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> Norma Waterson > Songs > Green Grows the Laurel

Green Grows the Laurel / Green Grow the Laurels / I Once Loved a Lass

[ Roud 279 ; Master title: Green Grows the Laurel ; G/D 6:1138 ; Henry H165ab , H624 ; Ballad Index R061 ; Bodleian Roud 279 ; GlosTrad Roud 279 ; DT GREENGRO , GRENGRO2 ; Mudcat 11139 ; trad.]

Gale Huntington: Sam Henry’s Songs of the People Peter Kennedy: Folksongs of Britain and Ireland Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger: Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland Alison McMorland, Willie Scott: Herd Laddie o’ the Glen John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads Roy Palmer: Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams Steve Roud, Julia Bishop: The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Nick Dow: Southern Songster Stephen Sedley: The Seeds of Love

Charlotte Higgins: Green Grows the Laurel, 1954 Folksongs & Music From the Berryfields of Blair Jeannie Robertson: Green Grow the Laurel, 1958 Songs of Courtship (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 1) Sam Larner: Green Grow the Laurels, 1958-60 Cruising Round Yarmouth Louie Fuller: Green Grow the Laurels, 1976 I Wish There Was No Prisons qAs Me and My Love Sat Courting (The Voice of the People Volume 15) Mary Delaney: Green Grows the Laurel, 1977 From Puck to Appleby A Century of Song Jack Fuller: Green Grow the Laurels, 1952 I’m a Romany Ray Eleanor Leith: I Aince Loved a Lad, 1963 The Hoot’nanny Show Vol. 1 Caroline Hughes: Green Grows the Laurel, 1963-66 Sheep-Crook and Black Dog Daisy Chapman: Green Grows the Laurel, 1965 Ythanside Alison McMorland: Green Grows the Laurels, 1975 Scots Songs and Music Live From the Kinross Festival 2 Tommy Dempsey & John Swift: Green Grow the Laurel, 1976 Green Grow the Laurel Harry Brazil: Green Grow the Laurels, 1978 Down By the Old Riverside Dolores Keane, John Faulkner, Andy Irvine: Green Grows the Laurel, 1981 Folk Friends 2 Johnny Collins: Green Grows the Laurel, 1982 Free & Easy The Best of the Early Years Johnny Collins: Green Grow the Laurels, 2001 Voices in Harmony Men Folk Jill & Bernard Blackwell: Green Grows the Laurels, 1986 Adventures of Notion Jeff Wesley: Green Grow the Laurels, 1988 It Was on a Market Day—One Will Duke & Dann Quinn: Green Grow the Laurels, 1996 Wild Boys Elspeth Cowie: Green Grow the Laurel, 2000 Naked Voice Claire Mann: The Green Laurels, 2001 Claire Mann Ed Rennie: Green Grow the Laurels, 2004 Narrative Kris Drever: Green Grow the Laurels, 2007 Black Water BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2007 Tim Radford: The Orange and the Blue, 2009 George Blake’s Legacy David Gibb: Green Grows the Laurel, 2011 There Are Birds in My Garden Sue Brown & Lorraine Irwing: Green Grow the Laurel, 2012 The 13th Bedroom Maurcie Leyden: Green Grows the Laurel, 2018 ’Tis Pretty to Be in Ballinderry The Alistair McCulloch Trio: Green Grow the Laurel, 2018 Off the Hook

This parting song is from Peter Kennedy, Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, and was collected from Robert Cinnamond, Northern Ireland, in 1955.

Sandy Denny recorded Green Grow the Laurels for the BBC World Service radio programme “Cellar Full of Folk”, hosted by Alex Campbell, on 2 December 1966; it was broadcast on 11 January 1967. This recording was made available in 1989 on the fan club cassette The Attic Tracks Vol. 3 and in 2007 on the Live at the BBC 3CD+DVD set.

LaRena Clark sang this song as I Once Loved a Lass in 1965 in Toronto to the Canadian folklorist and collector Edith Fowke. It was released in 1969 on her Topic album of folksongs from the Province of Ontario, A Canadian Garland. Fowke noted:

This song combines a number of folk-lyric commonplaces with some graphic and unusual lines to make a new and distinctive whole. Although it is reminiscent of several other songs, I have found no parallel in any of the published literature in either Britain or America. Its title is the same as a song in the Miscellanea of The Rymour Club which is a variant of The False Bride, but this does not belong to the same family. Stanza 4 comes from Green Grows the Laurel, stanza 5 is usually found in The Green Brier Shore, while stanza 6 turns up in a Catskill song called My Love is Like a Dewdrop. Despite these borrowings, the song has an unusual freshness, thanks to such domestic references as ‘the piecrust made to be broke’ and the milkmaids who ‘have ne’er churned a churn’

Eddie Butcher of Magilligan, Co. Derry, sang two versions, Green Grows the Laurel and So Falls the Dew and Green Grows the Laurel and So Does the Rue, in July 1966 to Hugh Shields. These recordings were included on the 3 CD set that accompanied Shields’ 2011 book on Eddie Butcher, All the Days of His Life.

Louie Fuller sang Green Grow the Laurels in a recording made by Mike Yates in between 1972 and 1975 as the title track of the Topic album country singers from South England, Green Grow the Laurels. Mike Yates noted:

Ophelia, Shakespeare’s tragic heroine, sings a number of song snatches in the play Hamlet. Several of these deal with what some writers call “the language of flowers” as does our present song. Of Green Grow the Laurels Peter Kennedy has this to say: “As love symbolism, green laurels imply innocence and fickleness, whereas violets stand for truth and constancy.”

The song is often met with today in southern England and is especially popular with travellers and gypsies.

Sue Harris sang Green Grow the Laurels in 1978 on her Free Reed album Hammers & Tongues.

Len Graham sang Green Grows the Laurel in 1983 on his Claddagh album Do Me Justice. He also sang it at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2011, which was published in the following year on the festival anthology The Little Ball of Yarn (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 8). He noted on his album:

Many flowers and trees had a symbolic meaning in former times; but over the years the early significance has often been forgotten and the symbols have sometimes changed their meaning. For instance, this song mentions the violet, which seems to have always stood for true love; whilst the rush can mean honesty or, sometimes, docility. However, the green laurel, which can stand for young love or fickleness, is also a symbol of faithfulness and has even been associated with Irish political loyalty. The laurel is also a symbol of glory in war and the arts. The tree was dedicated to Apollo, and the wreath was used to crown philosophers, orators and poets as well as triumphant Caesars. Regardless of its botanical significance this fine song came from Eddie Butcher, with some help from Robert Cinnamond. Other versions appear in the Songs of the People as no. 165a and b, 479 and 624.

Norma Waterson learned quite a different version of Green Grows the Laurel with just a similar chorus from Queen Caroline Hughes. She recorded it in 2000 for her third solo album, Bright Shiny Morning. She noted:

From Queen Caroline Hughes. Of all English Traditional singers I think that Queen Caroline Hughes is my favourite. I first heard of her from Ewan MacColl in the early 1960s after he had recorded her for the radio ballad The Travelling People. Lal, Mike and I had a tape from (I think) Ewan in the early 1960s.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang Green Grows the Laurel in 2004 on their WildGoose album Floating Verses. Mary Humphreys noted:

The tune and text come from Robert Cinnamond of Co Antrim, but the style is pure East Anglian pub session. Many is the Thursday evening that Anahata and I have been found making music along with a group of like-minded performers in pubs with sympathetic landlords. Suffolk and Norfolk still have such places and the licensing officers haven’t found us yet! This is one of the songs that gets them all singing.

Graham and Eileen Pratt sang Green Grows the Laurel in 2008 on their album The Greek King’s Daughter. They noted:

A sentimental Irish love song adopted by the music halls but originally an allegory of political allegiance. We got this from Jake Walton’s Keltische Folksongs—from the singing of Dolores Keane.

Lynne Heraud and Pat Turner sang Green Grows the Laurel in 2010 on their WildGoose CD Tickled Pink. They noted:

This has, unexpectedly, proved to be one of our most popular songs. There are a number of versions, often interspersed with floating verses. This one is constructed from texts in Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads, the Sam Henry Collection and a broadside in the Crampton Collection.

Josienne Clarke sang Green Grow the Laurels in 2012 on her and Ben Walker’s CD Fire and Fortune.

The Spiers Family sang Green Grows the Laurel in ca 2012 on their album Plenty Brass and a Bonny Lass. They noted:

Another song which Maggie [Spiers] learned from the recordings of Lottie Buchan of Peterhead, made by Peter Hall in the 1960s. The song’s origin is unclear as it is known popularly throughout the English speaking world.

This video shows Iona Fyfe singing Green Grow the Laurels at a Silver City Session in Aberdeen in February 2016:


Sandy Denny sings Green Grow the Laurels

Green grow the laurels, soft as the dew
Sad I was, darling, on parting from you
Perhaps in the future our love will renew
We’ll love one another and promise to be true

I wrote my love a letter and he wrote me mine
I wrote my love a letter, he wrote me mine,
Said: Keep your love letter and I will keep mine,
You write to your love and I’ll write to mine.

I passed my love’s window both night time and day,
I passed my love’s window both night time and day.
And the looks that he gave me a thousand would slay,
And the looks that he gave me a thousand would slay.


Louie Fuller sings Green Grow the Laurels

I met a young damsel her age was sixteen,
She was as good looking as a young fairy queen.
I walked her, I talked her, I took her astray,
I changed the green laurels for the violets so gay.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Green grow the laurels, so does the dew,
Sorry ’I’ve been since I parted from you.
But when I return, love, my joys shall be new,
Then I’ll change the green laurels for the violets so blue.

Now the next one I met he was a bold tar,
His eyes and his medals shone like the blue star.
I gave him the wink and I called him away,
Then I changed the green laurels for the violets so gay.

Now the next one I met he was a pageboy,
I gave him my loving and all of my joy.
Now he has left me and gone far away,
But I’ll change the green laurels for the violets so gay.

Len Graham sings Green Grows the Laurel

And it’s green grows the laurel and soft falls the dew,
And sorry was I with the parting of you.
But at our next meeting, I hope we’ll prove true
And we’ll join the green laurel with the violet so blue.

Little said, soonest mended and a few words are best
And them that speak seldom they are surely blest.
I speak from experience, my mind tells me so.
If everyone had their own love they’d know where to go.

Over high hills and mountains, through the cold, frost and snow
I will follow my darling wherever she goes.
And if she had not the clothes for to wear
I would work while I’m able and I’d give my love share.

The anger of my father I don’t value one pin.
Nor the frowns of my mother for the loss of her son.
For since they’re hard-hearted and don’t pity me
I will make myself happy in some strange country.

I’ll go down to yonder valley where the wee birds do fly;
Where I will know no one, in sorrow I’ll cry;
Where notions provoke me to take my own will
My own rod’s, aye, the sorest, and it does beat me still.

And it’s green grow the rushes and the tops of them small,
And love is a thing that can conquer us all.
It can conquer us all of the high and the low degree;
Everyone to their mind and fancy, but my darling to me.

Norma Waterson sings Green Grows the Laurel

Now once I was a schoolgirl all in my pencil and slate
Can’t you see what I’ve come to from staying out late
And it’s once I had a colour that is as red as any rose
Ah but now I’m as pale as the lily that grows

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And it’s green grows the laurel and so cold now blows the dew
And how sorry was I when I parted from you
Just like the rose in the garden when her bloom is all gone
Can’t you see what I’ve come to for loving that man

Now my parents disliked me they’ve turned me away from their door
So I told them that I’d ramble like I used to before
And I picked up my baby and I’ve walked out the door
And I told them that I’d ramble like I used to before

So it’s me and my baby and contented we will be
And I’ll try to forget him like he forgot me
And while there’s love on the ocean and there’s on dry land
While there’s breath into my body I will still love that man

Graham and Eileen Pratt sing Green Grows the Laurel

I once had a sweetheart, now he is gone;
He’s gone and he has left me, I’m here all alone.
And since he’s gone and left me, content I must be,
For I know he loves someone better than me.

I wrote him a letter, loving and kind;
He wrote me another with sharp bitter lines,
Saying: Keep your love letters and I will keep mine,
Oh, and you write to your love and I’ll write to mine.

I passed by his window, early and late;
The looks that he gave me would make your heart ache.
The looks that he gave me, ten thousand would kill.
Wherever he wanders, I love him still.

I once was as bonny as a red blushing rose;
But now I am as pale as the lily that grows,
Like a tree that’s in the autumn, its beauty all gone.
Can’t you see what I have come to by the loving of one?

Green grow the laurels, soft falls the dew;
Sad was my heart when I parted from you.
And in our next meeting, I hope that you’ll prove true.
Green grow the laurels, soft falls the dew.

The Spiers Family sing Green Grows the Laurel

I once had a sweetheart but now I’ve got none,
He’s gone and he’s left me to weep and to mourn.
He’s gone and he’s left me contented I’ll be
For I’ll find anither far better than he.

Chorus (after each verse):
Green grows the Laurel, soft falls the dew,
Sorry wis I love when parting from you.
But by our next meeting I hope you’ll prove true
And change the Green Laurel tae the Violets so blue.

He passes my window both early and late,
The looks that he gives me it makes my heart break.
The looks that he gives me a thousand times o’er
Says you are the sweetheart I once did adore.

I wrote him a letter four sweet rosey lines,
He wrote me anither aa twisted and twined.
Says keep your love letters and I will keep mine
Write tae yer new love and I’ll write tae mine.

I oft times do wonder why young maids love men,
I oft times do wonder why young men love them.
It’s been my experience and I ought to know
Young men you’re deceivers wherever you go.


Transcribed from the singing of Norma Waterson by Garry Gillard.