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The Nightingale

[ Roud 1093 ; Laws M37 ; G/D 1:18 ; Henry H75a ; Ballad Index LM37 ; VWML HAM/3/13/5 ; Bodleian Roud 1093 ; trad.]

Sam Henry's Songs of the People The Valiant Sailor Traditional Tunes

Cyril Tawney learned The Nightingale from Doerflinger's Shantymen and Shantyboys. He sang it on the 1964 Topic anthology of sea songs and shanties, Farewell Nancy, and on that album's 1993 extended CD reissue called Blow the Man Down. He also sang The Ship ‘Nightingale’ on his 1992 Neptune Tapes cassette In Every Port; this track was included in 2007 on his posthumous anthology The Song Goes On. A.L. Lloyd noted on the first album:

The eighteenth century was a fat time for farmers and, it seems, a time when farm-workers pursued the daughters of rich men. At least, for a while, that was the dominant theme of broadside ballads. Stock reaction of wealthy parents was to have the young man pressed away to sea. Inevitably, he died in storm or battle and appeared as a ghost at his sweetheart's bedside. Among scores of ballads telling this story, The Nightingale was a favourite. There's a description of Somerset glove-makers singing it at work, humming a phrase between each line of text to spin the song out.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Nightingale in 1966 on the Australian album A Wench, a Whale and a Pint of Good Ale.

The Clancy Brothers with Louis Killen in lead sang The Nightingale on their 1972 album Save the Land and on their 1973 album Greatest Hits.

Frankie Armstrong sang The Nightingale in 1973 on the Topic anthology of songs and ballads of Nelson's navy, The Valiant Sailor. This track was also included in 2000 on the Fellside CD reissue of her album Lovely on the Water. The liner notes commented:

Nightingale was a name frequently used for naval vessels. There was a ship of that name in 1783, which could be the one in this song. Our version is substantially from a Worcestershire woman, Mrs Webb (collected by Hammond in 1908 [VWML HAM/3/13/5] ). Storm and shipwreck were great killers of sailors. During the French wars, almost twice as many British seamen (12,680) died by foundering, wreck, accidental fire and explosion, as from enemy action (6,540).

Isabel Sutherland sang The Nightingale in 1974 on her eponymous EFDSS album, Isabel Sutherland.

Dan Milner sang The Nightingale on his 1998 Folk-Legacy album Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea. He noted:

The need for sailors to man the Royal Navy often grew so acute that it was necessary to send gangs ashore to force (or press) civilians into duty. The practice continued into the mid-19th century. I thank Frank Harte, the splendid Dublin singer, for this exquisite Co. Antrim song. A similar yet still distinct version appeared as Bonny, Bonny in Songs of the People, a weekly feature in the Northern Constitution newspaper of Coleraine, Co. Antrim, between 1923 and 1939. In the end, it totaled some 850 songs and ballads. It was compiled largely by one man, Sam Henry.

Mark Dunlop sang The Nightingale in 2008 on his Greentrax CD Islands on the Moon.

Eliza Carthy sang The Nightingale in 2010 on her and Norma Waterson's Topic CD Gift. A live recording from the Union Chapel in November 2010 was released in the following year on the DVD and CD The Gift Band Live on Tour. Eliza noted:

This is from two places. The source of the song is Cyril Tawney, onec called Cyril Tawdry by a lady in Padstow who complained to my Mam that the town “had not been the same since it was invaded by Cyril Tawdry and all those hippies”… mother did keep a respectful if somewhat guilty silence at that point, having in face been one of those hippies. Sorry Padstow. Unless of course by “hippies” the lady meant Rick Stein and his mates.

The inspiration for the song was from our very good friend Hal Willner, who suggested that I sing it as part of the Rogues' Gallery series of concerts. More fun had been had at those things than should be allowed, and we are delighted to be a continuing part of them. Thank you Hal and everyone for good memories that have become very good stories.

Peter and Barbara Snape sang The Nightingale on their 2011 CD Revel & Rally. Barbara Snape noted:

From the singing of Helen Banchek Schneyer. This wonderful lady visited these shores in the early 1980s and I was very fortunate indeed to spend some time with her. She found this song in Doerflinger’s Shantymen and Shantyboys. There is also a version in Kidson's Traditional Tunes. Helen had an amazing deep velvety voice, so we have likewise kept the key low to add depth and atmosphere to the story.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang The Nightingale in 2014 on their Hallamshire Traditions album Wait for No Man.

Vic Shepherd and John Bowden sang The Nightingale in 2015 on their Hallamshire Traditions CD Still Waters. They noted:

Another song from the singing of Helen Schneyer [besides Roll the Woodpile Down]. The story of this song was a popular and common one in broadside ballads found in tradition in England, Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Canada. All describe how young men of low degree who pursued the daughters of rich men were conveniently pressed away to sea; usually, as in this version, the young man dies and appears as a ghost at his sweetheart's bedside.

Nick Dow sang The Nightingale on his 2018 album of unaccompanied traditional folk songs, Far and Wide. He noted:

From the singing of the late Frank Harte. To my knowledge there are no English versions of this song of a pressed man hoping to survive a foreign war. It may be found in the Sam Henry Collection and has been recently recorded by Mark Dunlop on his solo CD. There a some compelling images in the song.

Lyrics

Cyril Tawney sings The Nightingale

Both old and young, I pray lend an ear
To a lovesick maiden in deep despair
Whose heart was light, but whose courage failed
When her true love sailed in the Nightingale.

Her parents were of high degree,
Her true love not so rich as they.
So they sent a press gang which did not fail
To press her true love in the nightingale.

As she that night on her pillow lay,
A form before her these words did say:
“Go, tell your parents they may bequail
For the loss of your true love on the Nightingale.

“On the fourteenth day of December last,
The storm did blow a most fearful blast.
We lost our spars, likewise every sail.
What a dismal wreck was the Nightingale!”

As she awoke in a terrible fright,
It being the hour of twelve at night,
To see his ghost standing cold and pale,
Just as he was drowned on the Nightingale,

These words he spake in lamenting cries:
“In the Bay of Biscay my body lies
To become the prey of the shark and whale,
With my drowned shipmates in the Nightingale.”

Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson sing The Nightingale

Both young and old, I pray lend an ear
To a lovesick maiden in deep despair
Whose heart was young, but whose courage failed
When her true love sailed on the Nightingale

Her parents were of high degree,
Her true love not so rich as they.
So they sent a press gang which did not fail
To steal her true love for the Nightingale.

As she one night on her pillow lay
A form before her these words did say:
“Go tell your parents so they might quail
For the loss of your true love in the Nightingale.

“On the fourteenth day of December last,
The storms did blow a most fearful blast.
We lost our spars, likewise every sail.
What a dismal wreck was the Nightingale!”

As she awoke in a terrible fright,
It being the hour of twelve at night,
To see his form standing cold and pale,
Just as he was drowned on the Nightingale,

These words he spake in lamenting cries:
“In the Bay of Biscay my body lies
To become the prey of a shark and whale,
With my drowned shipmates on the Nightingale.”

Dan Milner sings The Nightingale

Oh woeful was the day when I was pressed to sail afar
And leave behind the girl I loved in the town of Ballinagard.
The shady groves were my delight till I was forced to sail.
You all may guess at my distress lying in the Nightingale.

Oh, grief and woe that I must go and fight for England's King.
I do not know his friends or foe and war's a cruel thing.
The Nightingale lies near at hand, my time alas is brief.
From pearling streams and mountain rills I part with bitter grief.

No more I'll walk the golden hills with Nancy by my side
Or stroll along the sun-bright rills or view my land with pride.
We sail away at dawn of day. Our sails are ready set.
When Old Ireland's shore I see no more, I will sigh with deep regret.

Now all is changed and I must range across the ocean wide.
Our ship she may in Biscay Bay be sunk beneath the tide.
If I should fall by a cannonball or sink beneath the sea,
Good people all, a tear let fall and mourn for mine and me.

But if God should spare my graying hair and bring me back again,
I will love far more my Antrim shore, it's dark blue hills and glens.
Around my fire but one desire God grant till life shall fail
To keep me far from cruel war and from the Nightingale.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: The Nightingale (Bonny, Bonny).