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A Blacksmith Courted Me / The Blacksmith

[ Roud 816 ; Ballad Index K146 ; trad.]

Tom Willett sang The Blacksmith Courted Me in 1962 at the age of 84 on the Willett Family's album The Roving Journeymen. The album's notes commented:

This widely known English love song has been noted by Cecil Sharp and many other collectors. A version with somewhat similar text and tune, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams [in 1909 from Mrs Ellen Powell of Westhope near Weobley, Herefordshire], appears in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. (It was from yet another set of this song that Vaughan Williams adapted the hymn tune Monksgate, used for To Be a Pilgrim.) Mr Willett sings verses two and three as three line stanzas. This practice of omitting a second line is fairly common amongst country singers.

The interesting tune is handled in masterly fashion by the aged singer, and is perhaps the prize piece of the record. Basically it is an aeolian-type hexatonic (six-note scale) melody; the seventh step appears only once and then as a passing note merely, and constitutes what ethnomusicologists, borrowing a term from Chinese theory, called a ‘pyen’ note.

Shirley Collins recorded this song three times with each time quite different verses. The first version she learned from Phoebe Smith and she recorded it in 1963 as A Blacksmith Courted Me for her EP Heroes in Love. Like all tracks of this EP, it was included in her compilation Fountain of Snow and on the CD reissue of The Sweet Primeroses. Her original EP's sleeve notes comment:

This well-loved lyric piece has often been collected, even very recently. [...] Shirley's tune is based on a recording of the singer Phoebe Smith, collected by Peter Kennedy [in the singer's home in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1956; see lyrics below]. A textual variant of the blacksmith theme is found as the song Our Captain Calls, and versions of this have tunes similar to the present one. It is from a set of the latter that Vaughan Williams developed the hymn tune Monksgate. Shirley introduces the final half stanza from a version of Our Captain Calls collected by Sharp.

Later, this track was also included in the Topic anthology English Originals and on the Shirley Collins compilation The Classic Collection.

Shirley Collins' second version with the generic title The Blacksmith is part of the Song Story (a.k.a. the Anthems in Eden suite) on her 1969 album Anthems in Eden. She is accompanied by a host of early instrument players. The whole Anthems in Eden suite was also part of her 1976 album Amaranth.

And Shirley Collins recorded this a third time during the Adieu to Old England sessions, accompanied by her sister Dolly on piano. But this recording was shelved and had to wait until 1992 for restricted release on the EP accompanying the Ptolemaic Terrascope Magazine Vol. 10 and until 1992 for it becoming a bonus track of the For As Many As Will CD reissue. Both the Anthems in Eden version and this recording were also included in 2002 on the Shirley Collins anthology Within Sound.

Louis Killen recorded The Blacksmith in 1968 for his 1973 LP Sea Chanteys.

Another recording of A Blacksmith Courted Me by traditional singer Phoebe Smith, recorded by Paul Carter and Frank Purslow in her home in Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1969, was included in 1970 on her LP Once I Had a True Love.

There are quite a lot of Steeleye Span recordings of The Blacksmith, too. The first two line-ups of Steeleye Span recorded it for their albums Hark! The Village Wait (1970) and Please to See the King (1971). On the first recording, Maddy Prior's harsh tones are backed by Gay Woods' softer harmonies between the verses. The second version is tougher and more radical with slashing electric guitar chords instead of Gay's concertina; Maddy sounds rather more vengeful than sad. The first album's sleeve notes commented:

Collected in 1909 by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mrs. Powell in Herefordshire. Maddy collected this version from a number of texts in the Folk Song Journals. This Southern English song, like the better known Twanky-Dillo, uses the “blacksmith” as an epitome of virility with the hammer filling the bill as a phallic symbol. A close variant of this tune is used to the John Bunyan hymn, To Be a Pilgrim.

A live version of this song recorded in 1986 was released on the album Steeleye Span in Concert. Another live recording from The Forum, London on September 2, 1995 was released on the CD The Journey and a further live recording from Maddy Prior, Family & Friends Christmas tour of 1999 on the CD (but not the DVD) Ballads and Candles. Maddy Prior recorded another version of this song in 1992 for the Fellside CD Voices: English Traditional Songs; it was also included on the label's 30th anniversary anthology Landmarks.

Other versions are: Planxty on their first album Planxty (1973), Pentangle on So Early in the Spring (1989), and the Hamburg-based group Boreen on their album Enchanted Ways (1997).

Lisa Knapp learned The Blacksmith from the singing of Maddy Prior. She recorded it for her album Wild and Undaunted and it was also included in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2008.

Jon Boden sang A Blacksmith Courted Me as the July 27, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the blog:

Having studied Old Norse literature at university I’m interested in the idea that the character of the blacksmith (who crops up in many folk songs) may be an oral-tradition descendant of Volundr (or Weland) the smith—a very significant cult figure on Norse and Anglo-Saxon heathenism. Certainly blacksmiths in folk song seem to have a slightly ‘outlandish’ other-worldly feel to them, whether they are jilting lovers or severing hands of rival suitors.

David Gibb and Elly Lucas recorded The Blacksmith in 2012 for their debut CD Old Chairs to Mend. Their promo video of this song can be found on YouTube:

Lyrics

Phoebe Smith sings A Blacksmith Courted Me

For a blacksmith he courted me, just nine months or better
Until he won my heart, wrote to me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand, strikes his blows so neat and clever
And if I were with my love, I'd live forever.

Now he talks about going abroad, fighting for strangers
And he'd better stay at home, and keep from all dangers
For you stay at home with me, my dearest jewel
And you stay at home with me, and don't prove cruel.

My true love's gone across the sea, gathering fine posies
My true love's gone across the sea, with his cheeks like roses
I'm afraid that broiling sun will spoil his beauty
And if I was with my love, I would do love's duty.

For it's once I had gold in store, they all seemed to like me
But now I'm low and poor, they all seem to slight me.
For there ain't no belief in a man, nor your own brother
So it's: girls, whenever you love, love one each other.

Shirley Collins sings A Blacksmith Courted Me on Heroes in Love

For a blacksmith courted me, nine months or better.
And he who gained my heart wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand strikes his blows so clever
And if I was with my love, I'd live forever.

Now he talks of going abroad, fighting for strangers,
But he'll stay at home with me and free from dangers;
I'm afraid the broiling sun might spoil his beauty,
And if I was with my love, I'd do love's duty.

For when I had gold in store, you did invite me;
But now I'm low and poor, you mean to slight me.
For there is no trusting men, not my own brother,
And it's girls, if you would love, love one each other.

But dry off your brandy tears, and leave off weeping,
For it's happy we shall be at our next meeting.

Shirley Collins sings The Blacksmith on Anthems in Eden

Oh, a blacksmith courted me, I loved him dearly.
He played upon his pipes both neat and trimly,
With his hammer in his hand he strikes so steady
He makes the sparks to fly all round the smithy.

I love to watch my love with his hammer swinging,
I love to hear it fall on the anvil ringing.
The note is loud and clear, the sparks are flying,
My love is handsome then, there's no denying.

Where is my lover gone with his cheeks like roses?
He's gone across the fields gathering primeroses.
The sun doth shine too bright, it'll burn bis beauty
I will go seek my love to do my duty.

Strange news has come to town, strange news is carried,
Sad news flies up and down, my love is married.
I wish him well though he's my love no longer,
And yet I love him still, my blacksmith yonder.

What's the promise that you made me when you lay beside me?
You promised you'd marry me and not deny me.
It's witness I have none but the Almighty,
And he will punish you for slighting of me.

I looked in a glass, my head I shaked,
To think I loved a lad who was false-hearted.
I wish him well to do, he does not hear me,
I shall not die for love, he need not fear me.

Shirley Collins sings The Blacksmith Courted Me on For As Many As Will

For a blacksmith courted me, oh, for nine months and better.
And he fairly gained my heart, he wrote to me a letter.
With his hammer all in his hand which he strikes so mighty and clever
And if I was with my love, I'd live forever.

There my love is gone across the fields, gathering primeroses,
There he goes across the fields with his cheeks like roses.
I'm afraid the burning sun, oh, would scorch and spoil his beauty
But if I was with my love, I'd do love's duty.

Sad news has come to town, sad news is carried,
Sad news flies up and down that my love is married.
Still I wish him all both joy, oh, but he's not here for to hear me
I shall never die for love, love none relieve me.

What's the promise that you made me, oh, when you first knowed me?
You promised you'd marry me, you only said it to deny me.
Still I wish you all both joy, oh, but you're not here for to hear me
I shall never die for love, now men don't fear me.

Steeleye Span sing The Blacksmith

A blacksmith courted me, nine months and better.
He fairly won my heart, he wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand he looked so clever
And if I were with my love I would live forever.

Oh where has my love gone with his cheeks like roses?
He's gone across the sea, gathering primroses.
I'm afraid the shining sun might burn and scorch his beauty
And if I were with my love I would do my duty.
Lala lalala lalalalala

Strange news has come to town, strange news is carried.
Strange news flies up and down that my love is married.
Oh I wish them both much joy though they don't hear me
And if I were with my love I would do my duty.

Oh what did you promise me when you lay beside me?
You said you'd marry me and not deny me.
If I said I'd marry you it was only to try you
So bring your witness love and I'll not deny you.
Lala lalala lalalalala

Oh witness have I none save God Almighty.
And may He reward you well for the slighting of me.
Her lips grew pale and wan, it made her poor heart tremble,
For to think she had loved one and he'd proved deceitful.

(repeat first verse)

Boreen sing The Blacksmith

A blacksmith courted me, nine months and better.
He fairly won my heart, wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand he looked quite clever
And if I was with my love I'd live forever.

But where is my love gone, with his cheeks like roses?
And his good black billycup gone decked round with primroses.
I'm afraid the scorching sun will shine and burn his beauty
And if I was with my love I'd do my duty.

Strange news has come to town, strange news is carried.
Strange news flies up and down that my love is married.
I wish them both much joy though they can't hear me
And may God reward him well for the slighting of me

Don't you remember when you lay beside me?
And you said you'd marry me and not deny me.
If I said I'd marry you it was only for to try you
So bring your witness love and I'll not deny you.

Oh witness have I none save God Almighty.
And may He reward you well for the slighting of me.
Her lips grew pale and wan, it made her poor heart tremble,
To think she'd loved the one and he proved deceitful.

(repeat first verse)

References

See also the Mudcat Café discussion Origins: The Blacksmith