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> Martin Carthy > Songs > Banks of Green Willow
> Tony Rose > Songs > The Banks of Green Willow

Bonnie Annie / The Banks of Green Willow / The Green Banks of Yarrow

[ Roud 172 ; Child 24 ; G/D 6:1225 ; Ballad Index C024 ; Wiltshire Roud 172 ; trad.]

The Banks of Green Willow is a song printed in Ralph Vaughan Williams' and A.L. Lloyd's The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. It is related to Child 24: Bonnie Annie. A.L. Lloyd sang it in 1956 on the Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume IV and it was reissued in 2011 on his Fellside CD Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun.

Mrs Maguire of Belfast sang this song as The Green Banks of Yarrow in a Peter Kennedy recording on the anthology Sailormen and Servingmaids (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 6; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Ewan MacColl sang the Scottish version Bonnie Annie in 1962 on his and Peggy Seeger's Folkways album Popular Scottish Songs.

Fred Jordan sang The Watery Grave on his 1966 Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker. Mike Yates commented in the sleeve notes:

During the first half of the nineteenth century there was a strong vogue, among stage comedians, for the burlesque of romantic folk ballads. Lord Lovel and William and Dinah (‘Villikins’) were two such. Also, a mildly comic version of The Banks of Sweet Willow was popularised in the 1850's by the entertainer Sam Cowell. As The Watery Grave, the burlesque has survived better than its handsome original which scholars identify as Child No. 24.

Nic Jones recorded The Banks of Green Willow in 1971 for his eponymous album Nic Jones. He commented in his sleeve notes:

I have known this song for some years but have never sung it as none of the many tunes had particularly appealed. Whilst looking at it again in The Folk Song Journals, I began singing it to the present tune, which appears to be a mixture of various phrases that were already in my head.

Martin Carthy sang Banks of Green Willow on his 1972 album, Shearwater. He recorded it again with Jez Lowe for the Fellside anthology A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. An alternate take of this with some more musicians, but with Paul Adams singing instead of Martin Carthy, is on Flash Company. Martin Carthy commented in his original album's sleeve notes:

It's probably due to Vaughan Williams' decision to follow Percy Grainger in using recording techniques to gather songs, that this particular version of The Banks of Green Willow was rescued. He recorded it from an old man in Hampshire and subsequently had great difficulty in transcribing it, so what he wrote is probably only the merest sketch of the tune.

In the early sailing days, a ship which was becalmed was a ship which was bewitched, and the only way out was a sacrifice. A wrongdoer or a woman on board could jeopardise the safety of everyone on board, so if trouble came, the Jonah could expect no mercy and lots were cast to find him out. Once the demon had been exorcised, the ship could continue.

And the A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs sleeve notes said:

From Emma Overd, Langport, Somerset; noted in 1904 by Cecil Sharp. Sharp reported the song “very generally sung throughout Somerset.” Ralph Vaughan Williams noted a Hampshire version.

There is a common superstition, older than Jonah, that the presence of a wrong doer aboard ship may make the vessel unmanageable. Disaster may result unless the wrong doer is thrown overboard. In many versions the story seems to have become disordered and the meaning rather obscured. The text gives the brief outline of the plot; the woman robs her parents at her lover's request and then sails away with him. Whilst at sea her baby is born. The sailors fear that someone is flying from retribution. In this version the woman is thrown overboard.

Tony Rose recorded this song in 1976 as title track of his LP On Banks of Green Willow. As this album is no longer available, he re-recorded it in 1999 for his CD Bare Bones. He commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

It was a common superstition, possibly originating with the story of Jonah, that the presence of an evil-doer on board a ship might imperil both vessel and crew, unless the guilty party were sought out and thrown overboard. Such is the theme running through The Banks of Green Willow and Sir William Gower, both of which were collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset.

Dick Gaughan sang Banks of Green Willow in 1977 on his Trailer album Kist o' Gold.

Alison McMorland and Peta Webb sang The Green Banks of Yarrow in 1980 on their eponymous Topic duo album Alison McMorland & Peta Webb. This track was also included in 2009 on Topic's anniversary anthology Three Score and Ten.

Steve Turner sang Bonnie Annie in 1982 on his Fellside album Jigging One Now.

Patti Reid sang Bonnie Annie in 1987 on her eponymous Fellside album Patti Reid. This track was also included in 1999 on the Fellside anthology Rolling Down to Old Maui.

Frankie Armstrong sang Banks of Green Willow live in Sweden in May 1978, which was published in 1980 on her album And the Music Plays So Grand, and in 1992 on the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Paul Adams commented in the latter album's notes:

This song has been floating around in Frankie's repertoire for so long that she cannot remember where she learnt it. The theme of a wrong-doer on board a ship being discovered and thrown overboard is reputedly older than Jonah. There are many texts for the song but most seem a little confused and tend to obscure the superstition element. The song is obviously related to Bonnie Annie (Child 24) where the whole thing becomes a little clearer.

Bob Davenport sang The Green Banks of Yarrow with the Rakes in 1997 on their Fellside CD The Red Haired Lad.

Jackie Oates learned The Banks of Green Willow from Tony Rose's album and recorded it in 2006 for her eponymous first album, Jackie Oates.

John Spiers & Jon Boden played Banks of Green Willow on their 2001 CD, Through & Through, and Jon Boden sang in as the July 10, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in the CD sleeve notes:

A version of this nightmarish ballad put together by Martin Carthy using a tune sung by Mr David Clements in 1909 (see A Century of Song, EFDSS) and various texts from Child. This was the first ballad I ever learnt and I didn't get the melody quite right at the time—a mistake which stuck.

Bram Taylor sang Banks of Green Willow in 2004 on his Fellside album The Night Is Young.

Coope Boyes & Simpson recorded Banks of Green Willow in 2005 for their album Triple Echo: Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth and Percy Grainger.

Brian Peters sang The Banks of Green Willow in 2008 on his album of Child ballads, Songs of Trial and Triumph. He commented in his sleeve notes:

This is generally considered a ‘Jonah Ballad’, dealing with the old maritime superstition that certain types of undesirable passenger would bring ill-luck to a voyage and should be jettisoned without delay. Disturbingly, the main offenders were believed to be either serial killers (Sir William Gower) or pregnant women, like the victim here. English versions of the ballad, known in Scotland as Bonnie Annie, miss some of the details, blurring the storyline in a rather intriguing way. Sisters Louie Hooper and Luca White, from Hambridge in Somerset, had learned hundreds of songs from their mother, and were amongst Cecil Sharp's most significant informants in the 1900s. I pulled their tune around quite a bit and brought in verses from other collections to construct my own version.

Rod Stradling sang The Banks of Green Willow at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2008. This was published a year later on the festival CD Grand to Be a Working Man (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 5).

Paul Davenport sang All on a Falling Tide in 2011 on his and Liz Davenport's Hallamshire Traditions CD Spring Tide Rising. They commented in their liner notes:

Bonnie Annie is a tale of elopement and the rigours of childbirth. This version has a shanty-like feel to it and is a little reminiscent of Lowlands. Along the East coast of Yorkshire sickness takes an additional strength when the tide begins to fall and it is believed that death will come quicker as the tide goes out. There has been nothing published in the ‘Lancet’ to support this belief. This version is a construction from a number of sources and the tune is a part remembered version from childhood.

Rachel Newton and Kris Drever sang Green Willow in 2012 on her CD The Shadow Side. Their version is from Cecil Sharp's Folk Songs from Somerset (1904).

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

This narrative is also known as The High (Green) Banks of Yarrow. I have listened to and admired Aretha's singing and playing since I was young and somehow this just crept into the arrangement.

Shirley Collins sang The Banks of Green Willow on her 2016 album Lodestar. She commented in her album notes:

This version is based on the song that George Butterworth collected from Mrs Cranstone of Billingshurst in 1907 on one of his folk song hunting expeditions in Sussex. It later inspired his idyll The Banks of Green Willow, one of the best-loved English orchestral pieces. There was a strongly held belief that it was unlucky to have women on board ship. In this song the girl pays with her and her baby's life for following her bold sea-captain to sea. Unlucky for the woman rather than the sailors, I'd say.

Lyrics

Nic Jones sings The Banks of Green Willow Tony Rose sings The Banks of Green Willow

O it's of a sea-captain
Down by the sea-side o,
And he's courted a young lady
And he's got her by child.

O it's of a sea-captain
Down by the banks of willow,
He's courted a pretty girl
Till she proved with child o.

She cried, “What shall I do my love?
What will become of me?
My mother and father,
They both will disown me.”

“Go and fetch your father's gold
And some of your mother's money,
And go all across the ocean,
All along with young Johnny.”

“Go fetch me some of your father's gold
And some of your mother's money,
And you shall sail the ocean
along with young Johnny.”

“Now I've got me father's gold
And some of me mother's money,
And I'll go all across the ocean,
All along with young Johnny.”

So she's fetched him some of her father's gold
And some of her mother's money,
And she has gone aboard a ship
Along with young Johnny.

Now they hadn't been a-sailing,
No miles not a great many
Before she was delivered
Of a beautiful baby.

Well they had not been sailing
Scarce six weeks nor so many
Before she was delivered
Of a beautiful baby.

“Sea captain, sea captain,
Here's fifty pounds for thee
To see me safe home again,
Me and my baby.”

“Oh no,” said the captain,
“Such things they never can be.
'Tis better to lose two lives
Than 'tis to lose many.”

“Go and fetch a white napkin
For to tie me head easy,
And throw me quite overboard,
Both me and my baby.”

“Then tie the napkin round my head,
Come tie it soft and easy,
And throw me right overboard,
Me and my baby.”

So they tied the napkin round her head,
They've tied it soft and easy.
They've thrown her right overboard,
She and her baby.

Now see how she totters,
See how she tumbles,
And see how she's rolling
All upon the salt water.

Don't you see how she swims, my lad,
Don't you see how her body quivers?
She'll swim till she comes to
The banks of green willow.

Go fetch me a longboat
For to row me lover back again,
For to row me lover back again,
Both for her and her baby.

For she shall have a coffin,
And the coffin it shall shine yellow,
And she shall be buried
On the banks of green willow.

And my love shall have a coffin made
Of a gold that shines yellow,
And she shall be buried
On the banks of green willow.

Martin Carthy sings on Shearwater … and on Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

It's of a sea captain
Who lived down by the seaside, oh,
And he's courted with a fair maid,
And he's got her with child.

Go and get your father's goodwill,
And get some of your mother's money,
And we'll sail right o'er the ocean
Along with young Johnny.

Go and get your father's goodwill,
And get your mother's money,
Sail right o'er the ocean
All along with young Johnny.

Oh she's got her father's goodwill,
And she's ta'en some of her mother's money,
And she's sailed right o'er the ocean
Along with young Johnny.

Now they had not been a-sailing
But six weeks or better,
Before she needed women
And she could not get any.

She had not been a-sailing
It wasn't many days, oh,
Before she needed women's help
And she could not get any.

Oh hold your tongue you silly girl
Oh hold your tongue my honey
For we cannot get women
For love nor for money.

Now they had not been a sailing
But seven weeks or better,
With our sails high and the sea smooth,
But miles we made not any.

Oh there's fay folk in our gallant ship,
The captain he cried so boldly,
Oh there's fay folk in our gallant ship,
She will not sail for me.

So they've cast the black bullets,
And they've cursed twice six and forty,
And it's oh the black bullet
Fell on his dearest honey.

Oh, fetch me a silk napkin
And tie her head up easy,
And I'll throw her overboard,
Both she and her baby.

Oh he's tied a napkin all round her head
And he's tied it round so softly,
And he's thrown her right over,
Both she and her baby.

Oh they fetched him a silk napkin
And he tied her head up easy,
And overboard he threw his love,
Both she and her baby.

And it's seeing how she doth swim my boys,
And it's seeing how she doth swagger,
She will never leave off swimming
Till she come to some cover.

Oh, see how my love tumble,
See how my love do waver,
See how she try to swim,
That makes my heart quaver.

Oh she shall have a coffin
And the nails shall shine yellow
And me love she shall be buried
On the banks of green willow

Oh, make my love a coffin
Of the gold that shines yellow,
And she shall be buried
On the banks of green willow

Rachel Newton and Kris Drever sing The Banks of Green Willow

“Go home and get your father's gold,
Some of your mother's money.
And you shall go on board with me
For to be my dear honey, for to be my dear honey.”

They had not sailed many miles
Not many miles, nor scarcely,
Before he was troubled
With her and her baby, with her and her baby.

For the ship was pixy-held
And lots were cast for the cause on't;
But every time the lot fell out
On her and her baby, on her and her baby.

He tied a napkin round her head
And he tied it to the baby;
And then he threw them overboard,
Both her and her baby, both her and her baby.

“See how my love she'll try to swim,
See how my love she'll follow;
See how my love she'll try to swim,
To the banks of green willow, to the banks of green willow.

“I'll build a coffin for my love,
And I'll edge it all with yellow,
And then she shall be buried
On the banks of green willow, on the banks of green willow.”

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's Shearwater version transcribed by Garry Gillard. The other words are from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, eds Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959. Martin Carthy's variations transcribed by Reinhard Zierke.