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> Martin Carthy > Songs > Died for Love

The Brisk Young Sailor / Died for Love / Will Ye Gang, Love

[ Roud 60 ; Master title: The Brisk Young Sailor ; Laws P25 ; G/D 6:1169, 6:1170 ; Henry H683 ; Ballad Index LP25 ; Go Dig My Grave / Died for Love / The Butcher Boy at Fire Draw Near ; VWML LEB/2/65/3 , AGG/3/59f , AGG/8/12 ; Bodleian Roud 60 ; GlosTrad Roud 60 ; DT GANGLOVE ; Mudcat 94094 , 161176 ; trad.]

Lucy E. Broadwood: English Traditional Songs and Carols Norman Buchan: 101 Scottish Songs Alan Helsdon: Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Gale Huntington: sam Henry’s Songs of the People Frank Kidson: Traditional Tunes Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger: Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland Patrick O’Shaughnessy Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk Songs Roy Palmer: Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams Songs of the Midlands James Reeves: The Idiom of the People Stephen Sedley: The Seeds of Love Cecil J. Sharp One Hundred English Folksongs

Joseph Taylor sang Died for Love on a wax cylinder recording made by Percy Grainger in 1908 [VWML LEB/2/65/3] ; this was released in 1972 on the LP Unto Brigg Fair. Martin Carthy also sang Died for Love unaccompanied and with an additional verse on his 1969 album with Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen. He noted:

It has been suggested that this is a fragment of a much longer ballad but this is really immaterial when what you have stands perfectly well on its own. Taken from the Grainger collection of Lincolnshire songs, from the singing of Joseph Taylor.

Isla Cameron’s version of Died for Love on the Alan Lomax Collection album of 1955, World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England, and Martin Carthy’s version both have one verse the other is missing and a different verse order. She also sang it in 1962 on her and Tony Britton’s Transatlantic album Songs of Love, Lust and Loose Living.

A.L. Lloyd sang Died for Love, in 1956 on his Riverside LP English Street Songs. He noted:

Sometimes the girl in this ballad is the sweetheart of a brisk young sailor, sometimes her lover is a wagoner or a postman or a butcher boy, or even, in later texts, a railroad man. Whatever his profession, most versions agree that he broke the girl’s heart and she ordered a marble dove for a grave ornament. Versions of this ballad range the scale of the emotions from candid tragedy to broad burlesque, but as a rule, the street singers took it genuinely to heart, and, as some of them had it, it was a ballad of stark beauty.

Emily Sparks sang Died for Love in a recording made in Rattlesden 1958/59 that was included in 1993 on the Veteran album of traditional music making from mid-Suffolk, Many a Good Horseman.

Shirley Collins sang Died for Love on her 1960 album False True Lovers. Strangely, she left out the Died for Love stanza. Alan Lomax commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

From Traditional Tunes by Frank Kidson. Died for Love is perhaps the most beautiful of the many variants of the important British folk song, most familiar to us as The Butcher’s Boy or There Is a Tavern in the Town, or in Woody Guthrie’s Hard, Ain’t It Hard. This Northern English variant points to one of the most important differences between British and American love-songs. Typically in the English love song there is an amorous encounter between a young man and the young woman, and though the girl is often betrayed, she expresses in her song a trace of the real pleasure that she experienced. Even more importantly, she has a baby; and, through her melancholy, there lingers note of procreative joy. Very frequently in these songs the boy returns to marry her when he discovers that she is about to bear him a child. American singers were more prudish; they censored out the pregnancy theme; and the betrayed girl was left to brood over the transiency of love and sigh for death to heal her heartbreak.

A recording of Elizabeth Cronin of Macroom, Co. Cork, singing this song as The Alehouse was included on the anthology Sailormen and Servingmaids (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 6; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Tom Willett sang Died for Love in 1962 at the age of 84 on the Willett Family’s album The Roving Journeymen. The album’s notes commented:

This favourite lyrical song has been often collected and is still sung in many parts of the countryside. The flower symbolism is sexual and may be compared with that found in such songs as The Seeds of Love; for instance, ‘rose’ in verse one or Mr Willett’s song clearly refers to virginity.

The country poet John Clare re-made the text of this song into his handsome poem A Faithless Shepherd. A student re-make is There Is a Tavern in the Town.

The tune used by Mr Willett—one of many tunes attached to this song—is related to the melody used by (perhaps adapted by) the mid-19th century stage comedian Sam Cowell in his burlesque version of the ballad of Lord Lovel. Several of Cowell’s tunes gained enormous currency in the towns and villages (e.g. Villikins and His Dinah).

Shirley Bland with Davey Graham sang A Bold Young Farmer on the 1963 Hullabaloo ABC Television programme broadcast on 26 October 1963.

A recording of Queen Caroline Hughes singing Died for Love, made by Peter Kennedy in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset, on 19 April 1968 was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of Southern English gypsy traditional singers, I’m a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Volume 22). The album’s booklet quoted:

“Blind beetles!” exclaimed Peter Kennedy. “Why did she want to be like a blind beetle?” “Well,” said Caroline, “because he courted her and he got her in trouble, and he sent her a flower picking to court another girl, you see … He courted this other girl and took her to the ale-house. He thought more of she than what he did of she and he slighted she to have she. So she said she’d sooner be a blind beetle than seek his company again. So would I. Wouldn’t you?”

Isla St Clair sang Will Ye Gang Love in 1972 on her Tangent album Isla St Clair Sings Traditional Scottish Songs. Hamish Henderson commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

An enchanting variation of the ubiquitous Died for Love theme. Gavin Greig dubbed this song-family I Wish, I Wish, because of the stanza which almost invariably appears in individual members of the wide-scattered clan. From her mother, who got it from her mother.

Geoff Ling sang Died for Love in a recording made by Keith Summers in 1974-5. This was published in 1977 on the Ling Family’s Topic album Singing Traditions of a Suffolk Family. It was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Who’s That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Volume 10).

Linda Adams sang this song as A Brisk Young Sailor in 1975 on her and Paul Adams’ Sweet Folk and Country album of songs and ballads of Cumbria, Far Over the Fell. Linda and Susan Adams also sang it on the 2001 Fellside anthology Voices in Harmony. The sleeve notes commented:

A very widespread song with a number of titles: I Wish I Wish; Died for Love; The Alehouse in the Town. There is a school of thought which believes that this is a fragment of another song. It is worth noting, but loses importance at it makes a good song on its own. This version was collected by Ann Gilchrist from a 70 year old carpenter, Mr James Bayliff of Bardon, Westmorland in 1909. [VWML AGG/3/59f, AGG/8/12] ; It possesses a fine Dorian Mode tune.

Archie Fisher sang Will Ye Gang, Love in 1976 as the title track of his Topic album Will Ye Gang, Love. He noted:

A beautiful variant of the universal “I Wish I Wish” theme. Relations of this song appear under many different titles, including The Foolish Young Girl, Died for Love, What a Voice, Rashy Moor and The Water Is Wide.

Jacqui McShee sang A Bold Young Farmer in 1980 on the John Renbourn Group’s Transatlantic album The Enchanted Garden. John Renbourn noted:

This is another very popular theme in traditional folk music. A young woman, pregnant and forsaken by the child’s father. In her shame and grief she wished herself dead, but, that her baby should be born and to be claimed by her lover. Isla Cameron sings a very fine version of this song, which can be heard on a Transatlantic album, Songs of Love, Lust and Loose Living.

Heather Heywood sang Will Ye Gang Love as a bonus track on the 1995 CD issue of her 1987 Greentrax album Some Kind of Love. She noted:

Another song which seems to have just appeared in my memory. There are a lot of variants of this song, often with a Died for Love title.

This track was recorded for the original album but wouldn’t fit on— the wonders of modern technology!

Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing sang I Wish, I Wish in 1997 on their WildGoose CD Call & Cry. They noted:

One of a number of songs composed entirely of ‘floating verses’, and so bleak that Sue just had to sing it.

John Roberts & Tony Barrand sang Died for Love in 1998 on their CD of English folksongs collected by Percy Grainger, Heartoutbursts.

Gillian Frame sang Will Ye Gang Love, “a moving ballad from the singing of Anne Neilson” on the 2001 CD Gillian Frame & Back of the Moon.

Jim Causley sang Yonders Hill (Blind Beetles) in 2005 on his WildGoose album Fruits of the Earth. He noted:

This beautifully quirky tale of rejection came from a precious tape of the Dorset gypsy singer Queen Caroline Hughes, kindly lent to me by […] Norma Waterson. It knocked me over backwards when I first heard it and I can’t believe more people don’t sing it. Big love to John [Dipper] for playing as beautifully as the song.

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset recorded this song as I Wish in 2007 for their second CD, The Bairns.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang There Is an Alehouse in 2009 on their WildGoose CD Cold Fen. Mary Humphreys noted:

The words for this song were sent to Lucy Broadwood in 1904 by Ella Bull who collected many songs in Cottenham from servants of the family (see the Fenlandia CD for some of them). This text included as part of the Lucy Broadwood papers in the VWML came from the singing of Charlotte Dann. Unfortunately the tune for this song was not present in the archives. It was marked as ‘missing’. Imagine the moment of pure joy when I saw in the RVW MS the title There Is an Alehouse on the page next to other songs contributed to Ralph Vaughan Williams by Charlotte Dann.

Hannah James and Sam Sweeney recorded Died for Love in 2009 for their first duo CD, Catches & Glees.

Barbara Dickson sang Will Ye Gang Love? in 2011 on her Greentrax album Words Unspoken.

Grace Notes sang A Brisk Young Sailor in 2012 on their anniversary album 20. Helen Hockenhull commented in their liner notes:

I found the song A Brisk Young Sailor in a collection of folk songs compiled by Cecil Sharp entitled One Hundred English Folk Songs. In his notes Sharp explains that there are many variants of this song and he has compiled this version from several texts.

Rosie Upton sang Died for Love in 2014 on her CD Basket of Oysters. She noted:

It’s little more than a collection of floating verses or fragments from other folk songs. A sad and familiar story that happens all too often and the young girl sees no alternative but to end her own life. There would have been few options in the past for someone in this predicament—possibly the workhouse or other institution, and the child, if it survived, taken from her.

Dempsey Robson Tweed sang Near Woodstock Town on their 2016 CD Dirt Road. Kevin Dempsey noted:

Near Woodstock Town is a lovely 17th Century song from Oxfordshire. Apart from Percy Grainger I don’t know of anyone else who has recorded it. Polly Bolton introduced me to the song in the back of a Ford Transit in 1970 on the way to a gig.

Kelly Oliver sang Died of Love on her 2018 CD Botany Bay. She noted:

A woman’s grief at allowing a sailor to court her and impregnate her, only for him to choose another woman in the end. She longs to die and leave her baby with him.

Karina Knight sang I Wish I Wish on her 2020 album of songs learned from her parents, From the Knee.

Folklincs sang There Is an Ale House on their 2020 album Songs & Tunes From North Lincolnshire. They noted:

This was sung by Anne Hiles of Kirton in Lindsey in April 1905, some time prior to the North Lincolnshire Musical Festival held at Brigg. Anne Hiles (who later married Mr Glover) was a servant to Mabel Peacock, the folklorist. Percy Grainger noted down the tune only. The text is from another North Lincolnshire version sung by William Clarke, blacksmith aged 72, at Barrow upon Humber on 3 August 1906. In our version, the first stanza has been taken from a broadside ballad.
(Lead Singer: Kathleen Watson)

Emily Portman and Rob Harbron sang Borstal Boy on their 2022 album Time Was Away. They noted:

The words to this song are taken directly from graffiti on the toilet wall of a youth centre known as the Bug Hut, in the Mangravet housing estate, Maidstone, Kent. This graffiti was noticed and photographed by folk song collector Simon Evans and included in the EFDSS “Root and Branch” project. The graffiti is an adaptation of the traditional song Died for Love, referring to the local youth detention centres, known as Borstals. Emily set the words to her favourite Died for Love melody, from Lincolnshire singer, Joseph Taylor. With young male offenders still being amongst the most at risk of taking their own lives, it seems that this song is a relevant now as it has ever been.


Joseph Taylor sings Died for Love

I wish my baby it-e-was born
Lying smiling on its father’s knee
And I was dead and in my grave
And green grass growing all over me

I wish, I wish, but it’s all in vain
I wish I was a maid again
But a maid again that never can be
Since that-e-young farmer sat wooing me

Dig me my grave long wide and deep
Put a marble stone at my head and feet
But a turtle dove put over above
For to let the world know that I died for love

Isla Cameron sings Died for Love

A bold young farmer courted me
He gained my heart and my liberty.
He’s gained my heart with a free good will
And I must confess that I love him still.

I wish, I wish, but it’s all in vain,
I wish I was a maid again.
But a maid again, that never can be
Since that young farmer lay still with me.

I wish my baby little was born
And smiling on his father’s knee;
And I was dead and in my grave
And the green grass growing all over me.

Dig me my grave long wide and deep,
Put a marble stone at my head and feet.
But a turtle white dove put over above
For to let the world know that I died for love.

Shirley Collins sings Died for Love

Oh, once my true love courted me
And stole away my liberty.
He gained my heart with a free good will
And I’ll confess I love him still.

Oh, there’s an ale-house in this town,
Where my love goes and sits him down;
He takes this strange girl on his knee
And isn’t that a grief to me.

Oh, there’s a bird in yon churchyard,
They say he’s blind and cannot see;
I wish it had been the same with me
Before I kept my love’s company.

I wish, I wish, but it’s all in vain,
I wish I was but free again.
But free again I’ll never be
Since I have kept my love’s company.

Tom Willett sings Died for Love

It’s down the green meadow where the poor girls they roam
A-gathering flowers just as they grow
She gathered her flowers and way she came
But she left the sweetest rose behind

There is a flower that I’ve heard say
That never dies nor fades away
But if that flower I could only find
I’d ease my heart and torment his mind

There is an alehouse where my love goes
Where my love goes and sits himself down
He takes a strange girl on his knee
Now don’t you think that’s a grief to me

A grief and a grief, I’ll tell you for why
Because she’s got more gold than I
But her gold will glitter, her silver will fly
And in a short time she’ll be as poor as I

My love he is tall and handsome too
My love he is tall and slender too
But carries two hearts in the room of one
Won’t he be a rogue when I’m dead and gone

Now dig my grave both long and deep
A marble stone, both head and feet
And in the middle a turtle dove
To show the wide world I died for love

Caroline Hughes sings Died for Love (Blind Beetles)

Oh, for that dear gal she roamed those meadows,
She was picking these flowers by one, two or three.
She picked, she plucked until she gained,
Until she gathered her apron full.

Now, when I was single, I could wear my apron strings long,
My love he pass by me and say nothing.
But, now my belly is right to me chin,
My love pass by and frowns on me.

Well, the grief, the grief, well, I ’ll tell you for why:
Because the other girl, she got more gold nor me.
What gold should glitter, her beauty will fade,
That’s why it comes back a poor girl like me.

Now, on yonder’s hill there stands an ale-house,
Where my truelove goes and sets hisself down.
He takes another strange girl on his knee
And kisses her and frowns on me.

Now, on yonder’s hill there’s blind beetles crawl,
As blind as blind could be.
I wish to God that I’d been one of they,
Before I jailed [kept?] my love’s company.

Martin Carthy sings Died for Love

I wish my baby it was born
And smiling on his daddy’s knee
And I poor girl was in my grave
With the long green grass a-growing all over me

O grief, o grief and I’ll tell you why
Because she has more gold than I
He takes this young girl on his knee
And he tells her tales that he won’t tell me

I wish, I wish, but it’s all in vain
I wish I was a sweet maid again
But a maid again I never shall be
Till apples grow on an orange tree

Dig me my grave long wide and deep
Put a marble stone at my head and feet
And at my breast place a white snow dove
For to let the world know that I died for love

Linda & Susan Adams sing A Brisk Young Sailor

A brisk young sailor courted me,
He robbed me of my liberty,
My liberty and my right good will
I must confess I love him still.

There’s an ale-house in the town,
Where my love goes and sits him down;
And he pulls a strange girl all on his knee
And isn’t that a grief to me.

A grief to me, and I’ll tell you why:
Because she has more gold than I,
But the gold it will waste and the beauty blast
And he’ll come to a poor girl like me at last.

I wish my baby it was born
Sat smiling on its nurse’s knee;
And I myself was in my grave
With the green grass growing over me.

I wish, I wish, but it’s all in vain,
I wish I was a maid again.
But a maid again I never will be
Till an apple grows on an orange tree.

Archie Fisher sings Will Ye Gang, Love

As I cam’ in by yon Rashy moor,
Wha’ spied I at my true love’s door?
My heart grew sair and my een grew blind,
To see my bonnie love leave me behind.

Chorus (after every other verse):
And will ye gang, love, and leave me noo?
Will ye gang, love, and leave me noo?
Wad ye forsake your ain love true
And gang wi’ a lad that you never knew?

And as I came in by yon Lenten main
I saw another my love attend.
I bowed my head and I cried, “Ochone!
The best of my good days are done.”

And I will tell you the reason why,
Because he has more gowd than I.
And I will tell you the reason true,
The sweeter taste of a love that’s new.

And I leaned my back up against an oak,
Thinking it was a trusty tree.
And first it bent and then it broke,
And so has my love done unto me.

But if you love me we’ll never part
And instead of gold you can hae my heart.
You can hae my heart wi a richt guid will,
You’re a bonnie lass and I love ye still.

Emily Portman sings Borstal Boy

A borstal boy came home one day
To find his love had gone away,
When he asked the reason why
With these words she did reply:

“If you were to chose a normal life
I would’ve gladly been your wife,
But as you chose a life of crime,
Borstal boy, do your time.”

It’s all alone, alone in a cell,
A Borstal boy he ran his bell.
When they came they found him dead,
And in his hand a letter, read:

“Won’t you dig my grave, dig it deep,
Put a marble stone all at my feet.
A turtle white dove put over and above,
For to let the world I died for love!”

So come all you girls that were inclined,
A true, true love is hard to find.
So if you find one, love him true
For a borstal boy, he will die for you,
A borstal boy, he will die for you.


The verses sung by Joseph Taylor and Martin Carthy were transcribed by Garry Gillard, Isla Cameron’s and Shirley Collins’ version by Reinhard Zierke.