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The Streams of Lovely Nancy

[ Roud 688 ; Henry H520 ; Ballad Index VWL098 ; Bodleian Roud 688 ; Wiltshire Roud 688 ; trad.]

Turp Brown sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in a recording made by Bob Copper in Cheriton, near Arlesford, Hampshire, in November 1957. It was published in 1977 on the album accompanying Bob Copper's book, Songs and Southern Breezes, and in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean (The Voice of the People Volume 2).

Inglis Gundry printed The Streams of Lovely Nancy in his book of songs and dances from Cornwall, Canow Kernow (1966). The melody is from James Oliver of Launceston, by F.W. Bussell, May 1889; and the words are from a broadside version by Keys of Devonport, as quoted in Baring-Gould's papers. Gundry commented further:

This arrangement, though written for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, continually “divides in three parts”. This not only illustrates the words but gives an example of “folk-harmony”, as I have discovered it in the traditional arrangements of Cornish carols, where the parts often double each other here and there—perhaps a remnant of the old “three men's songs” surviving in the days of mixed four part choirs.

The Keys broadside, which gives only four verses, was published about 1830. (Presumably the remaining two verses given by Baring-Gould in his notes came from another source, perhaps Catnach, which has very similar verses. The different version given in Songs of the West was taken down in 1934. For a full discussion on the meaning of this strange ballad, see Journal of English Folk Song Society No. 17, p. 312.)

Roy Harris sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 1972 on his Topic album The Bitter and the Sweet. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

One of the loveliest jumbles in English folk song. Impossible (so far) to know what it's all about. A large number of versions have turned up from all over the place, even as far afield as Newfoundland, most of them handsome, all of them garbled. The chances are it's a lyrical sailors' song, 18th century, West Country in origin. It's been irresistible to singers and none has been able to explain it. Folklorists have offered theories, about Cornish tin ‘streamers’ (who wash for ore) or about miracles on St Michael's Mount, or associations with the Virgin's ‘Castle of Love’ in the medieval religious poem called Cursor Mundi, without convincing us. A hymn to Mary the mother of God? More likely to Nancy, the sailor's fickle sweetheart.

Cyril Tawney sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 1973 on his Argo album I Will Give My Love.

Tony Rose sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 1976 on The Second Folk Review Record. The album notes comment:

The basis of this version is that collected by Hammond in 1905. A collated text from various sources is printed in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Harry Cox sang just the second verse as the fragment On Yon Lofty Mountain in a recording by Peter Kennedy from December 1953. This was published on his CD anthology What Will Become of England?.

Bob Copper sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy at a concert with Bob Lewis at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on October 17, 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs' Worth.

Jo Freya sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 1992 on her CD Traditional Songs of England.

Linda Adams sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 1994 on the extended CD reissue of the Fellside anthology A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. On Brass Monkey's fifth album Flame of Fire, John Kirkpatrick sang a variant that starts quite similar but ends with two quite different verses. He commented in the record's sleeve notes:

The Streams of Lovely Nancy is a song that never loses its mystery and beauty despite turning up in numerous guises all across Southern England. Part of its appeal is that you're never quite sure what's going on exactly. This tune was sung by William Stokes, aged 64, of Chew Stoke in somerset to Cecil Sharp as he cycled past on August 29, 1906. Also published in Book 2 of The Crystal Spring [Maud Karpeles' selection of Sharp's songs.]

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 1997 on their first duo album, Starry Gazy Pie. They commented in their sleeve notes:

This song exists in countless different forms, none of which particularly enlightens us as to its original meaning. Various explanations suggest that it's related to Faithful Emma, that the first verse forms part of an early hymn, and that ‘Nancy’ is a reference to the river Nantsian. However this version, from a book of Cornish songs, has reduced it to a simple exchange between two typically-named lovers.

Steve Tilston sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 2005 on his Ada CD Of Many Hands and a year later on his DVD Guitar Maestros.

Jackie Oates recorded The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 2006 for her eponymous first album, Jackie Oates.

Kate Rusby sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 2007 on her CD Awkward Annie.

This video shows Sevenoaks (Charlie Snooks, vocals; David Jordan, double bass; Mark Potts, Greek bouzouki) perfoming The Streams of Lovely Nancy at the Eden Project, Cornwall, in April 2007:

Jon Boden sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy as the June 4, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

Surreal little number this one. We have a currently-dormant version of this with Bellowhead that may well make a comeback at some point. The melody here is a bit of a mash up of the Bellowhead tune and James & Nancy’s excellent version on Starry Gazy Pie.

Chris Sarjeant sang The Streams of Lovely Nancy in 2012 on his WildGoose CD Heirlooms. He commented in his booklet:

Recorded by my parents as the title track of their final album. This is a beautifully poetic and, at times, abstract Dorset version.

Lyrics

The Streams of Lovely Nancy in Canow Kernow

The Streams of Lovely Nancy in Canow Kernow Nancy Kerr and James Fagan sing
The Streams of Lovely Nancy

The streams of lovely Nancy divide in three parts,
Where young men and maidens do meet their sweethearts,
In drinking good liquor which makes me to sing
And the sound of the valleys makes my heart to ring.

The streams of lovely Nancy divide in three parts,
Where the lads and the lasses do meet their sweethearts,
In drinking good liquor which makes me to sing
And the bells in the valley make my heart for to ring.

On yonder high mountain a castle there does stand,
It is built with ivory near to the black sand.
It is built up with ivory and diamonds so bright,
it is a pilot for sailors in a dark stormy night.

As a sailor was walking, a-walking along,
Says a sailor to his true love, I will sing you a song.
It is a false-hearted woman which makes me to say—
Fare you well, lovely Nancy, for I must away.

A sailor was walking, a-walking along,
Said he to his true love, I'll sing you a song.
'Tis a false-hearted lady which makes me to say—
Fare you well, lovely Nancy, for I must away.

On yonder high mountain the wild fowl fly,
There is one amongst them that flies very high.
My heart is the eagle's wings when they are spread
So on high when I think on my angelic maid.

On yonder high mountain the wild fowl fly,
There is one dove amongt them that flies oh so high.
My heart's on her wings as the flies far and near
So on high when I'm thinking on Jimmy my dear.

We sailed from London to fair Liverpool town,
Where the girls they are plenty, some white and some brown.
But of all the bonnie lasses that ever I did see,
At the sign of the Angel is the darling for me.

I'll go down to the nunnery and there end my life,
And I'll never be married nor yet be made a wife.
So constant and true hearted for ever I'll remain
And I never will be married till my love comes again.

Sweet vows have I taken till end of my life
That I never'll be married nor any man's wife.
So fair and true hearted for e'er I'll remain
And I'll never love another till my love comes again.

(repeat first verse)

Linda Adams sings The Streams of Lovely Nancy John Kirkpatrick sings The Streams of Lovely Nancy

Oh, the streams of lovely Nancy are divided in three parts
Where the young men and the maidens they do meet their sweethearts.
It is drinking of good liquor caused my heart for to sing
And the noise in yonder village made the rocks for to ring.

Oh, the streams of lovely Nancy they divide in three parts
Where young men and maidens do meet their sweethearts.
It's drinking of strong liquor makes the hearts for to sing
And the noise in yonder valley makes the rocks for to ring.

At the top of this mountain, there my love's castle stands,
It's all overbuilt with iv'ry on yonder black sand.
Fine arches, fine porches, and diamonds so bright,
It's a pilot for a sailor on a dark winter's night.

On yonder high mountain a castle does stand.
It's builded of ivory near to yonder black strand,
It's builded of ivory and diamonds so bright,
It's a pilot for a sailor on a dark winter's night.

On yonder high mountain where the wild fowl do fly
There is one amongst them that flies very high.
If I had her in my arms, love, near the diamond's black land
How soon I would secure her by the sleight of my hand.

On yonder high mountain where the wild fowl do fly
There is one amongst them that flies very high.
If I had my true love for a night on that strand,
How soon I would secure her by the slight of my hand.

At the bottom of this mountain there runs a river clear.
A ship from the Indies did once anchor there,
With her red flags a-flying and the beating of her drum,
Sweet instruments of music and the firing of her gun.

At the foot of yonder mountain there runs a river clear.
A boat from the Indies did once anchor there,
With red flags a-flying and the beating of the drum,
Sweet instruments of music and the firing of her gun.

So come all you little streamers that walk the meadows gay.
I'll write to my own true love wherever she may be,
For her rosy lips entice me, with her tongue she tells me “No,”
And an angel might direct us, right, and where shall we go?

Our sailor and his true love were a-walking along
Said the sailor to his true love, “I will sing you a song
You're a false-hearted woman for your tongue it tells me “No”
Fare the well, my lovely Nancy, far away from you I'll go.”

“We sailed away from London to Liverpool town
And there we spied lasses, some fair and some brown.
But of all the fine lasses I ever did see,
Oh, the voice of my angel is the darling for me.”

“I will go, love, to some nunnery and there end my life,
I never will marry nor yet make a wife.
True-hearted and constant forever I'll remain.
I never shall be married till my sailor comes again.”

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Penguin: Streams of Lovely Nancy.