There’s a really nice description in the Anne Briggs Collection CD booklet that suggests, “It’s one of those pieces whose verses seem to have floated in from half-a- dozen other songs.” There are certainly many songs with similar texts as you’ll see in this Mudcat thread, where this song’s English or Irish origins are also open to debate. Anyway, I mention Anne Briggs as she is Jon’s source and she in turn credits a BBC archive recording of Irish traveler Mary Doran, which probably came to her via A.L.Lloyd. Oddly enough this muddy provenance is echoed in the rock world, as a track called Black Mountain Side appeared on the first Led Zeppelin album. It’s an acoustic interlude amongst the heavy rockin’ that almost led to a law suit. Anne seemingly had introduced Bert Jansch to the song and he duly arranged a guitar accompaniment in his own fluid finger style, which appeared on his 1966 Jack Orion album. Al Stewart, attended many a Jansch’s gig around this time and learned a version of the song, but mistook the guitar tuning for DADGAD, rather than Bert’s Drop D. He in turn claims to have taught Page, employed as producer of Stewart’s debut album, this version, which certainly chimes with the tuning that Jimmie used on Zep 1. For his part Jimmie Page claims inspiration directly from hearing Anne Briggs and any copyright infringement was further muddied by the ‘Trad. Arr.’ status anyway. I hope you don’t think I’m getting too far off-piste here, but having read lots of Mudcat debate, I found it amusing to bring this particular confusion up to date. And I nearly forgot, Jon offered this… “I once sung this for an Open University docu-drama wearing C18th costume and standing in the middle of a small river. Strange but true. Not on Youtube (fortunately).” Now that I’d like to see!

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30 Responses to “Blackwaterside”

  1. Tony Christmas says:

    Pompus tit.

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    Merry Christmas to you too, Tony! I take the point though. Yes, I think the commentator was a bit ‘off piste’, but with enthusiasm running away. The varied provenance is of interest, but I think it could have been summed up in one choice sentence alluding to the many versions. As to the song itself – hard to imaging it rocking! – but a great cross-gender rendition by Jon. I really can imagine some hard done by lass being left in the lurch!

  3. admin says:

    Apologies if I’ve gone too far for you here, but it is my enthusiasm for the project that makes me want to make these posts as informative as possible. Having read lots of debate about provenance I thought this relevant, as even in our lifetime it can be as slippery as an eel. I also meant to allude to the fact that these songs continue to evolve and live on, sometimes in ways that you don’t expect.

  4. Richard Owsley says:

    At least you can spell, unlike Tony

  5. gordon potts says:

    Personally, i love history & provenance & stories about songs. Doesn’t change my appreciation of the song or the performance, i don’t think…but these songs exist in so many different ways, and one of them is the social context…how different people are linked by the one song is a pretty thing in itself. Try going with a Liverpool supporter to see “Carousel” to see how context matters…that’s Liverpool Association Football club, by the by

  6. Mick Jenx says:

    Didn’t really understand the pompus (sic) jibe, and the back-story is always good to hear, but talking of spelling, I think the Bert Janch record should be ‘Jack Orion’ rather than ‘onion’! Excellent version either way Jon

  7. admin says:

    Thanks for that Mick and duly corrected (Specsavers is my next port of call I fear as my eyes are definitely dimmed.) I’d further add that some of you, probably as I did, first encountered folk via the rockers who adopted and adapted it. Surely the spirit here is open door and one of learning anyway. I’m also sure others will have their say along the way.

  8. Dave Eyre says:

    I was in Dublin at a concert with the Dubliners and Joe Heaney and when Luke Kelly was still alive. At the end of the interval the curtains opened to an empty stage. Then Luke came in from the rear of the theatre singing this and walked right through the audience and eventually onto the stage. A most memorable experience.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    ‘Admin’, there is nothing wrong with your eyes as you did write Orion. It’s just the italic font you chose made it look like ‘onion’! Tony may or may not be able to spell ‘pompous’ and I can spell ‘imagine’, except my enthusiastic typing got the better of me. So that’s the spelling lesson over! I am absolutely here to learn too, as well as enjoy the songs, of course. And I had absolutely guessed that the person behind the admin came to folk via the rock adaptations! So did I, though I am not very memorably knowledgeable about them either! So please keep up the information, but it is coming to a ‘mixed ability’ audience, maybe of mixed ages. Unbelievably, there will be young people out there who are encountering Led Zep for the first time as well as famous folk songs! I can get lamentably lost in detailed allusions to either, but would like not to be. Pointers to follow up for more info, like via Mudcat, are great! I do find myself asking ‘Where have I been all my life?’ Well, I’m here now and loving it! Everyone’s generally very positive!

  10. admin says:

    Thanks Jane as this confirms my thinking. I’m certainly not the font of all wisdom here, but have the privilege to be working on this and I take the responsibility for posting here very seriously, researching songs to the best of my ability. If I find stuff that I think is interesting then I hope others will also be intrigued, although you clearly can’t please everybody. My intention isn’t to lecture, but rather to report what I can find and add some links for people to follow up if they want to. However you got here I hope you continue to enjoy it.

  11. Paul Mansfield says:

    There is a sneaky way of resolving this “which river Blackwater” issue, and that is to drop into the last verse (instead of the words ‘whole world’) the name of a town on one of the relevant rivers…if I can get the tune right, I’ll be demonstrating this in a future floor spot at Traditions At The Tiger, Long Eaton (really sorry to have been out of town when you played there earlier this year, Jon). The folk process in action?

  12. Phil says:

    I sing “this whole wide world” & stretch those four syllables, I’m slightly abashed to say, over (hums while counting on fingers) nine notes. So I’d have to be selective about where I was visiting when I tried that approach – Tring wouldn’t work, or East Sheen.

  13. Nick Hallam says:

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

    On checking the online Library Index there are 9 records of the song.

    When searched on Round No.12 records are produced. Most of them are of Northern Irish origin, but there are two version Sailor Boy and Early Spring When I Was Young sourced in Canada and the USA respectively.

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

    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. Paul Howarth says:

    Don’t let anybody put you off including provenance and as many relevant links as you can find.

  15. […] Blackwaterside « A Folk Song A Day […]

  16. Elly says:

    The provenance information is interesting and useful, and please don’t be put off making it, admin! You don’t come across as pompous at all.

    Lovely song and beautifully sung. 🙂

  17. Simon says:

    I had to have a little chuckle looking back at this and can vividly recall feeling somewhat less than chuffed that all of my hard work was so cuelly batted back into my face. Apologies for The Hunt Is Up not uploading properly, it’s now sorted.

  18. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Hooray for Simon and his potted histories (they light Jane’s blue touch paper and we get shedloads more )……….
    Good old Joe and his Mudcat site…..I have lots of songs ,heard on 78″ or tape, written down over the years and I haven’t a clue where they came from…and now I can fill in a few details if I “put ’em up”.
    Incidently….did Tony Ch stick with the site?………I shall look out for his useful comments in the future.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Skyman: Well, I was looking at what I wrote ref maybe a tadge too much information, but that was the pot calling the kettle black in light of my subsequent mega-contributions! I shall no doubt feel even more embarrassed later as we re-run the year. I was feeling rather inadequate in terms of folkological knowledge at that point, when nearly everyone else was not only folk-familiar, but often practitioners to boot! It certainly made me raise my game on research. Alas, I am still not a musical diva….

  20. Paul Parkinson says:

    I think the iTunes feed is having problems again Jon. The last four songs appear in the feed but don’t download.

  21. Simon says:

    Paul just to be clear there are no pod casts. I’m sorry there is too much work involved in resetting them and we have decided that the streams will be available again, but that will be it I’m afraid.

  22. Phil says:

    Another one that I’ve done! I was seriously pleased with how this one came out; see what you think.

    As I said at 52fs,

    It’s difficult to know what to say about this song, other than that it’s one of the greats, and – if you haven’t done so already – there are lots of other versions you can hear. In some ways folk has more of an affinity with classical music than with pop – the repertoire’s there, the question is what you’re going to do with it. Here’s what I’ve done with this one.


  23. Diana says:

    I do love reading everyone’s comments – they are really entertaining and the information contained therein is astonishing. With regard to the spelling, I do not believe it has improved a great deal over the years to date. More often it is the typing that is the problem not the spelling , a case of more haste less speed and not bothering to read through what has been typed to correct same.

    The song is great but it is always the poor woman who suffers – never the male who causes all the trouble.

  24. Jane Ramsden says:

    Thoroughly resounding rendition, Jon, and Phil’s zither adds resonance on his version. Goes very well. Am impressed by number of instruments and sounds you are bringing to bear in your 52fs, Phil. Notes good as always.

    I’ve been back down the cellar practising ‘sheepshearing’ – the song, not the act… well, the act, but not that act! Blimey, at this rate, I might even sound… adequate!

  25. Diana says:

    @Jane I knew dissuade looked wrong but could not decide 1 s or 2. I see you are practising for your debut on You Tube but without the video.

  26. Diana says:

    @LInda: I am already for the November gig. Jane has sent me a lovely knitted red rose so you should be able to spot me in the bar.

  27. Linda says:

    @Diana; not sorted for November yet but will look out for you in the bar will have to make sure there’s only one bar!

  28. Jane Ramsden says:

    More than one bar, ladies, though you might be directed to mainly one during the performance/depending where you are sitting etc. Lyric Circle Bar if upstairs, Quays Theatre Bar otherwise. The Terrace Bar is for post-performance. Best decide in advance which you are going to flash your flowers in!

  29. Diana says:

    Ooh Jane you have complicated matters now, Linda is upstairs in the circle and I am in the stalls. Long time since I was at the Lowry and think there is more that one theatre -could be wrong.

  30. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    I wonder if Tony Christmas is still grumpy after all these years(certainly lacking in his namesake of Christmas spirit!)

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