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Meeting Is a Pleasure / Courting Is a Pleasure / Handsome Molly / Loving Hannah

[ Roud 454 ; G/D 6:1192 ; Henry H615 , H625 ; Ballad Index R749 , FSWB148 ; Bodleian Roud 454 ; trad.]

Sam Henry's Songs of the People Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians

Jean Ritchie included Loving Hannah in her 1965 book Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians.

G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter sang Handsome Molly in an American recording from early October 1927. Int was included in 2015 on the anthology of British songs in the USA, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.

Winnie Ryan from Belfast sang Going to Mass Last Sunday on 1 August 1952 to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle. This recording was included in 2014 on the Topic anthology of their recordings of traditional songs, airs and dance music in Ulster, The Flax in Bloom (The Voice of the People Volume 27).

Margaret Barry sang Going to Mass Last Sunday to Alan Lomax in London in 1953. This recording was included in 1998 on her Rounder anthology I Sang Through the Fairs, followed by two verses of Jean Ritchie singing Loving Hannah. The booklet's notes commented:

This was recorded at a song swap that Lomax hosted at his London flat. The other participants were Jeannie Robertson of Scotland, Isla Cameron of England, and Jean Ritchie, the great Appalachian folk singer from Viper, Kentucky. Margaret sang this fragment of a longer ballad, which Jean Ritchie immediately recognised as an ancestor of Lovin' Hannah.

Frank Proffitt of Reese, North Carolina, sang Handsome Molly on his 1962 Folk-Legacy album Traditional Songs and Ballads of Appalachia. It was released in the UK in 1966 as the Topic album North Carolina Songs and Ballads. Sandy Paton noted:

Found masquerading under a variety of names in the American collections, this song has even made the grade with the “hill-billy” performers. Peggy Seeger says she learned it from a program of southern hill-billy music and has included 1t in her American Folksongs for Banjo (Folk-Lyric FL-114). George Barunan Grayson, a blind fiddler who, incidentally, came from Frank Proffitt's neighbourhood, recorded it for Victor in 1927. Doc Watson sings the same version Grayson recorded on Folkways FA 2355 Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's. Frank's song is very similar to Grayson's, not surprisingly, since, as Frank puts it, “that's a well-known song up here.” Frank takes it a good deal slower, arranging the verses a bit differently, and there are a few minor textual variations, but, essentially, 1t ls the same song. Frank has his version from his father and his aunt and “from others around here”. Lomax notes that the song has recently been found in Ireland by Peter Kennedy.

Sandy and Caroline Paton sang Loving Hannah in 1966 on their Folk-Legacy album Folksongs and Ballads. Sandy Paton noted:

We first heard Loving Hannah sung by Jeannie Robertson in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1958. She sang it slowly and majestically, in the Scottish “big ballad” style. We asked her where she had learned the song, fully expecting it to be one of the many taught her by her mother. “Well, you see,” said Jeannie, “when the American folksinger Jean Ritchie was visiting here, she gave me a wee record of some of her own songs. I learned it off of that record.” So, here we have a sad love song from the Ritchie family of Kentucky, by way of Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen.

Loving Hannah is a variant of the more familiar Handsome Molly which has been recorded a number of times. Frank Proffitt sings one version on his Folk-Legacy record (FSA-1) and the booklet accompanying that record contains a more extensive discussion of the song. In 1961, we learned a lovely version from Joseph Able Trivett of Butler, Tennessee, which we hope to record someday. It has a tune resembling Handsome Molly combined with the refrain pattern found here. Recently we sang Loving Hannah for Jean Ritchie, and she pointed out that the change of one note had altered the melody significantly. We don't know if Jeannie Robertson inadvertently changed the note, or if we did, but this is the way we remember her singing it for us.

A 1966 demo of Shirley Collins singing Loving Hannah was included in 2006 on her and her sister Dolly's Fledg'ling CD Snapshots.

The Strawbs sang Handsome Molly in an early recording in 1966-8. This was included in 1991 on their anthology Preserves Uncanned.

Buell Kazee sang The Inconstant Lover to Marc Wilson in Seattle, Washington, on 20 June 1069. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of folk songs of the Upper South, Meeting's a Pleasure Volume 1.

Rebecca Penfold sang Meeting Is a Pleasant Place to Peter Kennedy at Mount Pleasant, Broadwood Kelly, Devon, on 15 April 1973. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of songs by Southern English Gypsy and traditional singers, I'm a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Volume 22).

Paddy Tunney sang Going to Mass Last Sunday on his 1976 Topic album The Flowery Vale. Cathal Ó Baoill noted:

There is a version of this song in Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain and Ireland (No. 155). It was originally recorded for the BBC in 1952 by Winnie Ryan and like many other songs has been found all over Ireland and even in America. Paddy’s version has abandoned, after the first verse, the form of Winnie Ryan’s which has the second and third lines beginning with the same few words. His verse, where the new and the old love are compared to the rose and the briar, is much stronger than the version in Kennedy’s book, but as if to make up for that advantage, the imagery of the dregs of the bottle representing the rejected lover is completely lost.

Kevin Mitchell sang Going to Mass Last Sunday in 1977 on his Topic album of traditional songs mainly from north west Ulster, Free and Easy. John Moulden noted:

This very widespread song probably owes some of its popularity to its performance by John McGettigan. However, at around the time it was recorded by McGettigan, Sam Henry was sent twelve versions from various parts of Derry and Antrim, two of which are published in Songs of the People, nos. 615 and 625, so perhaps the song lives because, as Peter Kennedy puts it, “it’s one of the outstanding love songs in the English language” (Kennedy, Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, no. 155). The ‘bottle’ verse is a bit of a puzzle; no two versions (and I know seven) have it the same way and one leaves it out altogether. Conjecturally, there might have been poison in the drink, or perhaps this was a customary pledge on parting. I’d be glad to be told. Kevin has the song from Sean Gallagher of Derry City, from whom he got many songs, though it has been augmented from elsewhere. The air is a variant of the Star of the County Down, My Love Nell or Dives and Lazarus tune.

Lal and Norma Waterson sang Meeting Is a Pleasure in 1977 on their album A True Hearted Girl. A live recording from the Knaresborough Folk Club in 1982 was released in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. It was also sung by Norma, Lal and Eliza Carthy on the Waterson:Carthy CD Common Tongue (There is no credit for Lal on this track on the CD insert, but I am sure she is singing). Martin Carthy commented in the latter album's sleeve notes:

One of the locations which yielded rich pickings for the turn-of-the-century collector was the town workhouse, and Cecil Sharp met Mr Thomas Downey in the Marylebone Workhouse (where he met several wonderful singers) and learned, among other songs, Meeting Is a Pleasure, a most Irish sounding piece. Hard to believe that the workhouse system survived until the 1950s and looks like making a comeback, sooner rather than later.

Nic Jones sang a version called Courting Is a Pleasure in 1980 on his last LP, Penguin Eggs. This recording was also included in 1999 on the Topic anthology The Folk Collection.

John Bowden sang Handsome Molly on his and Vic Shepherd's 1982 album A Motty Down. They noted:

This song comes from the singing of Frank Proffitt of North Carolina, another of our favourite singers. Frank Proffitt was the source singer for Tom Dooley, which he taught to Frank and Anne Warner in 1938, and which, twenty years later, became a massive worldwide hit for the Kingston Trio. We particularly like the rolling tune of this song, which carries the words beautifully.

Anni Fentiman sang Loving Hannah in 1993 on her and Dave Webber's album Together Solo. They noted:

Anni first heard this song sung by Janice Clark from Aberdeen and later a great friend and collector (the late John Knight) provided the words. We understand that this song has comparatively recent American Origins.

Martin Simpson sang Handsome Molly on his 1983 Topic album Grinning in Your Face. He and Doug Morter played Loving Hannah in 1985 on the Dambuster anthology of British tunes, Buttons & Bows Volume 2.

Whippersnapper sang Loving Hannah on their 1985 album Promises. A 1984 live recording from BBC ‘Folk on 2’ was included in 2003 on Dave Swarbrick's Free Reed anthology Swarb!.

Kate Rusby sang Courting Is a Pleasure in 1995 on her and Kathryn Roberts' eponymous CD, Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts.

Keith Kendrick sang The Irish Girl in 1997 on his Fellside CD Home Ground.

Corrina Hewat sang Loving Hannah in 1999 on Bachué's Culburnie CD A Certain Smile.

Bob Webb sang Handsome Molly in 2000 on his CD Bank Trollers.

Bill Jones sang Loving Hannah on her 2001 CD Panchpuran.

Isambarde sang Courting Is a Pleasure on their 2004 CD Brunel's Kingdom.

Jim Causley sang Loving Hannah in 2007 on his WildGoose album Lost Love Found. He noted:

Janet Russell is the lady in question for teaching me this. She learnt it from the wonderful Davy Steele in Edinburgh back in the 80's. It’s most likely to be American in origin and Janet and I both agreed that we like the gender ambiguity regarding the narrator and Hannah whoever he/she may be. I could have ironed it out but that’s just dull.

Elizabeth LaPrelle sang Handsome Molly on her 2007 CD Lizard in the Spring.

Peter and Barbara Snape sang Loving Hannah on their 2008 CD Take to the Green Fields. Barbara Snape noted:

I don't know where I learnt this song—it just seems to have always been there! Apparently, it was recorded by Jeannie Robertson in 1958, so you may think it was Scottish, but she got it from the American folk singer Jean Ritchie! It has since been established that the song has an Irish connection, so it's a great example of a song ‘coming back home’.

Roy Bailey sang Handsome Molly on his 2009 CD Below the Radar, referring in his sleeve notes to Martin Simpson's version.

Cath and Phil Tyler sang Courting Is a Pleasure on their 2009 album The Hind Wheels of Bad Luck.

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin learned Courting Is a Pleasure from the singing of Nic Jones and recorded it in 2011 for their CD Singing the Bones.

Jim Moray sang Courting Is a Pleasure on his 2012 album Skulk.

Steve Tilston sang Courting Is a Pleasure in 2013 on the Steve Tilston Trio's CD Happenstance. He commented in the liner notes:

A lovely traditional Irish song that, quite rightly, has many fine versions. Despite the song's title, the narrator does not appear to derive much pleasure from the situation.

Lucy Farrell of The Furrow Collective sang Handsome Molly on their 2014 album At Our Next Meeting. She commented in their sleeve notes:

I first hear Cath and Phil Taylor sing Handsome Molly at the Cluny in Newcastle and their source was Frank Proffitt. Then Emily [Portman] and I were singing sad songs to each other in our kitchen and thought that Handsome Molly and Our Captain Calls were kind of the same story but from different sides. It took us a long time before we could sing them without bawling.

Elliott Morris sang Courting Is a Pleasure on his 2014 EP True North.

Fran Morter and Adam Rees sang Courting Is a Pleasure on the anthology of songs and tunes from the Leigh Folk Festival 2015, Rivers Rushes Rodents & Regicide.

Julie Abbé sang Courting Is a Pleasure on her 2020 album Numberless Dreams. She noted:

Inspired by Nic Jones' version. I rewrote the third verse, removed the ending, and chose to repeat the first verse instead, to give a more ambiguous and hopeful ending to the story.

Nick Dow sang Loving Hannah on his 2020 album of love songs from the British Tradition, In a Garden Grove. He noted:

My wife's favourite song. I honestly can not remember where I learnt it or from whom. I seem to have always known it. I suspect the tune and some verses come from Jean Ritchie but that's where my recollection stops. So not strictly a British Folk Song, however the song can be found in both Scots and Irish collections, notably in Sam Henry's manuscripts.

Siobhan Miller sang Loving Hannah on her 2020 album All Is Not Forgotten. In this video Siobhan Miller and Little Acres sing Loving Hannah in the lobby of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow in February 2020:

Gigspanner Big Band sang Courting Is a Pleasure in 2020 on their CD Natural Invention. They noted:

A song Hannah [Martin] first learnt from the singing of Nic Jones.

Lyrics

Sandy and Caroline Paton sing Loving Hannah Siobhan Miller sings Loving Hannah

I went to church last Sunday;
My true love passed me by.
I could see her mind was a-changing
By the roving of her eye.
      By the roving of her eye,
      By the roving of her eye;
      I could see her mind was a-changing
      By the roving of her eye.

I went to church on Sunday;
My love, she passed me by.
I knew her mind was changing
By the roving of her eye.
      By the roving of her eye,
      By the roving of her eye;
      I knew her mind was changing
      By the roving of her eye.

My love she's fair and proper;
Her hands are neat and small.
And she is quite good-looking,
And that's the best of all.
      And that's the best of all,
      And that's the best of all;
      And she is quite good-looking,
      And that's the best of all.

Oh, Hannah, loving Hannah,
Come give to me your hand.
You said if you ever married
That I would be the man.
      That I would be the man,
      That I would be the man;
      You said if you ever married
      That I would be the man.

Oh, Hannah, loving Hannah,
Come give to me your hand.
You said that if you'd marry
That I would be the one.
      That I would be the one,
      That I would be the one;
      You said that if you'd marry
      That I would be the one.

But now you've broken your promise,
Go home with who you please.
Now my poor heart is aching
Here lying at your ease.
      Here lying at your ease,
      Here lying at your ease;
      Now my poor heart is aching
      Here lying at your ease.

I'll go down by the water
When everyone's asleep,
And think on loving Hannah,
And then sit down and weep.
      And then sit down and weep,
      And then sit down and weep;
      I'll think on loving Hannah,
      And then sit down and weep.

I'll go down by the water
When everyone's asleep,
And think on loving Hannah,
And then sit down and weep.
      And then sit down and weep,
      And then sit down and weep;
      I'll think on loving Hannah,
      And then sit down and weep.

I went to church on Sunday;
My love, she passed me by.
I knew her mind was changing
By the roving of her eye.

Lal and Norma Waterson sing Meeting Is a PleasureNic Jones sings Courting Is a Pleasure

Meeting is a pleasure
Between you, my love, and I;
And it's down in yonder valley
I'll meet you by and by.

Courting is a pleasure
Between my love and I;
And it's down in yon green valley
I'll meet her by and by.

It was down in yon green valley
She is my heart's delight:
“Molly, lovely Molly,
I will stay till broad daylight.”

As I roved out last Sunday
My love he passed me by,
And I knew his love was altered
By the roving of his eye.

Going to church last Sunday,
My true love she passed me by.
I knew her mind was altered
By the roving of her eye.

Yes I knew his love was altered
To a girl of high degree,
Saying, “Johnny, lovely Johnny
Your looks have a-wounded me.”

Well I knew her mind was altered
To a lad of high degree:
“Molly, lovely Molly,
Your looks have wounded me.”

I will send my love a bottle
And I'll fill it to the brim
Saying, “Drink my love as a token,
There's a wager lies between.”

Up came her love Willy
With a bottle in his hand,
Saying, “Drink this, lovely Molly,
For our love will never stand.”

Saying, “Drink my love to the bottom;
Let the bottom be for me.
One guinea lies in a wager
That married we ne'er will be.

Saying, “Drink this, lovely Molly,
Let the bottle flask go free.
Ten guineas I'll wager,
That married we ne'er shall be.”

For whenever you meet with a pretty girl
With a dark and a roving eye,
You must kiss her and embrace her
Till she tells you the reason why.

Never marry a fair young maid
With a dark and a roving eye.
Just you kiss her and you embrace her,
Never tell her the reason why.

You must kiss her and embrace her
Till she causes your heart to yield;
For there's never a faint-hearted soldier
Can win on a battlefield.”

Just you kiss her and you embrace her
Till you cause her heart to yield;
For a faint-hearted soldier
Will never gain the field.

Farewell, Ballymonie,
Likewise the sweet Bann shore.
Farewell unto McCusky[?] braes,
Will I never see more.

America lies far away,
That land I will go see;
And may all bad luck attend the one
Who parted my love and me.

Lucy Farrell sings Handsome Molly

I wish I was in London
Or some other seaport town,
I would set my foot on a sailboat
And sail the ocean round.

While sailing on the ocean,
While sailing on the sea,
I think of handsome Molly
Wherever she might be.

Oh don't you remember, Molly,
You gave me your right hand,
And you said that if you marry
That I would be the man?

But you have broke your promise,
So go home with who you please
And while my heart is breaking
You're lying at your ease.

I went to church last Sunday
And Molly passed me by.
I could tell her mind was changing
By the roving of her eye.

By the roving of her eye,
By the roving of her eye,
I could tell her mind was changing
By the roving of her eye.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription from Lal & Norma Waterson's singing.