> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Devil and the Ploughman
> Waterson:Carthy > Songs > The Devil and the Farmer

The Devil and the Ploughman / The Farmer's Curst Wife / Lily Bulero

[ Roud 160 ; Child 278 ; G/D 2:320 ; Ballad Index C278 ; Bodleian Roud 160 ; Wiltshire Roud 160 ; trad.]

This song was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1903 from Henry Burstow, Horsham, Sussex, and published by him and A.L. Lloyd in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. In 1960, A.L. Lloyd recorded it for the album A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs with concertina accompaniment by Alf Edwards. Like all tracks from this LP it was reissued in 2003 on the CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:

The tale of the shrewish wife who terrifies even the demons is ancient and widespread. The Hindus have it in a sixth century fable collection, the Panchatantra. It seems to have travelled westward by Persia, and to have spread to almost every European country. In early versions, the farmer makes a pact with the Devil and hands over his wife in return for a pair of plough oxen. Vaughan Williams got the present ballad from the Horsham shoemaker and bell-ringer, Henry Burstow. Mr Burstow whistled the refrains that in our performance are played by the concertina. Whistling was a familiar way of calling up the Devil (hence the sailors' dread that whistling may raise a storm).

Martin Carthy sang this song in 2002 as The Devil and the Farmer on Waterson:Carthy's fourth album, A Dark Light. He commented in the record's sleeve notes:

The Copper Family, Packie Manus Byrne, Séamus Ennis, Sam Larner, Almeda Riddle, Cecil Sharp and A.L. Lloyd, who, in this case, co-produced The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, were some of the people who had a profound effect on one or other of us at some stage in our musical lives, and, in part, this CD reflects that involvement. In the end all our choices wouldn't fit on to one balanced CD and there were glum faces at the end of the sessions. But, since everybody lost something, we ended up sort of happy.

For myself, there were two people in the late 1950s whose unforgettable wildly different performances—one at the Troubadour Folk Club in Earl's Court and the other at Ewan MacColl's Ballads and Blues Club in the upstairs room of a pub in the Edgware Road (the name of which I can't remember)—decided for me the musical direction which my life was going to take. That pub, close to the old Metropolitan Theatre, may lie buried along with that famous theatre under the flyover which leads on to the M40 westway, but the memory will never, ever fade. The people I'm talking about are Séamus Ennis, whose version of The Devil and the Farmer starts this CD off, and Sam Larner, whose mighty telling of the Henry Martin story in Lofty Tall Ship was probably the single moment that ensured—bewildered though I was by what I thought of at the time at its baffling tune—that this music would embed its hooks into me for life.

Brian Peters sang The Farmer's Curst Wife in 2008 on his album of Child ballads, Songs of Trial and Triumph.

Barry Dransfield sang a variant called Lily Bulero in 1994 on his CD Be Your Own Man. He commented in the liner notes:

I heard this from Joe Skeaping, a wonderful early music player, in a Mayfair restaurant in the seventies. The song has Celtic connections in the lyrics and is more usually heard from the Irish (The Devil and the Farmer's Wife). The tune is reckoned to have been William of Orange's marching tune as he came up from Cornwall.

Jon Boden sang Lillibulero as the May 19, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. This song will also appear in October 2012 on Bellowhead's forthcoming CD Broadside.

Compare to this the loosely related The Devil and the Feathery Wife sung my Martin Carthy on his album Out of the Cut. Both feature the farmer, his wife and the devil but the stories turn into quite different ways.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Devil and the Ploughman Waterson:Carthy sing The Devil and the Farmer

There was an old farmer in Sussex did dwell,
And he'd a bad wife as many knew well,
To me fal-de-ral little law-day.

Oh there was an old farmer in Sussex he dwelt,
He had an old wife he didn't love well,
With me whip fol day
Fol lickety dee folder ol dee.

The devil he come to the old man at plough,
Saying, “One of your family I must have now,”
To me fal-de-ral little law-day.

And the devil he came to the farmer at plough,
Say, “One of your family I got to have now,”
With me whip fol day
Fol lickety dee folder ol dee.

“Now it isn't for you nor yet for your son,
But that scolding old wife as you've got at home.”

“Oh see here, good farmer, I've come for your wife,
Ay, she's the bane and torment to your life.”

“Oh take her, oh take her with all of me heart,
And I wish she and you never more part.”

“Oh take her, oh take her with all of my heart,
I hope that you and she never shall part.”

So the devil he took the old wife on his back,
And lugged her along like a pedlar's pack.

So the devil he hoisted her up on his back,
Down to Hell he has gone with a crack.

He trudged along till he reached his front gate,
Says, “Here, take in an old Sussex chap's mate.”

 

There was thirteen imps all dancing in chains,
She up with her pattens and beat our their brains.

There were two little devils a-playing with chains,
She upped with her foot, she clattered their brains.

Well, two more little devils jumped over the wall,
Saying, “Turn her out, father, she'll murder us all.”

There were two little devils a-playing the ball,
“Oh take her away, father, she'll murder us all.”

So he bundled her up on his back again,
And to her old husband he took her again.

So the devil he hoisted her back on his back,
Down to the farmer he's come with a crack.

 

There were nine years going and one coming back,
Down to the farmer he's come with a crack.

“Well, I've been a tormentor the whole of me life,
But I was never tormented till I met your wife.”

“Oh I've been a tormentor for most of my life,
But I never knew how till I met with your wife.”

And now to conclude and make an end,
You see that the women is worse than the men:
If they get sent to hell, they get kicked back again,
To me fal-de-ral little law-day.

This shows up that women do better than men,
They go to hell and get sent back again.

Barry Dransfield sings Lily Bulero  

There was an old Farmer in Sussex did dwell
  Lily Bulero bullen a lar
He had an old wife and she gave him hell
  Lily Bulero bullen a lar

Chorus (after each verse):
Lero, lero, Lily Bulero, lero, lero bullen a lar
Lero, lero, Lily Bulero, lero, lero bullen a lar

So the devil he came to him at the plough,
“I want your wife and I want her now.”

The devil he hoisted her upon on his hump
And down to hell with her did he jump.

Two little devils were playin' with chains;
She took up a stick and she knocked out their brains.

Two more devils looked over the wall,
They said, “Take her back or she'll murder us all.”

So the devil he put her back on his hump
And back to earth with her did he jump.

“Now I've been a devil the whole of my life
But I never know hell 'til I met your wife.”

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: The Devil and the Ploughman. The Wikipedia article Lillibullero has more information on William of Orange's marching tune and has completely different lyrics.