Banks Of Sweet Primroses


Jon recalls “This I learnt for a tribute concert to Fred Jordan at Cecil Sharp House shortly after his death. I missed out on hearing him sing sadly, but love his voice. This narrowly lost out to Larks They Sang Melodious for Midsummer’s day last year and then I thought about putting it last, but figured a farewell song might be more appropriate…”

One from the Coppers, although widely collected across Southern England. It strikes me as mildly curious in and I find it hard to follow the sense of it. I was pleased therefore to find I’m not alone in that and there is some debate about the last verse being a bolt on. It seems to be remarkably robust in all other ways, however, with very few lyrical variations. It seems to start off jolly enough with the spying of a pretty young maid, but then she seems to be unhappy and less than chuffed with the attention. But quite why she blames him for her unhappiness isn’t clear and despite her intention to wallow in her misery it ends up being a “bright sunshiney day.”  Am I missing something, or is the suggestion that this is an incomplete broken-token ballad, as you’ll see at Mainly Norfolk, on the mark.


57 Responses to “Banks Of Sweet Primroses”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    I managed to find an archived recording of Fred Jordan singing this song live via the following link:

    The song isn’t quite so confusing if the last two verses are taken together as both sung/spoken by the young man, rather than the last verse viewed as apparently ‘tacked on’. There is nothing to say the penultimate verse is sung by the fair maid just because it says “I will go down in some lonesome valley/ Where no man on earth shall e’er me find.”

    So, in glorious summer, a young man encounters “a most lovely fair” (maid) by the primroses. Alas, she knows him as a bad sort from a previous encounter. (It was ever thus in these ancient folk songs!) His sexual advances are spurned, and our would-be lover slinks off to “some lonesome valley/ Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices.” In other words, where he might get a different response to his overtures from a different bird! Hence, the song ends on a joyous, hopeful note. Wonderful weather helps him not be downcast by rejection. There are plenty more fish in the sea!

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    Just looking back at comments for the last few songs and under ‘Roll, Alabama’ Chris Carter pointed out that the track was sung unaccompanied in more shanty style by Swan Arcade on their debut album many years ago. I found it on YouTube so, for those wanting an extra listen near the end of the project, here it is:

  3. Simon Dewsbury says:

    Another one to put straight back on again for a second time. A fittingly beautiful almost finale.

  4. JohnnyEv says:

    I must dust off that 67 key Macann Duet…… beautifully played and sung. What the heck is going to be my homepage for the next twelve months? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

  5. John Biggs says:

    Over the ages, many of these songs were cobbled together by singers using their favourite lines and phrases from other songs on similar themes, if they thought they worked better. After all, few of them were ever written down in those days.
    This exquisite song with it’s haunting melody has evolved by this folk process, and is none the worse for it.
    Along with the likes of ‘Lemady’, we should just forget the analysis and enjoy it for what it is.
    Beautifully sung Jon. Just right !

  6. Reinhard says:

    Jane’s “Alas, she knows him as a bad sort from a previous encounter” reminds me of Young Roger Esquire sung by Jon nearly a year ago:

    Such a man of your likeness I chanced for to see, /
    Such a man of your likeness with curly long hair /
    He once came a-courting, he once came a-courting /
    My father’s grey mare.

  7. Mark says:

    Worth checking out Blue Murder’s version. A very uplifting album with the marvellous Mike Waterson in full flow.

  8. Simon says:

    Hmmm! I seem to be a victim of the comment goblin. God knows where that’s disappeared to. I’ll try again…

    Thanks Jane as that sort of makes more sense, although it’s still a lurch from downright depressed to sunshine-happy. As has been said above, it doesn’t much matter as it’s a lovely little song and beautifully sung. It’s just that one thing I have learnt form this project is that my own preference is for a strong narrative thread.

  9. Nick Passmore says:

    “…For there’s many a dark and a cloudy morning turns out to be bright sunshiney day.”

  10. edith lewis says:

    Can’t believe this year has gone so fast. Thank you all for such a wonderful project. I will start listening all over again on Friday. Have a great night tomorrow. Just wish I could be there. Looking forward to hearing Jon at Bradfield.

  11. Jane Bird says:

    This is one of those classic bright but yearning tunes. Smashing song! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening over the last year.

  12. Phil says:

    Hope you’ve got something p. and d. lined up for our final AFSAD!

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Skyman: You are clearly a very nice person! He’s not depressed. He’s a chancer! If he’s put out at all it’s because his overtures weren’t successful, ‘cos he’d forgotten he’d met the maid before. She hadn’t, ‘cos he’s like Reinhard’s Roger, so he got caught out and she gave him the harsh word. He’s only going where there’s no other man ‘cos there’ll be no competition for the lassies! That’s the thought that cheers him up, so he’s still a chancer! (Just a now philosophical one…)

  14. sarah says:

    So sad that there will be no more! I have learnt so much, and discovered songs I love and have learnt to sing while weeding the garden. I’m going to miss this dreadfully.

  15. Sarah says:

    But The Larks They Sang Melodious was so fabulous, you made the right choice.

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

    Thanks again to that lovely little mover/resarcher Jane for tracking down Fred Jordan’s delightful version……and for all those unsung heroes that thought to record the singers with ponderous..or no equipment. What would Cecil and Maude have achieved with an Ipod!

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    Thank you, Muzza. I have tracked you down again on YouTube and had to do all kinds of I-don’t-understand-what-linking just to say I liked a video! I have sent a friend invitation, but not subscribed yet, as I do not understand what I am doing… It was ever thus… ponderous… with no equipment… hahahahaha!

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

    Ah Jane…thank you for your kind words………….if you click “subscribe” on a youtube vid it just means that you get notification when the old moron puts another video up..and it’s free.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    Ah Muzza… I will ‘sub scribe,’ as I seem to have done rather a lot of it on AFSAD, so why not for thee? I have yet to listen to all your previous videos, but will get roundtuit. No doubt I will have sthg to say! I am planning to say less here and listen more/again… but I am not sure how sustainable that is!

    I was aiming to sing a song to upload before the end of the year, but the technology of it all defeaTed me, aside from lack of singing ability! I picked one by Lal Waterson – First She Starts – for the obvious reason that it would be the first time I’d done one. It’s also short! However, what looked seemingly simple was a bit harder than I thought. I may still have a go, but I am a long way from YouTube methinks!

  20. SRD says:

    Lovely, and I’m with Jane on the lyrics having, only yesterday lunchtime, watched someone do exactly that in one of our locals. But I’m confused by the tune, doesn’t it start off as Spanish Ladies but then end as a hymn tune?

  21. Linda says:

    Morning all. Just the right sort of song for this time of the morning,

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Linda: Up with the larks that sang melodious?

  23. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Farewell and Adieu to you Northern ladies
    Farewell and adieu to all folksong day friends
    For I’m off today, to drive to old Teignmouth
    And I wont be around when this fine project ends

    I’ve loved all the songs ,I’ve loved all the people
    The comments, the banter,the murders, the pain
    Now I will be jolly and drown meloncholy,
    And I hope in a short time to see you again.

  24. Diana says:

    Another lovely song.

    Think we will all go out with a whimper and not a bang.

    Muzza love your poem – enjoy Teignmouth and I do hope the weather is better for you than what I am experiencing at present, rain coming down like stair rods.

  25. Pewter says:

    Foul weather, Diana, here at Bolton too; but the great music compensates! Really enjoyed Jon’s version.

    Coincidentally, Mike Harding played Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick performing this from their Topic CD ‘But Two Came By’ on Wednesday night (thanks to Linda for the tip to listen). Also on the show – a couple of tracks from ‘That’s Proper Folk Too’, but I won’t give away which, hahaha! Listen on the BBC iPlayer…

    This maybe goodbye to all, if I can’t get on the computer tomorrow, so I want to say how much I really enjoyed the project, songs and comments. Thanks to you all! Great parting poem from Muzza – I suppose he has already gone to Teignmouth…

  26. Diana says:

    Thanks Pewter I will listen to Mike Harding on iPlayer, I did that last week so know the ropes now. I enjoyed “That’s proper folk too!! as well and ended up getting “Ragged Kingdom” with June Tabor and the Oysterband.

    It is a shame to make and lose friends and AFSAD. I will still be in touch with Jane on FB and indirectly will and hopefully get news of you and Muzza. It has been lovely “talking” to you and wish all the best for the future.

  27. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Just back from visiting an old friend in the U.S., in time to catch the last few days of this wonderful project which has been an absolute joy. The songs, the contacts, the humour, the exchange of knowledge, and so many new songs to learn. Muzza says it all in his verses above, and I would not have missed it for anything.
    I came back wondering if there might be news of a sequel or follow-up, but it would appear not. Rather like this summer, a dark and a cloudy morning does not always turn into a bright sunshiny day.
    I remember last year, getting in late and, as it was after midnight, turning on the lap top to hear that final song. Suddenly I found I had something in my eye! Now I shall not do that this year, although, perhaps…..

  28. Jane Ramsden says:

    I am sobbing into a cat here at all your comments… 2 cats! One for each eye!

    So far as I know from Admin Simon, who may yet post some advice for tomorrow’s final song, AFSAD will not be running for a third time, but ‘will be left up until someone takes it down.’ I’m not clear if this means just the songs to listen to, or the whole blog to read as well, even if not add to.

    I can only add a faint echo to what Muzza, Diana, Pierre and John B have said. It’s been an education, a pleasure and a privilege – with the added bonus of ‘meeting’ some fantastic people during the two-year journey. A sizeable chunk out of anyone’s lifetime, but it would have taken me a lifetime to otherwise have the same experience. Thankee, Jon, Simon, one and all!

    This song ain’t half-bad either… hahahahahaha!

  29. Diana says:

    @Jane: I think you have summed it up very nicely so endorse your comments. I have no cat to sob into but an inexhaustible supply of tissues. I do hope we can continue to re-read all the previous comments and it would be lovely if we could still communicate with all our friends but I somehow fear that it’s not to be.

  30. Linda says:

    Till NewYears eve two years ago I had not heard of Bellowhead so thank you Jools Holland. Since then my bank account has suffered hopefully for the best. CDs including Spiers n Boden, Jon ,Fay, Hannah and Sam ,Belthazza[sorry about the spelling] amongst others. If your down in Boscastle try the Boscastle Busker. We ve also done quite a few concerts with more to come including our first Folk Festival. My prize purchase however has to be the full set of AFSAD .
    So to Jon and Fay and everybody involved with this project Thank You.May the Captain and his crew sail on.
    Seem to remember a similar comment about the captain last year which bought a tear to the eye but was so apt.
    @Diana might see you at the Lowry.!!!!!

  31. Diana says:

    Linda join the mourners. Is a sad occasion the demise of AFSAD. It has been great making new friends hasn’t it and now we all have to part. I have accumulated a fair amount of folk songs that I have never encountered and have enjoyed every day I have brought up AFSAD on the computer. Not liked all the songs but the majority I did enjoy. I seem to remember saying something about a ship with the captain and the crew and thanking all that sailed on her. Anyway the best of luck to you and Colin and who knows we may meet at the Lowry – the trouble is we would not recognise each other.

  32. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Nail biting stuff…………..will it….won’t it…..will AFSAD close after three years?
    I love the daily song coming round but I do miss the chat from the early sessions.
    I know that you are all out there so keep on Folkin’. Thanks again to Admin Simon, Jon and the team… was a great idea and by golly it worked.
    Now we have the ‘Full English’ to savour and I’m off to Sidmouth for a week.
    Take care everybody…keep away from sharp knives, rivers, murderous strangers, jolly sailors and ploughboys!!!

  33. John Bryson says:

    I agree with Muzza’s comments at 7.51am.
    I don’t know about the rest of you, but the things I have experienced since ASFAD started broadcasting three years ago! This has, withot a doubt, widened my knowledge of the folk scene. My wife Jane, while not being the world’s greatest folkie, is now a big fan of Jon, also of John S and The Remnant Kings, thanks to this project (her Ladyship is the choral one, I the folkie and thespian – anyone near Loughborough Town Hall 10th to 14th Sept can see me in a sailor suit as I debut with Loughborough Amateur Operatic Society in Anything Goes – thanks for letting me promote the show!).
    I look forward to getting into Full English, and hope to see the touring show

  34. Jane Ramsden says:

    I can only concur with Muzza and John, & say yet again what a privilege and a pleasure AFSAD has been, as well as an education (and not too strong to state in my case, life-changing and supporting through some very tough times!) So many thanks to Jon, Skyman et al, and I’ve ‘met’ some truly lovely people through this project & got an enormous amount out of it. I even feel proud of missen for rising to the occasion and putting in what I could. I’ve got my ‘AFSAD archive’ and I will never forget the experience. Where to go next? I’ll certainly dip into the Full English as well.

  35. Diana says:

    Yes it has been a pleasure to listen each day. The songs only come round once a year so there is no repetition so each day seems new.

  36. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    ‘I even feel proud of missen for rising to the occasion and putting in what I could’…….
    …………it’s a long time since I have said that !!!!
    Well you knew I’d lower the tone one last time and I’m sure you do it deliberately!!

  37. Old Muzza(NW SurreyUK) says:

    On somebody else’s pc again… the post might get through.
    Doesn’t this tune sound a little like ‘Spencer the Rover’……but then a good tune can match loads of different sets of words

  38. Linda says:

    Just been reading back through some of the comments, Mark in 2011, I have just got the Blue Murder CD and would recommend it, I seem to have managed to write an epic in 2012 which is still true still spending on concerts and CDs including Spiers and Boden final tour and Bellowheads 10th birthday, but hey it’s worth it!!! (got tickets for Sam Sweeney tour in September)
    Hopefully this year we,re not all in tears and are looking forward to our extended AFSAD and carrying on the friendships we have made with hopefully some new friends to be made.
    Cheers to Captain Jon!!!!
    @Muzza hope you get the pc sorted we need you on board!!!

  39. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    The o….seems to have got stuck againld Gal (AFSAD)

  40. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    I’ll say that again

  41. Jane Ramsden says:

    The old gal seems to have got stuck again? You cannot possibly be referring to me, Muzzy Muzzander! Hahahahahaha!

    Since we seem to have run out of songs, I will fill the breach with a few offerings inspired by recent gigs I have been to. Pewter Walsh and I were lucky enough to see Eliza Carthy at The Live Room in Saltaire on a short tour with Tim Eriksen. Despite having broken the middle finger of her bow hand in the door of her new van (!), she still managed to play a blinder. Not many people could be such an effective foil in a duo with Eliza, but Tim Eriksen’s playing and resonant voice have the requisite power. I would not have known about him if not for AFSAD & I have to say, his a cappella singing is a wonder. Here is a track from their tour CD Bottle, Whitby Lad/Botany Bay:

    But if you want a bit of fun, look up May Song at Whitby Abbey, complete with Vikings!

    Idumea is a song not on the CD, which shows the full power of Tim’s voice:

    And so to the next offering below!

  42. Jane Ramsden says:

    Still on with fabulous fiddle-playing, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner have just launched their latest CD, ‘Layers of Ages’ – their best yet, IMHO! Then again, it does feature some favourites of mine like ‘She Moved Through The Fair,’ ‘Mad Tom Of Bedlam’ ‘Hard Times Of Old England’ and another I learnt about on here, ‘Death And The Lady.’ Gigspanner have posted a rather eerie & disturbingly beautiful video to accompany this song on YouTube:

    If you want a little light relief after that, go to the fiddlesticks on ‘Louisiana Flack!’

    Musical offering number 3 to follow!

  43. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’ll really jolly it up now with Brian Peters playing a squeezy thing to ‘The Farmer’s Curst Wife,’ which is a sort of version of ‘The Devil and the Feathery Wife’ that I really like by Colston and Rose. Muzza, take note! Even the Devil is on a sticky wicket picking a fight with a woman (especially a Yorkshire woman! Lol.)

    Having recently posted Jean Ritchie’s obit, in homage to her tracing the British roots of Appalachian ballads, I saw Brian Peters at Halifax Square Chapel giving a presentation of the reverse collection in Sharp’s Appalachian Harvest (CD available with excellent liner notes and Cecil’s own photos in miniature of people he collected songs from.) Brian was accompanied by an American called Jeff Davis & they both punctuated the talk/slideshow with songs and fiddle tunes. Here’s a sample from the presentation:

    Brian Peters can be found on another recently released CD called ‘The Liberty To Choose’ with James Findley, Bella Hardy & Lucy Ward. It is a compilation of some songs from The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs:

    Check out Brian’s own website for other interesting CDs.

  44. Jane Ramsden says:

    Fourth and final feast of folk is from O’Hooley & Tidow. I recommend them heartily for their originality as well as virtuosity of playing and voice. Wonderful a cappela singers and a stage act that has lots of humour. Since I am very partial to mill history and songs, here’s the title song from their latest album called ‘The Hum:’

    They closed their recent performance at the Live Room in Saltaire with a lovely unaccompanied rendition of ‘The Parting Glass,’ so here’s my parting offering, if AFSAD rolls no more – their very apt & Yorkshire ‘Summat’s Brewin’ ( Oh Good Ale)’ which the Live room audience (including moi!) had the good fortune to be recorded joining in the chorus:

    Cheers, AFSAD! (And thanks & farewell to Bellowhead.)

  45. Diana says:

    Well we have come full circle yet again. this time like you say Jane – faretheewell to Bellowhead. Hope all the separate components do well in the future.

  46. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    AAAAAAAAGGGGGGH……..(21July 2015)…..just listened to the Archers and that was followed by an interview with Jon & John and the news was that Bellowhead is breaking up and their last gig will be in Oxford on 1st May 2016

  47. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, you’re still with us Muzzy Muzzander, so that’s the main thing! We may yet still be treated to Muzzical magic on YouTube, complete with costume and props! Good to hear from you.

  48. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Hi Janey……My computer went splat………lost the cursor…..took it back to PC World and they did a ‘factory reset’ which lost shedloads of files that I hadn’t backed up since march……aaarrgghh…and it still had to go back to repair centre.
    Now have it back but trying to reset it up while dealing with the incomprehensible Microsoft ‘security system (we are guarding your information!)..has been a nightmare.
    Have yet to suss out how to get past the ‘security system’ to reload Skype and Office!

  49. Jane Ramsden says:

    Turn the security off while you load what you want, then turn it back on again, Muzza. Chances of anything bad happening very low. What with the endless MS overnight updates and the anti-virus/firewall, I only manage to keep going because of system recovery – lol. We can’t be missing any musical gems!

  50. Linda says:

    Reading back through the comments and its a mixture of sad days happy days …the”last” concerts of Spiers and Boden / Bellowhead but new beginnings solo tours new bands ( eg Sam Sweeney and Leveret amongst others) looking forward to more of this folk journey……Might get a comment from Diana and Jane tomorrow see Muzza has already posted.

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