> Martin Carthy > Songs > Lochmaben Harper
> Nic Jones > Songs > The Blind Harper

Lochmaben Harper / The Blind Harper / The Wanton Brown

[ Roud 85 ; Child 192 ; G/D 2:270 ; Ballad Index C192 ; Mudcat 84736 ; trad.]

Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs James Kinsley: The Oxford Book of Ballads Sir Walter Scott: Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border

Nic Jones sang The Blind Harper in 1978 on his Transatlantic Leader Tradition album From the Devil to a Stranger. He basically shortened the text from Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, modernising and anglicising it at the same time. He also sang this ballad in a BBC Radio 1 John Peel Session recorded 5 June 1972 and broadcast 11 July 1972.

The Lochmaben Harper in the Digital Tradition is Child 192D, which is originally from Buchan’s MSS, 1, 35; Dixon, Scottish Traditional Versions of Ancient Ballads, p.37, Percy Society, Vol. xvii.

Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick recorded Lochmaben Harper live on 23 February 1990 at Focal Point, St. Louis, MO, USA for their album Life and Limb, and they played it on their 1992 video 100 Not Out. Martin Carthy also sang it in December 2004 live at Ruskin Mill. He noted on the first album:

The Lochmaben Harper is a busker whose very wealthy ‘friends’ come severely unglued when trying to put him in what they consider to be his place—thanks also due to the imagination of his wife. The air is a pipe march called Follow My Highland Soldier.

Denny Bartley sang The Blind Harper on his 2002 album Midnight Feast.

Kate Rusby learned The Blind Harper from the singing of Nic Jones and recorded it in 2003 for her album Underneath the Stars. She also sang it at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2011.

Emily Smith sang The Lochmaben Harper in 2005 on her CD A Different Life. She noted:

Another song from my home region of Dumfries and Galloway. This version dates back to the 1500s and tells the tale of a harper, in some versions a blind harper, who stole the King of England’s best horse, the ‘wanton broon’.

The Macmath Collective sang The Lochmaben Harper on their 2015 CD Macmath: The Silent Page. They noted:

This fantastical tale of a harper from Lochmaben who decides to go to England and steal the King’s horse was sung to McMurray, the minister at Baimaclennan, by Sara Rae (sister of David Rae who gave the [Macmath] collection Queen of the Fairies).

Rakoczy sang The Wanton Brown, based on Nic Jones’ version, in 2020 on her Talking Cat album Frontrunner which is supposed to be an exploration of the image of the horse in British folklore. She noted:

A folk song about equine fraud. Whilst nor horses were harmed in the recording of this song, please don’t try this at home; we recommend finding safer ways of overthrowing the ruling classes.


The Lochmaben Harper in the Digital Tradition

There was a jolly harper-man,
That harped aye frae toun to toun;
A wager he made, with two knights he laid
To steal King Henry’s Wanton Brown.

Sir Roger he wagered five ploughs o land,
Sir Charles wagered five thousand pound,
And John he’s taen the deed in hand,
To steal King Henry’s Wanton Brown.

He’s taen his harp into his hand,
And he gaed harping thro the toun,
And as the king in his palace sat,
His ear was touched wi the soun.

“Come in, come in, ye harper-man,
Some o your harping let me hear;”
“Indeed, my liege, and by your grace,
I’d rather hae stabling to my mare.”

“Ye’ll gang to yon outer court,
That stands a little below the toun;
Ye’ll find a stable snug and neat,
Where stands my stately Wanton Brown.”

He’s down him to the outer court,
That stood a little below the toun;
There found a stable snug and neat,
For stately stood the Wanton Brown.

Then he has fixd a good strong cord
Unto his grey mare’s bridle-rein,
And tied it unto that steed’s tail,
Syne shut the stable-door behin.

Then he harped on, and he carped on,
Till all were fast asleep;
Then down thro bower and ha he’s gone,
Even on his hands and feet.

He’s to yon stable snug and neat,
That lay a little below the toun;
For there he placed his ain grey mare,
Alang wi Henry’s Wanton Brown.

“Ye’ll do you down thro mire and moss,
Thro mony bog and lairy hole;
But never miss your Wanton slack;
Ye’ll gang to Mayblane, to your foal.”

As soon’s the door he had unshut,
The mare gaed prancing frae the town,
An at her bridle-rein was tied
Henry’s stately Wanton Brown.

Then she did rin thro mire an moss,
Thro mony bog an miery hole;
But never missed her Wanton slack
Till she reachd Mayblane, to her foal.

When the king awaked from sleep
He to the harper-man did say,
O waken ye, waken ye, jolly John,
We’ve fairly slept till it is day.

“Win up, win up, ye harper-man,
Some mair o harping ye’ll gie me:”
He said, “My liege, wi a’ my heart,
But first my gude grey mare maun see.”

Then forth he ran, and in he came,
Dropping mony a feigned tear:
“Some rogue[s] hae broke the outer court,
An stown awa my gude grey mare.”

“Then by my sooth,” the king replied,
“If there’s been rogues into the toun,
I fear, as well as your grey mare,
Awa is my stately Wanton Brown.”

“My loss is great,” the harper said,
“My loss is twice as great, I fear;
In Scotland I lost a gude grey steed,
An here I’ve lost a gude grey mare.”

“Come on, come on, ye harper-man,
Some o your music lat me hear;
Well paid ye’se be, John, for the same,
An likewise for your gude grey mare.”

When that John his money received,
Then he went harping frae the toun,
But little did King Henry ken
He’d stown awa his Wanton Brown.

The knights then lay ower castle-wa,
An they beheld baith dale an down,
An saw the jolly harper-man
Come harping on to Striveling toun.

Then, “By my sooth,” Sir Roger said,
“Are ye returned back to toun?
Idoubt my lad ye hae ill sped
Of stealing o the Wanton Brown.”

“I hae been into fair England,
An even into Lunan toun,
An in King Henry’s outer court,
An stown awa the Wanton Brown.”

“Ye lie, ye lie,” Sir Charles he said,
“An aye sae loud’s I hear ye lie;
Twall armed men, in armour bright,
They guard the stable night and day.”

“But I did harp them all asleep,
An managed my business cunninglie;
If ye make light o what I say,
Come to my stable an ye’ll see.

“My music pleasd the king sae well
Mair o my harping he wishd to hear;
An for the same he paid me well,
And also for my gude grey mare.”

Then he drew out a gude lang purse,
Well stored wi gowd an white monie,
An in a short time after this
The Wanton Brown he lat them see.

Sir Roger produced his ploughs o land,
Sir Charles produced his thousand pounds,
Then back to Henry, the English king,
Restored the stately Wanton Brown.

Nic Jones sings The Blind Harper

Have you heard of the blind harper,
How he lived in Lochmaven town,
How he went down to fair England,
To steal King Henry’s wanton Brown.

First he went unto his wife,
With all the haste that go could he,
“This work,” he said, “it will never go well,
Without the help of our good grey mare.”

Says she, “You take the good grey mare,
She’ll run o’er hills both low and high,
Go take the halter in your hose,
And leave the foal at home with me.”

So he’s up and went to England gone,
He went as fast as go could he,
And when he got to Carlisle gates
Who should be there but King Henry?

“Come in, come in you blind harper,
And of your music let me hear.”
But up and says the blind harper,
“I’d rather have a stable for my mare.”

The king he looks over his left shoulder
And he says unto his stable groom,
“Go take the poor blind harper’s mare,
And put her beside my wanton brown.”

Then he’s harped and then he sang,
Til he played them all so sound asleep,
And quietly he took off his shoes,
And down the stairs he did creep.

Straight to the stable door he goes,
With a tread so light as light could be,
And when he opened and went in
There he found thirty steeds and three.

And he took the halter from his horse
And from his purse he did not fail.
He slipped it over the wanton’s nose
And he’s tied it to the grey mare’s tail.

Then he let her loose at the castle gates
And the mare didn’t fail to find her way.
She’s went back to her own colt foal,
Three long hours before the day.

So then in the morning, at fair daylight
When they had ended all their cheer,
Behold the wanton brown has gone,
And so has the poor blind harper’s mare.

“And oh and alas,” says the blind harper,
“However alas that I came here,
In Scotland I’ve got me a little colt foal,
In England they stole my good grey mare.”

“Hold your tongue,” says King Henry,
“And all your mournings let them be,
For you shall get a far better mare
And well paid shall your colt foal be.”

Again he harped and again he sang,
The sweetest music he let them hear.
And he was paid for a foal that he never had lost
And three times over for the good grey mare.

Martin Carthy sings Lochmaben Harper

There was a harper an old blind harper
He lived in Lochmaben town
And a wager he laid with lord and lady
Steal Henry’s wanton brown

There he sat in the pub on an evening
He was drunk and drinking wine
A wager he laid with lord and lady
Steal Henry’s wanton brown

One of them bet him a house and land
And the other one bet five thousand pound
And how they laughed at the silly blind harper
Ran off to steal the wanton brown

Up and spoke this harper’s wife
And oh what a wily one was she
Go take the mare that’s newly foaled
Leave her babe at home with me

He took his harp all in his hand
He run playing all round the town
And the king high in his highland home
His ears were touched by all that sound

Come in come in now you John Harper
More of your music we would hear
Yes that I will says John Harper
But I must have stabling for my mare

You go down to the outer court
That stands a bit below the town
And you can leave her warm and snug
And next to my own wanton brown

And he’s gone down to the outer court
That stands a bit below the town
And there he spied the stable snug
Where stately stood the wanton brown

And he took out a good strong halter
How the horse come to his call
As he slipped it o’er the wanton’s nose
Tied the end to his mare’s tail

And he took out a good strong halter
How the horse come to his call
As he slipped it o’er the wanton’s nose
Tied the end to his mare’s tail

And he has played in the king’s high hall
And he has played them deep asleep
And he’s gone down to his hands and knees
And he crawled into the street

And he’s away to the outer court
That stands a bit below the town
And the guards slept as he let out the mare
Tied safe to the wanton brown

Just you run through the moss you run through mire
Through many’s the bog and the lairy hole
And don’t you let this wanton slack
Till you get home to your own foal

Soon as the door he has unshut
The mare ran prancing round the town
And there behind keeping close
She towed the stately wanton brown

They ran through the moss they ran through mire
Through many’s the bog and the lairy hole
And she never let this wanton slack
Till she got home to her own foal

John played in the king’s high hall
Till the king called him and aloud he cried
O wake wake now you John Harper
We have slept till nearly day

Get up get up now you John Harper
More of your music we will hear
Yes that I will says John Harper
But I must go see to my grey mare

He’s gone down to the outer court
And back he’s come with many’s the tear
Thieves broke in the outer court
Stole away my good grey mare

O my soul and cries the king
If there be thieves all in this town
And they have taken your grey mare
Then they have stolen the wanton brown

Play play now you John Harper
Give me music to my ear
And I will pay you for your song
If three times for your grey mare

John played and John got paid
And John ran paid all from the town
Never did King Henry think
He’d stolen away his wanton brown

Lords stood at the high town wall
And they beheld both dale and town
There they spied this John Harper
Come walking back down to the town

O my soul and cries the lord
How come you come home so soon
Oh we see you’ve no grey mare
Still you have no wanton brown

Aye ye lie then cries the boy
I took him so suddenly
I was paid for my music
And three times for my grey mare

He took them to his own stable
Open wide the door he spun
There’s the mare there’s the foal
And there’s the stately wanton brown

One paid up his house and land
The other one paid five thousand pound
And how he laughed did John Harper
Who stole away the wanton brown

The Macmath Collective sing The Lochmaben Harper

There was a poor silly harper man
And he lived in Lochmaben toon,
And into England he did go
To steal King Henry’s wanton broon.
Out spoke the silly poor harper’s wife
And o but she spoke wililie,
“If into England you do go
Then leave the wee, wee foal wi’ me.”

The harper he got on to ride
And oh but he rode highlilie.
The very first man that he did meet
They said that it was King Henry.
“Licht doon, licht doon ye harper man
And o’ your harping let me hear!”
“Oh by my sooth,” said the silly poor man,
“I’d raither hae stabling for my mare.”

The King he looked ower his left side
And said tae yin o his stable grooms,
“Go take the silly poor harper’s mare
And stable her by my wanton broon.”
And ay he harpit and ay he carpit
Till a’ the nobles fell fast asleep,
He has ta’en his harp upon his back
And doon the stair did softly creep.

He’s taen a halter frae his hose
And 0’ his purpose did not fail,
He coost a wap on Wanton’s nose
And tied her tae his ain mare’s tail.
He ca’d her through at the bye yet,
Through mony a syre and mony a hole.
She never loot Wanton slow
Till she was at Lochmaben’s foal.

Up then arose the servant lass
And Iookit through the wee. wee hole
The servant lass said, “By my sooth
Oor mare has gotten a waly foal.”
“Rise up. rise up ye servent lass
Let in the maister and the mare.”
The servent lass said, “By my sooth
I think the maister be not there.”

And when the stable groom awoke,
Put a’ the nobles in a fear.
King Henry’s wanton broon was stown
And 0 the silly poor harper’s mare.
And 0 the silly poor harpers wife
She’s aye first up in Lochmaben toon,
She’s stealing the corn, and stealing the hay,
And wappin it o’er to Wanton Brown.


Transcription from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard, with help from the Digital Tradition and from Ed Pellow.