Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy


Jon simply introduces this by calling it “A classic. I’ve heard many versions but I think my farourite is still Maddy Prior & Tim Hart.” It appeared on their debut pre Steeleye album Songs Of Old(e) England. You’ll note on this Mainly Norfolk post, from A.L. Lloyd’s sleeve notes for Peter Bellamy’s recording that this is one of the first pieces to be noted as from the Copper family’s collection and it appeared in the very first issue of The Journal Of The English Folk Song Society. Interestingly, despite Jon’s stated preference his lyrics more closely follow Bellamy’s version with a minor change in the order of the verses. This varies form the Coppers version (click here) as it transposes the first two lines from the third and forth verses. I’m not sure that Mudcat offers much extra, but if you want to pick through some threads, follow this link. Is it me or as with Rain It Rains, does the guitar bring that extra layer of melancholy here?

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31 Responses to “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy”

  1. Joanna says:

    Beautiful, just beautiful. 🙂

  2. Simon Dewsbury says:

    A lift to the spirits before I go to work

  3. John Wigley says:

    That’s wonderful…I don’t think I’ve heard it before.

  4. Phil says:

    Is it me or as with Rain It Rains, does the guitar bring that extra layer of melancholy here?

    As with Blacksmith, I’d say it slows it down, breaks up the melody & turns the song into a decorative but gloomy trudge. In other words, it’s exactly the style of folk-singing I was looking forward to not hearing when Jon first said he was going to do a year of unaccompanied songs.

    I’m not an accompaniment fetishist – I’ve really liked most of the songs with concertina, & yesterday’s Nostradamus with fiddle drones was terrific. But something happens to the way you sing when you’re forced to sing unaccompanied – timing gets tighter, the melody supports its own weight – and it’s something that only folksingers do. More Rambling Sailors and Westlin Winds (and Danny Deevers), please…

  5. AndyS says:

    Anyone else having problems getting the podcasts from itunes – neither this nor Nostradamus appears to be available that way?

    By the way Jon – I’m thoroughly enjoying this whole project and today’s song is another cracker and you couldn’t really describe me as a ‘folky person’ either.

  6. Reinhard Zierke says:

    Have a bit of patience, AndyS. The podcasts can’t be scheduled automagically like the blog but must be uploaded manually. Now and then they are just a little bit late, depending on the spare time of the admin. I’d guess that late in the evening we’ll get the podcasts from yesterday, today and tomorrow in one package.

    Jon: thanks for that wonderful rendering of this song. And it’s nice to listen every now and then without having to avoid bloodstains from the poor murdered woman 😉

  7. chris ellis says:

    Just got back from a visit to the Tate Britain’s “Romantics” exhibition. Turner, Blake Constable,Fuseli, Palmer et al. While still in the glow of the past listened to today’s offering. Beautiful, thanks very much.

  8. Dave Markham says:

    A beautifully balanced song – I loved this one Jon and made me appreciate why I started listening to and singing folk music many, many years ago. As fresh as Mann’s fish counter!

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    I love this song, and one I knew straightaway from the title, which makes a change as I find out how much I don’t know about traditional music everyday! In fact, I’ve just been listening to it on Phil Beer’s Mandorock Live 2000 CD. He sings it quite often, and that’s where I learnt it from.

  10. muzza says:

    Loved it………………..This project has a mountain to climb to suit all tastes.
    I am from the “Jolly ploughman/sailorboy” side of the fence……so this is one for us……..I do like some “Grim Reaper” songs but I’m content to, patiently, wait my turn.

  11. Alan Rosevear says:

    So many good ones that my “must learn properly” list is growing faster than the “good enough to perform now” list. The melancholic treatment with mournful guitar and slow pace (though not a durge) is not how I would interpret the song and I have not figured out whether it’s the 2 voice harmonies that make the Prior/Hart version naturally brighter. Makes me worried that a single unaccompanied voice will be disappointing – but thanks for the inspiration.

  12. Glyn Adams says:

    I saw James Findlay perform this at the BBC Younf Folk Awards. His is my faviorate version but its nice to hear this slower rendition. Thanks Jon.

  13. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 12 records of Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy in the Library, most (though not all) from the singing of the Copper family.

    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 165, this produces 87 records, including versions collected by Cecil Sharp in Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset.

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

    There is one record of the song in the Francis M Collinson collection, from the singing of the Copper family.

    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

    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  14. Christopher John Bridgman says:

    So many songs of separation! Why not balance these out by singing the song about Willie taking Polly to the cruel wars in High Germany?

  15. Phil says:

    Or one of the ones where Polly drags up and goes along with Willie… or goes along on her own and never gets discovered… or goes to America dressed as a boy and never gets discovered… Or here’s a challenge: Peter Blegvad’s Shirt and Comb, a modern song with roots in the tradition:

    You cannot go with me, my love
    They don’t take volunteers
    But there’s one thing I promise you:
    Although I may be gone for many years,

    No shirt shall ever touch my back
    Nor comb go through my hair
    But I’ll think of the bed you’re in
    And wish that I were lying with you there.

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    Still one of my favourites. Here’s a link to Show of Hands ending their concert at Sweeps Festival Rochester, May 2008, with this song and ‘Haul Away, Joe.’ The latter contains the cracking line ‘he went and got his head cut off, which spoilt his constitution.’ I wouldn’t have minded that this week with the upper respiratory tract infection!

    This is Phil Beer singing it on his own with guitar accompaniment instead of his fiddle:

    And The Copper Family themselves:

  17. John Biggs says:

    Such a gentle and sincere song of parting. You really hope he makes it home o.k. and that Nancy is still waiting for him when he gets there. Of course the last line is the killer; when the money is all spent , he must go to sea once more.
    I agree with Jane, that Phil Beer performs this song beautifully, in many styles, including an up beat version with the Phil Beer Band. However, Jon’s performance, and the wistful guitar makes this another of my favourites. (There are so many ! )

  18. Diana says:

    A lovely gentle song. Love the guitar accompaniment as well – very plaintive and not overdone. A change from the glut of killings of young maidens too.

  19. Linda says:

    Wow that was a contrast to yesterday. Catching up after the weekend
    @Diana, have pre ordered, what a write up really looking forward to Lowry. Have seats for Derby last nite of tour!!!!!

  20. Diana says:

    Where did you find a review Linda – all I found was a mentionm of a few of the songs so I pre-ordered it blind. Sure that I will enjoy same.

  21. Dan Kaufman says:

    I’ve heard different versions that have the sailors either fighting FOR the crown or against it. (This version has them fighting for the crown.) I know it’s the folk process, but I’m curious whether anyone knows what the original is, or if the song refers to any specific conflict.

  22. Linda says: Take two; Not sure this is going to work Muzza but if it does thank you.

  23. Linda says:

    Got it !! It works….. Thank you for the help Muzza……….the above link is Peter Bellamy’s The Transports see yesterdays posting.

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

    Cor blimey Linda….you might have warned me it was over an hour long…nearly missed Emmerdale!

  25. Linda says:

    I think songs like this are why we are still returning to AFSAD, Thanks Jon beautifully sung!

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

    Hi Lindy Lou… here before you and hoping you are still on track
    Yep…..Lovely old song……gonna play it several times over for the hell of it

  27. Linda says:

    Still on track…..looking forward to some favourites later in the month sailors and the sea….#tradsongtues on twitter this week is ships

  28. John Bryson says:

    Reading the comments from 2010, hard to realise that they were written ten years ago.

    I agree with the view from then that the guitar brings extra melancholy to this song – a lovely song and well sung here by Jon

  29. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Oh Joy…..loved it yet again……I wonder in which period it was written…Sailing ships?
    funny that some fellas were happy to go to sea (not the poor fellas who were pressganged) and most sailors couldn’t swim.

  30. Jane (Maryland) says:

    While I appreciate a good bloody ballad, it’s nice to have a respite from penknives and cruel knives and dire predictions. What a treat to have Jon’s lovely performance of this song along with three other wonderful versions thanks to Jane R. Now on to Bold Sir Rylas — wild boars and wild women beware!

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

    Well Jane (Maryland)….yup…
    thank goodness this was a “bloody good ballad” rather than another “good bloody ballad”.!
    Just watched the Copper family video above…yet again………..and thought…
    how cool is that, and a certain mark of a folk singer,…to produce a tuning fork from one’s trouser pocket….I must get one!

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