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London Lights

[ Roud 18815 ; trad.]

Lizzie Higgins sang London Lights on March 11, 1970 at the King's Head folk club in London. This recording made by Rod Stradling was included in 2006 on her Musical Traditions anthology In Memory of Lizzie Higgins, and in 2012 on the Musical Traditions anthology King's Head Folk Club. Rod Stradling noted:

Steve Roud was hitherto unaware of this lovely little song (so it has a new number) and it doesn't appear anywhere in the School of Scottish Studies Archive indices, at least, not under this or similar title. So we may assume that it was a song Lizzie knew of, but did not sing, until her visit to the King's Head folk club in London made it appropriate. If so, this gives an insight into the degree to which she considered her audience's needs and interests.

This delicate version of the perennial abandoned unmarried mother song would appear to be relatively modern, presumably from the music halls. Lizzie's mother, Jeannie Robertson, a wide-ranging singer, was indeed especially fond of music-hall songs, but the source of this one is unclear.

However, we have recently discovered—quite by chance—that May Bradley, the Gypsy singer from the Marches, sings essentially the same song. It's titled The Blue-Eyed Lover in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library archives, since her first verse is from that song—but the remainder is the verses from London Lights, without Lizzie's chorus, but sung to the same tune (May's verses are shown in italics above). This doesn't alter the attractions of Lizzie's song as it stands, but we now know that it wasn't unique to her, and that the tune and some of the text had a wider distribution in the Gypsy tradition. Also, a Web search comes up with the fact that the Nova Scotia Archives have a 1952 recording by a Jack Thurple of Hants County, Nova Scotia.

Maz O'Connor sang London Lights in 2014 on her same-named single and on her CD This Willowed Light.

Hazel Askew sang London Lights on the 2016 CD Songs of Separation and with Lady Maisery on their 2019 CD Live. She noted:

When thinking about different interpretations of the word ‘separation’, I remembered this song and the image of the outcast woman gazing at the distant city lights. It seemed like such a poignant depiction of homelessness and the gap between rich and poor, which is unfortunately still so relevant today, particularly in London where poverty and wealth sit so closely together. The woman in the song is rejected first by her lover, then by her family for the ‘shame’ of having a child out of wedlock, an attitude that was only reserved for women. Although times have changed in many ways, similar attitudes towards women still exist around the world and remnants of this belief and related issues still survive in the UK. Despite its setting, almost all of the surviving examples of this song were collected in Scotland and my version is largely from the singing of the Scots Traveller Lizzie Higgins. It's likely it originally began life in the music halls, and a little bit of that spirit has crept into our version. The intertwined Scottish and English roots of this song felt perfect for this project.

Lyrics

Lizzie Higgins sings London Lights

Chorus (after each verse):
See how those London Lights are gleaming
Through the frost and falling snow.
Sleep on, sleep on my blue-eyed treasure,
Your mother's got nowhere to go.

See how my sisters they despise me,
And my brothers do the same.
Father says he will not own me,
And my mother hangs her head in shame.

Once a young man learned to love me,
And he taught me do the same.
Now he's went away and left me,
And on my brow there is written shame.

May Bradley sings The Blue-Eyed Lover (Roud 16637)

Once I courted a blue-eyed lover
And he thought the world of me,
Until one day he met another;
He hardly thinks no more of me.

I know my dear old mother wants me
And my brothers just the same.
It's all my sisters turned against me,
My father hangs his head with tears.

Although my clothes they're going ragged
Still they'll keep my baby warm.
Sleep on, sleep on my blue-eyed treasure,
Your father won't be very long.

It was those two blue eyes that 'ticed me,
'Ticed me from my happy home.
Although he's run away and left me
He is the father of my child.

Hazel Askew sings London Lights

Chorus (after each verse):
See how those London Lights are shining
Through the frost and falling snow.
Sleep on, sleep on my blue-eyed treasure,
Oh, your mother's got nowhere to go.

Oh, once a young man learned to love me,
And he taught me to do the same.
And now, oh now he's gone and left me,
And on my brow, there's written shame.

See how my sisters they despise me,
And my brothers do the same.
And my father says he will not own me,
And my mother hangs her head in shame.

Oh mother! Oh mother please forgive me,
Oh take me in your heart once more.
Although you've turned me from your bosom
Oh please don't turn me from your door.

Although my clothes are going ragged
Still they'll keep my baby warm.
Sleep on, sleep on my blue-eyed treasure,
Oh, our wandering days will soon be done.