> The Watersons > Songs > Stormy Winds

Shepherds Are the Best of Men / The Shepherd’s Song / Stormy Winds

[ Roud 284 ; Master title: Shepherds Are the Best of Men ; Ballad Index RcWSATBM ; GlosTrad Roud 284 ; Wiltshire 213 ; DT SHEPHDSG ; Mudcat 162906 ; trad.]

Marrow Bones Room for Company

Fred Jordan sang We Shepherds Are the Best of Men on his 1966 Topic album, Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker. This track was also included in 2003 on his Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad and on the Topic anthologies There Is a Man Upon the Farm (The Voice of the People Series, Volume 20, 1998) and Three Score and Ten (2009).

The Yetties sang The Shepherds’ Song in 1974 on the Argo album The World of the Countryside.

John Goodluck sang Stormy Weathers on his 1976 Sweet Folk and Country album of traditional songs of Suffolk, Speed the Plough.

The Watersons sang Stormy Winds in 1981 on their album Green Fields. This track was reissued in 2003 on The Definitive Collection. A live version from a Christmas radio programme recorded in December 1980 at Crathorne Hall, Crathorne, North Yorkshire, was published in 2005 on the CD A Yorkshire Christmas. Another live performance by the Watersons (then with Rachel Waterson too) from the Bracknell Folk Festival in July 1987 was published in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

Shepherds have had an up-and-down time throughout the ages. Once, when wool was England’s main export they were privileged in the village community. Everyone looked up to them for advice and judgement. Later, when agriculture was the big thing, the shepherds sank in prestige (and in wages too!) and in some parts they were reckoned one stage up from tramps. Their songs are proud, tough, and this one’s a good example, set to a stately variant of a melody that has carried scores of texts from the carol of Lazarus to (its bluntest form) The Star of the County Down. The composer Balfour Gardiner heard it from an old man approaching eighty, Benjamin Arnold, of Eaton, near Winchester. Only the tune attracted the composer, but later the words were recovered from the stationmaster at Cliddesden, near Basingstoke.

Bob Lewis sang Stormy Winds Do Blow in 1989 at Patcham, Sussex, to Mike Yates. This recording was released in 1990 on his Veteran Tapes cassette A Sweet Country Life and in 2006 on the Veteran anthology of English traditional folk singers, It Was on a Market Day—Two. Mike Yates commented in the latter album’s liner notes:

Alfred Williams found this shepherd’s song being sung in Gloucestershire and called it “a well-known and oft-quoted piece”. All the known collected sets come from the south of England, with one exception: the version sung by Fred Jordan of Shropshire, which actually came originally from a Gloucestershire set printed by Lucy Broadwood in her English County Songs published in 1893. Cecil Sharp found the song being sung in Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire; the Hammond Brothers found it in Dorset and George Gardiner heard the song in Hampshire and Sussex. More recently, Gwilym Davies has recorded versions from singers in Devon, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Magpie Lane sang The Shepherd’s Song on their 1994 album Speed the Plough and again on their 2001 album The Robber Bird. They noted;

We recorded The Shepherd’s Song on our second CD, Speed the Plough. On that occasion it was sung a cappella by Ian [Giles] with our good friend Graham Metcalfe. The original CD notes state that the song was collected by Lucy Broadwood. Which is true, but Graham was quick to point out that he had it from the great Shropshire singer, Fred Jordan. I fact it turned out that Fred, always on the look-out for a good song, learned it from folksong collector Fred Hamer, who had indeed got it from Broadwood’s English County Songs. But we’re happy to take this opportunity to clear things up; as far as we’re concerned, Graham learned this song from Fred Jordan, and we learned it from Graham.

The song is sandwiched between two morris tunes: Bobbing Joe from Badby, Northants, and Glorishears, a leapfrog dance from Bledington, in Gloucestershire.

Bob Lewis sang We Shepherds Are the Bravest Boys at a concert he did with Bob Copper at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on 17 October 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs’ Worth.

Chris Bartram sang The White Horse Shepherd in 1998 on his and Keith Holloway’s WildGoose CD From the Vale. He noted:

I’ve been singing The White Horse Shepherd since the late 1960s. One evening we were out with the morris on a pub tour that took us to Kingston Lisle and Uffington. Our final stand that evening was the White Horse at Woolstone. I, as usual, had started talking to the locals, and after several pints an old feller, whose name I think was George, started singing this song. I didn’t get all the words at the time, so the words we use here are from Thomas Hughes’ book The Scouring of the White Horse, published originally in 1857. (Yes, the same Thomas Hughes who wrote Tom Brown’s Schooldays; he came from Uffington.)

Maggie Holland sang this song as Shepherds in 2003 on her CD Circle of Light. She noted:

The Shepherd Song was collected from three different singers within a year or so of my mum’s birth in February 1907, and within about 5 miles of her birthplace in Alresford, Hants. Although none of them mentioned Twyford Down by name, it’s only a few miles away as well. I think I mostly learned the tune from Dave Parry, formerly of the Blades.

Dr Faustus sang the Shepherd’s Song in 2005 on their Fellside CD Wager. They noted:

Another concoction by Dr Gardiner, this time of versions collected in Hampshire from Benjamin Arnold, Moses Mills and William Cole, and printed in Marrow Bones. The Shepherds’ Song, which can be found in a variety of guises in many parts of the country, is thought to be based on a maritime ballad, hence the ‘stormy winds’.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang Stormy Winds in 2008 on their Hallamshire Traditions CD Songbooks. They noted somewhat laconic:

The song reminds the city dweller that there really is no rural idyll. A shepherd once said that sheep have a single obsessive mission in life and that is to die. Thus shepherding is not an easy job. This version comes from Hampshire.

James Findlay sang the Shepherd’s Song on his 2009 CD As I Carelessly Did Stray. He noted:

Versions of this song can be found all over the south of England; and another good song concerning sheep. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Belshazzar’s Feast sang The Shepherd’s Song on their 2012 album Stocking Fillers. They noted:

The first verse was taken from a lady born at Stoke, Gloucestershire, in 1783; the rest from Thomas Coldicote, shepherd, of Ebrington, Gloucestershire, with some superior lines from Hampshire mixed in for good measure. It is thought to have evolved from balladeer Martin Parker’s Saylors for My Money of circa 1635. It is a double homage to the ovine and the fermentory, subjects on which we have in depth knowledge.

Nick Dow sang The Shepherd’s Song on his 2013 CD Old England’s Ground.

The Melrose Quartet recorded the Shepherd’s Song in 2013 for their CD Fifty Verses, and Rich Arrowsmith sang it by himself in a Kelham Island singing session that was included in the same year on the anthology Kelham Island Voices. They noted:

Learnt from the singing of Ray ‘Moose’ Cope, the ‘fool’ of the Morris team Rich [Arrowsmith] grew up with. In a happy coincidence James [Fagan]’s dad Bob spent time living on Blockley Hill in Gloucestershire as a child.

This video shows them at Shepley Spring Festival in May 2012:

Jack Rutter sang Stormy Winds in 2017 on his CD Hills. He noted:

I was lucky enough to borrow The Watersons’ incredible Mighty River of Song. box set from Huddersfield Library in my mid-teens and learnt this song from the live version on there.


The Watersons sing Stormy Winds

Shepherds are the cleverest lads that ever trod England’s ground,
They will call all at some alehouse and value not one crown,
They will call for liquor merrily and pay before they go,
They will work in the fields where stormy winds do blow.

A shepherd looked out all on a hill which made his heart to ache,
To see his sheep with their tongues out just ready for to bleat,
He looked up with courage bold and up the hill did go,
For to drive them to fold where stormy winds do blow.

As I walked over Mount Star plain the frost did cut my feet,
My ewes and lambs hung out their tongues and around me they did weep,
There I took up my courage bold and over the hills did go,
And I drove them to fold where stormy winds do blow.

So now that I have folded them and returned safe back again,
Into some jovial company I boldly entered in,
A-drinking of strong liquor boys it is my heart’s delight,
While my sheep lay asleep all the cold and stormy night.

So come all you brisk young shepherds wherever you do march,
On a cold and a grimy morning did you ever feel the smart,
Did you ever feel the smart, my boys, through ilgo frost or snow,
As you drive them to fold where stormy winds do blow.

Bob Lewis sings Stormy Winds Do Blow

We shepherds are the bravest boys that treads old England’s ground.
If we goes into an alehouse, we values not one crown.
We’ll call for liquors merrily and pay before we go,
While our sheep lies asleep where the stormy winds do blow.

Come all you valiant shepherds that have got valiant hearts,
That goes out in the morning and never feels the smart.
We’ll never be downhearted, we’ll fear no frost or snow
And we’ll work in the fields where the stormy winds do blow.

As I looked out all on the hill, it makes my heart to bleed
To see my sheep hang out their tongues and they begin to bleat.
So I plucked up my courage bold and up the hill did go
To drive them to the fold where the stormy winds do blow.

And now I have a-folded them and turned back again,
I’ll go into some alehouse and there be entertained.
A-drinking of strong liquor, boys, it is our heart’s delight,
While our sheep lies asleep all full safely all this night.

The Melrose Quartet sings Shepherd’s Song

We shepherds are the best of men that e’er trod English ground,
When we come to an alehouse we value not one crown;
𝄆 We spends our money freely and we pay before we go,
For there’s no ale on the wold where the stormy winds do blow. 𝄇

A man that is a shepherd does need a valiant heart,
He must not be faint-hearted but boldly play his part.
𝄆 He must not be faint-hearted, be it rain or frost or snow,
With no ale on the wold where the stormy winds do blow. 𝄇

When I kept sheep on Blockley Hill it caused my heart to beat
To see the ewes hang out their tongues and hear the lambs to bleat.
𝄆 So I plucked up my courage and o’er the hills did go
And penned them in, in the fold where the stormy winds do blow. 𝄇

As soon as I had folded them I turned my back in haste
Unto some jovial company, good liquor for to taste.
𝄆 For drink and jovial company, they are my heart’s delight
While my sheep lie asleep all the fore-part of the night 𝄇


Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription of the Watersons’ version. Thanks too to Ken Hunt for explaining the Yorkshire dialect idiom “ilgo” for “either”.