> The Watersons > Songs > Earsdon Sword Dance Song

Earsdon Sword Dance Song

[ Roud 610 ; Ballad Index StoR154 ; Mudcat 28223 ; trad.]

The Royal Earsdon Team with Jimmy McKay on fiddle performed the Earsdon Sword Dance on the 1955 Columbia Records anthology, The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Volume III: England.

The Watersons sang the Earsdon Sword Dance Song on their 1965 LP Frost and Fire. It was also included on the Topic CD sampler The Season Round. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

At one time the old death-and-resurrection folk play was performed all over these islands. Nowadays it only crops up here and there, in bits and pieces. The most ancient and fullest form we know presents to us the Fool or Medicine Man with his six hero sons, armed with swords. The sons put their father to death and lament for him, comparing him to the evening sun. But the Fool arises from the dead and recounts his journey to the other world. In north Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland the sword-dance part of the drama survives, notably among miners. The present song is proper to the coal miners of Earsdon; it’s sung by the captain of the sword-dancers and with it, he calls on each of his heroes and gives him a fictitious name and character, as a kind of disguise. The curious tune has been used for several songs, including the old sailor ballad of The Ratcliffe Highway.

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset sang The Greatham Calling-On Song in 2005 on their CD Cruel Sister. She commented in their liner notes:

The song is taken from the Greatham Mummers Play traditionally performed in the village of Greatham every Boxing Day. It is the only surviving example of a mummers play and long sword dance combined. It was performed by the local village team until 1953 and then in 1967 a group of enthusiastic lads searching for their roots researched and revived the play and dance, after discovering its existence in a book by Norman Peacock. They were the Redcar Sword Dancers, my 18 year old Dad included, who still do it to this day. They perform the play at midday outside the church/alms house, followed by a day’s worth of singing and drinking in the pub. I have seen this play and dance every single Boxing Day of my life, that’s 27 to date; so it feels like part of my heritage too.

We have enlisted the help of some of the original Redcar Sword Dancers, Brian Pearce (the King), Kevin Hall (the Doctor), Ben Green (formerly the clown and Mr Wild), Colin Mather (formerly the King and the clown), and our Dad George Unthank (formerly the Prince, Bold Hector, True Blue or which ever other character was needed!). The tune that follows in the original Greatham Long Sword dance tune, with the B part from Dingle’s Regatta added by Dave Wood in the 1960’s, which our friends William [Hampson] and Bryony [Griffith], who are both expert dance musicians, play beautifully.

The Demon Barbers sang the Calling-On Song, adapted by Bryony Griffith from the two traditional Earsdon Calling On songs learnt from then Newcastle Kingsmen, in 2010 on their CD The Adventures of Captain Ward.

Compare to this Ye Noble Spectators on The Watersons’ album A Yorkshire Garland,
Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne’s Ripon Sword Dance and Song on his album Outway Songster,
John Kirkpatrick’s Sword Dance Song & Tune on the CD Wassail! A Traditional Celebration of an English Midwinter,
and Steeleye Span’s A Calling-On Song on their first album, Hark! The Village Wait.


The Watersons sing the Earsdon Sword Dance Song

Good people, give ear to my story, we have called for to see you by chance.
Five heroes I’ve brought blithe and bonny intending to give you a dance.
For Earsdon is our habitation, the place we were all born and bred;
There are no finer boys in the nation and none are more gallantly led.

’Tis not for your gold nor your silver nor yet for the gain of your gear,
But we come for to take a week’s pleasure, to welcome the incoming year.
My lads they are all fit for action with spirits and courage so bold,
They are born of a noble extraction, their fathers were heroes of old.

And now I will tell of brave Elliot, the first youth that enters the ring,
And so proudly rejoice I to tell it: he fought for his country and king.
When the Spaniards besieged Gibraltar, ’twas Elliot defended the place;
And he soon caused their plans for to alter, some died, others fell in disgrace.

Now the next handsome youth that does enter is a boy that is both straight and tall;
He is the son of the great Bonaparte, the hero that conquered them all.
He came over the Lowlands like thunder, caused nations to quiver and quake;
Many thousands stood gazing in wonder at the havoc he always did make.

Now you see all my fine noble heroes, my fine noble heroes by birth;
And they each bear as good a character as any such heroes on earth.
If they be as good as their fathers, their deeds are deserving records;
It is all our whole company desires to see how they handle their swords.

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard.