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The Shepherd of the Downs

[ Roud 1215 ; Ballad Index CopSe258 ; Bodleian Roud 1215 ; trad.]

Shepherd of the Downs a.k.a. Shepherd in Love is believed to be the oldest song in the repertoire of the Copper Family. James ‘Brasser’ Copper wrote in the family's songbook: “My grandfather used to sing this song.” His grandfather was George Copper who was born in Rottingdean in 1784.

Bob and Ron Copper sang Shepherd of the Downs in 1963 for Peter Kennedy, which was published on the EFDSS LP Traditional Songs from Rottingdean and reissued on the Topic CD Come Write Me Down: Early Recordings of the Copper Family of Rottingdean. Bob and John Copper recorded it for a second time in 1971 for their 4 LP box on the Leader label, A Song for Every Season, and both plus Jill Copper and Jon Dudley did it for a third time in May 1995 for their CD Coppersongs 2: The Living Tradition of the Copper Family.

This YouTube video is from Barry Callaghan's film Coppersongs made in 1986 for the EFDSS, which was issued on VHS:

Royston Wood and Heather Wood sang A Shepherd of the Downs in 1977 on their album No Relation. Their former Young Tradition partner Peter Bellamy sang The Shepherd of the Downs accompanied by Louis Killen on his 1979 LP Both Sides Then. This recording was also included on the Peter Bellamy anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes and on the Topic compilation The Acoustic Folk Box.

The Witches of Elswick recorded A Shepherd of the Downs in December 2004 for their second and final CD, Hell's Belles. They excused themselves with these liner notes:

A Copper Song via The Young Tradition. If you've seen us do this live you will have experienced the smocks, hats and roller boots routine, but we got cautioned by the folk police so we thought we'd better do a grown-up version.

Jon Boden sang A Shepherd of the Downs as the August 6, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Andy Turner sang A Shepherd of the Downs as the September 3, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his blog:

Like a lot of the Coppers’ repertoire, this started life in the 18th century as a rather flowery romantic pastoral ballad, ‘The Contented Lovers: or A Courtship, between a SHEPHERD and a NYMPH’—see the Bodleian Library’s Broadside Ballad collection. The oral tradition has introduced a number of changes—not least the opening line “Shepherd Adonis being weary of his sport” has been changed to something likely to resonate more with a Sussex shepherd. And all mentions of nymphs have disappeared, along with around a dozen verses. The finished article, as the Coppers sing it, is still pastoral and romantic, but it’s no longer twee—it benefits from a fine tune, and the words have a quiet dignity. I find much to admire in the shepherd’s outlook on life:

“No pride nor ambition, he valued no care”

I think that the first time I heard this song was on the LP No Relation by Royston Wood and Heather Wood, and I suspect that I learned the song from Bob Copper’s book A Song for Every Season some time before I’d actually heard Bob and John sing it on the 4 LP set of the same name. That set was of course on Leader Records so, like the rest of the albums on that label has, for reasons which are well-known (but none the less unfathomable and quite frankly unforgiveable), never been released on CD. You can however hear Bob and Ron sing the song on the excellent Topic CD Come Write Me Down.

Lyrics

The Copper Family sing Shepherd of the Downs Peter Bellamy and Louis Killen sing The Shepherd of the Downs

A shepherd of the downs being weary of his port
Retired to the hills where he used to resort.
In want of refreshment he laid himself down,
𝄆 He wanted no riches, nor wealth from the Crown. 𝄇

A shepherd of the downs being weary of his port
Retired to the hills where he used to resort.
In want of refreshment he laid himself down,
𝄆 He wanted no riches nor wealth from the Crown. 𝄇

He drank of the cold brook, he ate of the tree,
Himself he did enjoy from all sorrow was tree,
He valued no girl be she ever so fair,
𝄆 No pride nor ambition he valued no care. 𝄇

He drank of the cold brook, he ate of the tree,
Himself he did enjoy, from all sorrow was free,
He valued no girl be she ever so fair,
𝄆 No pride nor ambition, he valued no care. 𝄇

As he was a-walking one evening so clear
A heavenly sweet voice sounded soft in his ear.
He stood like a post not one step could he move,
𝄆 He knew not what hailed him but thought it was love. 𝄇

As he was a-walking one evening so clear
A heavenly sweet voice sounded soft in his ear.
He stood like a post, not one step could he move,
𝄆 He knew not what ailed him but thought it was love. 𝄇

He beheld a young damsel, a fair modest bride,
She had something amiss and disguised in her face.
Disguised in her face she unto him did say,
𝄆 “How now, Master Shepherd, how came you this way?” 𝄇

He beheld a young damsel, a fair modest maid,
She had something amiss and disguised in her face.
Disguised in her face she unto him did say,
𝄆 “How now, Master Shepherd, how came you this way?” 𝄇

The shepherd he replied and modestly said,
“I never was surprised before at a maid.
When first you beheld me from sorrow I was free,
𝄆 But now you have stolen my poor heart from me.” 𝄇

The shepherd he replied and modestly said,
“I never was surprisèd before at a maid.
When first you beheld me from sorrow I was free,
𝄆 But now you have stolen my poor heart away.” 𝄇

He took her by the hand and thus he did say,
“We will get married pretty Betsy today.”
So to church they did go and were married we hear,
𝄆 And now he'll enjoy pretty Betsy his dear. 𝄇

He took her by the hand and this he did say,
“We will be married, pretty Betsy, today.”
So to church they did go and were married we hear,
𝄆 And now he'll enjoy pretty Betsy, his dear. 𝄇

The Witches of Elswick sing A Shepherd of the Downs

A shepherd of the downs being weary of his sport
Retired to the hills where he used to resort.
In want of refreshment he laid himself down,
𝄆 He wanted no riches nor wealth from the Crown. 𝄇

He drank of the cold brook, he ate of the tree,
Himself he did enjoy, from all sorrow was free,
He valued no girl be she ever so fair,
𝄆 No pride nor ambition, he valued no care. 𝄇

As he was a-walking one evening so clear
A heavenly sweet voice sounded soft in his ear.
He stood like a post, not one step could he move,
𝄆 He knew not what ailed him but thought it was love. 𝄇

He beheld a young damsel, a fair modest maid,
She had something amiss and disguised in her face.
Disguised in her face unto him she did say,
𝄆 “How now, Master Shepherd, how came you this way?” 𝄇

The shepherd replied and modestly said:
“I never was surprisèd before at a maid.
When first you beheld me from sorrow I was free,
𝄆 But now you have stolen my poor heart from me.” 𝄇

He took her by the hand and thus to her did say:
“We shall get married, pretty Betsy, today.”
So to church they did go and were married we hear,
𝄆 So now he'll enjoy pretty Betsy, his dear. 𝄇

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Shepherd of the Downs