Ewan MacColl recorded two different versions of the Border ballad Hughie the Graeme: The first is from Sir Walter Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. MacColl sang it unaccompanied on his and A.L. Lloyd's 1956 Riverside album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads), Volume III; this recording was also included in 2009 on his Topic anthology Ballads. He also sang it with Peggy Seeger on the 1956 Tradition album Classic Scots Ballads. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the first album's booklet:
Several interesting theories have been put forward as to a historical basis for this ballad, but all rather inconclusively. Though several versions of it have been collected from English sources, the ballad most certainly is Scottish in origin.
The tone of this ballad is distinctly one of sympathy with the accused man. Though he may have been one of the borderers who wreaked havoc in excursions along the English-Scottish “no-man's land” the people of the town tell him encouragingly that he will “never go down” (be punished). But the jury, obviously rigged against him (much more obviously in other versions), finds him guilty. That a border raider should have had such high-placed friends as Lord Hume was rare, but, in any case, of no avail in helping Hughie the Graeme out of his predicament.
Except for a single version collected by Gavin Greig in Aberdeenshire, this ballad has not been reported from tradition since Child. The version MacColl sings is the Child “C” text, from Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Stanzas 10, 11, and 16 of the original sixteen stanzas have been deleted by MacColl. The ballad is sung to a tune learned from Thomas Armstrong of Newcastle.
The other version is a collated text and a tune coming from Mrs. Lyall, via Greig and Keith's Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs. Ewan MacColl recorded this version several times: on the 1956 Tradition album Classic Scots Ballads, on the 1960 Topic album Chorus from the Gallows, and on the 1964 Topic album English and Scottish Folk Ballads. This tune was also later used by Fairport Convention for their ballad Sir Patrick Spens.
Ross Kennedy sang Hughie the Graeme in 1998 on the Fellside CD Fyre and Sworde: Songs of the Border Reivers. The album's sleeve notes commented:
This song appears to be simply a good story with no historical foundation. It has been stipulated that “Robert Altridge, Bishop of Carlisle about the year of 1560, seduced the wife of Hugh Graham” (Stenhouse 1853), but, although Robert Altridge was Bishop of Carlisle there is no trace of a Hugh. It has become well jumbled with the oral tradition, but it is one of the classic songs of its type, representing one of the most powerful of the reiving families. There was a “Hutchin” or “Huon” Graham a notorious freebooter who was one of Buccleuch's men who rescued Kinmont Willie. He disappeared around 1603, probably transported to Ireland along with other Grahams.
Five years later, in 2003, June Tabor recorded Hughie Graeme for her own Border ballads album, An Echo of Hooves. She commented in her CD's liner notes:
Words from Johnson, J., The Scots Musical Museum, 6v, 1787-1803,
Contributed (and improved?) by Robert Burns.
Tune mostly adapted from the Appalachian piece The Falls of Richmond.
Graham (or Graeme) is another of the great raiding names of the Border. “Apart from the Armstrongs, the Grahams were probably the most troublesome family on the frontier. They were mostly English (so far as Border history goes) but notoriously ready to be on either side. Their dual allegiances caused confusion and they were cordially detested by their own English authorities.” (George MacDonald Fraser, The Steel Bonnets)
There seems to be no historical evidence for the actual events of this ballad, but it typifies nonetheless the brutality of Border life in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the Graham's involvement in all aspects of it—theft, blackmail, blood-feud and murder.
June Tabor also sang this song on October 24, 2003 in the BBC Two TV show Later… with Jools Holland. It is also said to be on one of the DVDs of this TV show but I don't know on which one.
Malinky sang Hughie the Graham in 2005 on their Greentrax CD The Unseen Hours. They noted:
This border ballad has been a song Steve [Byrne] has known in one form or another since childhood. The ballad's history is not totally clear against the long historical background of border reivers and the fact that the extant text variants mention various places including Stirling and Carlisle, along with several different characters. According to Prof. Child, the Grahams were one of the greatest clans on the English-Scottish border in the late 16th century. The legend behind the song is that Robert Aldridge, Bishop of Carlisle, seduced Hugh Graham's wife, and in revenge Graham staged a raid and stole the bishop's horse. He was pursued by the Warden of Carlisle, John Scroope and was caught near Solway Moss before being taken to Carlisle and sentenced to death at the gallows. This is a contracted composite version of the text from various versions in Child and memory.
June Tabor sings Hughie Graeme on An Echo of Hooves
Lords are to the mountains gone,
A-hunting of the fallow deer;
They have grippit Hughie Graeme
For stealing of the bishop's mare.
They have bound him hand and foot,
And led him up through Carlisle town;
All the lads along the way
Cried, “Hughie Graeme you shall hang.”
“Loose my right hand free, he says,
Put my broadsword in my hand;
There's none in Carlisle town this day,
Dare tell the tale to Hughie Graeme.”
Up and spake the good Whitefoord,
As he sat by the Bishop's knee,
“Five hundred white stots [young oxen] I'll give you,
If you'll give Hughie Graeme to me.”
“Hold your tongue, my noble lord,
And of your pleading let it be,
Although ten Graemes were in this court,
Hughie Graeme this day shall die.”
Up and spake the fair Whitefoord,
As she sat by the Bishop's knee;
“Five hundred white pence I'll give you,
If you'll let Hughie Graeme go free.”
“Hold your tongue, my lady fair,
And of your weeping let it be;
Although ten Graemes were in this court,
It's for my honour he must die.”
They've ta'en him to the hanging hill
And led him to the gallows tree;
Ne'er the colour left his cheek,
Nor ever did he blink his eye.
Then he's looked him round about,
Al for to see what he could see;
There he saw his father dear,
Weeping, weeping bitterly.
“Hold your tongue, my father dear,
And of your weeping let it be;
It sorer, sorer grieves my heart
Than all that they could do to me.
And you may give my brother John
My sword that's made of the metal clear;
And bid him come at twelve of the clock
And see me pay the Bishop's mare.
And you may give my brother James
My sword that's made of the metal brown;
And bid him come at four of the clock
And see his brother Hugh cut down.
Remember me to Maggy my wife,
The next time ye come o'er the moor;
Tell her, she stole the Bishop's mare,
Tell her, she was the Bishop's whore.
And you may tell my kith and kin,
I never did disgrace their blood;
And when they meet the Bishop's cloak,
Leave it shorter by the hood.”
The information on Ewan MacColl's versions of Hughie the Graeme are from the Mudcat Café thread Patrick Spens and Hughie Graeme. Jube Tabor's lyrics are from her CD sleeve notes.