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Child Maurice / Child Morris / Gil Morice / Bill Norrie
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I like the suspense in this tragic ballad as the jealous husband kills his lady’s suspected lover only to find out in the end that he is her son.
Ewan MacColl sang the ballad as Gil Morice on Volume III of his and A.L. Lloyd’s eight-record anthology on the Riverside label, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads). This song and 28 other from this series were reissued in 2009 on his Topic double CD set Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the album’s booklet:
In the 18th century, this classic tragic ballad excited more interest than had any other of the many ancient ballads preserved from tradition in Scotland. No doubt this was due not only to its merits as an exquisite piece of poetry, but because it furnished the plot for John Home’s very popular tragedy of Douglas (1756). The ballad had been printed in Glasgow in 1755 and had wide distribution; after Home’s play, the ballad came into greater vogue than previously, and it is probable that the sophisticated printed copy passed into tradition and infected those which were repeated from earlier tradition. Indeed, an old women told Motherwell that she had learned Chield Morice in her infancy from her grandmother, but at a later period of her life she committed to memory Gil Morice (probably from the printed copy) “which began, with young lasses like her, to be a greater favourite and more fashionable than the set which her grandmother and old folks used to sing”. It is interesting to note that Greig collected a version in this century that had been learned around 1850 and which closely reproduced the printed Glasgow text of a century earlier, indicating rather strongly that the printed copy definitely took hold in tradition.
At the present time. the ballad may well be extinct in tradition. The last version reported was a fragmentary recited text collected in Newfoundland in 1920. The version sung by MacColl was learned from Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs].
Martin Carthy sang the ballad with the title Bill Norrie on his 1988 album Right of Passage; it was re-released in 1993 on both Rigs of the Time: The Best of Martin Carthy and The Collection. He also sang it in December 2004 live at Ruskin Mill and live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros. Martin Carthy commented in the original recording’s sleeve notes:
That the world is full of walking emotional time bombs will come as no news, nor should it be surprising that people have sung about it for a long time. Neither Bill Norrie nor the unnamed woman in the song have told another nearest or dearest the true nature of their relationship and the countdown starts at once.
This video shows Martin Carthy at No Direction Home Festival on 10 June 2012:
Damien Barber learned Bill Norrie from Martin Carthy’s album and recorded it for his 2000 album, The Furrowed Field.
John Spiers and Jon Boden sang this ballad as Child Morris in 2005 on their CD Songs. and Jon Boden sang it as the 29 July 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. Their liner notes commented:
Or Gil Maurice—once a very well known ballad in Scotland inspiring lawdry dramatic adaptions and cropping up all over the place in various ballad versions. Our text is based on a version collected from Banffshire in 1826 from “Widow Michael, a very old woman.”
This video of Spiers & Boden singing Child Morris was uploaded to YouTube in November 2006:
Lucy Ward sang Bill Norrie on her 2018 album Pretty Warnings.
Piers Cawley sang Bill Norrie on his 2020 download album Isolation Sessions #2. He noted:
Sat in the Cumberland Arms at the top of Byker Bank in Newcastle in the singing session that the Witches of Elswick used to run, I heard Fay Hield sing Bill Norrie and it blew me away. I had to learn it. Listen to it once and you’ll understand why.
You think it’s just going to be a jolly(ish) song about a little light adultery and then it zigs and zags like a lightning bolt and hits you right between the eyes. It also has what must be the worst ever attempt at an apology from the husband.
I believe Fay had it from Damien Barber, who had it from Martin Carthy, who no doubt pulled it from a dusty old manuscript in the bowels of Cecil Sharp House and turned it into the magnificent beast we have today. It’s just what he does.
Alasdair Roberts sang Bob Norris on his 2023 album Grief in the Kitchen and Mirth in the Hall. He noted:
My version of this ballad derives ultimately from Mary Macqueen of Lochwinnoch, whose extensive ballad repertoire was noted down in the early 19th century and first printed around 1825 by Andrew Crawfurd (also of Lochwinnoch). I learnt it from a recording of Stirling-based singer Jo Miller, who has done thorough research on Mary Macqueen and her ballads.
Martin Carthy sings Bill Norrie
Young Bill Norrie’s a fine lad and he lives like the wind,
Eyes shine like the silver or gold in morning sun.
“Oh friend John, and dear John, and do you see what I see?
Yonder stand the first woman that ever loved me.”
“And here’s a glove, a glove John, it’s lined with the silver grey,
Give it to her and tell her to come to her young Billy.”
“And here is a ring, a ring John, it’s all gold but the stone,
Give it to her and tell her to ask for leave of none.”
“Oh friend Billy, dear Billy, you know my love for thee,
I’ll not go to nobody to steal their wife away.”
“Oh Friend John, dear John, swim not against the tide,
Be with me in the stream John for I will be obeyed.”
John ran down to the high house and he rang low at the door,
Who was there but this woman to let young Johnny in.
“Here is a glove, a glove lady, lined with silver grey,
Bids you come to greenwood to meet your young Billy.”
“And here is a ring, a ring lady, all gold but the stone,
Bids you come to greenwood and ask for leave of none.”
Husband stood in the shadow and an angry man was he,
“I never thought the man lived my love loved more than me.”
So he’s gone down to her room and he dressed in her array
Like some woman he’s gone down to find this young Billy.”
Young Billy sat in the greenwood and he whistled and he sang,
Yonder come the woman that I have loved so long.”
Billy ran down and down there to meet her where she came,
Oh the sight that he saw his heart grew still as stone.
Billy ran down and down there to help her from the horse,
“Oh and oh,” he cries out, “Woman was never so gross.”
Husband he had a long knife, it hung down his knee,
He took the head of young Billy and off his fair body.
And he’s run home and home there and down into his hall,
Tossed Billy’s head to her, crying, “Lady catch the ball.”
And she’s taken up the head there, she kissed it cheek and chin,
“I love better this head than all my kith and kin.”
And she’s taken up the head there, she hugged it to her womb,
“Once I was full of this boy as the plum is of the stone.
And when I was in my dad’s house and my virginity,
A young man come to my room and we got young Billy.
And I’ve loved him in my room in secrecy and shame,
I loved him in the greenwood all out in wind and rain.
And I will kiss his sweet head and I will kiss his chin,
I will vow and stay true and I’ll ne’er kiss man again.”
And up and spoke the husband and a sad sad man was he,
“If I had known he was your son he would not be killed by me,
If I had known he was your son he would not’ve been killed by me.”
Spiers & Boden sings Child Morris
Child Morris stood in the good greenwood,
with red gold shined his weed,
By him stood a little page boy dressing a milk-white steed.
“I fear for you my master, for your fame it waxes wide.
It is not for your rich-rich gold nor for your mickle pride,
But all is for another Lord’s lady that lives on the Ithan side.”
“Oh, here’s to you my bonny wee boy
that I pay meat and fee,
Run you an errand to the Ithan side and run straight home to me.”
“If you make me this errand run it’s all against my will,
If you make me this errand run I shall do your errand ill.”
“But I fear no ill of you bonny boy, I fear no ill of you,
I fear no ill of my bonny boy, for a good bonny boy are you!”
“Take you here this green mantle,
It’s all lined with the fleece,
Bid her come to the good greenwood for to talk to Child Morris.
And take you here this shirt of silk, her own hand sewed the sleeve,
Bid her come to the good greenwood and ask not Bernard’s leave.”
But when he got to the castle wall
they were playing at the ball,
Four and twenty ladies gay looked over the castle wall.
“God make you safe, you ladies all, God make you safe and sure,
But Bernard’s lady among you all, my errand is to her.
“Oh, take you here this green mantle,
it’s all lined with the fleece.
Come you down to the good greenwood for to talk to Child Morris.
Take you here this shirt of silk, your own hand sewed the sleeve.
Come you down to the good greenwood and ask not Bernard’s leave.”
Well, up there spoke a little nurse,
she winked all with her eye.
“Oh welcome, welcome bonny boy with love tidings to me.”
“You lie, you lie, you false nurse, so loud I hear you lie,
Bernard’s lady among you all, I’m sure you are not she!”
Well up there spoke Lord Bernard,
behind the door stood he,
“Oh I shall go to the good greenwood and I’ll see who he might be.
Go fetch to me your gowns of silk and your petticoats so small,
I will ride to the good greenwood and I’ll try with him a fall.”
Child Morris stood in the good greenwood
and he whistled and he sang.
“I think I see the lady come that I have loved so long.”
He’s ridden him through the good greenwood for to help her from her horse,
“Oh no, oh no,” cried Child Morris, “No maid was ere so gross!”
“How now, how now, Child Morris,
how now and how do you?
How long have you my lady loved this night, come tell to me.”
“When first that I your lady loved, in greenwood among the thyme,
Then she was my first fair love before that she was thine.
When first that I your lady loved, in greenwood among the flowers,
Then she was my first fair love before that she was yours.”
Lord Bernard’s taken a long broadsword
that he was used to wear
And he’s cut off Child Morris’s head and he’s put it on a spear.
He’s cut off Child Morris’s head and he’s put it on a spear,
The soberest boy in all the court Child Morris’s head did bear.
And he’s put it in a broad basin
and he’s carried it through the hall,
He’s taken it to his lady’s bower, saying, “Lady, play at ball,
Play you, play you, my lady gay, play you from here to the bower,
Play you with Child Morris’s head for he was your paramour.”
“Oh, he was not my paramour,
he was my son indeed.
I got him in my mother’s bower all in my maiden weed.
I got him in my mother’s bower with mickle sin and shame,
I brought him up in the good greenwood all beneath the wind and rain.
“Now I will kiss his bloody cheek
and I will kiss his chin,
I’ll make a vow and I’ll keep it true, I’ll never kiss man again.
Oft times I by his cradle sat and fond to see him sleep.
Now I’ll lie upon his grave, the salt tears for to weep.”
“Bring pillows for my lady,
she looks so pale and wan.”
“Oh, none of your pillows, Lord Bernard, but lay me on the stone.”
“A pox on you, my lady gay, that would not tell it to me!
If I’d have known that he was your son, he’d not have been killed by me!”
Some changes by Garry Gillard to the text copied from the Digital Tradition; thanks also to Wolfgang Hell.