> Eliza Carthy > Songs > Willow Tree
> Umps and Dumps > Songs > The Willow Tree

The Willow Tree

[ Roud 18831 ; Ballad Index RcTWilTr ; trad.]

This is one of the many variants of the Died for Love theme, originally clustered by Steve Roud as Roud 60.

May Bradley, gypsy singer from Ludlow in Shropshire, sang The Willow Tree in a 1965 recording made by Fred Hamer. It was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology We've Received Orders to Sail: Jackie Tar at Sea & on Shore (The Voice of the People Series Volume 12) and in 2010 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sweet Swansea.

Bill Smith of Shropshire sang the first two verses of The Willow Tree to his son Andrew Smith in Spring 1981. This recording was included in 2011 on his Musical Traditions anthology A Country Life: Songs and Stories of a Shropshire Man. The accompanying booklet noted:

Lines in italics from the singing of May Bradley, who lived nearby. Bill didn't know her, but when shown a photograph of May and her husband published in the Fred Hamer collection Garners Gay, said, “No, I don't know her, but 'im! He owes me a pint!”

Roud has 14 versions of this lovely song, four of which are from North America. The earliest entry is Lucy Broadwood's 1909 collection of it from Shadres Petulengro, in Kendal, Westmorland. The others are from May Bradley, plus Sam Richards collected it from Bill ‘Pop’ Hingston, of Dittisham, Devon, in the 1970s, as did Gavin Greig from a Miss Ross, in Scotland.

Umps and Dumps learned The Willow Tree from the singing of May Bradley and sang it in 1980 on their Topic album The Moon's in a Fit.

Eliza Carthy sang and played Willow Tree in 2002 on her CD Anglicana, She commented in the album's sleeve notes:

This song is dedicated to Danny Stradling, because she thought that she had put it together as she sang it and I knew when I heard May Bradley sing it that it felt very familiar, and neither of us could place it! I remember Danny singing this through staying with the Stradlings over the years. Being on the end of their fabulous hospitality and working with their son has been a lovely and big part of my life. She is also a monster tambourine player.

This track was also included in 2013 on her Topic anthology Wayward Daughter. And Eliza sang Willow Tree live on April 24, 2013 in Mark Radcliffe's BBC Radio 2 programme The Folk Show. This is available on the digital download album The Mark Radcliffe Folk Sessions.

Lyrics

May Bradley sings The Willow Tree Eliza Carthy sings Willow Tree

As I pass by a willow tree, willow tree
That willow leaf blew down on me
I picked it up, it would not break
I've passed my love, he would not speak

As I pass by a willow tree, willow tree
That willow leaf blew down on me
I picked it up, it would not break
I've passed my love, he would not speak

Speak, young man, and don't be shy, be shy
For I am a girl can pass you by
For friends we've met and friends will part
You'll take my hand but not my heart

O, speak, young man, and don't be shy, be shy
For I'm the girl can't pass you by
For friends we've met and friends will part
You'll take my hand but not my heart

I wished your bosom were of glass, of glass
That I could view it through and through
Just view those secrets of your heart
If I'd love one, I can't love two

I wished your bosom were of glass, of glass
So I could view it through and through
Just to view those secrets of your heart
If I'd love one, I can't love two

Oh, give me back to the one I love, I love
Oh, give, oh, give him back to me
If I only have that one I love
How happy, happy more I'd be

Oh, give me back to the one I love, I love
Oh, give, oh, give him back to me
If I only have that one I love
How happy, happy more I'd be

My love he is a sailor boy, sailor boy
He sails the ocean through and through
And when he gets so far away
He hardly thinks no more of me

My love he is a sailor boy, sailor boy
He sails the ocean through and through
And when he gets so far away
He hardly thinks no more of me

So give, oh, give him back to me, to me
Oh, give, oh, give him back to me
If I only have that one I love
How happy, happy more I'd be

So give, oh, give him back to me, to me
Oh, give, oh, give him back to me
If I only have that one I love
How happy, happy more I'd be

Acknowledgements

Eliza Carthy's version was transcribed by Roberto Campo. Thank you!