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The Snow It Melts the Soonest

[ Roud 3154 ; Ballad Index StoR120 ; Mudcat 2857 , 16979 ; trad.]

Anne Briggs popularised The Snow It Melts the Soonest in the 1960s and recorded it in 1971 for her Topic album Anne Briggs. Like all tracks from this album it was reissued on her two compilations Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. It was also included in the Topic Sampler No 8, English Garland, and on The Folk Collection. A.L. Lloyd noted on the first album:

We owe this to a good pioneer collector of North-Eastern song, the soap-boiler and lively Radical agitator Thomas Doubleday, who contributed it to Blackwood's magazine [under the pseudonym of Mr Shufflebotham] as long ago as 1821. He got the melody from a Newcastle street singer. In Northumbrian Minstrelsy (1882, repr. 1965) the tune is given as My Love Is Newly Listed.

Archie Fisher sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 1968 on his eponymous Transatlantic album Archie Fisher.

Pentangle sang The Snows in 1972 on their album Solomon's Seal.

Tom Gilfellon sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest on his 1976 Topic album In the Middle of the Tune. He noted:

I still tend to the view that it might just be Male Chauvinist Pig Song of the Year… I recognise the arrogance of the words, and there I'll let it be. It has a most beautiful tune, however, which was collected by the Newcastle radical Thomas Doubleday from a street singer (It's not clear who wrote the words). I apologise to my female friends and to my wife Maggie in advance. The leopard cannot change his spots nor I my grunt but we can cunningly camouflage them if we're lucky!

Brian Osborne sang The Snows in 1976 on his Traditional Sound album Ae Fond Kiss, giving Archie Fisher as his source.

Pat Ryan sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 1977 on her Folk Heritage album Leaboy's Lassie.

The New High Level Ranters (by then without Tom Gilfellon) sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 1982 on their eponymous Topic LP The New High Level Ranters.

Dick Gaughan sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 1981 on his Topic LP Handful of Earth, and he noted laconically:

Learned by osmosis from Archie Fisher (then osmosis taught me it). I wasn't aware that I actually knew it until I found myself singing it one night.

Anni Fentiman sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 1993 on her and Dave Webber's album Together Solo. They noted:

The tune was collected in Newcastle by Thomas Doubleday and published in 1821. The words may have been written by him.

Patti Reid sang The Snows in 1993 on her eponymous Fellside album Patti Reid.

Christine Kydd sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 1993 on her Fellside album Heading Home. She noted:

The album The Banks of Tyne by Carolyn Robson has long since disappeared from by record collection, but I know she reckons that this beautiful song was written by a Newcastle street singer by the name of Doubleday.

Eliza Carthy sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 1998 on her Topic CD Rice; Saul Rose and Tristan Glover accompanied her on melodeon. This track was also included in 2001 on the Topic sampler A Woman's Voice.

John McCormick sang The Snows in 1998 on his CD Between Our Hearts.

Erica Smith sang The Snow They Melt the Soonest in 2001 on her eponymous CD Erica Smith.

James Yorkston sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 2004 on his CD Just Beyond the River and in 2009 on his CD+DVD Folk Songs.

Linde Nijland sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 2007 on her, Henk Scholte's and Bert Ridderbos' CD Winterliederen. She noted:

Een traditioneel Engels lied dat eerder onder meer schitterend werd uitgevoerd door de Schotse singer-songwriter Dick Gaughan.

[A traditional English song that was previously performed beautifully by the Scottish singer-songwriter Dick Gaughan.]

Kerfuffle recorded The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 2008 for their fourth CD, To the Ground.

Graham Pirt sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 2008 on his and his son Sam's Fellside album Dance ti' Thee Daddy. He noted:

First published in 1670 the source of this song is unknown. I found this in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy back in the mid-60s and it has remained one of my favourite songs.

Suntrap sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 2010 on their Fellside CD Unravelling.

Jon Boden sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest as the 11 January 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Alison O'Donnell sang a fragment of The Snow It Melts the Soonest on The Owl Service's 2011 album The Pattern Beneath the Plough.

Broom Bezzums sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest on their 2012 album Winterman. They noted:

Mr Thomas Doubleday claimed to have collected The Snows They Melt the Soonest from a street singer in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1821. However, many suspect he made it up himself.

Rosie Hodgson sang The Snows They Melt on her 2012 EP Somewhere North. According to her liner notes, it “is a traditional folk song that dates back to 1821 and one of Rosie's all-time favourite songs to sing”.

Sound Tradition sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 2012 on their album Under the Moon. They noted:

Dating back to at least 1821, this song was gleaned from a Newcastle street singer and later revived by Annie Briggs in the 1960s. Its first mention appears to be its inclusion in Blackwell’s Magazine, contributed by a Thomas Doubleday (under the pseudonym of Mr Shufflebotham)—soap-boiler and Radical agitator of the day.

Georgia Lewis sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 2015 on her eponymous download EP Georgia Lewis.

The Urban Folk Quartet sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 2015 on their CD The Escape.

Joshua Burnell sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest in 2018 on his CD Songs from the Seasons acknowledging Anne Briggs in his liner notes.

Alistair Anderson & Northlands played The Snow It Melts the Soonest on their 2019 eponymous album Alistair Anderson & Northlands.

Thom Ashworth sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest on his 2019 album Head Canon.

Kris Drever sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest on his 2019 mini-album Hill and Shore.

Lady Maisery and Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith sang The Snow It Melts the Soonest on their 2019 winter album Awake, Arise. They noted:

Rich with the imagery and metaphor of the transition from winter to spring, this song, sung here from a woman’s perspective, brings out a dark story of suffering at the hands of a man. But it is also a story of hope and of women's resilience and wisdom.

Hannah Rarity sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest on her March 2020 download single The Snows They Melt the Soonest. She noted:

From Northumbria, the song is a tale of a woman scorned which uses the imagery of Winter melting into Spring.

This song came back to my attention when doing the 2018 “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” with Brian O'Donovan and a lovely bunch of folks in Boston. It was brilliant to come up with a fresh arrangement with the fab house band which featured Owen Marshall, Maeve Gilchrist, Seamus Egan and Natalie Haas. I first heard this from the singing of Dick Gaughan on his fantastic album, Handful of Earth.

Gigspanner Big Band sang The Snows They Melt the Soonest in 2020 on their CD Natural Invention. They noted:

It embodies, in a faint degree, that mixture of passions, where bitterness and love, grief and contempt, mix and get the better of one another, as the colours do on a bit of shot-silk.”
Josiah Shufflebotham, of Gowk’s-Hall

Josiah Shufflebotham was the pseudonym of radical agitator Thomas Doubleday, who is credited with learning the tune from a Newcastle street singer (although the origin of the lyrics appear to be unknown), and who submitted the song to Blackwood’s Magazine in November 1821.

Lyrics

Anne Briggs sings The Snow It Melts the Soonest

Oh the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing
And the corn it ripens fastest when the frosts are setting in
And when a young man tells me that my face he'll soon forget
Before we part, I'd bet a crown, he'd be fain to follow it yet

Oh the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing
And the swallow skims without a thought as long as it is spring
But when spring blows and winter goes my lad then you'd be fain
With all your pride for to follow me, were it 'cross the stormy main

Oh the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing
And the bee that flew when summer shone in winter he won't sing
And all the flowers in all the land so brightly there they be
And the snow it melts the soonest when my true love's for me

So never say me farewell here, no farewell I'll receive
You can meet me at the stile, you'll kiss and take your leave
And I'll wait it till the woodcock crows or the martin takes its leave
Since the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing

Dick Gaughan sings The Snows They Melt the Soonest

The snows they melts the soonest when the wind begins to sing
The corn it ripens fastest when the frosts are settling in
And when a woman tells me that my face she'll soon forget
Before we part, I'll wage a crown, she's fain to follow it yet

The snows they melt the soonest when the winds begin to sing
The swallow flies without a thought as long as it is spring
But when spring goes and winter blows my love then you'll be fain
For all your pride to follow me across the raging main

The snows they melt the soonest when the winds begin to sing
And the bee that flew when summer shone in winter cannot sting
And I've seen a woman's anger melt between the night and the morn
So it's surely not a harder thing to melt a woman's scorn

So don't you bid me farewell here, no farewell I'll receive
For you will lie with me, my lass, then you kiss and take your leave
And I'll wait here till the moorcock calls and the martin takes the wing
For the snows they melt the soonest when the winds begin to sing

Eliza Carthy sings The Snow It Melts the Soonest

Oh the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing
The corn it ripens fastest when the frosts are setting in
And when a young man tells me that my face he'll soon forget
Before we part, I'll tell him now, he'll be sure to follow yet

Oh the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing
The swallow skims without a thought as long as it is spring
But when spring goes and winter blows my love and you'll be fain
For all your pride to follow me, were it across the stormy main

And the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing
The bee that flew when summer shone in winter cannot sing
I've seen a young man's anger melt between the night and morn
And it's surely not a harder thing to tame a young man's scorn

So never say me farewell here, no farewell I'll receive
For you will set me to the stile, and kiss and take your leave
And I'll stay here till the woodcock comes and the martlet starts to sing
For the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing

Acknowledgements

Eliza Carthy's singing transcribed by Kira White. Thanks also to Cíarilì O'Brien for corrections.