Sunday, November 13, 2011

English Folk Music Part 1

by Jenna Dawlish

This is the first post in a series about English Folk Music where I plan to take you all on an interactive journey into the folk roots of England.

I'm a huge fan of English Folk music, and in some respects it has had a bit of back seat compared to Irish and Scottish folk, as these both a very familiar and famous sound to them. But English folk has some wonderful pieces, and I hope you'll agree.

Being English myself, it was natural that I wished to learn and listen to more folk songs that are the roots of the music, traditions and customs from the country I live in.

There are thousands of English Folk songs and tunes, and I will be listing a few of my favourites in each post. Obviously the best way to enjoy this post is to listen to the songs themselves, so I have embedded YouTube links. Of course, the lyrics are very important as they tell fabulous stories of all kinds. So why not read the lyrics as you listen to the songs.

Finally, I will tell you what I know about the songs origins if possible.

Song 1:

Lets start with something I'm not going to tell you name of the song just yet. You need to listen to the song and lyrics. The artists are Spiers and Boden, one of my very favourite folk performers. Lyrics are under the embedded video - no cheating and looking at the title at the end! Just listen to the music and enjoy the story. This is performed in a more traditional style with guitar and squeezebox.


Willie's tall and Willie's strong and he's born of high degree
And he has gone to Earl Richard to serve obediently.
Earl Richard had one daughter dear, the fairest to be seen
And willie fell in love with her, all in the garden green.

Well the summers night is warm and still and brightly shone the moon.
When Willie met his sweetheart in the garden all alone
"Narrow is my gown willie that want to be so wide and gone is all my fair colour that want to be my pride."

"But if my father should find out whats passed between us two. Before he would eat or drink he would hang you over that wall"
Come up to my bower Willie just as the sun goes down and catch me in your two strong arms and let me not fall down."

So when the sun was setting low he's gone up to her bower and by the pale light of the moon her window she looked over.
All in a robe of red scarlet she jumped fearless of harm.
And Willie was tall and Willie was strong and he caught her in his arms.

When night was done and day was come and the night began to keep, well up arose the Earl Richard from out of his drowsy sleep.
"I dreamed I dreadful dream last night, God grant it come to good. I dreamed I saw my daughter dear drowning in the flood."
So he's called to him his servants in by one by two by three
"oh whats become of my daughter dear that she'll not come to me
If that she's been stolen away or taken from this hall I'll make vow and I'll keep it true I will hang you one and all."

So they searched east and they searched west and they searched up and down.
They found her in the merry green wood, nursing her bonny young son
well he's taken the baby all in his arms and kissed him tenderly.

"Although I would your father hang, yet your mothers dear to me"
He kissed him once, he kissed him twice "my grandson I thee claim and Robin Hood in the Merry Green Wood, that shall be your name."

Well there's many that sing of green green grass and sing of golden corn
and there's many that sing of Robin Hood no not where he was born.
Well it wasn't in the lofty hall, nor in the painted bower.
It was in the merry green wood, all among the lily flower.

That song is called "The Birth of Robin Hood." I hope you liked it. The story of Robin Hood has been used in songs over many centuries, and many of the famous scenes used in films and TV series have been taken from those ballads. However, this one I just love because it's about his birth and has a lovely story. It is in the Oxford Book of Ballads (1910).

This website here has more about the Robin Hood ballads.

This song is available to buy on iTunes etc ;0)


Song 2:

The second song I've chosen, relates to Linda Collison's post on this blog a few days ago about Britain's cross-dressing women. She talked about women dressing as men and joining the army to find their true loves. Well this one is just such a story in a folk song. But beware a woman scorned!

This song is called "William Taylor" and the artist is Jim Moray. This is a live performance, but again this track can be bought on iTunes. Jim Moray has some fabulous tracks, mainly English Folk. He performs folk songs in a more pop/rock style. The instrument on the left with the crank handle is a Hurdy-Gurdy.

William Taylor

I'll tell you a song of two true lovers, oh from Lichfield town they came.
The youngs mans name was William Taylor, the ladies name was Sarah Grey.
William Taylor he is listed, for a soldier he is gone.
Well he's gone and left his own true lover, for to weep and for to morn.

Sarahs parents did despise her, fill her heart with grief and woe.
So at length she's gone and told them for a soldier she would go.
So she's dressed herself in man's apparel, mans apparel she's put on.
For she has gone her own true love, for to seek him she is gone.

One day when they were exercising, exercising with the rest.
A silver chain pulled down her wasitecoat, and exposed her lily-white breast.
Well the sergeant-major stepped up to her, asking her what's brought her here.
"I've come to seek my own true lover who has called to me his dear."

"Well if you seek your own true lover, I'll pray you'll tell to me his name."
"His name it is Bold William Taylor, oh from Lichfield town he came."

"If his name is William Taylor, William Taylor is not here for he's lately married a rich young lady who has called to him his dear.
If you rise early in the morning just before the break of day, there you'll see Bold William Taylor walking out with his lady gay."

So they've called for a brace of pistol, they were brought at her command, and she's fired and shot Bold William Taylor, with his bride at his right hand.

As with all folk songs, there are often different variations in the lyrics. This is a more modern version than some of the traditional lyrics. This webpage here has more information on all the different variations that have been collected. But it's interesting to note that in one, Sarah is rewarded for her actions by being given command of a ship!

I hope you like my first selection of English Folk songs, and I'll be back next month on December 13th with some more.


Jenna Dawlish is the author of two Victorian novels, Sprig of Thyme and Love Engineered.


  1. A couple of great choices. I knew both songs, though not these versions, and it was good to hear them. I love the hurdy-gurdy too.

  2. That was a fun post. I enjoy folk music and have found they help me retain many a historical detail or fact that I might not normally.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love music of many forms but especially connected to British folk music. Thanks for the YouTube links as well as the lyrics and information. I don't think studying history would be complete without experiencing the music of the era.

  4. (And thanks too, for mentioning my post about crossdressing women!)

  5. You're welcome Linda. When you wrote your post about cross-dressing women, it helped me decide to pick William Taylor. I have sooo many songs with fabulous historical context I just couldn't decide! And Nyki, I so want a Hurdy-Gurdy, but they are very expensive. Maybe one day!

  6. Fantastic and of great interest to English history lovers. What a fabulous idea to put the music right here for us. Thanks!

  7. What wonderful "story quality" in these songs! So much fun for us history mavins!

  8. There are so many great cross-dressing women in folk song. My favourite is The Female Drummer-Boy, who outs herself to escape being pursued by an amorous woman.


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