> Shirley Collins > Songs > The Sweet Primeroses
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Banks of Sweet Primroses
> Louis Killen > Songs > Banks of the Sweet Primroses
> Tony Rose > Songs > Banks of the Sweet Primroses
> June Tabor > Songs > Banks of the Sweet Primroses
> Martyn Wyndham-Read > Songs > Banks of the Sweet Primroses

The (Banks of the) Sweet Prim(e)roses

[ Roud 586 ; Ballad Index ShH51 ; trad.]

Phil Tanner sang The Banks of the Sweet Primroses in a recording made in November 1936 which was released by Columbia Records in 1937 on a 78rpm album. This was also included in 1955 and 1998 on the Alan Lomax Collection album World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England. He was again recorded singing this song on May 20, 1949 at Penmaen for the BBC. Both versions were also included in 1968 on his eponymous EFDSS album, Phil Tanner, and in 2003 on his Veteran anthology CD The Gower Nightingale.

Jim, John, Bob and Ron Copper sang The Banks of Sweet Primroses in a recording made by Séamus Ennis at Peacehaven in Sussex on April 3, 1952 for the BBC Sound Archives Library. This recording was included in 1975 on the famous anthology Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock. Bob and Ron Copper sang it again in 1955 for a recording made by Peter Kennedy which was included in 1996 on the Topic anthology Hidden English: A Celebration of English Traditional Music. And Bob Copper recorded it for a third time in 1995 for their CD Coppersongs 2: The Living Tradition of the Copper Family.

This video shows the Youg Coppers singing The Banks of Sweet Primroses. It was uploaded to YouTube in August 2011 but gives no information about the venue and recording date:

Louis Killen sang The Banks of Sweet Primroses in 1965 on his Topic album Ballads & Broadsides; this track was included in 1996 on the CD reissue of the Topic theme album The Bird in the Bush: Traditional Songs of Love and Lust.

Fred Jordan sang The Banks of Sweet Primroses in a recording made by Mike Yates on his 1966 Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker and on his 2003 Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad.

Shirley Collins sang The Sweet Primeroses as the title track of her 1967 album The Sweet Primeroses; she was accompanied by her sister Dolly Collins on her flute-organ. This track was also included in the Topic sampler Folk Songs: A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides and on her anthologies Fountain of Snow, Within Sound, and The Classic Collection. A live version recorded in 1979 at the Folk Festival Sidmouth was released on her album Snapshots. Shirley Collins commented in her original album's sleeve notes:

A last song from the Copper Family, whose songs sound to me like national anthems - or like anthems should sound. All the Southern countryside is here, with a grave, stylised account of a formal meeting on a particular midsummer's morning, the heartbreak of parting tempted with a stoical optimism. Dolly's arrangement has some of the Copper's spirit, and some of “the pretty little small birds” too.

Shirley Collins is the only one who calls this song The Sweet Primeroses. On all other recordings the title is The Banks of Sweet Primroses or The Banks of the Sweet Primroses, without the “e” in the middle.

Martin Carthy sang Banks of Sweet Primroses on his and Dave Swarbrick's 1968 album But Two Came By and with Blue Murder on their 2002 CD No One Stands Alone. Martin Carthy commented in the former album's sleeve notes:

The Banks of Sweet Primroses has been described as one of the most perfect of English folk songs. It has been collected all over southern England, nearly always in forms closely approximating, or at least related to, this version. In its idyllic setting of fresh air, flowers and green grass, it is the happiest and most optimistic song I have yet to come across.

Fairport Convention sang Banks of the Sweet Primroses in 1970 live at the LA Troubadour. This was released on their album House Full. They recorded it again in the studio for their 1971 album Angel Delight.

Maggie Boyle sang Banks of the Sweet Primroses on Steve Tilston's and her 1992 album Of Moor and Mesa. Their liner notes commented:

As with so many traditional songs, the earliest origin of Primroses is unknown. It was circulated on broadsides in the 19th Century. The “folk process” of adapting words and tune to suit individual taste has, in this case, done very little to alter the song over the years.

Brian Peters and Eliza Carthy sang The Banks of Sweet Primroses in 1997 on his album Sharper Than the Thorn.

Tony Rose recorded Banks of the Sweet Primroses in 1999 for his CD Bare Bones.

And June Tabor sang this beautiful song in 2005 on her CD At the Wood's Heart. She comments:

I think I must have learned this classic of the Southern English repertoire from the singing of the Copper family. In his notes to the version in the Gardiner mss., Frank Purlow, in The Constant Lovers (1972), suggests that it may be an incomplete broken token ballad, with the final verse being a spurious addition by an early 19th century broadside printer. For me, the charm of this song is in its very mystery and incompleteness, with the last verse a glorious affirmation of love and hope.

The English traditional tune Monks Gate which follows the song is best known in its setting of John Bunyan's To Be a Pilgrim.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Banks of Sweet Primroses in 2010 on his album Back to You.

Jon Boden sang Banks of Sweet Primroses as the June 22, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in the blog:

This I learnt for a tribute concert to Fred Jordan at Cecil Sharp House shortly after his death. I missed out on hearing him sing sadly, but love his voice.

Andy Turner sang Banks of the Sweet Primroses as the August 26, 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his blog:

To start the second year of the blog, here’s the quintessential rural English folk song.

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve actually added this to my repertoire. I found myself humming the tune to myself on an increasingly frequent basis and, since I seemed to have picked up most of the words by osmosis, decided I really ought to learn it. The words I sing are more or less as sung by the Copper Family. My tune is similar to their version too; although, as pointed out in the notes to the song in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (a truly excellent publication—every home should have one), this is one of relatively few English folk songs which always seem to have been sung to pretty much the same tune..

Lyrics

Shirley Collins sings The Sweet Primeroses June Tabor sings Banks of the Sweet Primroses

As I rode out one midsummer's morning
For to view the fields and to take the air.
Down by the banks of the sweet primeroses,
There I beheld a most lovely fair

With three long steps I stepped up to her
Not knowing her as she passed me by.
I stepped up to her thinking for to view her
She appeared to me like a virtuous bride.

As I walked out on a midsummer's morning
To view the field and to take the air.
Down by the banks of the sweet prim-a-roses,
'Twas there I beheld a most lovely fair.

I said, “Fair maid, where are you going?
Oh, what's the occasion for all your grief?
I will make you as happy as any lady
If you will grant me one small relief.”

I said, “Fair maid, and why do you wander?
And what's the occasion of all your grief?
I'll make you as happy as any lady
If you will grant me one small relief.”

She said, “Stand off, you are deceitful,
You are deceitful and a false young man.
It is you that's caused my poor heart for to wander
And to give me comfort is all in vain.”

“Stand off, stand off, for you are deceitful,
You are the false deceiving young man, 'tis plain.
'Tis you that has caused my poor heart to wander
And to give me comfort lies all in vain.”

“I will go down in some lonesome valley
Where no man on earth shall e'er me find,
Where the pretty little songbirds do change their voices
And every moment blows blusterous winds.”

“Oh, I'll go down to some lonesome valley
Where no man on earth there shall me find,
Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices
And every moment blows blusterous wind.”

Come all you young men that go a-courting,
Pray you give attention to what I say?
There is many's the dark and a cloudy morning
Turns out to be a most sunshiny day.

So come all young men with a mind for courting,
Won't you pay attention to what I say?
For there's many a dark and a cloudy morning
Turns out to be a bright sunshiny day.

Martin Carthy sings Banks of Sweet Primroses Blue Murder singThe Banks of Sweet Primroses

As I walked out one fine summer's morning
For to view the fields and to take the air,
Down by the banks of the sweet prim-a-roses
There I beheld a most wondrous fair.

As I walked out one midsummer's morning
For to view the fields and the flowers so gay,
'Twas there on the banks of the sweet primroses
That I beheld a most pleasant maid.

Oh, three long steps I stepped up to her,
Not knowing her as she passed me by.
I stepped up to her thinking for to view her,
She appeared to me like some virtuous bride.

Three long steps I stepped up to her,
Not knowing her as she passed me by.
I stepped up to her thinking for to view her,
She appeared to me like some virtuous bride.

I says, “Fair maid, where are you going?
And what's the occasion of all your grief?
I will make you as happy as any lady
If you will grant me one small relief.”

I said, “Fair maid, what makes you wander?
What is the cause of all your grief?
I will make you as happy as any lady
If you will grant me one small relief.”

“Stand off, stand off, you are the false deceiver,
You are the false deceitful man I know 'tis plain.
For it is you that has caused my poor heart to wander
And in your comfort lies no refrain.”

“Stand off, young man, and don't be so deceitful,
For 'tis you that has caused all my pain.
It is you that has caused my poor heart to wander
And to fine me comfort it's all in vain.”

“So I'll go down to some lonesome valley
Where no man on earth there shall me find,
Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices
And every moment blows blusterous wind.

So come all young men who go a-sailing,
Pray pay attention to what I say.
For there's many a dark and a cloudy morning
Turns out to be a sunshiny day.

“I will go down to some lonely valley
Where no man on earth there shall me find,
𝄆Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices
And every moment blows blusterous wind.𝄇

Tony Rose sings Banks of the Sweet Primroses

Now as I walked out on a midsummer's morning
For to view the fields and to take the air.
Down by the banks of the sweet primroses,
There I beheld a most lovely fair.

Three short steps I took up to her,
Not knowing her as she passed me by.
I stepped up to her thinking to view her,
She appeared to me like some virtuous bride.

Oh I said, “Fair maid, where can you be going?
And what's the occasion of all your grief?
I'll make you as happy as any lady
If you will grant to me one small relief.”

“Stand off, stand off, you're a false deceiver,
You are a false deceitful man, 'tis very plain.
'Tis you that has caused my poor heart to wander
And to give comfort is all in vain.”

“So I'll go down to some lonesome valley
Where no man on earth there shall me find,
Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices
And every moment blows a blusterous wind.

So come all young men that goes a-courting,
Pray pay attention to what I say:
For there is many's a dark and a cloudy morning
Turns out to be a bright sunshiny day.