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Clyde's Water / The Drowned Lovers

[ Roud 91 ; Child 216 ; G/D 6:1231 ; Ballad Index C216 ; Mudcat 24767 , 24985 ; trad.]

John Strachan sang Clyde's Water (The Mother's Malison) Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson in Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on 16 July 1951. This recording was included in 2000 on the Rounder CD Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland Volume 2 (which is an extended re-issue of the Caedmon/Topic anthology The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5) and in 2002 on Strachan's Rounder anthology Songs from Aberdeenshire. Other recordings of John Strachan and Willie Edward, made by Hamish Henderson in 1952, were included on the album The Muckle Sangs (Tangent 1975; Greentrax 1992).

Ewan MacColl sang Clyde's Water in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV. This and 28 other ballads from this series were reissued in 2009 on MacColl's Topic CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the album's booklet:

This ballad appears to be quite rare; Child knew it only in three versions, all from the first quarter of the 19th century.

In part of its plot, the ballad shows startling resemblance to The Lass of Roch Royal (Child 76). In Clyde's Water, the mother, pretending to be her daughter, repels the lover, and the daughter, who has dreamed that her lover had come and had been refused admittance, is told by her mother that this had actually happened, and set off in pursuit of her lover. Parts have been exchanged by the sexes involved (as frequently happens in ballads),but substantially the same occurrences take place in The Lass of Roch Royal, in which the lass is turned away by Lord Gregory's mother pretending to speak in his person.

Bleeding at the nose (stanza one of this version) as a bad omen, occurs in several ballads, including Lord Derwentwater (Child 208).

The ballad is little known in tradition outside of Scotland. Greig collected four versions in Aberdeenshire early in this century, and it appears to exist in tradition in Scotland. MacColl's version was learned mostly from recitation by his mother. Stanzas 10, 11, and 13 were learned from Jeannie Robertson, housewife and former tinker of Aberdeen.

Stanley Robertson sang The Clattering of the Clyde Waters, at the Kinross Festival on 7-9 September 1973. This recording by Ian Sinclair was included in the same year on the festival's anthology on the Springthyme label, Scots Songs and Music. An earlier live recording made by Bill Leader at a folk-club meeting in The Royal Hotel, Aberdeen, on 23 February 1973, was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology O'er His Grave the Grass Grew Green (The Voice of the People Series Volume 3).

Nic Jones recorded this ballad as The Drowned Lovers for his 1980 Topic album Penguin Eggs. Two live recordings with the alternative title Clyde Water have later been included in his CDs Unearthed and Game Set Match.

Martin Carthy sang Clyde's Waters on his and Dave Swarbrick's 1992 album Skin and Bone. He also sang it live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros. Martin Carthy noted on his original recording:

Clyde's Water is an astonishing song of iron parental control. There is no question of the iron fist being encased in a velvet glove—the glove too is made of iron. I don't think I have ever heard a song so relentless or so pared down. The tune comes from Christie's MS with grateful thanks to Ethel Raim.

Kate Rusby learnt Drowned Lovers from Nic Jones' album and recorded it for her 1997 album Hourglass.

Ellen Mitchell sang Clyde's Water in 2001 on her and Kevin Mitchell's Musical Traditions anthology Have a Drop Mair. She and Rod Stradling commented in the album's booklet:

Ellen: I heard John Strachan and Willie Edward singing their versions of this ballad on a tape produced by Greentrax and recorded and documented by the School of Scottish Studies [The Muckle Sangs]. I augmented this with verses from Folk-Song of the North-East by Gavin Greig.

It seems surprising that this powerful and substantial ballad has only 45 Roud entries, and that none of them are from outside Scotland, in view of how popular ballads like Mary Hamilton were in North America. Child provided only three versions, but there are 12 in Greig-Duncan, and Bronson found 16. Most unusually, there seem to have been no broadside printings.

Geordie McIntyre sang Clyde's Water in 2010 on his and Alison McMorland's CD Where Ravens Reel.

Jon Boden sang Clyde Water as the 3 February 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer sang Clyde Waters in 2013 on their CD Child Ballads.

The Teacups sang The Drowned Lovers in 2015 on their Haystack CD Of Labour and Love.

Fiona Ross sang Clyde's Water in 2017 on her Tradition Bearers album with Tony McManus, Clyde's Water. She noted:

This formidable ballad involves not one, but two cruel mothers, the first who puts a curse on her son and the second who deceives her daughter, with equally tragic consequences. It ends with the two young lovers drowned in the Clyde. The version I sing is based on Ewan MacColl’s.

Piers Cawley learned (The Clattering in the) Clyde's Water from Nic Jones. He sang it on his 2020 download album Isolation Sessions #3 where he noted:

Nic’s not the only person to have recorded Clyde’s Water (aka The Drowned Lovers or The Mother’s Malison) but it’s his version that I fell in love with. And, like Annachie Gordon last month, it’s his guitar part that I’m struggling to forget as I sing. Did Willy’s mother really curse him? I think that Willy’s an impetuous young fool and his mum is terrified that he’s going to come to grief in the Clyde, so she’s forcefully trying to convince him to stay at home on a horrid night. The boy is clearly an idiot. There are other views.

Lyrics

Nic Jones sings The Drowned Lovers

Willie sits in his stable door
And he's combing his coal-black steed,
And he's doubting on fair Margaret's love
And his heart began to bleed

“Give corn unto my horse, mother,
And meat to my man John,
And I'll away to fair Margaret's bower
Before the night comes on.”

“Oh stay at home with me, dear Willie,
Oh stay at home with me,
And the very best cock in all the roost
For your own supper shall be.”

“It's all your cocks in all your roosts
I value not a pin,
But I'll away to fair Margaret's bower
Before the night sets in.”

“If you go to fair Margaret's bower
Without the leave of me,
In the deepest part of the Clyde water
Then drowned you shall be.”

“Oh the good steed that I ride upon
Cost me thrice thirty pounds,
And I'll put trust in his swift feet
To take me safe and sound.”

He's ridden o'er the high, high hills
And he's down the dewy den,
And the noise that was in the Clyde water
Would have feared five hundred men

“O roaring Clyde, you roar so loud
Your streams are wondrous strong,
Make me a wreck as I come back
But spare me as I'm going.”

Oh when he's got to Margaret's bower,
He's turled low on the pin.
“Oh wake up, me May Margaret,
Rise up and let me in.”

“Oh who is this at my bower door,
A-calling May Margaret's name?”
“It's only your first love, little William,
This night come to her home.”

“Open your gates this night,
Open and let me in,
For me boots they are full of the Clyde water
And I'm frozen to the skin.”

“Me barns are full of corn, Willie,
The stable's full of hay.
And me bower's full of gentlemen,
They'll not remove till day.”

“Then it's fare thee well to you, May Margaret,
It's fare thee well and adieu,
For I have won my mother's own curse
In coming this night to you.”

And as he's ridden o'er the high, high hill
And down yon dowy den,
And the rushing in the Clyde water
Took Willie's cane from him.

And he's leaned him over his saddle-bow
To catch his cane again,
And the rushing in the Clyde water
Took Willie's hat from him.

And he's leaned him over his saddle-bow
To catch his hat by force,
But the rushing in the Clyde water
Took Willie from his horse.

And the very hour that young man sank
Into the parts so deep,
There up and awoke this May Margaret
Out from her drowsy sleep.

“Come here come here, my mother dear,
And you read my dreary dream.
I dreamed my lover was at our gates
And nobody let him in.”

“Lie down, lie down, you May Margaret,
Lie down and take your rest.
And since your lover was at our gates
It's but two quarters passed.”

Then nimbly, nimbly rose she up,
Went down to the river's brim,
And the louder that this lady cried
The louder grew the wind.

And the very first step that she went in,
She stepped up to her feet,
And it's “oh” and “alas,” this lady cried,
“The water's wondrous deep.”

And the very next step that she went in,
She's waded to her knee.
Says she, “I would wade farther in
If I my true love could see.”

And the very next step that she went in,
She's waded to her chin.
And the deepest part of Clyde water
She found sweet William in.

Saying, “ You have had a cruel mother, Willie,
And I have had another.
And now we'll sleep in Clyde water
Like sister and like brother.”

Martin Carthy sings Clyde's Water

Willie stands in his own front door,
He's clapping at his good steed;
And down come his own mother
And she would have him bide.

“Give corn to my good horse now, mother,
Meat to my brother John,
For I am away to my darling's house
And I won't be back till morn.”

“Stay at home with me, my darling,
Stay at home with me,
And the finest sheep in all of the flock
Your dinner it will be.”

“Oh all your sheep and all your flocks
I value not a pin,
For I am away to my darling's house
And I won't be back till morn.”

“Stay at home with me, my darling,
Stay at home with me,
And the finest cock in all of the roost
Your supper it will be.”

“Oh all your cocks and all your hens
I value not a pin,
For I am away to my darling's house
And I won't be back till morn.”

“Stay at home with me, my darling,
Son, stay with me,
For if you leave this house this night
My curse'll follow thee.

“And if you go to your darling's house
So sore against my will,
From the deepest pot of Clyde water
My curse'll keep you still.”

Now he went up yon high high hill
And down by yonder glen,
And the roaring that was Clyde water
Would fear five hundred men.

“O roaring Clyde, you roar so loud,
Your stream is wondrous strong,
Make me your wreck when I come back
But spare me if I come.”

Now he come to his darling's house
And he rung low at the ring,
“Oh speed you and you, darling dear,
Rise up and let me in.

“Oh rise and open the door, my darling,
Rise and let me in,
For my boots are filled with Clyde water
I'm shivering to my skin.”

He thought it was his darling dear
Rose up and let him in,
He thought it was his darling dear
But it was no such thing.

It was the voice of her mother,
She sounded just the same,
Saying, “The bowers are filled with gentlemen,
They won't be gone till morn.”

“My curse be on you, false darling,
And my curse be on you.
I got our mother's malison
For coming here to you.”

And he went up yon high, high hill
And down by yonder glen,
And the roaring that was Clyde water
Took Willie's cane from him.

He leaned from his saddle-bow
To catch his cane again,
And the roaring that was Clyde water
Took Willie's hat from him.

And he leaned out of the saddle-bow
To catch his hat with force,
And the roaring that was Clyde water
Took Willie from his horse.

His brother stood on the further bank,
“Oh fie, and will you drown,
Turn, turn to your high horse head
And do learn how to swim.”

“How can I turn to my high horse head?
How can I learn to swim?
I got our mother's malison
And it's here that I must drown.”

Now the very hour that Willie sank
Into the pot so deep,
His darling girl come wide awake
From out her drowsy sleep.

“Oh mother dear I dreamed a dream,
I dreamed it fierce and strong.
I dreamed my darling come to the door,
There was none would let him in.”

“Oh lie down, my own dear daughter,
Lie and down and rest,
Since your darling come to the door
It's a full half-hour past.”

So nimble, nimble she rose up,
So nimble she put on.
But the louder that this lady cried
The louder blew the wind.

And she stepped in Clyde water
And the water wet her feet,
And sighing says this darling girl,
“This water's wondrous deep.”

And she stepped in Clyde water
And the water come to her knee,
And sighing says this darling girl,
“This water's deep for me.”

And she stepped in Clyde water
And the water come to her chin.
From the deepest pot of Clyde water
She pulled her darling man.

“Oh you have got one curse now, Willie,
See I have another.
And we will die in Clyde water
Like sister and like brother.”

Ellen Mitchell sings Clyde's Water

Young Willie stood at his stable door,
A-leaning ower his steed.
And looking through his white fingers,
His nose began to bleed.

“Oh bring some corn tae ma horse,
And gie ma young man meat,
And I'll awa tae Maggie's bower;
I'll be there afore she sleeps.”

“Oh gin ye gang tae Maggie's bower,
Sae sare against ma will,
The deepest pots in Clyde's Waters
Ma malison ye'll feel.

“Oh stay at hame, ma Willie dear,
Oh stay at hame wi' me,
And the best fed lamb in aa ma flock
Will be weel dressed for ye.”

“Oh aa your lambs and aa your flocks
I value ne'er a pin,
And I'll awa tae Maggie's bower,
I'll be there ere she lies doon.”

“Oh gin ye gang tae Maggie's bower,
Sae sair against ma will,
The deepest pots in Clyde's Waters
Ma malison ye'll feel”

“But I've got a horse in ma stable,
Cost me twice twenty pounds,
And I'll put ma trust in his four good legs,
Tae carry me tae safe ground.”

Then he's rade up yon high, high hill
And doon yon dowie den,
And the rush that rose in Clyde's Waters
Would have feared a thousand men.

“Oh Clyde, oh Clyde, ye roaring Clyde,
Yer waves are wond'rous strang.
Mak me a wreck as I come back,
But spare me as I gang.

“Oh Maggie, Maggie, Maggie dear,
Rise up and let me in,
For ma boots are fu' o' Clyde's Waters
And I'm shiv'ring tae the skin.”

“But ma stables are fu o' horses,
An' ma' barns are fu o' hay,
And ma beds are fu o' gentlemen
That winna leave 'til day.”

He's turned his horse right roond aboot,
Wi' a salt tear in his ee,
“Oh I never thought tae come here this nicht
And be denied by ye.

“So fair ye weel ye Maggie dear,
Since maunna man I be [must not]
An' I got ma mither's malison
This nicht comin tae ye.”

Then he's rade up yon high, high hill
And doon yon dowie den,
And the rush that rose in Clyde's Waters
Took Willie's cane fae him.

And leanin ower his saddle bows
Tae catch his cane by force,
The rush that rose in Clyde's Waters
Took Willie fae his horse.

And his brother stood upon the bank
Shouts, “Willie, will ye droon?
Ah haad you tae yer high horse heed,
An I'll learn ye how tae swim.”

“How can I haud tae ma high horse heed,
And learn how tae swim,
For I've got ma mither's malison
And it's here that I maun droon.”

Then up arose his Maggie dear
Oot o' a fearfu dream,
“I dreamt my love William was here this nicht
And yez wouldnae let him in.”

“Oh go tae bed, ma Maggie dear,
Lie doon an 'take a rest.
Since your love William was here this nicht
It's but three quarters past.”

But she's awa tae her chamber,
And clothes she quickly put on,
And she's awa tae Clyde's Waters
As fast as she can run.

And when she came tae the water's side
Sae quckly she stepped in,
And loudly cried her true love's name,
But louder blew the wind.

And the first step that she stepped in,
It took her tae the knee,
“Oh I would go further in,
If my true love I could see.”

And the next step that she stepped in
It took her tae the chin,
And the deepest pot in Clyde's Waters
She found her William in.

“Aye, ye've gotten a cruel mother, Willie,
And I hae gotten another,
But here we'll sleep in Clyde's Waters
Like a sister and a brother.”

Fiona Ross sings Clyde's Water

O Willie stands at his ha’ door
Combing doon his milk white steed
And then oot ower his white fingers
His nose began to bleed

O mither gie ma horse its corn
And gie some meat tae ma servant man
For I’m awa tae Maggie’s bower
I’ll lay in ere she lies doon

O bide this nicht at hame, Willie
Bide this nicht at hame wi me
And the bestan sheep in a’ the fold
At yer supper it shall be.

Ye can hae yer sheep and a’ yer flocks
For them I wadna gie a pin
For I’m awa tae Maggie’s bower
And this nicht I’ll win in

Gin ye should gang tae Maggie’s bower
It shall be sair against my will
The deepest hole in Clyde’s Water
My malison ye’ll fill

Then he rode up yon high, high hill
And he rode doon yon dowie glen
The rush that was in Clyde’s water
Would fear five hundred men

O Clyde ye roar ower loud this nicht
Yer waters they seem wondrous strang
Ye can wrack me when I come back this way
Gin ye spare me as I gang

Then he rode on tae Maggie’s door
And he has turllet at the pin
O sleep ye or wake Maggie Dear?
But rise and let me in

O wha’s that stands at my ha door?
Wha’s that calls me by my name?
It is yer ain true love, yer Willie
That’s newly come frae hame

Open the door o Maggie dear
Open the door and let me in
For my boots are full of Clyde’s water
And I’m shiverin tae the chin

My barns are full o corn Willie
And a’ my byres are full of hay
My bower is fu o gentlemen
And they’ll no come oot till day

Then fare ye weel my fause Maggie
Fare ye weel and a lang adieu
I got my mother’s malison
This nicht when I cam tae you

Then he rode up yon high, high hill
And he rode doon yon dowie glen
The rush that was in Clyde’s Water
Took the whip frae Willie’s hand

The rush that was in Clyde’s Water
Took his hat frae him by force
The rush that was in Clyde’s Water
Took Willie frae his horse

Noo at the hour young Willie fell
Intae the hole sae wide and deep
It was then awoke his ain dear Maggie
Oot o her drowsy sleep

Come here, come here o mither dear
Mither come here and read my dream
I dreamed my love stood at oor ha’ door
And nane would let him in

Lie doon, lie doon o Maggie Dear
Maggie lie doon and tak yer rest
For yer ain true love was at oor ha’ door
Scarce twa quarters is past

Then sadly, sadly rose she up
Nae word she spak, but her claithes put on
But the higher that the lady cried
The louder blew the wind

The firstan step that she stepped in
She stepped in untae the cuits
The nextan step the lady cried
This water’s wondrous deep

The nextan step that she stepped in
She stepped in untae the chin
The deepest hole in Clyde’s Water
She’s found sweet Willie in

O ye have had a cruel mither
And a cruel one had I
But we shall cheat them baith Willie
In Clyde’s Waters we will lie

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of both Martin Carthy and Nic Jones by Garry Gillard.