A.L. Lloyd >
The Banks of Green Willow
> Nic Jones > Songs > The Banks of Green Willow
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Banks of Green Willow
> Tony Rose > Songs > The Banks of Green Willow
Bonnie Annie / The Banks of Green Willow / The Green Banks of Yarrow
; Child 24
; G/D 6:1225
; Ballad Index
; VWML CJS2/10/346
; Mudcat 17058
The Banks of Green Willow is a song printed in Ralph Vaughan Williams' and A.L. Lloyd's The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. It is related to Child 24: Bonnie Annie. A.L. Lloyd sang it in 1956 on the Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume IV and it was reissued in 2011 on his Fellside CD Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun.
Mrs Maguire of Belfast sang this song as The Green Banks of Yarrow in a Peter Kennedy recording on the anthology Sailormen and Servingmaids (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 6; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).
Ewan MacColl sang the Scottish version Bonnie Annie in 1962 on his and Peggy Seeger's Folkways album Popular Scottish Songs.
Fred Jordan sang The Watery Grave on his 1966 Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker. A.L. Lloyd noted:
During the first half of the nineteenth century there was a strong vogue, among stage comedians, for the burlesque of romantic folk ballads. Lord Lovel and William and Dinah (‘Villikins’) were two such. Also, a mildly comic version of The Banks of Sweet Willow was popularised in the 1850's by the entertainer Sam Cowell. As The Watery Grave, the burlesque has survived better than its handsome original which scholars identify as Child No. 24.
Nic Jones recorded The Banks of Green Willow in 1971 for his eponymous album Nic Jones. He noted:
I have known this song for some years but have never sung it as none of the many tunes had particularly appealed. Whilst looking at it again in The Folk Song Journals, I began singing it to the present tune, which appears to be a mixture of various phrases that were already in my head.
Martin Carthy sang Banks of Green Willow on his 1972 album, Shearwater. He recorded it again with Jez Lowe for the Fellside anthology A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. An alternative take of this with some more musicians, but with Paul Adams singing instead of Martin Carthy, is on Flash Company. Martin Carthy noted on the first album:
It's probably due to Vaughan Williams' decision to follow Percy Grainger in using recording techniques to gather songs, that this particular version of The Banks of Green Willow was rescued. He recorded it from an old man in Hampshire and subsequently had great difficulty in transcribing it, so what he wrote is probably only the merest sketch of the tune.
In the early sailing days, a ship which was becalmed was a ship which was bewitched, and the only way out was a sacrifice. A wrongdoer or a woman on board could jeopardise the safety of everyone on board, so if trouble came, the Jonah could expect no mercy and lots were cast to find him out. Once the demon had been exorcised, the ship could continue.
And the A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs sleeve notes said:
From Emma Overd, Langport, Somerset; noted in 1904 by Cecil Sharp. Sharp reported the song “very generally sung throughout Somerset.” Ralph Vaughan Williams noted a Hampshire version.
There is a common superstition, older than Jonah, that the presence of a wrong doer aboard ship may make the vessel unmanageable. Disaster may result unless the wrong doer is thrown overboard. In many versions the story seems to have become disordered and the meaning rather obscured. The text gives the brief outline of the plot; the woman robs her parents at her lover's request and then sails away with him. Whilst at sea her baby is born. The sailors fear that someone is flying from retribution. In this version the woman is thrown overboard.
Tony Rose recorded this song in 1976 as title track of his LP On Banks of Green Willow. As this album is no longer available, he re-recorded it in 1999 for his CD Bare Bones. He noted on the first album:
It was a common superstition, possibly originating with the story of Jonah, that the presence of an evil-doer on board a ship might imperil both vessel and crew, unless the guilty party were sought out and thrown overboard. Such is the theme running through The Banks of Green Willow and Sir William Gower, both of which were collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset.
Dick Gaughan sang Banks of Green Willow in 1977 on his Trailer album Kist o' Gold.
Frankie Armstrong sang The Banks of Green Willow live in Sweden in May 1978, which was published in 1980 on her album And the Music Plays So Grand. She noted:
This is one of the most poignant of English ballads. It has been collected very widely and some of the versions make the story clearer than the present text. There was an old superstition held by sailors (going back to Jonah and earlier), that if a ship was in dangerous sea it was because of the presence of a sinner on board. The only way to ensure saving the ship was to discover the wrongdoer and sacrifice them by throwing them overboard. Here it is the woman who is selected as the sinner, whether because of her having robbed her parents or as a result of bearing an “illegitimate” child is not clear. In either case she could not be said to have been unaided.
Frankie also sang it on the 1992 Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Paul Adams noted on that album:
This song has been floating around in Frankie's repertoire for so long that she cannot remember where she learnt it. The theme of a wrong-doer on board a ship being discovered and thrown overboard is reputedly older than Jonah. There are many texts for the song but most seem a little confused and tend to obscure the superstition element. The song is obviously related to Bonnie Annie (Child 24) where the whole thing becomes a little clearer.
Alison McMorland and Peta Webb sang The Green Banks of Yarrow in 1980 on their eponymous Topic duo album Alison McMorland & Peta Webb. This track was also included in 2009 on Topic's anniversary anthology Three Score and Ten.
Steve Turner sang Bonnie Annie in 1982 on his Fellside album Jigging One Now.
Patti Reid sang Bonnie Annie in 1987 on her eponymous Fellside album Patti Reid. This track was also included in 1999 on the Fellside anthology Rolling Down to Old Maui.
Bob Davenport sang The Green Banks of Yarrow with the Rakes in 1997 on their Fellside CD The Red Haired Lad.
Moira Craig sang The Banks of Green Willow on her 2000 album On ae Bonny Day. She noted:
This song, also known as Bonnie Annie, is of the Jonah ballad form where it is bad luck for a woman to be onboard ship and so in this version the Captain throws his own pregnant true love overboard! The words and tune can be found in Traditional Folksongs and Ballads of Scotland.
John Spiers & Jon Boden played Banks of Green Willow on their 2001 CD, Through & Through, and Jon Boden sang in as the 10 July 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted on the CD:
A version of this nightmarish ballad put together by Martin Carthy using a tune sung by Mr David Clements in 1909 (see A Century of Song, EFDSS) and various texts from Child. This was the first ballad I ever learnt and I didn't get the melody quite right at the time—a mistake which stuck.
Bram Taylor sang Banks of Green Willow in 2004 on his Fellside album The Night Is Young.
Coope Boyes & Simpson recorded Banks of Green Willow in 2005 for their album of songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth and Percy Grainger, Triple Echo.
Jackie Oates learned The Banks of Green Willow from Tony Rose's album and recorded it in 2006 for her eponymous first album, Jackie Oates.
Brian Peters sang The Banks of Green Willow in 2008 on his album of Child ballads, Songs of Trial and Triumph. He noted:
This is generally considered a ‘Jonah Ballad’, dealing with the old maritime superstition that certain types of undesirable passenger would bring ill-luck to a voyage and should be jettisoned without delay. Disturbingly, the main offenders were believed to be either serial killers (Sir William Gower) or pregnant women, like the victim here. English versions of the ballad, known in Scotland as Bonnie Annie, miss some of the details, blurring the storyline in a rather intriguing way. Sisters Louie Hooper and Luca White, from Hambridge in Somerset, had learned hundreds of songs from their mother, and were amongst Cecil Sharp's most significant informants in the 1900s. I pulled their tune around quite a bit and brought in verses from other collections to construct my own version.
Rod Stradling sang The Banks of Green Willow at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2008. This was published a year later on the festival CD Grand to Be a Working Man (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 5).
Paul Davenport sang All on a Falling Tide in 2011 on his and Liz Davenport's Hallamshire Traditions CD Spring Tide Rising. They noted:
Bonnie Annie is a tale of elopement and the rigours of childbirth. This version has a shanty-like feel to it and is a little reminiscent of Lowlands. Along the East coast of Yorkshire sickness takes an additional strength when the tide begins to fall and it is believed that death will come quicker as the tide goes out. There has been nothing published in the ‘Lancet’ to support this belief. This version is a construction from a number of sources and the tune is a part remembered version from childhood.
Rachel Newton and Kris Drever sang Green Willow in 2012 on her CD The Shadow Side. Their version is from Cecil Sharp's Folk Songs from Somerset (1904).
Ron Taylor and Jeff Gillett sang The Banks of Green Willow in 2013 on their WildGoose CD Buy It, Try It (and Never Repent You). Jeff Gillett noted:
The Banks of Green Willow is also in the The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs. Overd, Langport, Somerset in 1904. Ron learned this for a studio session with the Albion Band. The first verse came from Tony Rose. Some versions of this ballad suggest that mother and child have been sacrificed as the result of superstition. Here, the napkin tied round the woman’s head seems to imply that she died in childbirth.
John Bowden sang The Banks of Green Willow in 2015 on his and Vic Shepherd's Hallamshire Traditions CD Still Waters. They noted:
This rather truncated version of a tragic story, set to an attractive but incongruously bouncy tune. was collected in 1904 by Cecil Sharp from Emma Overd of Langport, Somerset, and was published in the The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. According to the biography of Sharp by Maude Karpeles and A.H. Fox-Strangeways, when Sharp met Mrs Overd she was sitting outside a pub and on hearing that Sharp wanted to hear her songs, “without any warning she flung her arms around his waist and danced him round and round with the utmost vigour shouting ‘Lor, girls, here's my beau came at last!’ ”
Sharp was obviously not fazed by this unorthodox reception. however, as he visited her several times over the following five years, collecting a total of sixty songs from her including Our Captain Cried All Hands, the tune of which Vaughan Williams used for his setting of Bunyan's To Be a Pilgrim. Mrs Overd has the rare distinction for a traditional singer of having an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Kirsty Potts sang Bonnie Annie on her 2015 album The Seeds of Life. She noted:
This narrative is also known as The High (Green) Banks of Yarrow. I have listened to and admired Aretha's singing and playing since I was young and somehow this just crept into the arrangement.
Shirley Collins sang The Banks of Green Willow on her 2016 album Lodestar. She noted:
This version is based on the song that George Butterworth collected from Mrs Cranstone of Billingshurst in 1907 on one of his folk song hunting expeditions in Sussex. It later inspired his idyll The Banks of Green Willow, one of the best-loved English orchestral pieces. There was a strongly held belief that it was unlucky to have women on board ship. In this song the girl pays with her and her baby's life for following her bold sea-captain to sea. Unlucky for the woman rather than the sailors, I'd say.
Granny's Attic sang Banks of Green Willow on their 2019 CD Wheels of the World. They noted:
A song shrouded in mystery. Ballad scholars and folklorists have discussed the song at length drawing links to the biblical story of Jonah, to the mysterious powers of the willow tree, to the superstitions of the sea and even to fairies. Musicians have long been drawn to the beautiful tunes that have been attached to this ballad; George Butterworth famously composed an ‘Idyll for small orchestra’ based around a variant of the tune. Cecil Sharp collected nine variants of this song in Somerset, with this one coming from Mrs Overd of Langport [ VWML CJS2/10/346 ] .
Jon Wilks talked with Granny's Attic's Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne about The Banks of Green Willow in September 2020 in Episode 12 of his Old Songs Podcast.
|Nic Jones sings The Banks of Green Willow||Tony Rose sings The Banks of Green Willow|
O it's of a sea-captain
O it's of a sea-captain
She cried, “What shall I do my love?
“Go and fetch your father's gold
“Go fetch me some of your father's gold
“Now I've got me father's gold
So she's fetched him some of her father's gold
Now they hadn't been a-sailing,
Well they had not been sailing
“Sea captain, sea captain,
“Oh no,” said the captain,
“Go and fetch a white napkin
“Then tie the napkin round my head,
So they tied the napkin round her head,
Now see how she totters,
Don't you see how she swims, my lad,
Go fetch me a longboat
For she shall have a coffin,
And my love shall have a coffin made
|Martin Carthy sings on Shearwater||… and on Penguin Book of English Folk Songs|
It's of a sea captain
Go and get your father's goodwill,
Go and get your father's goodwill,
Oh she's got her father's goodwill,
Now they had not been a-sailing
She had not been a-sailing
Oh hold your tongue you silly girl
Now they had not been a sailing
Oh there's fay folk in our gallant ship,
So they've cast the black bullets,
Oh, fetch me a silk napkin
Oh he's tied a napkin all round her head
Oh they fetched him a silk napkin
And it's seeing how she doth swim my boys,
Oh, see how my love tumble,
Oh she shall have a coffin
Oh, make my love a coffin
Frankie Armstrong sang The Banks of Green Willow
It’s of a sea captain, lived by the sea side oh,
And he has courted a fair maid till she’s proved with child oh.
Cryin, “Oh my love what shall I do and what will become of me?
For my father and mother they both will disown me.”
“Go fetch some of your father’s gold and some of your mother’s money,
And you can sail the ocean along with your Johnny.”
So she’s fetched some of her father's gold and some of her mother's money
And she’s gone on board a ship along with her Johnny.
They hadn’t been asailing scarce six weeks nor so many
Before she wanted womens’ help and could not get any.
“Oh hold your tongue you foolish girl, oh hold your tongue my honey,
For we cannot get womens' help for love nor for money.”
They hadn’t been asailing scarce six miles nor so many
before she was delivered of a beautiful baby.
“Sea captain, sea captain, here's fifty pounds for thee,
If you'll fetch me home safe again, both me and my baby.”
“Oh no,” says the sea captain, “for such a thing can never be
For 'tis better to lose two lives than it is to loose many.”
So he's tied a kerchief round her head, he’s tied it soft and easy,
And he has thrown her right overboard, both she and her baby.
“See how my love do swim my boys, see how my love do quiver,
She will never cease swimming till the banks of Green Willow.”
“My love shall have a coffin of the gold that shines so yellow
And she shall be buried by the banks of Green Willow.”
Rachel Newton and Kris Drever sing The Banks of Green Willow
“Go home and get your father's gold,
Some of your mother's money.
And you shall go on board with me
For to be my dear honey, for to be my dear honey.”
They had not sailed many miles
Not many miles, nor scarcely,
Before he was troubled
With her and her baby, with her and her baby.
For the ship was pixy-held
And lots were cast for the cause on't;
But every time the lot fell out
On her and her baby, on her and her baby.
He tied a napkin round her head
And he tied it to the baby;
And then he threw them overboard,
Both her and her baby, both her and her baby.
“See how my love she'll try to swim,
See how my love she'll follow;
See how my love she'll try to swim,
To the banks of green willow, to the banks of green willow.
“I'll build a coffin for my love,
And I'll edge it all with yellow,
And then she shall be buried
On the banks of green willow, on the banks of green willow.”
Martin Carthy's Shearwater version transcribed by Garry Gillard. The other words are from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, eds Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959. Martin Carthy's variations transcribed by Reinhard Zierke.