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Lowlands (Away)

[ Roud 681 ; Ballad Index PBB100 ; trad.]

Stan Kelly sang Lowlands Away in 1958 on his Topic EP Liverpool Packet: Songs of the Great Seaport and on the anthology CD Sailors' Songs & Sea Shanties. He and A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's liner notes:

It often happens that long ballads become whittled down into short lyrical songs. The dwindling of Captain Wedderburn's Courtship into I Gave My Love a Cherry is a case in point. So too some forgotten narrative ballad of the return of a ghostly lover has survived as a lyrical fragment that sometimes turns up as a windlass or capstan shanty. No doubt the original ballad is old; the tune has an antique grandeur; yet in the form in which it is sung here it probably does not pre-date the nineteenth century. Negro cotton lumpers in the southern ports of USA had a special affection for this very English tune.

Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor with The Galliards sang Lowlands in 1962 on their Decca LP A Rovin'.

Anne Briggs sang Lowlands in 1964 on her Topic Records EP The Hazards of Love. This recording was reissued on her Fellside and Topic compilation CDs, Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. A.L. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:

The song is a bit of a mystery. It has often been found in tradition in Britain and USA but always as a sailor shanty, usually sung while working at the pumps. Two distinct sets of words accompany the tune: one text tells the present story of the dead lover who returns; the other text concerns the work and pay of cotton-lumbers in the port of Mobile, Alabama. Deceived by the latter version, some specialists declare it to be a Negro song. More likely, it's a fragment of an Anglo-Scots ballad, full form forgotten, that lived on among British seamen who passed it on to longshoremen in the Gulf ports. The “Lowlands” refrain may be an echo from the old ballad of The Golden Vanity. Captain Whall, best of the pioneer shanty collectors, says that in Liverpool in the old days a crew of merchant seaman was often spoken of as “the Johns” so the term “my John” in the ballad is no more personal than “my lad”. Anne Briggs sings Lowlands not as a shanty but as a ballad, in what is probably something like its original form.

A sample of Anne Briggs' singing of Lowlands is on State River Widening's 2004 album Cottonhead and on the charity album Live in Hope: The Wildlife Album 2.

And Shirley Collins' sang Lowlands as part of her and her sister Dolly's Song Story which was one half of both their albums Anthems in Eden (1969) and Amaranth (1976).

Bob Davenport sang Lowlands in 1977 on his LP Postcards Home.

Swan Arcade sang Lowlands Away in 1990 on their CD Full Circle.

Folly Bridge sang Lowlands in 1992 on their second WildGoose cassette, Unabridged.

June Tabor and the Oysterband sang Lowlands live on May 18-20, 2004 at Bush Hall, London. This concert was published as The Bog Session Volume 1.

Isla St. Clair sang Lowlands Away on her 2004 CD Looking Forward to the Past. She commented in her liner notes:

This 17th century song describes the feeling of desolation felt by a woman who knows that her true love is dead—drowned in the Lowlands of Holland.

Rufus Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle sang Lowlands Away on the anthology Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.

James Yorkston sang Lowlands Away in 2009 on his CD and DVD Folk Songs.

Jon Boden learned Lowlands at Forest School Camps and from Anne Briggs. He sang it as the January 16, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

This video shows Stan Hugill and friends at the International Shanty Festival Workum in 1990:

Lyrics

Anne Briggs sings Lowlands Shirley Collins sings Lowlands

I dreamed a dream the other night,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
I dreamed a dream the other night,
My lowlands away.

I dreamed a dream the other night,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
I dreamed a dream the other night,
Lowlands away.

I dreamed I saw my own true love,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
I dreamed I saw my own true love,
My lowlands away.

I dreamed my love came standing by,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
Came standing close to my bedside,
Lowlands away.

He was green and wet with weeds so cold,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
He was green and wet with weeds so cold,
My lowlands away.

He's drowning in the lowlands sea,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
And evermore coming back to me,
Lowlands away.

I'll cut away my bonny hair,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
For no other man shall think me fair,
My lowlands away.

He's drowning in the lowlands low,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
And evermore shall I him know,
Lowlands away.

For my love lies drowned in the windy lowlands,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
For my love lies drowned in the windy lowlands,
My lowlands away.

He lies there in the windy lowlands,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
He lies there in the windy lowlands,
Lowlands away.

Folly Bridge sing Lowlands

I dreamed a dream the other night,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
I dreamed a dream the other night,
Lowlands, my lowlands away.

And I dreamed I saw my own true love,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
I dreamed I saw my own true love,
Lowlands, my lowlands away.

And the salt-sea weed it was in her hair,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
And the salt-sea weed it was in her hair,
Lowlands, my lowlands away.

It was then I knew that my love was dead,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
It was then I knew that my love was dead,
Lowlands, my lowlands away.

My love lies drowned in that lowland sea,
Lowlands, lowlands away, my John,
My love lies drowned in that lowland sea,
Lowlands, my lowlands away.

(repeat first verse)

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread 'Lowlands Away' - origins.