Three Ravens


I know this will please many of you as it’s Jon and Fay again. Jon credits his partner, “Fay taught me this a few years back. I’m not sure of the source although Hannah James and Sam Sweeney have just recorded a very nice version of this as well.” Now here’s an intrigue. I managed to grab a brief few words with Fay when she played the Green Note, although the timing (my slightly later than expected arrival) meant no serious interview was possible. I did, however, manage to ask her (with this project in mind) whether she and Jon shared their repertoire freely? She responded quite frankly but with a smile, saying that although they shared many ideas and discussed much, she was quite guarded about her own collection of songs. With Jon having such a high profile in folk circles, it would be easy for people to mistake her work as simply following Jon’s lead. I’m sure many of you will agree that the strength of her voice and the excellence of Looking Glass immediately knock any such notions into a cocked hat and we should do all we can to dispel such glib notions. If you haven’t already checked out the CD, you should. Anyway, sorry I’m getting a little carried away. I confess to having fallen behind the advanced timetable that I was aiming for  and just hadn’t listened to this before today (Friday), so was taken by surprise by Fay’s appearance again. What a pleasant surprise it is too and what a great version of this brooding, mournful lament. Getting back to the matter in hand, Wiki has a good entry for this and the Scottish variant Twa Corbies, which whilst numerically inferior in terms of Ravens is the makedly more gruesome, with the unfortunate slain cynically abandoned to the scavengers!

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26 Responses to “Three Ravens”

  1. Tim Walters says:

    The City Waites recorded a nice version of this in the early Seventies.

  2. Reinhard says:

    Hannah James and Sam Sweeney’s version on Catches and Glee is nearly identical to Fay’s; according to their CD notes it was “collected by Frank Kidson from Mrs Holmes of Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire”.

    The Demon Barbers sing the Three Ravens on their latest CD The Adventures of Captain Ward too, and they give Fay as their source.

  3. Simon Dewsbury says:

    I’m really enjoying these duets.
    There’s also a very different take on this on classical saxophonist/composer John Harle’ ‘Terror and magnificence’, sung by soprano Sarah Leonard. Harle also did the music for Simon Shama’s History of Britain, so Three Ravens appears at various points in that.

  4. SRD says:

    Excellent, nicely morbid.

  5. LadyD says:

    First herd this song sung by Ollie King ( when I was first getting into folk music.

    This is one of those goosebump songs for me. Always gives me a vivid mental picture of the scene in the song. There’s just that sense of lonelyness and tragedy in it.

    Loved this erie rendition from Fay & Jon.

  6. Vivien says:

    Was curious how this was going to compare with the version I have of Malinky (when Karine Polwart was still with them) who named their second CD ‘Three Ravens’.
    Yes, a lovely unaccompanied version by Jon and Fay whose voices meld beautifully, but a much shorter story than the one I am used to.

  7. Roberto says:

    I do like this. I’d like to know more about the source of this version. An excellent recent recording of this ballad is the one by Brian Peters, in Songs of Trial and Triumph.

  8. Fay Hield says:

    I got the song from Kidson’s book as Hannah has also done (page 1 if I recall, I didn’t have to go far in!).
    I used to sing it with Damien when we were doing duo gigs and he then took it over to the Demons. I first sang it with Jim Causley though and worked out the harmony arrangement with him in my living room in Newcastle.
    All best,

  9. Judi Daykin says:

    For a truely different version check out the CD Terror and Magnificence by John Harle. This was a project of music from Shakespeare’s era (including songs from Twelfth Night) and featured amongst others Elvis Costello. This version was used as the “Elizabethan” theme during Simon Sharma’s A History Of Britain TV series in 2000.
    Judi xx

  10. Phil says:

    Like Vivien, I only knew the version with the hawks, the hounds, the fallow doe etc, and when I heard how slow you were taking it I thought we were in for a long night! Very nice, anyway.

  11. Shelley says:

    While I can perfectly understand Fay wanting to “guard” her own repertoire, I’d love to hear a Jon and Fay duo album. They sound so good together!

  12. Nick Passmore says:

    Great harmony singing, and a suitably grim version of the song. Keep ’em coming!

  13. the_otter says:

    Another one I heard first from a Ewan MacColl CD. Great work, Jon and Fay.

  14. Reinhard says:

    After this delight, I’d love to hear Fay and Jon singing the Lyke Wake Dirge sometimes.

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    This is just so excellent! Positively resonates! Do do a joint album….but make everyone wait….hahahahaha!

  16. sarah-jane says:

    oooh. this gave me goosebumps! interesting hearing these voices together

  17. Cherry says:

    this is what I listen to folk music for, gloom and horror turned into something glorious. not a version I’m familiar with. I shared the thomas ravenscroft version with my singing group over the summer and we thoroughly enjoyed the darkness of it. I think i learnt that from one of those music programmes on radio for schools when I was about 6- can that be possible? this one is even more threatening on tone. loved it

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    Jon & Fay: It’ll be a tragic loss to folk-listening posterity, if you don’t do that joint album! Best way to guard your repertoire for posterity, in fact.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    Here’s a YouTube link to the John Harle/Simon Sharma History of Britain version, complete with words:

    He also did the Silencium theme from Silent Witness, & here’s an interesting version of ‘When That I Was A Little Tiny Boy’ (The Rain It Raineth Everyday) with Elvis Costello:

  20. Peter Walsh says:

    Thanks for that first YouTube link Janie – one listener commented: “amazing! that voice could turn viking men into sobbing boys”, to which I heartily agree! I also agree that Jon and Fay’s treatment is dark AND glorious – that joint album is a MUST, and soon!

  21. Pale Corbie says:

    Heey…’Twa Corbies’ is my favourite folk song, and far more life-affirming/warning than cynical (knights! Be sure you are loved and folks know where you go, for dogs are dogs, birds are wild and ladies get on with life), reflecting the grim but practical life above the border where there’s no time for courtly tableaux. First version of ‘Three Ravens’ I’ve heard in which the lady doesn’t summarily die because her man/the master has, though.

    Looking forward to more songs.

  22. Diana says:

    Not a happy song but the duo’s singing was great.

  23. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Just listened to the Sharma link that Jane gave………..
    .song doesn’t start until 3 minutes in …and the falsetto voice brought back terrible memories of a seaside incident with delicate parts of my anatomy and a rogue deckchair!

  24. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Nothing like a jolly old song such as this on an overcast, wet, dreary ‘here comes winter’ day! (wish I hadn’t peeked a day early!)

  25. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Blow me down…the weather is the same again this year….Chucking it down with rain…wind howling, on top of a pandemic, a no- sun summer and now the garages can’t get fuel and soon the lack of delivery drivers will really hit home…….. I know….let’s sing a folk song or two!

  26. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    The song is not for me but I did enjoy the excellent harmonies….and at least we are in between pandemics and variants at the moment!

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