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The Rover / I Am a Rover

[ Roud 1112 ; Master title: The Rover ; Ballad Index ReSh083 ; Bodleian Roud 1112 ; GlosTrad Roud 1112 ; Wiltshire 206 , 954 ; trad.]

The Watersons sang I Am a Rover at their club Folk Union One in Hull. This recording by Bill Leader was released in 1966 on their album The Watersons. Like all but one tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also reissued on the Rhino sampler Troubadours of British Folk Vol. 1 and in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

Not the “seldom sober” wanderer of the Scottish song but a wild Yorkshireman with a touch, maybe, of the darkling Heathcliff whom Emily Bronte created about him. Frank Kidson’s informant, Mr Holgate, gave him this bitter-sweet ballad from his “store of remembrances of Yorkshire song.” The rambling boy who, willing or unwilling, must leave his dear girl behind is a familiar figure in folk song in Britain and America. This song is full of echoes of other sad love songs—Oh, Am I Bound or Am I Free, I Wish, I Wish But It’s All in Vain, the letter with a tear dropped at the end of each line—but has a beauty all its own.

Norma Waterson stated on Troubadours of British Folk Vol. 1:

I Am a Rover was collected by Frank Kidson in Yorkshire and is a favourite among country singers. This particular version was slightly reworked by the Watersons (as continues to be their wont), made up of verses from here and there with lots of floaters but none the worse for that, and is one of their songs which has entered the general repertoire.

Dave Burland sang I Am a Rover in 1975 on his Rubber Records album Songs and Buttered Haycocks.

I Am a Rover was also recorded by Bob Davenport and Norma Waterson with Martin Carthy playing the guitar for Bob’s 2004 album, The Common Stone.

James Findlay sang I’m a Rover in 2011 on his Fellside CD Sport and Play. He noted:

Not to be confused with ‘Night Visiting Seldom Sober’ Rover, this one’s about an indecisive rover and his decision to leave his lover behind. Collected in Yorkshire by Frank Kidson from a Mr Holgate, I first heard it from The Watersons, adapted it, and jazzed it up a little.


The Watersons sing I Am a Rover

Chorus (after each verse):
I am a rover, and that’s well known:
I am a-bound for to leave my home;
Leaving my friends and my dear to mourn;
My bonny lass, till I return.

She drew a chair, and bade me sit down,
And soon she’d told me her heart I’d won:
She turned her head when I took my leave -
Farewell my lass, for me don’t grieve.

Oh, am I bound or am I free?
Oh, am I bound for to marry thee?
A married life you soon shall see,
A contented mind’s no jealousy.

I sat me down for to write a song,
I wrote it wide and I wrote it long,
At every line I cried "My dear"
At every word, I shed a tear.

As I rode over yon dreary moor,
Ere I lost sight of my true love’s door,
My legs were lame and my eyes were blind -
I’d left my bonny lass behind.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard