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The Widow's Promise

[Mick Ryan]

Mick Ryan recorded his own song The Widow (later to be renamed to The Widow's Promise) with the Crows for their 1986 album No Bones or Grease. He also recorded it with Pete Harris for a cassette on the WildGoose label. This recording was included in 1996 as the title track of their TerraNova compilation The Widow's Promise. He commented in the Crows's album's liner notes:

The Widow's Promise was written by Mick after a flip through the Hite report on female sexuality. Among its findings it concludes that women have more sexual stamina than men. According to folksong they also have the capacity to outdo the Devil. Mick combines these traits in the character of the widow.

and in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: The Widow's Promise (Mick Ryan) in January 2010:

Imagine my surprise when I came across this continuing conversation about The Widow's Promise, a song I wrote in 1982 (it may have been '81). The song came about because the band I was then in (‘Crows’) needed an up tempo, light hearted song to balance our set. I extrapolated the characters from a traditional song, The Devil and the Feathery Wife, I had heard Nick Dow sing and an original song, The Mother in Laws, written by Gerry Rees. Having said this, the story, the tune and the lyrics are my own. It did its job in the repertoire of ‘Crows’ and ‘Mick Ryan and Pete Harris’ for a number of years and, taken up by Sarah Gray in the eighties and then ‘The Poozies’ in the nineties, it gained a certain currency. I will always be grateful to ‘The Poozies’ for recording the song, and making me a few bob. I would like to point out, though, that the original tune, as recorded by ‘Crows’ on No Bones or Grease (Dragon Records, 1986) and ‘Mick Ryan and Pete Harris’ on The Widow's Promise (Terra Nova, 1996) is in 4/4 time (in this case a fast hornpipe) not a jig as recorded by ‘The Poozies’ and others. Anybody wanting to get the words as originally conceived might like to get my songbook (vol. 1) from Jacaranda music. […] Anybody who does buy the book will see that the first line of The Widow's Promise is ‘High upon a lonely moor…’ not, as I've seen elsewhere on line, ‘High atop…’ (Aaaaaargh!). The song has also been published as ‘traditional’ in a book of ‘travellers' songs’. I take this as a compliment. When the error was discovered, the publisher awarded me an erratum slip! I won't say that that's the story of my life…!

The Poozies sang The Widow, with Kate Rusby in lead, in 1997 on their EP Come Raise Your Head. This track was also included in 2000 on their anthology Raise Your Head. Both albums' titles are a phrase from this song. They also sang The Widow's Promise live in 1998 at the Cambridge Folk Festival, a recording of which was included in 2000 on the anthology Cambridge Folk Festival 1998-99.

Cara sang The Widow's Promise in 2013 on their CD Horizon. Their sleeve notes commented:

When looking for a happy song, Gudrun [Walther] remembered a song she heard years ago, sung by The Poozies. It turned out to be a bit bawdier than she remembered… this is definitely not suited for under 18s. Stop playing the CD if you're under age. Now!

This video shows A Fanfare of Strumpets singing The Widow's Promise live in the Convent Club Chapel, Stroud, in November 2014:

Lyrics

Cara sing The Widow's Promise

High upon a lonely moor a widow lived alone;
An inn she kept, and as she slept, the pillow heard her moan:
“For many's the time a traveller has spent the night with me,
But there's not a man in all creation gives content to me.

“For some can manage once or twice, some make three or four,
What seems to me a rarity is the man who can do more.
I'd give anything to find him, in heaven or in hell!”
And as these words were spoken, then she heard the front door bell.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And the wind blew cold and lonely across the widow's moor
And she never ever turned away a traveller from her door

The widow boldly ran down the stairs, the door she opened wide,
And as she did a tall and handsome stranger stepped inside.
She gave him bread and brandy, and when that he was fed,
He said, “My dear, now have no fear, it's time to go to bed.

“For I heard your call way down below and I've come to see you right.
But you must come to hell with me if I can last the night.”
She said, “You randy devil, to this bargain I'm agreed,
For hell on earth, or hell in hell, it's all the same to me.”

Then they both fell into bed and the devil was working well,
He thought before the night was through that she'd be his in hell.
But when they came to number nine the widow cried, “Encore!”
And when the twelfth time came around again she simply cried for more.

At twenty-five the devil felt compelled to take a rest,
The widow she said, “Come raise your head and put me to the test.”
At sixty-nine the widow laughed, “Again! Again!” she cried.
The devil he declared, “Now I can see just how your husband died.”

At ninety-nine the devil he began to cry and weep,
He said, “I'll give you anything but let me go to sleep.”
Before the morning light was up the devil hobbled home,
And the widow, still unsatisfied, once more was left alone.

She lay there and grumbled as she thought of ninety-nine,
“If only that old devil could have made it one more time!
I'll call him up again tonight and see what can be done,
With a bit more application, he could make it to the ton.”

But when she called to him that night, no devil did appear,
For the first time in eternity the devil he shook with fear.
“Of all the pain and torment I've witnessed here in hell,
I never knew what pain was 'till I rang her front door bell.”

Acknowledgements

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: The Widow's Promise (Mick Ryan).