Spencer The Rover


Jon and Fay again, as Mr. Boden says, “A brilliantly singable ballad from the Coppers. We sing it at Royal Traditions, partly because of the local connection in the lyrics.” I’ll confess to loving this although some of the words to this version are new to me, although that may well be a faulty recollection of the Coppers’version. Link here for their site and Mudcat for more. I must say this version for me is a cut above, although my heart will for ever be with John Martyn’s version on Sunday’s Child. It still breaks my heart every time I play it (which has been regularly over the last 30+ years.) The power of song eh!



40 Responses to “Spencer The Rover”

  1. muzza says:

    There I was…. “a skiffle man” back in the late 50s and got lured to a folk club…Spencer the Rover was the first song on the bill and hooked me forever. Incidently, what made F&J laugh when they got to Prittleprattle stories…..I’m sure you can hear it in the voices!

  2. Shelley says:

    A cracking song and a great rendition of it, and one I’ve learned directly from Jon and Fay at Royal Traditions. Thanks to you both!

  3. SRD says:

    Love it, although I think I prefer Fay’s line to Jon’s.

  4. Phil says:

    Very nice. This song has a special resonance for me, partly because of the way it speaks to middle-aged blokes everywhere but also because I remember how it blew me away when I first heard it sung (by the great John Kelly, whose rendition you can hear here.)

    I did it myself in a singaround almost exactly two years ago – it was the fifth of November, I have reason to remember…!

  5. SRD says:

    I find it quite difficult to sing, I keep drifting into the Ash Grove.

  6. Dave Rogers says:

    “I find it quite difficult to sing, I keep drifting into the Ash Grove.”

    Looking for your Spotted Cow? 😉

  7. Linda Hall says:

    We first knew the Dransfields version, which I still love, but Jon and Fay’s words make much more sense – “England and most parts of Wales” instead of “Britain and most parts of Wales” that the Dransfields sang! We always wondered why Wales wasn’t part of Britain in their version! And yes, this is a great version and I’m sure will become a classic.

  8. Phil says:

    Linda – that’s the tradition for you. (At last night’s singaround I did Boney’s Lamentation, which includes the marvellous line “We marched them forth in inveterate streams” – makes no sense whatsoever, but that’s how it was collected (and besides, it *sounds* right).)

    On the Copper family Web site you can find the family’s own version of “Spencer the Rover”; you can also find the version Bob Copper collected from a man called Jim Barrett in a pub in 1954. A look at the Bodleian’s ballad site will find you several broadside copies of “Spencer the [young] rover”, printed around a hundred years earlier. I haven’t got time to check the Bodleian now, but both the Copper versions say ‘Britain’; that’ll do for me. (Besides, I don’t think he can really have travelled most parts of England if he thought there were mountains in Rotherham!)

  9. Andrew says:

    Great, the J&F duets really stand out for me.

    Quick question: I use Last.fm to keep track of what I listen to and make sure that I edit the names/tags etc on Windows Media Player. When it’s a duet do you want the tracks to show up as Jon Boden & Fay Hield, or just show Jon Boden as the Artist and include Fay as a tag?

  10. Reinhard says:

    Jon & Fay would be fair, Andrew.

  11. Jan says:

    Lovely! And yes, we know there aren’t any mountains near Rotherham, but it’s a folk song, innit? The ‘prittle-prattling stories’ make me want to laugh when I sing it, and dare I say , a friend I sing with is working on a send-up of the song for that very reason, not that we don’t think it’s a beautiful song.

  12. Peter Little says:

    A classic, beautifully and sympathetically sung. Well done, and thanks

  13. Andrew says:

    Reinhard I think you’re right, but the mp3s are supplied with just Jon’s name so show up as JB only on Last.fm

  14. Neil says:

    There’s a update-of-sorts version of this on Jim Moray’s new album called ‘Spencer The Writer’

  15. John Phipps says:

    As a baritone its good to hear the counter melody but I would think Fay’s volume should have been a little louder since she has the melody. Nicely sung though.

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    Another one for your joint album! Prittle-Prattle Stories would make a great title, though not sure the sense would be a perfect fit. Beautifully sung. I agree with John above, a little more volume from Fay would have balanced it more exquisitely, but only a minor point. You always sound as though you like singing together. Something special comes through.

  17. ed says:

    wonderful website, great to be able to browse leisurely through so many songs.
    where has the recording of Spenser the Rover gone then? jumped onto a disc?
    may great natural skill infuse your works

  18. Kevin Magill says:

    Love your voice Jon, but Fay very competently carries the melody and should have been prominent in the mix. Given the other comments in this vein, its really worth remixing and reposting.

  19. Phil says:

    Faye in excelsis: Spencer the Rover (Woodbine and Ivy Band). A Christmas Number One? (No, but it’s ace anyway.)

    And here’s my own version, Spencer the Dusty Miller!

  20. Diana says:

    Love the duet.

  21. Jane Ramsden says:

    Thanks for the Woodbine and Ivy link, Phil. Wondeful musical accompaninment to Faye’s lovely lilt – excelling, if not in excelsis! Would be quite an achievement to produce a folk rock Christmas No 1, but I admire the attempt! You never know!

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    And love the pipes, Phil!

  23. Phil says:

    Cheers, Jane!

    Here’s another one: Spencer the Differently Roving (from Andy Turner).

  24. Linda says:

    Nice to hear another joint song. And a nice distraction from the football.

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

    Ref Jane…9 comments above………….Mike Garland has already put out an excellent CD called ‘PrittlePrattle stories’……I play it most nights afore I drops off to sleep.

  26. Diana says:

    Another great duet – lovely song and contentment at the finish.

    Linda not too long now – got our tickets at last paid in February though.

  27. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Rats! Just have to call it ‘Pretty Prattles’ then! As coindence would have it (like with Creeping Jane and your comment t’other day) I was just listening to ‘Spencer the Rover’ on a 2-CD Dejavu (yes, Les B!) Retro Gold Collection Anthology of English Folk from 2001 – another of my bonza charity shoppe finds! Still available new on Amazon for just ovver a fiver (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00004YS3N/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&seller=) Fairy nuff, I paid 3.99 used in British Heart Foundation, but helps the needy!) Anyway, t’was Robin Dransfield singing ‘Spencer the R,’ brother of Barry, wot I only knew abaht on account of here! Barry has a very accessible web site at:


    I did not realise he learnt his fiddle-playing from the Irish community in Leeds and acquired a following through Harrogate Folk Club. Didn’t I miss a treat!

    To the question posed on t’internetty, ‘Is Robin Dransfield still alive and kicking?’ came the following (undated) answer:

    “Yes, he’s my dad; he’s long past 60 and getting a bit rough around the edges, but still kicking it in Cornwall in a home in the middle of nowhere likened to a hobbit hole.”

  28. Jane Ramsden says:

    Took me a bit of finding – Mike Garland’s ‘Prittle Prattling Stories’ – but scroll down through here, which looks to have a lot of good stuff!


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

    @Jane….thanks for tip…….I have aquired the LAST used copy of Anthology for £5(includes post) from Amazon………I have Dransfield tapes from the radio many years ago…’Rout of the Blues’ one of their most memorable….Blooming mOrris Ring shop….could spend a fortune there!

  30. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzzy: Less of the Old Muzza, please! You are springy! Ref Amazon, remember that you can buy from them new with no postage, if the item is a fiver, as long as you select Super Saver Delivery at the check-out (so avoid 1-click buying.) Used to be a tenner, but they got generous! For all I know, might be every-priced item now and, if you have a Nectar card and go through Nectar eshoppes, you can get points as well, to spend anywhere accepting Nectar (including Amazon) on more folk music! Pity the Morris Ring shoppe doesn’t give Nectar points… yes, lot’s tempting there!

  31. Diana says:

    Yes Jane I haven’t paid postage at Amazon on articles that have
    cost less than a fiver.

  32. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    None of you are going to read this but……………..my computer has gone bust and I can only get on via a friend now and then…………..I have just logged on to the Islington folk club Trad2Mad and am mortified to see that my entry (sent 30th Oct) was not received and so I’m not even on the starters list….but you can see that crafty old Phil has entered this year.

  33. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Hey………full youtube links to this year’s Islington folk competition Trad2Mad2015 follows:-
    Number 5 is a probable winner..
    .young man with excellent voice singing ‘Shoals of Herring’-full blast!…..
    lady at Number 4….Fields of Athenry…..sweet
    If you want weird…..my entry No22 ‘Mistletoe Bough’
    and REALLY, REALLY WEIRD…the last one. No 32 takes folk song to extremes.

  34. Barbara says:

    This is my favourite song that we sing at Royal Traditions, it gets sung with great gusto! Love it.

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

    Don’t ask me how…..but I missed entering Islington folk competition (closed 31st OCT)

  36. Chris Higson says:

    Spencer The Rover 5:14 Bob Higson Clearly Now Alternative 100 0 19

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

    Sadly…..and for no reason I can determine , Islington Folk Club have discontinued the annual competition.

  38. OldMuzza(NWSURREY UK) says:

    Good old Spenser….finally bit the bullet and returned home to face his resposibilities….mind you…he could have been wandering to find work to feed the family

  39. Jane (Maryland) says:

    Phil’s 2011 link to the “Fay in excelsis” Woodbine & Ivy version no longer works, but here it is on YouTube

  40. OldMuzza (NW Surrey UK) says:

    @Jane(Maryland)…thanks for the Fay link above…her singing was just perfect but…..cor blimey Guvnor…all that jingly jangly stuff (almost ruined it.)……sack the music director and the sound engineer!
    Same problem as with the BBC poetry tapes….you listen to the gentle poetry and between each section they go mad with loud ,tinny, obscure interlude music…..ruins in-bed, ‘easy listening!’

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