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> Martyn Wyndham-Read > Songs > Cockleshells

Waly Waly (James Douglas) / Cockleshells

[ Roud 87 ; Child 204 ; Ballad Index C204 ; VWML CJS2/9/504 ; Bodleian Roud 87 ; DT WALYWALY ; Mudcat 971 ; trad.]

The Duo Ofarim sang O Waly Waly on the Hullabaloo ABC Television programme broadcast on 4 January 1964.

June Tabor sang Waly Waly unaccompanied in 1976 on her first solo album, Airs and Graces. She commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

Child No 204, James Douglas. A combination of two songs, one narrative, one lyrical. James, second marquis of Douglas, married Lady Barbara Erskine, daughter of the Earl of Mar in 1670. They formally separated in 1691. Popular tradition attributes the break-up to the machinations of William Lawrie, Tutor of Blackwood, Douglas’ chamberlain.

Related to this song via the chorus and a few lines is Cockleshells. Either Martyn Wyndham-Read, Brian Mooney, or Glen Tomasetti sang it in 1965 on their Australian LP Will Ye Go Lassie Go?. Martyn Wyndham-Read returned to it in 1992 on his Fellside CD Mussels on a Tree and in 2008 on his CD Jackeroo. He commented:

I believe I learnt this song years ago in Australia from either Glen Tomasetti, or Brian Mooney, or, perhaps, from each or both of the two. No matter, it is one of those songs most definitely not Australian, but one that must have been transported there from the British Isles. It is sometimes known as Waly Waly which explains everything.

Grace Notes learned Cockleshells from the singing of Martyn Wyndham-Read and recorded it in 2001 on their album Anchored to the Time and again in 2012 on their anniversary CD 20. Lynda Hardcastle commented in the former album’s liner notes:

I first heard the sublime Mr Martyn Wyndham-Read singing this song at Whitby Folk Festival and felt that it cried out for harmonies. Martyn collected it in Melbourne, Australia, from a woman called Glen Tomasetti […] Thanks for such a gem, Martyn.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang Waly Waly in 2004 on their WildGoose album Floating Verses. Mary Humphreys noted:

Collected by Cecil Sharp from the delightfully named Mrs Elizabeth Mogg aged 74 of Holford, Somerset, on 30 August 1904 [VWML CJS2/9/504] . Mrs Mogg, according to Sharp, consumed prodigious amounts of snuff. It must have helped her voice to stay clear as the tune has a very large range for a folksong—just three tones less than two octaves—bottom F to top C in this recording. The song is entirely composed of floating verses from a variety of sources and has no actual story-line.

Janet Russell sang Waly Waly up the Bank in 2008 on her Harbourtown CD Love Songs and Fighting Talk. She noted:

This is a shortened version of the one in 101 Scottish Songs selected by Norman Buchan, published by Collins. For Sylvia, who always asks me to sing it. I learnt it whilst living in Edinburgh, so I have a fondness for the Arthur’s Seat reference!

Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton sang Waly Waly on their 2015 CD Declaration. They noted:

This song is of Scottish origin, and this version is related to Jamie Douglas, a Child Ballad. The song was written, in some form, after the scandalous marriage breakup of James Douglas, the 2nd Marquis of Douglas, from his wife Barbara Erskine. A man named Lowrie of Blackwood (who may have courted Barbara unsuccessfully) began a rumour that she was adulterous, resulting in her rejection by her husband and her return to her family. In this version of the song, she doesn’t go quietly. We learned this from the singing of June Tabor.


June Tabor sings Waly Waly

Oh, waly, waly up the bank and waly, waly down the brae,
And waly, waly up burnside where I and my love used to go.
I was a lady of high renown that lived in the North country;
I was a lady of high renown when Jamie Douglas courted me.

And when we came to Glasgow town, it was a comely sight to see,
My lord was clad in the velvet green and I myself in cramasie.
And when my eldest son was born and set upon his nurse’s knee,
I was the happiest woman born and my good lord, he loved me.

There came a man into our house and Jamie Lockhart was his name
And it was told unto my lord that I did lie in bed with him.
There came another to our house and he was no good friend to me;
He put Jamie’s shoes beneath my bed and bade my good lord come and see.

Oh woe be unto thee, Blackwood, and an ill death may you die,
You were the first and the foremost man that parted my good lord and I.
And when my lord came to my room this great falsehood for to see,
He turned him round all with a scowl and not one word would he speak to me.

“Come up, come up, now Jamie Douglas, come up the stair and dine with me,
I’ll set you on a chair of gold and court you kindly on my knee.”
“When cockleshells turn silver bells and fishes fly from tree to tree,
When frost and snow turn fire to burn it’s I’ll come up and dine with thee.”

Oh woe be unto thee, Blackwood, and an ill death may you die,
You were the first and the foremost man that parted my good lord and I.
And when my father he had word my good lord had forsaken me,
He sent fifty of his brisk dragoons to fetch me home to my own country.

O had I wist when first I kissed that love should been so ill to win,
I’d locked my heart in a cage of gold and pinned it with a silver pin.
You think that I am like yourself and lie with each one that I see,
But I do swear by Heavens high, I never loved a man but thee.

’Tis not the frost that freezes fell, nor blowing snow’s inclemency,
’Tis not such cold that makes me cry, but my love’s heart grown cold to me.
O waly, waly, love is bonnie a little while when first it’s new,
But love grows old and waxes cold and fades away like morning dew.

Grace Notes sing Cockleshells

When cockleshells turn silver bells,
And mussels grow on ev’ry tree;
When blooms a rose ’mongst frost and snow
Then will my false love prove true to me.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
O waly, waly, our love is bonnie
A little while when it’s new.
But love grows old and waxes cold
And fades away like the morning dew.

O had I wist, before I kissed
That love had grown so ill to win;
I’d locked my heart in a box of gold
And tied it up with a silver pin.

Janet Russell sings Waly Waly up the Bank

Oh, waly, waly up the bank and waly, waly down the brae,
And waly, waly by yon burn’s side where my true love and I did lie

I leant my back against an oak, thinking it was a trusty tree.
But first it bent and then it broke as did my false true love to me.

I wish my baby it were born and sitting on it’s daddy’s knee,
And I poor girl were dead and gone with the grasses green growin over me.

Oh Arthur’s Seat shall be my bed, no sheets shall e’er be pressed by me,
St Anton’s Well shall be my drink since my true love’s forsaken me.

(repeat first verse)