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Early, Early in the Spring / The Single Sailor

[ Roud 152 ; Laws M1 ; G/D 1:51 ; Ballad Index LM01 ; trad.]

Robert Cinnamond sang 'Twas Early Early All in the Spring to Sean O'Boyle in August 1955, probably in Co. Antrim. This recording was included in 1975 on Cinnamond's Topic album of traditional ballads and songs from Ulster, You Rambling Boys of Pleasure, and in 1998 on the Topic anthology As Me and My Love Sat Courting (The Voice of the People Series Volume 15). Proinsias Ó Conluain commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

This line might introduce in Ireland such songs as The Croppy Boy, My Boy Willie or The Sailor Boy, but in fact the song sung here is most unusual not only in Ireland but in its country of origin. How unusual it is may be gathered from a reference to it by A.L. Lloyd in Folk Song in England (Lawrence and Wishart, 1967): “But of all the ballads relating to the War of Jenkins' Ear … the song that remained green right up to our own century was the non-topical, quite un-factual, completely traditional romance which Vaughan Williams recorded … some sixty years ago, to a handsome Sol-mode tune that so interested the collector that he neglected to take more than the first verse of the text, so we have filled the narrative out from broadsides.” If only A.L. Lloyd had met Robert Cinnamond, he could have dispensed with broadsides!

Bob Roberts sang The Single Sailor on his 1960 Collector EP, Stormy Weather Boys!, and in a recording made at Ryde, Isle of Wight, in August 1977 by Tony Engle on his Topic album Songs from the Sailing Barges. A.L. Lloyd commented in the latter album's sleeve notes:

The Single Sailor is an oldish piece too. It’s usually called Early, Early in the Spring, and some versions refer to Caribbean sea battles of 1739-40, but Bob’s set has been so much trimmed that much of the original story is lost.

Peggy Seeger sang So Early, Early in the Spring in 1962 as the title track of her Topic EP Early in the Spring. This track was also included in 1996 on her Fellside anthology Classic Peggy Seeger. Angela Carter commented in the EP's liner notes:

A sailor leaves his love with many protests of affection and returns to find her married to a richer man. This song can be traced back to various nineteenth century British broadsides, and the theme is found in innumerable versions both in America and Britain.

Cyril Tawney sang One Morning in the Spring in 1964 on Topic's anthology of sea songs and shanties, Farewell Nancy. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

Vaughan Williams heard this fine tune from a Norfolk singer, but he neglected to take all the words. Later, his widow filled out the text with verses from a set found by Cecil Sharp in North Carolina. Versions have turned up in various parts of Britain, from Aberdeen to Somerset, and at least one example has the hero present at the battle of Cartagena in 1739 (there’s an account of the battle in Smollett’s Roderick Random). The tune (a mixolydian-type hexatonic) became important in America, and variants have served for Black Is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair and The Trail to Mexico.

Tina Greer sang Early, Early in the Spring in May 1965 to Ralph Rinzler and Daniel Seeger. This recording was included in 1977 on the Rounder and Topic albums of the Watson Family, The Watson Family Tradition.

Bob Davenport sang Early, Early in the Spring on his 1971 Trailer album with the Marsden Rattlers, Bob Davenport and the Marsden Rattlers.

Lyrics

Robert Cinnamond sings 'Twas Early, Early All in a Spring

It was early, early all in a spring
I went on board for to serve the king,
I'd left my dearest dearie behind,
That often told me her heart was mine.

I dreamt last night I was in my love's arms,
And that she gave me ten thousand charms,
Ten thousand charms and kisses sweet.
We were to be married next time we'd meet.

Wen I was sailing on the salt sea,
Still looking for an opportunity,
I, too, sent letters for my dear,
But one answer from her I'd ne'er could hear.

“Ah, you sent letters all over the town.
I avow and swear that I ne'er got one.
'Twas my father's fault, love, and none of mine.
You need not speak hard of womankind.”

I went down into her father's hall.
On my true love loudly I did call.
Her father answered, made this reply,
“Your true love, young man, I must deny.”

“Come tell me quickly what do you mean?
Come tell me quickly, tell me the truth.”
“She has got married to a rich man for life.
I'd have you to go and choose some other wife.”

Now, my curse on gold and on silver, too.
And to all false lovers that won't be true,
To all false lovers that would vows make
And marry others for riches' sake.

Now, since all bad fortune has on me frowned,
Since all bad fortune has on me frowned,
I will sail the seas to the day I die
And I'll topple those waves that roll mountains high.