zondag 16 juli 2017

The Elfin Knight (1670) / Scarborough Fair (1891) / Strawberry Lane (1954) / The Lover's Tasks (1956) / Girl From The North Country (1963)

"Scarborough Fair" is a traditional English ballad about the Yorkshire town of Scarborough.

This English folk song dates back to late medieval times, when the seaside resort of Scarborough  was an important venue for tradesmen from all over England. Founded well over a thousand years ago as Skarthaborg by the norman Skartha, the Viking settlement in North Yorkshire in the north-west of England became a very important port as the dark ages drew to a close. Scarborough and its surroundings Scarborough Fair was not a fair as we know it today (although it attracted jesters and jugglers) but a huge forty-five day trading event.
In the Middle Ages Scarborough Fair, permitted in a royal charter of 1253, held a six-week trading festival attracting merchants from all over Europe. It ran from Assumption Day, 15 August, until Michaelmas Day, 29 September. The fair continued to be held for 500 years, from the 13th to the 18th century. As eventually the harbour started to decline, so did the fair, and Scarborough is a quiet, small town now.

Scarborough Fair (fair) - Wikipedia

The song "Scarborough Fair" relates the tale of a young man who instructs the listener to tell his former love to perform for him a series of impossible tasks, such as making him a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well, adding that if she completes these tasks he will take her back. Often the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt once he has finished.

As the versions of the ballad known under the title "Scarborough Fair" are usually limited to the exchange of these impossible tasks, many suggestions concerning the plot have been proposed, including the hypothesis that it is about the Great Plague of the late Middle Ages. The lyrics of "Scarborough Fair" appear to have something in common with an obscure Scottish ballad, "The Elfin Knight" (Child Ballad #2), which has been traced at least as far back as 1670 and may well be earlier. In this ballad, an elf threatens to abduct a young woman to be his lover unless she can perform an impossible task ("For thou must shape a sark to me / Without any cut or heme, quoth he"); she responds with a list of tasks that he must first perform ("I have an aiker of good ley-land / Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand").

As the song spread, it was adapted, modified, and rewritten to the point that dozens of versions existed by the end of the 18th century, although only a few are typically sung nowadays. The references to the traditional English fair, "Scarborough Fair" and the refrain "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" date to 19th century versions, and the refrain may have been borrowed from the ballad "Riddles Wisely Expounded", (Child Ballad #1), which has a similar plot.
A number of older versions refer to locations other than Scarborough Fair, including Wittingham Fair, Cape Ann, "twixt Berwik and Lyne", etc. Many versions do not mention a place-name, and are often generically titled ("The Lover's Tasks", "My Father Gave Me an Acre of Land", etc.).

The earliest documented British variant is a long ballad of 20 verses on a black letter broadside.

A proper New Ballad,    Entituled,
The wind hath blown my Plaid away,
Or, A discourse betwixt a young Man, and the Elphin-Knight,
To be sung, with its own pleasant New Tune

EBBA Print Ballad Page

John Pinkerton in his "Ancient Scottish Poems" (Vol. 2, 1786, p. 496) claimed that this broadside was "printed about 1670"



A version called "Cambrick Shirt" was first published in the 1784 in "Gammer Gurton's Garland", a book of nursery songs and rhymes. Here we can find for the first time the now common refrain with the list of herbs ("Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme") as well as the "true lover of mine" in the fourth line.

"Gammer Gurton's Garland, or the Nursery Parnassus" collected and edited by Joseph_Ritson, was originally issued at Stockton, as a small twopenny brochure, in 32mo, without a date, "printed by and for R. Christopher". Only one copy of that book is known to excist.

Gammer G's Garland - The British Library

Sir Harris Nicholas says it appeared in the year 1783, "one of the most prolific of Ritson's pen".
Haslewood is of opinion that it appeared about the same period as "The Bishopric Garland, or Durham Minstrel", which was printed at Stockton for the same R. Christopher in 1784.
"Gammer Gurton's Garland" was printed again, with additions, in 1810, in 8vo.

SEE: https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_XtAqAAAAYAAJ#page/n7/mode/2up

In 1882 Francis J. Child subsumed this family of songs in his "English and Scottish Popular Ballads" (1882) under No. 2, "The Elfin Knight".


In this post I take a look at the evoluation of the version that became an evergreen, when it was recorded by Simon and Garfunkel in 1966 as "Scarborough Fair/Canticle".

Already in December 1954 Seamus Ennis recorded a version as "Strawberry Lane" sung by Thomas Moran from Drumrahill, Co. Leitrim (Ireland). This version has the bare bones of "Scarborough Fair": but has not the commonly known melody.
In his version Moran sings "every rose grows merry betimes" rather than "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme". And the "true lover of mine" is also a recurring line in this version.

This version was collected by Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax and released in 1961 on the album "The Folk Songs Of Britain - Volume 4 - The Child Ballads"



Listen here:

The earliest commercial recording of the ballad titled "Scarborough Fair" was by actor/singers Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, Americans who ran a cafe and nightclub, L'Abbaye, on the Rive Gauche in Paris. They recorded the song on the Elektra album "Encores From The Abbaye" in 1955. Their version has the common "Scarborough Fair" lyrics, but not the common melody, but the melody from Frank Kidson's collection "Traditional Tunes", published in 1891



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The song was also included on A. L. Lloyd's album "The English And Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. IV" (Released in 1956 on a Double-album on the Riverside Label RLP 12-627/628)


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Lloyd's version was also derived from Mr Frank Kidson's book "Traditional Tunes" (1891) page 43. In Kidson's book it says: as sung "in Whitby streets twenty or thirty years ago,". So that would be the 1860's or 1870's. Whitby is located 20 km north of Scarborough.


In 1956 John Langstaff recorded a version titled "The Lover's Tasks", which he learned from Cecil Sharp's "Folk Songs From Somerset" (3rd Series song # LXIV (1906)
It has the common "Scarborough Fair" lyrics, but used yet a different melody.

Click on the next link for "The Lover's Tasks" (and click again to zoom in on this page)


Click on the next link to read Cecil Sharp's notes on this song





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The version using the lyrics and the melody later used by Simon & Garfunkel in "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" was first recorded on a 1956 album, "English Folk Songs", by Audrey Coppard.
According to the liner-notes she had sung in clubs in London and given a number of concerts. These last were organized by A.L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, to whom she is indebted for introducing her to several of the songs on her album.
Also in the liner-notes it says:
Scarborough Fair.
Yorkshire. Here again, this song exists in many different versions, the name of the town being changed to fit in with the district in which it is sung. "Scarborough Fair” is a descendent of the folk song, "Seeds of Love. "


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Well, above, we have heard A.L. Lloyd´s version of "Scarborough Fair", with the diffferent melody.
Ewan MacColl would record "Scarborough Fair" one year later (using the commonly known melody also used by Coppard and (much later) Simon & Garfunkel)
MacColl's recording of his version appeared in 1957 on the LP "Matching Songs For The British Isles And America" (Riverside RLP 12-637)

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Matching Songs Of The British Isles And America

The song was also included on MacColl and Peggy Seeger's songbook "The Singing Island" (1960),
According to the notes in "The Singing Island", MacColl had collected this particular variant in 1947 from "Mark Anderson, retired lead.miner of Middleton-in-Teasdale, Yorkshire"


Mark Anderson made a few recordings for Alan Lomax at the High Force Hotel in April 1951, but apparently "Scarborough Fair" wasn't among them.









And here's an interview between Alan Lomax and Mark Anderson.



In "Legacies of Ewan MacColl: The Last Interview", MacColl says he recorded the song for the BBC TV series "The Song Hunter". This was around 1953/1954. He said he learned the song from Mark Anderson from Middleton-in-Teasdale in 1949.
During that 1949 meeting – believed to have been at Mr Anderson’s home at Howgill, near Newbiggin – Mr Anderson performed several songs, including "Scarborough Fair".

Ewan MacColl: The Last Interview

In October 1956 Milton Okun and Ellen Stekert recorded a version of "Cambric Shirt".
It also has the common "Scarborough Fair" lyrics, but used yet a different melody.


Listen here: http://www.harbel.one/okun/mp3/ScarboroughFair.mp3

In 1957 Jean Ritchie and Oscar Brand also recorded this version of "Cambric Shirt".


Listen here:

Shirley Collins sang "Scarborough Fair" unaccompanied in 1960 on her second album, "False True Lovers". She used the now commonly known melody.
Recorded by Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy in Peter Kennedy's house in Belsize Park, London, in 1958 in a two-day session.



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It is likely that both Audrey Coppard and Shirley Collins learned it from MacColl.
According to the Teesdale Mercury and Martin Carthy's daughter, it emerged that researcher-musician MacColl wrote a book of Teesdale folk songs after hearing Mark Anderson sing in the late 1940s. The book included Anderson's rendition of a little-known song called "Scarborough Fair". However, according to Alan Lomax, MacColl's source was probably Cecil Sharp's "One Hundred English Folk Songs", published in 1916.


But as you can see in the link above, Cecil Sharp's version of "Scarborough Fair" has yet another melody than the commonly known melody. In 1987 the Cecil Sharp-version was recorded by Shura Gehrman.

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Martin Carthy, who had picked up the song from "The Singing Island" (1960, p. 26), an influential songbook compiled by Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, included it on his 1965 debut solo album. He only edited the tune and the text a little bit, dropped three of the eight verses and wrote a beautiful guitar arrangement.
In the sleeve notes Carthy says:
Folklorists and students of plant mythology are well aware that certain herbs were held to have magical significance—that they were used by sorcerers in their spells and conversely as counter-spells by those that wished to outwit them. The herbs mentioned in the refrain of Scarborough Fair (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) are all known to have been closely associated with death and also as charms against the evil eye.

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While in London in 1962, Bob Dylan met several figures in the local folk scene, including English folksinger Martin Carthy.
Carthy exposed Dylan to a repertoire of traditional English ballads, including Carthy's own arrangement of "Scarborough Fair", which Dylan drew upon for aspects of the melody and lyrics of "Girl from the North Country", including the line from the refrain "Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine".

If you're travelin' in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

Musically, this song is nearly identical to his composition "Boots of Spanish Leather", composed and recorded one year later for the album "The Times They Are a-Changin".


Paul Simon also learned the song from Martin Carthy, while in London in 1965. Simon was very charmed by Carthy's guitar arrangement of "Scarborough Fair" and copied this one year later for the Simon & Garfunkel version of the song. They set it in counterpoint with "Canticle" – a reworking of the lyrics from Simon's 1963 anti-war song, "The Side of a Hill", set to a new melody composed mainly by Art Garfunkel.

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And here's "This Side Of A Hill", which Paul Simon recorded for his 1965 solo-album

In April 1966, Marianne Faithfull recorded and released her own take on "Scarborough Fair" on her album North Country Maid about six months prior to Simon & Garfunkel's release of their single version of the song in October 1966.

North Country Maid | Marianne Faithfull

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The Dutch rock group Brainbox recorded it in 1969.


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In 2013, in season 2 of The Voice Australia, Celia Pavey made a lot of impression with her presentation of the song.



Liz Jefferies sang this song, with the unusual title "Rosemary Lane", to Barry and Chris Morgan in their own home in Bristol in September 1976. In fact this version is a reworking of Thomas Moran's "Strawberry Lane".

This recording can be found on the anthology As Me and My Love Sat Courting (The Voice of the People Series Volume 15; Topic 1998).

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Bellowhead recorded "Rosemary Lane" in 2014 for their Island record "Revival". They followed the version by Liz Jefferies (as you can read in the comments of their CD)

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Bellowhead also gives a Track by Track explanation of the songs on their CD:

In 1927 The English Singers recorded "An Acre Of Land", which is a sub-version of Child #2 : "The Elfin Knight". This version was arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams



Listen here




A very thorough study of the song can be found here

"...Tell Her To Make Me A Cambric Shirt" - From The "Elfin Knight" to "Scarborough Fair"

"...She Once Was A True Love Of Mine" - Some Notes About Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country"

Many more versions here (click on #2 "The Elfin Knight"):



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