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Bonnie George Campbell / Bonnie James Campbell

[ Roud 338 ; Child 210 ; Ballad Index C210 ; Mudcat 73995 ; trad.]

101 Scottish Songs The Oxford Book of Ballads Traveller's Joy

Rory and Alex McEwen sang the Border ballad Bonnie George Campbell in a recording made by Peter Kennedy on the 1955 HMV album of songs and ballads of England and Scotland, Folk Song Today.

Frank Proffitt sang Bonnie James Campbell on his 1962 Folk-Legacy album Traditional Songs and Ballads of Appalachia and on the 2000 anthology Ballads and Songs of Tradition from the Folk-Legacy Archives. Sandy Paton noted on the original album:

One of the most concise and beautiful of all the ballads, this is extremely rare in tradition. In fact, no trace of it has been found recently in either England or Scotland. Davis [More Traditional Ballads of Virginia, 1960] points out that only six texts have been reported from North America—three from Canadian sources, two from West Virginia and one from Virginia. A seventh text, as yet unpublished, is indicated in the records of the Federal Writer's Project as having been collected in Kentucky. Child printed only four texts of the ballad, all from Scottish sources. While all of Frank's verses appear in one or another of Child's texts, no single one of them is as complete as his. Indeed, this is the most complete text ever reported. The Virginia text (Davis) contains six of the seven stanzas in the present text and was obtained from a former resident of Watauga County, North Carolina, not far from Frank's home. Frank learned it from the singing of his father, adding that his Aunt Nancy Prather knew it, too. He explains that it was quite widely known in his part of the mountains “as a fiddle tune,” although the words were rarely sung, “because it's awfully hard to fit 'em in when you play it fast as 1t always was played.” Perhaps this explains why Brown [North Carolina Folklore, 1952] tailed to recover the ballad in North Carolina.

Nic Jones sang Bonny George Campbell in a BBC Radio 1 John Peel session recorded on 14 October 1975 and broadcast 12 November 1975. I don't know if this recording or another of unknown origin was included on his 2001 anthology Unearthed.

Martin Simpson sang George Campbell in 1976 on his Trailer album Golden Vanity. He noted:

George Campbell [is] a western American variant of a Scots ballad Bonny James Campbell which I learnt from Holly Tannen, an excellent American dulcimer player and singer.

Bobby Eaglesham sang Bonnie George Campbell in 1982 on his Fellside album Weather the Storm.

Steve Turner sang Bonnie George Campbell in 1986 on the Fellside anthology Flash Company and in 2008 on his own CD The Whirligig of Time. He noted on the latter album:

This is an adaption of Child Ballad 210 which is a lament for James Campbell who died in the Battle of Glenlivet in 1594.

John Wright sang Bonnie George Campbell in 1993 on his Fellside CD Ride the Rolling Sky.

Brian Peters and Gordon Tyrrall sang Bonnie George Campbell in 1996 on their Harbourtown CD Clear the Road.

This classic Scots lament is sketchy on detail in all the published versions. The explanatory fourth verse, courtesy of Anne Alderson, is probably a later addition, but non the worse for that.

The Australian group Lyrical Folkus sang Bonnie James Campbell on their 1998 CD The Persimmon Tree.

Gibb Todd sang George Campbell in 1999 on his CD Connected.

Duncan Williamson of Ladybank, Fife, sang Bonnie James Campbell in 2001 to Mike Yates. This recording was included in 2002 on the Kyloe anthology of songs, stories and ballads from Scottish Travellers, Travellers' Tales Volume 1. Mike Yates also included it in his 2006 EFDSS book of songs of English and Scottish travellers and gypsies, Traveller's Joy.

June Tabor sang Bonnie James Campbell, “adapted from Smith, R.A.: The Scottish Minstrel, 1820-4”, on her 2003 album of Border ballads, An Echo of Hooves. This track was also included in 2005 on her Topic anthology Always.

Lynne Heraud and Pat Turner sang Bonny George Campbell in 2007 on their WildGoose CD Tickled Pink. They noted:

Child Ballad no. 210 tells the story of one of the Campbells’, possibly our Bonny George, who was killed at the battle of Glenlivet in 1594.

Elle Osborne sang Bonnie George Campbell on her 2011 album So Slowly Slowly Got She Up.

Pete Shepheard sang Bonnie George Campbell in 2012 on Shepheard, Spiers & Watson's Springthyme album Over the High Hills. They noted:

This old song may be a fragment of a longer ballad—the story line is bare and leaves much unstated. This version is largely from traveller singer Duncan Williamson of Ladybank.

Pete Shepheard: I have always liked the song and it has a fine tune and after I heard a slightly longer version sung by the traveller singer Duncan Williamson I took to the song again.

Cath & Phil Tyler sang Bonnie George Campbell on their 2015 album The Song-Crowned King.

Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame sang Bonnie George Campbell on their 2020 album of songs from Norman Buchan's The Scotsman articles, The Ledger.

Piers Cawley got Bonnie George Campbell from Nic Jones and Steve Turner, and sang it in 2020 on his download album Isolation Sessions #1. He noted:

I only encountered Nic [Jones] on record, and on one magical night at the Royal Festival Hall when he was ably supported by…. pretty much everyone. Steve Turner is a lovely singer and concertina player with a fine line in songs, but in all honesty, this came from my wife’s record collection. I learned it from the recording on Nic Jones, Unearthed, and when I started singing it, Gill pointed me at the Steve Turner recording on the Fellside Flash Company compilation/celebration. Nic and Steve sang slightly different versions of the verse that I sing as the second verse and that’s what unlocked this for me as an unaccompanied song.

Bonnie George Campbell is very short, you see. When you just sing three verses and stop, it can lead to an awkward pause before the audience realises you’ve finished—definitely not the kind of ‘pause before the applause’ that lets you know you’ve really connected audience and song. By adding the variant second half of that verse on at the end of the song, it lets the listener know that it’s over and all they’re getting is this beautiful little bundle of mystery and grief. Someone once said that the good ballads “start in the second act”. This one’s unusual because it stops in the second act too. You’re left wondering what happened to George and what’s going to happen to his family. It’s just heartbreaking. And then it’s time for the next song.

Lyrics

Frank Proffitt sings Bonny James Campbell

Booted and spurred and bridled rode he,
A plume in his saddle and a sword at his knee.
Back come his saddle all bloody to see;
Back come his steed, but never come he.

Riding on the highlands, steep was the way;
Riding 1n the lowlands, hard by the Tay.

Out come his old mother with feet all so bare;
Out come his bonnie bride riving of her hair.
The meadows all a-falling And the sheep all unshorn;
The house 1s a-leaking and the baby's unborn.

But Bonnie James Campbell nowhere can you see
With a plume in his saddle and a sword at his knee.
For to home come his saddle ill bloody to see:
Home come the steed, but never come he.

Nic Jones sings Bonny George Campbell

High upon Highlands and low upon Tay,
Bonny George Campbell he rode out on a day.
Saddled, bridled, so gallant rode he,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Down came his mother dear with her heart filled with care,
Down came his bonny bride and she's curling her hair.
My meadow lies green and the corn is unshorn,
Bonny George Campbell he'll never return.

Saddled and bridled and booted rode he,
With a plume in his helmet and a sword by his knee.
Home came the saddle, all bloody to see,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Steve Turner sings Bonnie George Campbell

High upon Highlands and low upon Tay,
Bonnie George Campbell rode out on a day.
Saddled and bridled and booted rode he,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Saddled and bridled and booted rode he,
With a plume in his helmet and a sword by his knee.
Home came the saddle, all bloody to see,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Down came his mother: She's crying full sore.
Out came his bonnie wife: She's tearing of her hair.
My meadows lie green and my corn is unshorn,
My barns they are empty And my baby's unborn.

(repeat first verse)

Brian Peters sings Bonnie George Campbell

High upon Highland, low upon Tay,
Bonnie George Campbell rode out on a day.
Saddled and bridled, so bonnie rode he,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Saddled and booted and bridled rode he,
A plume to his helmet, a sword at his knee.
But home came his saddle all bloody to see,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Down came his old mother grieving full sore,
Out came his bonnie wife tearing her hair,
“My meadow is green and my corn is unshorn,
My barn is too big and my baby's unborn.”

Over the hill rode MacDonald the Red,
And tied to his saddle young Campbell was dead.
Blood from the open wound flowed to the ground,
“Revenge!” cried MacDonald, “Revenge for my son!”

(repeat first verse)

June Tabor sings Bonnie James Campbell

High upon Highlands and low upon Tay,
Bonnie James Campbell rode out on a day.
He saddled, he bridled, so gallant rode he,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Out came his mother weeping full sore,
Out came his new bride a-tearing her hair,
“My meadow lies green and my corn is unshorn,
My barn is to build and my baby unborn.”

Saddled and bridled and booted rode he,
A plume in his helmet, a sword at his knee.
His hounds running by him, his hawk flying free,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Empty the saddle, all bloody to see,
Home came his good horse but never came he.

Pete Shepheard sings Bonnie George Campbell

High upon heilands and low upon Tay,
Bonnie George Campbell rade oot on a day;
Saddled and bridled and mounted gaed he,
Hame cam his good horse but never cam he.

Saddled and bridled and mounted gaed he,
A feather to his hat and a sword at his knee.
Hame cam his saddle, aa bloody to see,
Hame cam his good horse but never cam he.

Oot cam his auld mother, she wis greetin fu sair,
Oot cam his bonnie wife rivin her hair;
“The meadow lies green and the corn is unshorn,
Ma barn’s yet tae big and my babe yet unborn.”

Bonnie George Campbell rade oot on a day,
A band o MacDonalds he met by the way;
They took him, they killed him, they hung him sae high,
Hame cam his good horse but never cam he.

(repeat first verse)

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Garry Gillard for transcribing Steve Turner's verses.