great Expectations was a great film and worked beautifully in black and white. The scene with Magwich would not have been half as terrifying in glorious Technicolour.

    As far away from Rolf Harris as you could get with this song.

  11. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Diana……@Diana…….got it …..
    Your Moderated message was the one (Brown AdamAug 5th 10:47am.)
    That’s the sort of clue that I need to track it down
    Perhaps this is a good opportunity for me to come out of Comyn’s Bardic Closet.

  12. Diana says:

    @Muzza it certainly is m’dearie and about ime too. Glad you solved the mystery then – I always read back a few songs in case I have missed anything – typical nosy female I expect you are thinking. Not sure that I am though only with AFSAD cos people do write later I have found.

  13. Phil says:

    Two years later, here’s my version – also very heavily indebted to Bellamy (I don’t think it’s possible to be just slightly influenced by Bellamy!).

  14. Peter Hawkey says:

    I heard Elizabeth Stewart sing this at our folk club just a month ago and a fine version she did too.

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

    How times change…………..I’ll bet many people have dropped a great song- ‘Two little boys’ from their repertoire

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

    Just a reminder for all you songsters out there…………
    the annual ‘unaccompanied singing’ competition ‘Trad2Mad’ run by Islington folk club has a closing date of 31st October and that will be upon us before we know it.
    I shall have another go this year

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

    here I am ……….seven hours later….all alone…………..did I just see a Tumbleweed drift past ?

  18. Linda says:

    @Muzza see Frankie’s Trade…..your not alone……

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

    Huzzah Linda

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

    Sad to say that, nowadays, boys stabbing boys is well and truly back in fashion !!!!

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