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The Jolly Ploughboy / Two Young Brethren / The Two Brothers

[ Roud 202 ; Master title: The Jolly Ploughboy II ; Ballad Index BuDa033 , BrMa152 ; VWML HAM/4/22/19 , RoudFS/S317626 ; Wiltshire 1040 ; DT JOLLPLO2 , TWOBRETH ; Mudcat 133494 ; trad.]

Lucy E. Broadwood, J.A. Fuller Maitland: English County Songs Michael Dawney: The Ploughboy’s Glory Copper Family: The Copper Family Song Book Heywood Sumner: The Besom Maker

Two Young Brethren is a song from the repertoire of the Copper Family. Both words and music and printed in the The Copper Family Song Book and in Bob Copper’s book A Song for Every Season. Bob and John Copper sang Two Young Brethren on their 4 LP set of 1971, A Song for Every Season, and young brethren Ben and Tom Copper and their cousins Mark, Andy and Sean Barratt sang it on their CD Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues.

Shirley Collins recorded Two Brethren in 1966 in London as a demo. This recording was included in 2002 on her anthology Within Sound and in 2006 on her CD Snapshots.

Dave and Toni Arthur sang The Jolly Plough Boys in 1967 on their first duo album, Morning Stands on Tiptoe. They noted:

The first verse of this song sometimes called The Two Brothers seems to be separate from the rest of the song. It obviously refers to Cain and Abel. “Eve bare Cain, and she again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” Perhaps at one time a middle piece of the song existed which would tie up the first verse with the rest of the song, or even the first verse was part of a different song altogether. This version comes from Lucy Broadwood’s English County Songs, page 152. She collected fragments only of the words and tune and took the rest from a Hampshire version in The Besom Maker by Heywood Sumner.

The Valley Folk (Jean and Elaine Carruthers, John Dickinson and Steve Heap) sang The Two Brothers in 1968 on their Topic LP All Bells in Paradise. This and three other tracks from their album were reissued on the 1996 Topic Records sampler The Season Round. A.L. Lloyd noted on their original album:

Known also as The Sheep-Shearers, The Jolly Ploughboys and Farmer’s Glory, it has turned up in a number of versions, mostly incomplete. Perhaps it was originally a song in praise of ploughmen and shepherds that introduced a whole gallery of Biblical characters (ingenious Miss A.G. Gilchrist has suggested that the rather shadowy two brothers may originally have been identified with Cain and Abel. A hypothesis.) The verse about Samson the ‘blockhead’ occurs in a sword dance song sent to Lucy Broadwood from the West Riding of Yorkshire, Kirby Malzeard, to be precise. The carol seems to have been common in Sussex in the nineteenth century, sung from door to door at Christmastime by men who were just getting ready for the next ploughing, but even commoner appears its association with harvest time, and particularly with the round-the-table singing that was a feature of the ceremonial harvest-home supper, always an occasion for the farmworkers to express their pride and solidarity.

John Kirkpatrick sang this song as The Jolly Ploughboys in 1971 on his Trailer album Jump at the Sun. He returned to Come All You Jolly Ploughboys in 2017 on his Fledg’ling CD Coat-Tails Flying where he noted:

The kid-in-a-toyshop approach on my first solo LP Jump at the Sun […] now fills me with utmost embarrassment, and I’m rather relieved it has never been reissued on CD. There is a bewildering variety of styles, everything is played way too fast, and the singing is delivered in an excruciatingly immature strangled whine that I undoubtedly thought very cool at the time. Ah, well, we’ve all got a past.

From time to time I have revisited some of the music on that recording as a grown up, and have often thought about having another go at this concoction, where an additional voice joins in on each verse, now that my singing grieves me slightly less. After the release of Jump at the Sun, a group from The Netherlands called Fungus lifted the arrangement and sang it for a while. If they’re tempted to revive it in the wake of this release, they should know that forty-five years on, I find I’ve had the urge to alter one or two moments in the vocal parts.

The song is reasonably widespread amongst English traditional singers, and is also known as The Ploughboy’s Glory, or Two Brethren. I see from my original sleeve notes that this was collected in Dorset by H.E.D. Hammond and published in Folk Songs for Schools. A rummage through the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library’s splendid website shows that although the song is normally sung to a major tune, Hammond collected two minor versions, including one that is fairly close to this from Sam Gregory in Beaminster in June 1906 [VWML HAM/4/22/19] . Words adapted slightly from other versions, I admitted in 1972, and added daringly, “tune adapted to fit the harmonies”!

As Graeme Taylor so pithily pointed out during the recording of this track—miserable ploughboys need not apply!

Folly Bridge sang Two Brethren in 1991 on their WildGoose cassette All in the Same Tune. Claire Lloyd noted:

A lovely song from the Copper Family repertoire about the annual cycle of agriculture, from ploughing the ground to celebrating the harvest.

The Wilson Family sang this song as The Jolly Ploughboys in 1991 on The Wilson Family Album.

Dave Weatherall & Martin Hall of Jolly Jack sang Two Brethren in 1992 on the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Paul Adams noted:

A song from the Copper Family of Rottingdean. It is a rustic idyll about a way—and pace—of life which has all but disappeared. The interesting thing about the Coppers is that they sing in harmony—a rarity in the English tradition. Stylistically this version by Dave and Martin is based on the singing of Bob Copper and his cousin, Roy. Based on, because it is no slavish copy, they have evolved their own lines.

Roger Watson sang Two Brethren in 2009 on his WildGoose CD Past and Present. He noted:

A song best known in the version from the Copper Family of Sussex. We live in a time of great abundance … for some.

Community choirs from the Test Valley, directed by Roger Watson, sang Two Brethren in 2001 on their WildGoose album Beneath Our Changing Sky. The liner notes commented:

The Sussex singing family, the Coppers, have strong connections with Hampshire and Two Brethren is an individualised adaptation of one of their songs, with, again, the addition of new lyrics to connect the ancient song with present ideas close to the hearts of the singers.

Jon Boden sang Two Young Brethren as the 2 August 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in his blog:

This feels like one of the most genuine of agricultural songs. Many sound like they are consciously sentimentalising the halcyon days of manorial feudalism—which makes you doubt that such an idyll ever really existed. This is more workmanlike and matter of fact about the cycle of the agricultural year, which makes it all the more poignant.

Lisa Knapp sang Ploughboy’s Glory on her 2018 EP The Summer Draws Near (A Branch of May Chapter Two). She noted:

I bought a small book called The Ploughboy’s Glory: A Selection of hitherto unpublished folk songs collected by George Butterworth from the EFDSS library at Cecil Sharp House some years ago. Also known as Two Brethren, I love the honesty and simplicity of this song with its correlative cycles of nature and agriculture with human nature and life.

Peter Bellamy used the tune and the second verse of the Coppers’ Two Young Brethren in his song Farewell to the Land.


The Valley Folk sing The Two Brothers

There once was two brothers, two brothers there were,
And they was two brothers born.
The one was a shepherd, a shearer of sheep,
And the other a planter of corn.

God bid them sow fields and the trees for to plant
Their race grew from sturdy fine stock,
Where nothing once dwelt but the wild beasts of prey
Their fortune increased with their flock.

King David whose songs have so often been sung
At first wasn’t noble and grand,
But only a shepherd boy when he was young
Though afterwards King of the land.

And then there’s bold Samson in Judges you’ll find,
He delight in his darling so dear.
What a blockhead he was for to tell her his mind
For so quickly his strength she did shear.

Here’s April, here’s May, likewise June and July,
It’s a pleasure to see the corn grow.
In August we’ll moil it, shear low and reap high,
And we’ll bind up our scythes for to mow.

And when we have gathered up every sheaf,
And scrapèd up every ear,
Let’s have no more ado but to ploughing we’ll go
To provide for the very next year.

So come all jolly ploughboys and help me to sing
I’ll sing in the praise of the plough.
For if we don’t labour how shall we get bread?
So do it my jolly boys now.

The Copper Family sing Two Young Brethren

Come all jolly ploughmen and help me to sing,
I will sing in the praise of you all,
If a man he don’t labour how can he get bread?
I will sing and make merry withal.

It was of two young brethren, two young brethren born,
It was of two young brethren born,
One he was a shepherd and a tender of sheep
The other a planter of corn.

We will rile it, we will tile it through mud and through clay,
We will plough it up deeper and low,
Then after comes the seedsman his corn for to sow
And the harrows to rake it in rows.

There is April, there is May, there is June and July
What a pleasure it is for to see the corn grow.
In August we will reap it, we will cut, sheaf and bind it
And go down with our scythes for to mow.

And after we’ve reaped it off every sheaf
And have gathered up every ear,
With a drop of good beer, boys, and our hearts full of cheer
We will wish them another good year.

Our barns they are full, our fields they are clear,
Good health to our master and friends.
We will make no more to do but we’ll plough and we’ll sow
And prepare for the very next year.

John Kirkpatrick sings Come All You Jolly Ploughboys

Come, all you jolly ploughboys, and help me to sing;
I’ll sing in the praise of you all.
For if we don’t labour, how can there be bread?
I will sing and make merry withal.

It was of two young brethren, two brethren of old,
It was of two young brethren born,
Oh, the one was a shepherd and a tender of sheep
And the other a planter of corn.

We will moil it, we will toil it through mire and through clay
We will plough, we cut deeper and low,
And after comes the seedsman, his corn for to sow,
And the harrow to rake it in rows.

Here’s April, here is May, here is June and July
What pleasure to see the corn grow!
In August it rip’neth, we reap and sheaves tie
And go down with our scythes for to mow.

And when we have gathered up every sheaf
And gleaned up every ear,
We will make no more to do but to plough and to sow
And provide for the harvest next year.