> June Tabor > Songs > The Banks of Red Roses

The Banks of Red Roses

[ Roud 603 ; G/D 7:1444 ; Ballad Index Doe315 ; trad.]

Seamus Ennis sang The Bank of the Roses on the 1955 anthology The World Library of Folk and Primitive Music - Volume I: Ireland.

Duncan McPhee sang On the Bonny Banks o' the Roses to Peter Kennedy at Blairgowrie in 1955. This recording was included in 1994 on the Saydisc anthology Songs of the Travelling People.

Ruby Kelbie sang Banks o' Red Roses to Maurice Fleming at Blairgowrie in 1955. This recording was included in 2011 on the Greentrax anthology Songs and Ballads from Perthshire Field Recordings of the 1950s (Scottish Tradition 24).

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Banks of the Roses on the 1966 Australian album A Wench, a Whale and a Pint of Good Ale. The album's sleeve notes commented:

An Irish traditional ballad sung by Martyn. Colin O'Lochlainn (Irish Street Ballads) prints a version learned from his mother.

Sarah Makem sang The Banks of Red Roses on her 1968 Topic LP Ulster Ballad Singer. This track was also included on Topic's 70th anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten. Sean O'Boyle commented in her album's sleeve notes:

In contrast to the light and airy theme of The Banks of Red Roses (Irish Street Ballads, No.8), Mrs. Makem's song is a dark story of seduction and premeditated murder, on the lines of The Cruel Ship Carpenter, with which it should be compared. (English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Vol. 1, pp 317-327). See also E.F.S. Journal Vol. II, p 254. The tune is Doh Mode Hexatonic.

Pete and Chris Coe learned The Banks of Red Roses from the singing of Sarah Makem via her next-door neighbour. They recorded it in 1972 for their Trailer LP Open the Door and Let Us In. In 2017, Pete Coe returned to this song on his CD The Man in the Red Van. Their original album's liner notes commented:

No motive is given for the murder, but unwanted pregnancy is a possible reason.

Lizzie Higgins sang The Banks of Red Roses on her 1969 Topic LP Princess of the Thistle. This recording was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology of songs of love and amorous encounters, Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Vol. 10).

In Ireland and England this is a love song in which the wayward hero produces a symbolic instrument, fiddle, tune-box, flute or even tuning fork, with which he serenades his girl. A version close to the English sets was collected by Gavin Greig in North-east Scotland but the most popular version in Scotland today has Johnny murdering his sweetheart. This change is probably the result of fusion between the former song and a 19th century broadside ballad.

The Clutha sang The Banks o' Red Roses in 1971 on their Argo album Scotia!.

Tom Gilfellon sang The Banks of Red Roses on his 1976 Topic album In the Middle of the Tune which got its name from a phrase in this song.

I plunge into The Banks of Red Roses, that swaggering, boastful song of the would-be super-lover which has, despite efforts to the contrary, remained one of my favourite songs of all time. I disclaim, however, all but the most passing of resemblances to the hero of the piece. Liz and Stefan Sobell accompany me on cittern and dulcimer.

Paul and Linda Adams sang The Banks of Red Roses in 1978 on their Fellside album Among the Old Familiar Mountains.

Mick Ryan sang The Banks of the Roses in 1978 on his and Jon Burge's album Fair Was the City.

June Tabor sang The Banks of Red Roses on her 1988 album Aqaba.

Swan Arcade sang The Banks of the Roses in 1990 on their CD Full Circle.

Corrina Hewat sang Banks o' Red Roses on the 1998 anthology Scottish Love Songs.

Alasdair Roberts sang On the Banks of Red Roses in 2005 on his CD No Earthly Man.

Cyril Tawney sang Banks of the Roses on his 2007 posthumous CD The Song Goes On.

Niamh Boadle sang The Banks of the Roses in 2010 on her CD Wild Rose.

Jon Boden sang Banks of Red Roses as the July 26, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the project's blog:

This is one of a number of songs that I used as a template when I first started singing—learning each of June Tabor’s ornaments pretty much note for note. I’ve probably strayed a bit from it now but it’s a very good way of assimilating technical tricks of the trade.

Pete Coe sang The Banks of Red Roses in 2017 on his CD The Man in the Red Van. He commented in his liner notes:

I went to Ireland in the mid 60s, joined up with a group of singers and learned this song from one of them who came from Belfast and told me he was Sarah Makem's next door neighbour. He'd learned this dark ballad from her and, recently I added a couple more verses from Scottish Travellers passed on to me by Pete Shepheard. Much to my shame, I can't remember the name of the singer who gave me the song originally, and, much to my regret, I never did meet Sarah Makem who became my favourite traditional singer.

Lyrics

Ruby Kelbie sang Banks o' Red Roses

When I wis a wee thing an easy led astray,
Before I would work I would raither sport and play,
Before I would work I would raither sport and play
Wi my Johnny on the banks among red roses.

On the banks of red roses my love and I sat doon,
He took oot his charm box to play his love a tune.
In the middle o the tune his love sat doon and cried,
“O my Johnny, O my Johnny dinnae leave me!”

He took oot his charm box an played his love a tune.
In the middle o the tune his love broke doon and cried,
In the middle o the tune his love broke doon and cried,
“O my Johnny, O my Johnny dinnae leave me!”

He took oot his pocket knife and hit being long and sharp,
And he drew it through and through his bonnie lassie's heart.
He drew it through and through his bonnie lassie's heart
And he left her lying low amang the red roses.

Sarah Makem sings The Banks of Red Roses

Oh, when I was a young girl I heard my mother say
That I was a foolish lass and easy led astray.
And before I would work, I would rather sport and play
With my Johnny on the banks of red roses.

For he took her to his lodge and he treated her to tea,
Saying, “Drink my dearest Mary and come along with me,”
Saying, “Drink my dearest Mary and come along with me
To the bonny, bonny banks of red roses.”

On the banks of red roses my love and I sat down
And he pulled out his charm flute and played his lass a tune.
In the middle of the tune well the bonny lassie cried,
“Ara Johnny, lovely Johnny would you leave me?”

Well, they walked and they talked til they came unto a cave
Where Johnny all the day had been digging up a grave,
Where Johnny all the day had been digging up a grave
For to leave his lassie low among the roses.

Then he pulled out a pen knife, it was both long and sharp,
And he plunged it right into his own dear Mary’s heart.
And he plunged it right into his own dear Mary’s heart
And he left her lying low among the roses.

Lizzie Higgins sings The Banks of Red Roses

When I was a wee thing I heard my mother say,
“Before I would work I would rather sport and play,
Before I would work I would rather sport and play
With my Johnny down among the red roses.”

Johnny took out his tune-box to play his love a tune.
In the middle of the tune, she stood up and cried,
“Oh Johnny dear, oh Johnny dear, it's dinna leave me noo
In the bonny, bonny banks beneath the roses.”

Bur Johnny took out a knife; it was long, thin and sharp.
He's plunged it right into bis bonny Mary's hart,
He's plunged it right into bis bonny Mary's hart
And he left her lying low beneath the roses.

June Tabor sings The Banks of Red Roses

When I was a wee thing and easy led astray
It's before I would work I would rather sport and play,
It's before I would work I would rather sport and play
With my Johnny on the banks of red roses.

On the banks of red roses my love and I sat down
He took out his fiddle and began to play a tune.
And when the tune was ended, his love broke down and cried,
“Oh Johnny, darling Johnny, never leave me!”

He took out his pocket knife, and it was long and sharp
And he plunged it through and through the bonny lassie's hart,
He plunged it through and through the bonny lassie's heart
And he left her lying low among the roses.

(repeat first verse)