> Shirley Collins > Songs > The Berkshire Tragedy
> Louis Killen > Songs > The Cruel Sister
> Frankie Armstrong > Songs > The Two Sisters
> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Bows of London
> June Tabor > Songs > The Wind and Rain

“There are two of them, Bunter, two ladies lived in a bower, Binnorie, O Binnorie!”
Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L. Sayers: Strong Poison, Chapter VIII

The Two Sisters / The Bows of London / The Wind and Rain / The Berkshire Tragedy / Binnorie

[ Roud 8 ; Child 10 ; G/D 2:213 ; Ballad Index C010 ; trad.]

Willie Matheson of Turriff, Aberdeenshire, sang Binnorie to Alan Lomax on July 17, 1951. This recording was included on 2011 on the anthology of Lomax's Scottish recordings, Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree.

John Whyte of Laurencekirk, Angus, sang The Swan Swims So Bonnie, O in 1953 to Hamish Henderson. This recording from the School of Scottish Studies Archives was included in 2006 on the Kyloe CD Hamish Henderson Collects Volume 2.

Betsy Whyte of Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, sang The Twa Sisters to Hamish Henderson, probably in the 1950s too. This recording was included in the anthology The Muckle Sangs (Scottish Tradition Volume 5; Tangent 1975; Greentrax 1992).

Ewan MacColl sang Minorie in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside series The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume I. Another recording was published in 1960 on his Topic album Chorus from the Gallows and in 1993 on his Topic anthology The Real MacColl.

John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, sang Binnorie, o Binnorie to Alan Lomax in 1957. This recording was included in the anthology The Child Ballads 1 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 4; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968), and in 2002 on Strachans's Rounder anthology, Songs from Aberdeenshire.

Shirley Collins sang The Berkshire Tragedy in 1959 on her Collector EP The Foggy Dew. Peter Kennedy commented in the sleeve notes:

This is a shortened song version of the great supernatural ballad Binnorie or The Two Sisters. There is another ballad giving the second part of the story in which a passing fiddler discovers the girl's body, and strings his fiddle with the strands of her hair. In a Virginian version sung by blind Horton Barker to a similar tune, the story of sister jealousy begins…

There was a young man came by to see them
The eldest one got struck on him
So he bought the youngest a beaver hat
The oldest one got mad at that

but it does not contain Shirley's last verse about “black savages” which is the feature of the Berkshire version. (See also Sandy Paton, Collector JEA2 [American Folk Songs Vol. 2].)

Louis Killen sang The Cruel Sister in 1961 on his and Isla Cameron's album of Northumbrian songs and ballads, The Waters of Tyne.

Lucy Stewart of Fetterangus, Aberdeenshire, sang Swans Swim So Bonnie O on her 1961 Folkways album Traditional Singer from Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Vol. 1 - Child Ballads, and in 2012 on the Topic anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Volume 23). Kenneth S. Goldstein commented:

One of the most widely distributed of all British traditional ballads, The Two Sisters has proved excellent material for detailed study. Of 27 texts published by Child, the earliest is a broadside dating from the middle of the 17th century, though it may have been sung in Britain at an earlier date.

In an extensive study of the ballad, Paul G. Brewster [The Two Sisters, Helsinki, 1953, FFC #147] comes to the conclusion that it is definitely Scandinavian in origin; starting in Norway prior to the 17th century, the ballad spread from there to other Scandinavian countries and then to Scotland and England. Archer Taylor has made a strong case for his belief that American versions of the ballad derive from English rather than Scottish tradition.

Child considered the heart of the ballad to be the making of a musical instrument from the drowned sister's body, the instrument in turn revealing the identity of her murderer. Most recently collected texts have eliminated this supernatural motif.

Lucy's version containing “the swan swims so bonnie” refrain is rather uncommon and, as pointed out by Bronson, seem to have currency in Celtic communities.

Pentangle sang Cruel Sister as the title track of their 1970 Transatlantic album Cruel Sister.

Frankie Armstrong sang The Two Sisters on her 1972 Topic LP Lovely on the Water. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's liner notes:

On the continent this ballad was a straightforward realistic lyrical tragedy, but as often happened when it spread to the North it picked up supernatural bits, including the savage notion of the singing bones that reveal a crime. Realistic English versions sometimes called The Berkshire Tragedy, exist side by side with Scots-Scandinavian magical ones. Sundry sets of the ballad carry various refrains, including “Bow down, bow down” (a dance instruction?) and “Binnorie o Binnorie” (said to be the invention of Sir Walter Scott). The present refrain, about swans swimming bonny, probably got attached to the song in Ireland, where they're great on swans. Frankie's version derives mainly from a set noted by Frank Kidson from an Irish singer in Liverpool.

Folque sang a Norwegian version, Harpa, in 1974 on their eponymous album Folque, and Swedes Carin Kjellman and Ulf Gruvberg sang De Två Systrarna in 1976 on their album Folk och Rackare. This track was also included in 1996 on Folk och Rackare's anthology CD, 1976-1985.

Tom Gilfellon sang The Two Sisters in 1976 on his Topic album In the Middle of the Tune. He commented in his sleeve notes:

The Two Sisters or Binnorie as it appears in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy is a ballad which has had wide currency throughout the Borders and beyond. The tune is one I learned some time ago and is an approximation of that sung by Lucy Stewart of Fetterangus, a beauty of a singer if ever there was one. The text is a hotch-potch from sources in Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

Muckram Wakes sang The Two Sisters in 1976 on their eponymous Trailer LP Muckram Wakes. Helen Hockenhull (the former Helen Watson in Muckram Wakes) recorded this song again in 2001 with Grace Notes for their Fellside CD Anchored to the Time. Pete and Chris Coe, who played as session musicians on Muckram Wakes album, but not on The Two Sisters, recorded this song in the same year for their Trailer album Out of Season, Out of Rhyme.

Steve Turner sang The Cruel Sister in 1979 on his Fellside album Out Stack.

Johnny Collins and Friends sang Wind and the Rain in 1982 on their Traditional Sound album Free & Easy.

George Fradley of Sudbury, Derbyshire, sang The Two Sisters to Mike Yates in 1984. This recording was included in 1987-95 on a Veteran cassette and in 2001 on the Veteran anthology CD of traditional folk music from rural England, Down in the Fields. Mike Yates commented in the liner notes:

George’s version of this rare and ancient ballad (number 10 in Professor Child’s collection) is lacking in one crucial respect. Following the murder of the young girl, a musical instrument, such as a harp or fiddle, is made from her hair and bones. When played, the instrument sings out the details of the girl’s death for all to hear. Most English versions have now lost this motif which has, however, survived in Scottish sets, such as those sung by Jock Duncan and those that were sung by the late Betsy Whyte.

Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick recorded this song with the title The Bows of London live on February 23, 1990 at Focal Point, St. Louis, MO, USA for their album Life and Limb; this recording was also included in the Martin Carthy anthology The Definitive Collection. Another live version, also from St. Louis, was recorded by Peter Bellamy on August 16, 1991 in the Botanical Gardens and released on The Carthy Chronicles. Martin Carthy commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

Ever since I head Jody Stecher sing a luminous song called The Wind and the Rain—a version of The Two Sisters— I have wanted to sing it. Its overwhelming feature is its concentration on that aspect of the story dealing with the building from the murder victim's remains of a fiddle which then takes on a life of its own and ultimately unmasks the murderer. Having found my own efforts at singing this to be as unconvincing as my efforts at American songs usually are, I cast around for a tune from this side of the water, came upon The Bows of London and then tried to stay close to Jody's words. A “bow” is the bend in a river.

Roger Wilson sang an Appalachian version of The Two Sisters in 1998 on the album Wood—Wilson—Carthy. Both he and Chris Wood played violin; Martin Carthy does not appear on this track.

June Tabor sang The Wind and Rain live in Dorsten, Germany in April 1991. She was accompanied by Mark Emerson, viola, and Giles Lewin, violin. This recording was included in 2005 on her anthology Always. She commented in the album's booklet:

There were lots of versions of this song (The Two Sisters) about but Jody Stecher's on Going up on the Mountain had a kind of immediacy on it. I like the refrain—probably it's the English in me; talking about the weather—but it was particularly the verse about making a little fiddle out of her breastbone and how the sound would melt a heart of stone. I thought that was a really nice way of putting it. It told the story very strongly. It's a good one to do with voice and fiddles. Mark put a tune called The Falls of Richmond in the middle.

Nancy Kerr & James Fagan sang The Berkshire Tragedy in 1997 on their Fellside CD Starry Gazy Pie. They commented:

A variant of the Two Sisters, with a walk-on part for an extra sister, and no al-fresco instrument-making workshop. It's in Broadwood's English County Songs but this is the melody Sandra [Kerr] remembers John Faulkner singing.

Elspeth Cowie sang Twa Sisters in 2000 on her CD Naked Voice.

Alison McMorland sang The Swan Swims Sae Bonnie in 2000 on her Tradition Bearers CD Cloudberry Day.

Jack Beck sang The Twa Sisters in 2001 on his Tradition Bearers CD Half Ower, Half Ower tae Aberdour. He commented in his liner notes:

This classic and highly dramatic ballad is found all over Europe. In this version the wronged sister is recycled into a harp, in others as a fiddle. Wendy [Welch] and I often do this as a story and song duo; the question of why the characters act in this way fascinates us.

More Maids sang The Cruel Sister Live at the Kulturzentrum Dieselstraße, Esslingen, Germany, in March 2002.

Brian Peters sang Two Sisters in 2003 on his CD Different Tongues.

The Witches of Elswick sang The Two Sisters in 2003 on their first album, Out of Bed. They commented in their liner notes:

We first heard this song by John McCormick at Bacca Pipes Folk Club in Keighley. However due to the cheap pints only the tune and story stuck in our heads, so we created this version from the many Child(ish) ones.

Jim Moray sang Two Sisters in 2003 too on his CD Sweet England.

Lucy Stewart's niece Elizabeth Stewart sang Binnorie as the title track of her 2004 Elphinstone Institute anthology, Binnorie.

Rachel Unthank sang Cruel Sister as the title track of her 2005 album, Cruel Sister.

Ygdrassil (Linde Nijland and Annemarieke Coenders) sang Cruel Sister in 2005 on their CD Easy Sunrise and a year later Live at the Folkwoods Festival 2006.

Norman Kennedy sang Binnorie at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2005. This recording was published a year later on the festival anthology For Friendship and for Harmony (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 2). The album notes commented:

Binnorie or The Twa Sisters is one of the oldest of the classic Scots ballads, number 10 in Francis J. Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. There are more than 100 versions with tune in Bertrand Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads—many collected from oral tradition in the United States. The ballad remains popular in Scottish tradition in various forms—some with the Binnorie line as here and others with the burden line “The swans swim sae bonnie O” […]

Norman has sung this for over 50 years and has often used it to accompany his hand loom weaving. In this recording Louis Killen can be heard on one side and Elizabeth Stewart on the other along with a room full of singers joining the chorus.

Kate Fletcher sang Cruel Sister in 2007 on her CD Fruit. She commented in her liner notes:

No one ever tells you what happened to the middle sister… perhaps she ran away with the instrument maker and learnt to play the jouhikko…

Kerfuffle learned another version of Two Sisters as sung by George Fradley of Derbyshire. They recorded it in 2008 for their fourth CD, To the Ground.

Broom Bezzums sang Binnorie on their 2008 album Under the Rug.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang The Wind and the Rain in 2008 on their CD Songbooks and The Scent of Lilies in 2014 on their CD Wait for No Man.

Ruth Notman sang The Cruel Sister in 2009 on her CD The Life of Lilly.

Martin Simpson sang The Wind and the Rain in 2009 on his Topic CD True Stories. He noted:

Among the many ballads of the supernatural is The Wind and the Rain, aka The Two Sisters or The Cruel Sister. Constructing a musical instrument from a newly drowned girl is an odd way to demonstrate compassion. The itinerant musician who performs the lutherie is variously a harper, a fiddle player and a banjo player. The completed instrument in some versions points out the guilty party, or as here, refuses to play anything cheerful. This in an English version of an American version of a Scots ballad. Jody Stecher has recorded two fine versions.

The Askew Sisters sang The Bonny Bows of London Town in 2010 on their CD Through Lonesome Woods. They commented in their liner notes:

The words to this song are an amalgamation of various versions from the Child Ballad collection (no. 10, The Two Sisters) and the last couplet was written by Pete Coe. The tune is based on one collected from “an old woman in Banffshire” which can be found in Christie’s Traditional Ballads and Airs. There are versions of this tale from all over Europe (some of which are very grizzly!) and the story can even be found in tales from as far away as South Africa. The refrains we use are from Motherwell’s 1825 manuscript as we like the way it is set in London (but Hazel is hoping it hasn’t given Emily too many ideas!). We avoided this song for many years, but were won over when Jeff Warner suggested we should do a version whilst we watched someone sing it at Whitby Folk Week a couple of years ago… so here it is!

Corncrow sang Cruel Sister in 2010 on their CD Sweet Nightingale.

Emily Portman and Rachel Newton sang Two Sisters in 2010 on Emily's CD The Glamoury. She commented in her liner notes:

The words of this magical ballad are a collage of my favourite bits from the Child and Bronson collections. The tune has been adapted from a version in Bronson “sung by Mrs. Martha L. Sistrunk, White Springs, Fla. [, 1936]” [Bronson: Child no. 10, version 88] which I misread and rewrote. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the refrain line should include the name of a flower that symbolises a warning, the oleander.

Alasdair Roberts sang The Two Sisters in 2010 on his CD Too Long in This Condition.

Anne Armstrong and Ron Kavana sang Wind & Rain in 2011 on the latter's CD 40 Favourite Folk Songs.

Freya Abbott Ferguson sang Two Sisters in 2011 on her No Masters CD Get Well Soon.

Lucy Ward sang The Two Sisters in 2011 on her first CD, Adelphi Has to Fly.

Bellowhead sang Wind & Rain as second track of their 2012 promo CD single 10,000 Miles Away. It was also included as a bonus track of the digital download of Broadside. It is not on the regular CD though.

Eddy O'Dwyer sang The Bows of London in 2012 on his CD Go and 'List for a Sailor.

Haddo sang Two Sisters in 2014 on their CD Borderlands.

Kirsty Law learned Twa Sisters from Betsy Whyte and recorded it in 2014 for her CD Shift.

Emily Smith sang Twa Sisters in 2014 on her CD Echoes. This video shows her at The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, on March 8, 2014:

Teresa Horgan sang Cruel Sister in 2015 on her and Matt Griffin's CD Brightest Sky Blue. She commented in their liner notes:

This tale of sibling jealousy and murder is a recurring theme in a number of folk songs. This is our take on a song we first heard from English folk-rock group, Pentangle. It was featured on their 1970 record of the same name.

Steve Byrne translated De Två Systrarna into Scots and sang it as The Twa Sisters in 2015 on Malinky's album Far Better Days. The liner notes commented:

This is a Swedish version of the weel-kent ballad which Steve translated into Scots. We first heard this during a tour of Sweden in 2003 when we were introduced to the music of the band Folk och Rackare, as Malinky had been advertised as “The Scottish Folk och Rackare”—namely a band which took old traditional ballads and made them anew. We were delighted to perform a dual Swedish/Scots version with the band Ranarim at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow in 2007 [on January 27, 2007; see the video below]. The harp metaphor is often found as a fiddle in Scottish versions.

Kirsty Potts sang Binnorie on her 2015 album The Seeds of Life. She commented in her liner notes:

This version is a fusion of three Scottish variants that I have absorbed over the years. It is perhaps better known as The Twa Sisters. The story is known worldwide—the gist being that the bones of the corpse are fashioned to make a musical instrument, be it fiddle or harp, which then sings out the identity of the murderer in the gathering.

Stick in the Wheel sang The Bows of London on their 2015 CD From Here.

Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater sang The Berkshire Tragedy in 2016 on their CD Findings. Lukas Drinkwater commented in the album notes:

This is our interpretation of a traditional song that has inspired countless recordings and variations. As far as we've been able to establish this version of the song is called The Berkshire Tragedy and is one of many variations of The Two Sisters.

It's easy to confuse it with Roud 263—another song also called The Berkshire Tragedy which also features a miller and a murder but appears to have an entirely different history!

Will Noble sang Two Sisters on his 2017 Veteran CD It's Gritstone for Me. Brian Peters and John Howson commented in the album's liner notes:

English versions of this old ballad (Child 10) all have the “Bow Down” refrain instead of the Scots “Binnorie”, and none includes the magical transformation found in some older examples by which the deceased sister's body parts are used to construct a tell-tale harp.

“In 1982 I was asked to Crewe and Nantwich Folk Festival to fill in for Arthur Howard. who wasn't well enough to attend. There I met the lovely singer George Fradley from Derbyshire, and got on well with him. It's from George that I learned this great song.”

Lyrics

Lucy Stewart sings The Swan Swims So Bonnie O

Oh, there were twa sisters lived in this place
    Heigh ho, my nannie O,
Een was fair an the ither was deen,
    An the swan swims so bonnie O.

“Oh dear sister, dear sister, wid you take a walk,
Wid ye take a walk down by the miller's dam?”

“Dear sister, dear sister, put your foot on yon marble stone,”
An so slyly as she pushed her in.

“Dear sister, dear sister, lend me your hand,
An I will gie ye my gowd an my land.”

“Oh I didna come here to lend you my hand,
I come here for to see you drown.”

Noo, the millert had a daughter an she bein' the maid,
She came down for some water for to bake.

“Dear father, dear father, swim in your milldam
Either a maid or a white milk swan.”

[Her father took a click, an he clickit her out,
He laid her on the dyke for to drip or to dry.]

The king's three harpers, they been passin' by,
They ta'en three locks o her bonnie yellow hair.

Folk och Rackare sing De Två Systrarna

Translation

Där bodde en bonde vid sjöastrand,
    Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön,
Och tvenne döttrar hade han,
    Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön.

There lived a farmer by the seashore,
    (There's) Blowing cold cold weather over the sea,
And two daughters he had,
    Blowing cold cold weather over the sea.

Den ena var vit som den klara sol,
Den andra var svart som den svartaste kol.

One of them was as white as the bright sun,
The other was black as the blackest coal.

“Vi tvättar oss bägge i vattnet nu
Så blir jag väl som viter som du.”

“We both wash ourselves in the water now
So I will most likely become as white as you.”

“Å tvättar du dig både nätter och dar
Så aldrig du blir som viter som jag.”

“Even if you wash yourself both day and night
You'll never be as white as me.”

Och som de nu stodo på sjöastrand
Så stötte den fulaste sin syster av sand.

And as they stood there on the seashore
The ugliest of them pushed her sister off from land.

“Kära min syster du hjälp mig i land
Och dig vill jag giva min lille fästeman.”

“You, my dear sister, help me up to land
And then I will give you my sweetheart.”

“Din fästeman honom får jag ändå,
Men aldrig ska du mer på gröna jorden gå.”

“Your sweetheart, I will get him anyway,
But you'll never wander upon the green earth again.”

Där bodde en spelman vid en strand,
Han såg i vattnet var liket det sam.

There lived a fiddler by the shore,
He looked into the water where the body floated.

Spelemannen henne till stranden bar
Och gjorde av henne en harpa så rar.

The fiddler carried her onto the shore
And of her he made a sweet harp.

Spelemannen tog hennes guldgula hår
Harporsträngar därav han slog.
Spelemannen tog hennes fingrar små
Gjorde harpan tapplor på.
Spelemannen tog hennes snövita bröst
Harpan hon klinga med ljuvelig röst.

The fiddler took her golden hair
And built harp strings from it.
The fiddler took her small fingers
And decorated the harp with them.
The fiddler took her snow white breasts
And the harp she rang with a lovely tone.

Så bar harpan i bröllopsgård
Där bruden hon dansar med gulleband i hår.

And the harp was carried to the wedding spot
Where the bride was dancing with ribbons in the hair.

Trenne slag uppå gullharpan rann:
“Den bruden har tagit min lille fästeman.”

And three strokes on the golden harp was played:
“That bride has stolen my sweetheart.”

Om söndan så satt hon i brudstol röd,
Om måndan hon brändes i aska och dö.

On Sunday she sat in a bridechair red,
On Monday she was burnt in ashes and death.

George Fradley sings The Two Sisters

Two sisters walked by the river brim, bough down, bough down
Two sisters walked by the river brim, the bough shall bend to me
Two sisters walked by the river brim, the elder one pushed the younger one in
Singing I’ll prove as true to me love as me love proved true to me.

Oh Sister, sister lend me thy hand, bough down, bough down
Oh Sister, sister lend me thy hand, the bough shall bend to me
Oh Sister, sister lend me thy hand, and thy shall have both houses and land
Singing I’ll prove as true to me love as me love proved true to me.

I’ll neither give thee hand nor glove, bough down, bough down
I’ll neither give thee hand nor glove, the bough shall bend to me,
I’ll neither give thee hand nor glove, until thou give me Dai(?) to love
Singing I’ll prove as true to me love as me love proved true to me.

At first she sank and then she swam, bough down, bough down
At first she sank and then she swam, the bough shall bend to me
At first she sank and then she swam, until she came to a mill dam
Singing I’ll prove as true to me love as me love proved true to me.

The miller he came with his rod and his hook, bough down, bough down
The miller he came with his rod and his hook, the bough shall bend to me,
The miller he came with his rod and his hook, and fished the fair damsel out of the brook
Singing I’ll prove as true to me love as me love proved true to me.

Oh miller I’ll give thee guineas ten, bough down, bough down
Oh miller I’ll give thee guineas ten, the bough shall bend to me
Oh miller I’ll give thee guineas ten, he took them and then he pushed her in again
Singing I’ll prove as true to me love as me love proved true to me.

The miller was hung on yonder gate, bough down, bough down
The miller was hung on yonder gate, the bough shall bend to me
The miller was hung on yonder gate, for drowning the farmer’s daughter Kate
Singing I’ll prove as true to me love as me love proved true to me.

Martin Carthy sings The Bows of London

There were two little sisters a-walking alone
    Hey the gay and the grinding
Two little sisters a-walking alone
    By the bonny bonny bows of London

And the eldest pushed her sister in
Pushed her sister into the stream

Oh she pushed her in and she watched her drown
Watched her body floating down

Oh she floated up and she floated down
Floats till she come to the miller's dam

And out and come the miller's son
Father dear here swims a swan

Oh they laid her out on the bank to die
Fool with a fiddle come a-riding by

And he took some strands of her long yellow hair
Took some strands of her long yellow hair

And he made some strings from this yellow hair
Made some strings from this yellow hair

And he made fiddle pegs from her long fingerbone
Made fiddle pegs from her long fingerbone

And he made a fiddle out of her breastbone
Sound would pierce the heart of a stone

But the only tune that the fiddle would play
Was oh the bows of London
The only tune the fiddle would play
Was the bonny bonny bows of London

So the fool's gone away to the king's high hall
There was music dancing and all

And he laid this fiddle all down on a stone
Played so loud it played all alone

It sang yonder sits my father the king
Yonder sits my father the king

And yonder sits my mother the queen
How she'll grieve at my burying

And yonder she sits my sister Anne
She who drownded me in the stream

Roger Wilson sings The Two Sisters

There lived an old lord by the Northern Sea
    Bow wee down
There lived an old lord by the Northern Sea
    Bow and balance to me
There lived an old lord by the Northern Sea
And he had daughters one, two, three
I'll be true to my love, if my love'll be true to me

A young man came a courting there
And he made a choice of the youngest fair
He brought the youngest a beaver hat
The oldest sister didn't like that

As they walked down to the waters brim
The oldest pushed the youngest in
Oh sister, oh sister, lend me your hand
And you may have my house and land

She floated down to the miller's dam
The miller drew her safe to land
And off of her fingers took five gold rings
And into the water he plunged her again

The Witches of Elswick sing The Two Sisters

There were two sisters lived in a bower,
    Oh the wind and rain,
There were two sisters lived in a bower,
    Oh the dreadful wind and rain.

Johnny courted the eldest with a gay gold ring,
But he loved the youngest above all things.

Johnny courted the eldest with a brooche and knife,
But he loved the youngest with all his life.

Oh the eldest envied the sister fair
For her pretty little face and her long flowing hair.

“Now sister, sister, come to yon sea strand,
And see our father's ships a-coming home to land.”

And the eldest pushed the youngest in
For she knew, her sister, she could not swim.

Some times she sank, and some times she swam,
Until she came to the miller's dam.

Oh the miller standing at his door
And he saw her drowning by the shore.

“Oh miller, I'll give you this gay gold chain
If you bring me back to my father again.”

And the miller took that gay gold chain
And he pushed her back in the water again.

Her father's knight he came riding by
And this fair maid's body chanced to spy.

Oh he took three locks of her long yellow hair
And with them strung a bow so fair.

And what did he do with her breast bone?
He made it a fiddle to play upon.

And what did he do with her veins so blue?
He made fiddle strings to play a tune.

And what did he do with her fingers slight?
He made little pegs to hold them tight.

And the only tune that the fiddle would play
Was oh the wind and rain,
And the only tune that the fiddle would play
Was oh the dreadful wind and rain.

(repeat last verse)

Kate Fletcher sings Cruel Sister

There lived a Lord in the North Country
    With a down down derry down
And he had daughters one, two, three,
    With a down down derry derry down.

A young man came a-courting there
And he won the heart of the youngest fair

He gave the youngest a golden ring
But he didn't give the eldest anything.

“O sister come let us walk out
And see the ships that sail about.<”

As they walked down by the salty brim
The eldest pushed the youngest in.

“O sister lend to me your hand
And I will give you house and land.”

“I'll neither lend you hand nor glove
But I will have your own true love.”

There she floated like a swan
And the salt sea bore her body on.

A harper walked along the strand
And he saw her body float to land.

He made a harp of her breast bone
And its song would melt a heart of stone.

Then he came to her father's hall
To play the harp before them all.

But as he laid it on a stone
The harp began to play alone.

The first string sang a doleful sound
Of how the bride her sister drowned.

The second string, when he tried
In terror sits the guilty bride.

The third string sang beneath his bow
And surely now her tears will flow.

Emily Portman and Rachel Newton sing Two Sisters

Two little sisters living in a bower
    Oleander yolling
The youngest was the fairest flower
    Down by the waters rolling

A noble knight came riding by,
Two little sisters caught his eye.

And he courted the eldest with diamonds and rings
The other he loved above all things.

“Sister, sister, come down to the broom,
We’ll hear the black birds change their tune.”

So she took her sister by the hand
And led her down to the river strand.

And as they stood at the river's brim
The eldest pushed her sister in.

“Sister, sister, reach me your hand
And you’ll be the heir to my riches and land.”

”Oh Sister, sister, that will never be
Till salt and oatmeal grow of a tree.”

”Oh sister, sister, lend me but your glove
And you shall have my own true love.”

“It's your own true love I'll have and more,
    Oleander yolling
But you shall never come to shore,
For your cherry cheeks and your long yellow hair
    Oleander yolling
Made me a maid for evermore.”

Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam,
    Oleander yolling
Till she came to a millers dam
    By the waters rolling

The miller and his daughter stood at the door
    Oleander yolling
And watched her body floating to shore
    Down in the waters rolling

“Oh father, father, draw your dam,
For it's either a mermaid or a swan.”

The miller he dragged her out on to the shore
And he stripped her of all that she wore.

He laid her body on the bank to dry,
A minstrel he came riding by.

And he made a harp of her breast-bone
Whose sound could melt a heart of stone.

He took three locks from her long yellow hair
With them strung a harp so rare.

And he took the harp to the king's high hall
There was the court assembled all.

And he laid the harp there upon a stone,
The harp began to play alone.

But the only tune that the harp would play was,
    Oleander yolling
The only tune that the harp would play,
    Down by the waters rolling

It sang, “Yonder sits my love the king,
    Oleander yolling
How he’ll weep at my burying,
    By the waters rolling

”And yonder sits my sister the queen,
    Oleander yolling
She drowned me in the cold, cold stream,
    Down in the waters rolling

Acknowledgements

The Bows of London transcribed by Garry Gillard. Roger Wilson's Two Sisters lyrics from the record's sleeve notes. Garry Gillard thanks Wolfgang Hell.