> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Geordie
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> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Georgie
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Geordie / Georgie

Geordie / Georgie

[ Roud 90 ; Child 209 ; G/D 2:249 ; Ballad Index C209 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang Georgie in 1956 on his and Ewan MacColl's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume II. In was reissued in 2011 on Lloyd's Fellside CD Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun. Kenneth F. Goldstein commented in the original album's booklet:

The propriety of the inclusion of Georgie in this recorded series of Child ballads is largely dependent upon the acceptance or rejection of various claims of prior existence of several different ballad strains. The ballads in question are a traditional Scottish ballad, the earliest known version dating from the end of the 18th century, and two English broadsides, both of which date from the 17th century. Child (and most later scholars) believed that the Scottish ballad must have existed prior to the broadsides and that the broadside scriveners borrowed from the Scottish ballad. As evidence, Child indicated that the broadsides are merely “goodnights”, while the Scottish texts are full narratives, with a beginning, middle and end. Ebsworth, however, was of the opinion that the broadsides were the earlier form, and that the Scottish ballad was an adaption from these.

Most texts collected since Child (including the version sung here by A.L. Lloyd) are obviously derived from 19th century broadside printings of the early English broadsides in question. Indeed, aside from some few texts from Scotland, all of the many recently reported texts are at least partly derived from the English broadsides.

The text of the version sung by A.L. Lloyd came from Mrs Overs of Longport, Somerset, the melody from Charles Neville of East Coker, Somerset. Both text and melody were collected by Cecil Sharp in 1908.

The just mentioned version of Geordie collected from Charles Neville was printed by Lloyd and Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1959 in their The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. A.L. Lloyd recorded it in 1960 for his EP England & Her Folk Songs. Like all tracks from this EP it was reissued in 2003 on his CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:

As with many of our best ballads, this one is familiar both in England and in Scotland. In the latter, the main character usually appears as a nobleman sometimes identified as George Gordon, a sixteenth century Earl of Huntly, whereas in England he is usually a common outlaw thought by some to be George Stoole, a Northumbrian robber executed in 1610. In fact, there are not good grounds for presuming that this is a historical ballad at all; it may well be simply a romantic fiction that was already delighting singers and audiences well before the day of the robber Stoole or the dissident Earl of Huntly. Perhaps the story really belongs to the period when the Middle Ages were drawing to a close and the greenwoods were full of outlaws, some high-born, but mostly otherwise, all of them on the run from oppressive feudal authority. This version was collected by Cecil Sharp in the village of East Coker, Somerset.

Shirley Collins recorded Geordie for the first time in 1959 for her Collector EP The Foggy Dew. A live recording from the 1964 Scarborough Folk Festival was included on her 4 CD anthology of 2000, Within Sound. She recorded it for a third time in 1970 for her album Love, Death & the Lady. Peter Kennedy commented in the Collector EP's sleeve notes:

Those who have tried to unravel the historical background of such ballads as The Queen's Four Maries will appreciate how the ballad-makers through the years have changed the names and places to fit the various popular figures who end in the criminal courts and below the gallows tree.

Here is another such ballad which, according to one broadside, refers to Lady Grey pleading for George of Oxford. As indicated by many English folk-songs, poachers would be transported to Van Diemen's Land, but for his crime Geordie is condemned to death:

Now Geordie robbed no store-houses
He never murdered any
He only shot a King's white deer
All for to feed his family.

Harry Cox sang this song as Georgie. A recording by Mervyn Plunkett from September 1958 can be found on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5), and on the Harry Cox anthology released in 2000 on the Topic label, The Bonny Labouring Boy.

Both Ewan MacColl and Isla Cameron sang their versions of Geordie in 1960 on their Topic album Still I Love Him. Ewan MacColl sang Georgie six year later on his Topic album The Manchester Angel.

Gaither Carlton sang Georgie in May 1965 to Ralph Rinzler and Daniel Seeger. This recording was released in 1977 on the Watson Family's Topic album The Watson Family Tradition.

Geordie was also recorded by Julie Felix in 1966 for her album Changes. It was the album's only track where she was accompanied by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and it was included in 2002 on the Topic anthology The Acoustic Folkbox.

Sandy Denny recorded Geordie in 1967 as a home demo that was released in 1989 on the cassette The Attic Tracks Vol. 3 and in 2004 on her Fledg'ling anthology A Boxful of Treasures.

Peter Bellamy learned Georgie from the singing of Harry Cox and sang it unaccompanied in 1968 on his first album, Mainly Norfolk. He commented in the album's notes:

Georgie is of course Geordie with almost everyone except Harry Cox. The story of the condemned poacher is one of the most common in folk song, and Harry's tune to my mind one of the most beautiful.

Martin Carthy sang Geordie in 1974 in a John Peel BBC Radio session. This recording was included in 2000 on The Carthy Chronicles. He then recorded Geordie for his 1976 album Crown of Horn; this version was also included in 1993 on Rigs of the Time. A live version recorded in June 1977 was released on 6. Folkfestival auf der Lenzburg. Martin Carthy commented in his album's sleeve notes:

It is often said that the English version of Geordie is a later copy of the Scottish song about George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, who was imprisoned and threatened with death in 1554 for “failing to execute a commission against a Highland robber”. The motive was obviously political and in the end a fine was exacted and he was freed. A later song called The Life and Death of George of Oxford, while being superficially a copy of the Scots one, at least in part, also seems to me to be an attempt to tart up and bring up to date something else. The “something else” being the English version of an idea with, maybe, two distinct strains. It is a gritty, passionate little song with the sting of rage in its tail, and one is tempted to suggest that English versions which have survived—some are still current—could be that “something else” possibly used as the model for George of Oxford. Learned from John Pearse many years ago, I really determined to sing it on hearing a recording of Mrs Louisa Hooper made by Dr Maud Karpeles in about 1941 and deposited in the BBC Sound Archives.

Levi Smith sang Georgie in a recording by Mike Yates near Epsom, Surrey from May 1974. It was released a year later on the Topic album Songs of the Open Road and was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Father's the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Volume 11) and in 2009 on the Topic anniversary anthology Three Score and Ten. Another recording of Georgie sung by Levi's brother Jasper Smith was included on 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology Here's Luck to a Man.

Alec Bloomfield of Newark, Nottinghamshire sang this song as Young George Oxbury in 1975 to Keith Summers. It was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Keith Summers' recordings, A Story to Tell.

Roy Bailey took Spare Me the Life of Georgie from Roy Palmer's Songs of the Midlands and sang it in 1976 on his album New Bell Wake.

June Tabor, accompanied by Martin Carthy on guitar, sang Geordie in 1976 on her and Maddy Prior's album Silly Sisters, a slightly Anglicised arrangement of the set supplied by Robert Burns for the Scots Musical Museum. This track was also included in 2005 on Tabor's Topic anthology Always.

Colin Thompson sang this song as Banstead Downs in 1980 on his Fellside album Three Knights.

Jo Freya sang Geordie in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England.

Martin Carthy sang Levi Smith's version of Georgie on his 1998 album Signs of Life. He also sang it live at Ruskin Mill in December 2004. and live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros. He commented in the first record's sleeve notes:

Hamish Henderson, poet, songwriter, collector, doyen of the School of Scottish Studies, champion of humanity in general and imagination in particular, wrote in the '60s that the folk revival depended for its continued existence on its capacity to throw up fresh thinkers. At the risk of having an immediate degree conferred on me from the university of the bleedin' obvious, I'll say that doesn't apply simply to folkies. A pretty good illustration of the way the craft of songwriting has broadened as ordinary people write about extra-ordinary events is the Bee Gees' song New York Mine Disaster, 1941 which, whether or not it refers to an actual event, is a great piece of collective imagination. Similar forces are at work among the many gypsy singers and musicians recorded by Mike Yates in the past twenty or thirty years. Georgie is a song that I have known for forty years, but I was taken completely unawares when I heard it sung by Levi Smith in the '70s, and it's the basis of what I sing hear. The experience was similar to hearing the Yarmouth fisherman Sam Larner in the 1950's, which confronted everything I had thought made a musical sense, and changed it.

In this video, Martin Carthy played Georgie live in his back garden in 2007 or earlier:

Chris Coe sang Geordie in 2001 on her CD A Wiser Fool.

Martin Simpson sang Georgie in 2003 on his Topic CD Righteousness & Humidity. He noted:

The subject matter of these songs shows some common themes, crime, punishment, religion, love and loss.

Georgie combines all the elements in one song, and a very old song it is. The character, who is portrayed here as a somewhat loosemouthed member of the very upper class, is based on George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly, who was imprisoned in 1554 for failing to be tough enough in his treatment of a Highland robber. He was actually later released, his lands restored, and was fined only! This version comes from a 1936 field recording of Sam Russell of Marion, Virginia. It is a pentatonic melody with no 3rd, 1-2-4-5-♭7 and a wonderful set of words. Russell called it As I Walked Over London's Bridge; it can be found on Virginia Traditions—Ballads from British Traditions (Global Village Music CD1002).

Chris Foster sang Georgie in 2004 on his Tradition Bearers CD Jewels. He commented in his liner notes:

I first heard this beautiful version of Georgie sung by Pete Timmins, a very good singer and guitarist who used to sing in the folk clubs around Bradford in the 1970's. He hold me he had found it in Songs of the Midlands edited by Roy Palmer, so I got the book and learnt the song. It was collected from a Mary Haynes of Hartlebury, between Worcester and Kidderminster, in 1908.

The Maerlock sang Geordie in 2008 on their Fellside CD Sofa.

Brian Peters sang Georgie, to the tune collected from Joseph Taylor of Brigg, Lincolnshire, by Percy Grainger on his 2008 album of Child ballads, Songs of Trial and Triumph.

Jon Boden sang the Silly Sisters version of Geordie as the April 27, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Jim Causes sang Georgie in 2011 on his album of songs from Devon, Dumnonia.

James Findlay sang Geordie in 2012 on his Fellside CD Another Day, Another Story. He commented:

I first came across this song from the album Crown of Horn by Martin Carthy, which is close to that found by Cecil Sharp in Somerset, sung by Charles Neville of East Coker in 1908. It strongly resembles the tune of Searching for Lambs, also from Somerset. This song is well documented throughout Britain and has managed to live on for centuries despite such a loose narrative. It almost certainly pre-dates the 17th century.

Andy Turner sang Georgie as the January 22, 2016 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. His blog gives details of the several sources he assembled his version from.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Geordie Sandy Denny's home demo of Geordie

Now as I rode out over London Bridge
On a misty morning early
I overheard a fair pretty maid
A-cry for the life of her Geordie

As I walked under London Bridge
One misty morning early,
I overheard a fair pretty maid,
Lamenting for her Geordie.

“My Geordie will be hanged with a golden chain,
'Tis not the chain of many.
He stole sixteen of the King's royal deer
And he sold them in Bohenny.”

“Go bridle to me a milk white steed
Bridle me a pony
I'll ride down to London town
And I'll plead for the life of my Geordie”

“Go saddle me my milk white steed
Go saddle me my pony
That I may ride to London's courts
To plead for the life of Geordie.”

“For he never stole ox he never stole ass
He never murdered any
He stole sixteen of the King's wild deer
He sold them in Bohenny”

“My Geordie never hurt a man nor calf
He never hurted any
He stole sixteen of the King's royal deer
And he sold them in Bohenny.”

But when she rode down and in the king's hall
There were lords and ladies plenty
Down on her bended knee she fall
And she begged for the life of her Geordie

Cries, “Six pretty babes I had by him
Another one lies in my body
Freely I'd part with each one of them
If you'll give me the life of my Geordie”

“Two pretty babies have I borne,
The third lies in my body,
And I would part with them every one,
If you pardon my dear Geordie.”

“For he never stole ox he never stole ass
He never murdered any
He stole sixteen of the King's wild deer
He sold them in Bohenny”

But the judge looked over his left shoulder
He cries, “I'm sorry for thee
Me pretty fair maid you come too late
For he's been condemned already”

But the judge looked over his left shoulder,
He said, “Fair maid, I'm sorry,
I cannot pardon the one you love,
He has been hanged already.”

“Oh my Geordie shall hang in a chain of gold
Such chains as never was any
Because he came of the royal blood
And he courted a fine young lady”

“Oh he never stole ox he never stole ass
He never murdered any
He stole sixteen of the King's wild deer
He sold them in Bohenny”

“Oh I wish I had you in yonder grove
Where times I have been many
With my broadsword and a pistol too
I'd fight you for the life of me Geordie”

“For he never stole ox he never stole ass
He never murdered any
He stole sixteen of the King's wild deer
He sold them in Bohenny”

Scottish version sung by June Tabor Shirley Collins sings Geordie

There was a battle in the north
And nobles there were many
And they have killed Sir Charlie Hay
And laid the blame on Geordie

O he has written a long letter
And sent it to his lady:
“You must come up to Edinburgh town
To see what news of Geordie”

When first she looked the letter on
She was both red and rosy
She had not read a word but two
When she grew pale as the lily

“Go fetch to me my good grey steed
My men shall all go with me
For I shall neither eat nor drink
Till Edinburgh town shall see me”

Then she has mounted her good grey steed
Her men they all went with her
And she did neither eat nor drink
Till Edinburgh town did see her

And first appeared the fatal block
And then the axe to head him
And Geordie coming down the stair
With bands of iron upon him

Though he was chained in fetters strong
Of iron and steel so heavy
O not a one in all the court
Was so fine a man as Geordie

O she'd down on her bended knee
I'm sure she's pale and weary
“O pardon, pardon noble kings,
And give me back my dearie”

“Go tell the heading man make haste”
Our king replies full lordly
“O noble king take all that's mine
But give me back my Geordie”

The Gordons came and the Gordons ran
And they were stark and steady
And aye the word among them all
Was Gordons keep you ready

An aged lord at the king's right hand
Says “Noble kings, but hear me,
Let her count out five thousand pounds
And give her back her dearie”

Some gave her marks, some gave her crowns
Some gave her dollars many
She's counted out five thousand pounds
And she's gotten again her dearie.

She glanced blithe in her Geordie's face
Say “Dear I've bought thee Geordie;
But the blood would have flowed upon the green
Before I lost my laddie”

He clasped her by the middle small
And he kissed her lips so rosy
“The fairest flower of women kind
Is my sweet bonny lady”

As I rode over London Bridge
One misty morning early,
I overheard a tender hearted girl
Plead for the life of Geordie.

Now Geordie robbed no store-houses,
He never murdered any.
He only shot a King's white deer
All for to feed his fam'ly.

Then the judge looked over his left shoulder
And thus he says to Geordie:
“By your confession you shall hang
And the Lord have mercy upon you.”

The Geordie he looked around the court
And saw his dearest Polly,
Said he, “My love, you've come too late,
For I'm condemned already.”

There's six pretty babes I've born to you
And the seventh lies in my body,
But freely would I part with them
To spare the life of Geordie.

Then Geordie he walked around the court
And said farewell to many,
But the leaving of his own true love
That grieved him worst of any.

Let Geordie hang in golden chains,
His crimes they were not many,
He only shot a king's white deer
All for to feed his fam'ly.

Peter Bellamy sings Georgie 

As I walked over London Bridge
One misty morning early,
There I overheard some fair lady
Lamenting for her Georgie.

“O pray, can you send me some little boy
Who can go an errand quickly?
Who can go ten mile in one hour
With an errand for a lady?”

“Come saddle to me my best black horse,
Come saddle him right quickly,
That I may ride to the king's castle gaol
With an errand for a lady.”

And when she had come to the king's castle door
The prisoners aye stood many,
And they all stood with their hats in their hands
Excepting her bonny bonny Georgie.

“Oh Georgie never stole no cow nor horse,
He never murdered any.
But he stole sixteen of the king's fat deers
Which grieved me most of any.

“And six pretty babies I've had to him,
The seventh lies in my bosom.
I would freely part with them everyone
For to save the life of me Georgie.”

And the judge he looked over his left shoulder.
He seemed so very hard hearted,
Saying, “Pretty fair lady you've come too late
For you Georgie's condemned already.”

“Oh, my Georgie will be hanged in the chains of gold,
Such gold as never hangs many,
Because he come of the royal blood
And he courted a very rich lady.

“Oh, my Georgie will be hanged in the chains of gold,
Such gold as there isn't much of any.
And on his grave these words will be wrote:
Here lies the heart of a lady .”

Martin Carthy sings Georgie

Once I had such a good little boy
A pretty boy quick as any
He would run five miles in one half an hour
A letter to pardon my Georgie

For what has Georgie done on Shooter's Hill
Was it stealing or murder of any
Oh he stole sixteen of the lord judge's deer
And we sold them down under the valley

Oh saddle em up cries my lily-white breast
Oh saddle me up cries my pony
With bright guns in his hand and a sword at his side
Would you spare me the life of my Georgie

And Georgie's fathered six babes loved
There's a seventh one into my body
But it's with it part with all I have got
If you'll spare me the life of my Georgie

And George shall be hanged in the frames of gold
For the frames of gold you won't find many
But it's with it part with all I have got
If you'll spare me the life of my Georgie

For what has Georgie done on Shooter's Hill
Was it stealing or murder of any
Oh he stole sixteen of the lord judge's deer
And we sold them down under the valley

Wish you was stalled all in the grove
All in the grove standing ready
With bright guns in your hand and a sword at your side
I'd fight you for the life of my Georgie

Once I had such a good little boy
A pretty boy quick as any
He would run five miles in one half an hour
A letter to pardon my Georgie

Acknowledgements and Links

Martin Carthy's version transcribed by Garry Gillard.

See also the Mudcat Café threads How many versions of Geordie and Lyr Req: Peter Bellamy's Georgie.