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Spencer the Rover

[ Roud 1115 ; TYG 3 ; Ballad Index K331 ; Bodleian Roud 1115 ; Wiltshire Roud 1115 ; trad.]

Spencer the Rover is one of the best-known songs in the repertoire of the Copper Family. Bob Copper collected it in about 1954 from Jim Barrett, at the Fox in North Waltham, Hants, and printed this version in his book Songs and Southern Breezes. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology You Never Heard So Sweet: Songs by Southern English Traditional Singers (The Voice of the People Series Volume 21). Bob and Ron Copper sang Spencer the Rover in a recording made by Peter Kennedy in 1955 on their 1963 EFDSS album Traditional Songs from Rottingdean; this track was also included in 1998 on the EFDSS CD A Century of Song and the whole album was reissued in 2001 as part of their Topic anthology Come Write Me Down. Bob, Ron, Jill and John Copper recorded Spencer the Rover in 1974 on their 4 LP set A Song for Every Season; this track was also included on the 3 CD anthology New Electric Muse. Bob, John and Jill Copper and Jon Dudley sang it on the CD Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues. The latter recording is also on The Folk Awards 2001. The Copper Family also sang this song on September 27, 1986 live at Will's Barn in Denby Dale, Yorkshire.

Bob Copper and Bob Lewis sang Spencer the Rover at a concert at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on October 17, 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs' Worth.

This YouTube video shows the Copper Family at Cecil Sharp House, probably in 2011:

Jim Porter sang Spencer the Rover in a recording made by Brian Matthews at The Three Cups, Punnetts Town in 1965. It was included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology Just Another Saturday Night: Sussex 1960: Songs from Country Pubs. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:

A popular song in southern England (56 Roud entries), which has been made famous by the version collected from and sung by the Copper family of Rottingdean. However, instances have been found as far north as Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and one, only one, from Yorkshire. This, collected in 1907 by R.A.A. Gatty, was sung by George Hall in the village of Hooton Roberts which, I'm extraordinarily pleased to be able to tell you, really is “at Yorkshire, near Rotherham”—about three miles from the town, in fact!

The missing first part of Jim Porter's song is supplied from the version sung by Ursula Ridley, of West Hoathly, rather than the Coppers—just by way of a change.

Ursula Ridley's just mentioned version was collected by Ken Stubbs in 1962 and he printed in in his EFDSS book The Life of a Man: English Folk Songs from the Home Counties.

Shirley Collins sang Spencer the Rover on her 1967 album The Sweet Primeroses, accompanied by her sister Dolly Collins on her flute-organ. She commented in the album's sleeve notes:

This song could be the synopsis for a very considerable 19th century epic novel. I imagine Spencer with ruddy cheeks, black sideburns and leather gaiters. The unsurpassed domestic bliss in the last chapter fadeout has everyone beaming happily. The lines of the verse are very long, and I appreciate the sound sense of Bob and Ron Copper of Sussex in sharing the third line out between the two of them. Dolly's counter-melody is not in any way counter to the spirit of the song.

Peter Bellamy and Louis Killen sang Spencer the Rover live at the Folk Studio, Norwich, on June 22, 1971. This concert was issued on their LP Won't You Go My Way?.

Muckram Wakes (John Tams and Roger and Helen Watson) recorded Spencer the Rover in 1973 for the first track of their first album, A Map of Derbyshire.

Robin Dransfield sang Spencer the Rover in 1980 on his album Tidewave which was reissued in 2008 as half of the CD A Lighter Touch. He commented:

Spencer the Rover, from my native Yorkshire has been one of my favourite English songs since I discovered the tradition, nearly twenty years ago. It has long been my ambition to sing it with a brass band—a bit tricky—but Bob White, who wrote the arrangement, and Chris Stearn made it all possible.

Danny Spooner sang Spencer the Rover on his 1987 album When a Man's in Love. He noted:

From the great Yorkshire tradition, this song has appeared many times in print and on record. Kidson believed it to have been made by a wandering ballad singer “who has not been endowed with much poetical genius”; but despite Kidson's pomposity the song is a powerful and unequivocal evocation of the lessons to he learnt from the separation from loved ones.

An Albion Dance Band recording of Spencer the Rover from 1988 with Polly Bolton singing lead can be found on The Guv'nor Vol. 3.

John McCormick sang Spencer the Rover on his 1998 CD with Maggie Boyle and Steve Tilston, Between Our Hearts. Steve Tilston sang it on his 2005 CD Of Many Hands.

Corncrow (Kim Guy and Steve Hunt) recorded Spencer the Rover in autumn 2010 for their debut EP Sweet Nightingale.

Jon Boden and Fay Hield sang Spencer the Rover as the November 4, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day, and Fay Hield sang it in 2011 on the Woodbine & Ivy Band's eponymous album The Woodbine & Ivy Band. Jon commented in his project's blog:

A brilliantly singable ballad from the Coppers. We sing it at Royal Traditions, partly because of the local connection in the lyrics.

Andy Turner sang Spencer the Rover a year later as the November 4, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his blog:

When my friend Mike and I started plundering A Song for Every Season Spencer the Rover grabbed our attention very early, and remained a firm favourite. It never occurred to me that I might want to learn another version; to be honest, it never really occurred to me that there might be any other versions. But then I came across this gloriously crooked tune, collected by Vaughan Williams in Kent. I knew (from Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Vaughan Williams) that the composer had noted at least one song from a Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend in December 1904. And on a visit to the library at Cecil Sharp House I looked through Vaughan Williams’ manuscripts (then, as now, held on gloriously user-unfriendly microfilm) to see if the couple had given him any other songs. Indeed they had and with some interesting tunes among them. But none so interesting as this one. At first I think I viewed it as a curiosity which I was unlikely to want to sing. But then I tried it on the concertina, and found that it cried out for some pretty interesting chords—which actually seemed to make the song more singable.

All too often, Vaughan Williams wrote down the words of a single verse, or even no words at all. For once, with this song, that suited me—it meant I didn’t have to try to learn a new set of words, but could stick with the Copper Family verses we all know and love.

This recording was made in 2005 for possible inclusion on the Anglo International CD set, but not used; with November 5th approaching, it seemed a shame to waste it.

Peter Knight's Gigspanner sang Spencer the Rover on their 2017 CD The Wife of Urban Law.

Lyrics

Jim Barrett sings Spencer the Rover

This song was composed by Spencer the Rover,
Who'd travelled most parts of Great Britain and Wales,
There had been much reducing which caused great confusion,
And that was the reason a-rambling I went.

In Yorkshire near Rotherham still being on my rambles,
Being weary of travelling I sat down to rest,
At the foot of the mountain there sprung a clear fountain
Of pleasant cool water myself to refresh.

It tasted more sweeter than the food I had wasted,
More sweeter than honey and gave more content,
But the thoughts of my children lamenting for their father
Brought tears to my eyes and caused me to repent.

Now the night fast approaching, to the woods I departed,
With woodbine and ivy my bed for to make,
I heard a bird sighing, lamenting and crying,
Come home to your family and rambling forsake.

On the fifth of November I've a reason to remember
'Twas then I first returned to my family and wife,
They looked so surprising to see me arriving,
To see such a stranger once more in their sight.

Then me children came round me with their pretty, prattling stories,
With their pretty, prattling stories which drove dull care away,
So we will unite together like birds of a feather,
Like bees in one hive so contented we'll stay.

So now I am placed in my cottage contented
With woodbine and roses climbing all round the door,
I am happy as those that's got plenty of riches,
Contented I'll stay and go rambling no more.

(Ursula Ridley and) Jim Porter sings Spencer the Rover

(This tale was composèd by young Spencer the Rover
Who wandered most parts of Great Britain and Wales
He had been so reducèd, which caused great confusion
And that was the reason he set off on the rails.

At Yorkshire, near Rotherham, he had been on his rambles
Being tired and hungry, he sat down to rest
At the foot of a mountain, where runs a clear fountain
With bread and with water, himself he refreshed.

And it tasted more sweeter than the honey he had wasted
It tasted more sweeter than the gold he had spent
It was the thought of his children lamenting their father
That caused him to weep and caused him to repent.)

The night fast-lye 'proaching, to the woods he resorted
With woodbind and ivy for the makin' a bed
Oh, he dreamt about sighing, lye-ment-anly crying
“Go home to your parents, go ramblin' no more.”

Now on the fifth of November I have reasons to remember,
When first I arrived to my family and wife.
My wife stood surprising just to see me arriving
For to see such a stranger once more in her eye.

Now the children come round me with their prit-prattling stories,
With their prit-prattling stories to drive care away.
We're united together like the birds of a feather,
Like a bee in a hive and contented we'll be.

Now I am placed in my cottage contented,
With the woodbind and the ivy all hang round my door,
I'm as happy as those who got plenty of riches
I'll stay at home, I'll go rambling no more.

Shirley Collins sings Spencer the Rover

These words were composed by Spencer the Rover
Who travelled Great Britain and most parts of Wales.
He had been so reduced which caused great confusion
And that was the reason he went on the roam.

In Yorkshire near Rotherham he had been on his rambles,
Being weary of travel, he sat down to rest.
At the foot of yonder mountain there runs a clear fountain;
With bread and cold water himself did refresh.

It tasted more sweeter than the gold he had wasted,
More sweeter than honey and gave more content.
But the thoughts of his babies lamenting their father
Brought tears to his eyes and made him repent.

Now the night fast approaching to the woods he resorted,
With ivy and woodbine his bed for to make.
Where he dreamt about sighing, lamenting and crying,
Go home to your family and rambling forsake.

On the fifth day of November I've a reason to remember,
When first he arrived home to his family and wife.
They stood so surprised when first he arrived
To see such a stranger once more in their sight.

His children came around him with their prittle-prattling stories,
With their prittle-prattling stories to drive care away.
And now they're united like birds of one feather,
Like bees in one hive contented they'll be.

So now he is a-living in his cottage so contented,
With ivy and roses growing all around the door.
He's as happy as those that's got thousands of riches;
Contented he'll be and go rambling no more.

The Copper Family sing Spencer the Rover on Coppersongs 3

These words were composed by Spencer the Rover
Who had travelled Great Britain and most parts of Wales.
He had been so reduced which caused great confusion
And that was the reason he went on the roam.

In Yorkshire near Rotherham he had been on his rambles,
Being weary of travelling he sat down to rest.
At the foot of yonder mountain there runs a clear fountain;
With bread and cold water he himself did refresh.

It tasted more sweeter than the gold he had wasted,
More sweeter than honey and gave more content.
But the thoughts of his babies lamenting their father
Brought tears to his eyes and caused him to lament.

The night fast approaching to the woods he resorted,
With woodbine and ivy his bed for to make.
There he dreamt about sighing lamenting and crying,
To home to your family and rambling forsake.

On the fifth of November I've a reason to remember,
When first he arrived home to his family and wife.
They stood so surprised when first he arrived
To see such a stranger once more in their sight.

His children came around him with their prittle-prattling stories,
With their prittle-prattling stories to drive care away.
Now they are united like birds of one feather,
Like bees in one hive contented they'll stay.

So now he is a-living in his cottage contented,
With woodbine and roses growing all around the door.
He's as happy as those that's got thousands of riches;
Contented he'll stay and go rambling no more.

Jon Boden and Fay Hield sing Spencer the Rover

These words were composed by Spencer the Rover
Who travelled through England and most parts of Wales.
He had been so reduced which caused great confusion
And that was the reason he went on the road.

In Yorkshire near Rotherham he had been on his rambles,
Being weary of travelling, he sat down to rest.
At the foot of yonder mountain there runs a clear fountain;
With bread and cold water himself did refresh.

And it tasted more sweeter than the gold he had wasted,
More sweeter than honey and it gave more content.
But the thoughts of his babies lamenting their father
Brought tears to his eyes and made him lament.

But the night fast approaching to the woods he resorted,
With woodbine and ivy his bed for to make.
He dreamed about sighing, lamenting and crying,
Go home to your family and rambling forsake.

On the fifth day of November I've a reason to remember,
When first he arrived home to his family and wife.
They stood so surprised when first he arrived
To see such a stranger once more in their sight.

And his children they gathered round him with their prittle-prattling stories,
With their prittle-prattling stories to drive care away.
And now they're united like birds of one feather,
Like bees in one hive contented they'll stay.

And now he is living in his cottage contented,
With woodbine and roses growing all around the door.
He's as happy as those that's got thousands of riches;
Contented he'll stay and go rambling no more.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Spencer the Rover.