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The Lover's Ghost

[ Roud 179 ; Child 248 ; Ballad Index C248 ; trad.]

The Lover's Ghost is a variant of the night-visiting ballad The Grey Cock. A.L. Lloyd sang it unaccompanied on his 1966 album First Person, and this version was reissued in 1994 on his compilation CD Classic A.L. Lloyd. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

One of the most persistent of the great ballads is the piece often called The Grey Cock, although, curiously enough Francis J. Child, in his enormous collection, never found a full set of it. Several good versions have turned up since Child's time—the best one was recorded in Birmingham in 1951—in the old form as the tale of the ghostly lover returning to stay with his sweetheart till cock-crow, or in the modern form of a single night-visit, as in the well-known I'm a Rover and Seldom Sober. The suggestion of the bird with its golden beak and silver wings that decorates the best versions of the ballad is a borrowing (via Ireland?) of an oriental motif of the jewelled bird of Paradise who crows on the frontier of the other world. The same creature is described in some detail in Rimsky Korsakov's Chanson Hindoue. Our version, more formally lyrical than usual, and presenting the woman as the ghostly revenant, is one that the great Irish collector Patrick W. Joyce learnt as boy in the 1830's in his native village of Glenosheen, Co. Limerick.

Lloyd recorded the song a second time in the same year for his record The Best of A.L. Lloyd. This album's sleeve notes commented:

The situation in which two lovers are disturbed by the over-early crowing of the cock is one that fascinates folk singers. Many lyrical songs treat of it, and a whole group of ballads which scholars usually classify under the title of: The Grey Cock. The notion of a bird having silver wings and a golden comb recalls the jewelled birds of Oriental mythology. Indeed, the Indian tàble of Rati and Kamadiva is closely related to the ballad-narrative. Our version, which seems to be halfway between ballad and lyrical song, is one remembered from his boyhood by P.W. Joyce, and published in his Old Irish Folk Music and Songs [1909].

A.L. Lloyd sang The Lover's Ghost live at the Top Lock Folk Club, Runcorn, Borough of Halton, on November 5, 1972. A recording of this concert was released in 2010 on the Fellside CD An Evening with A.L. Lloyd.

Vin Garbutt sang The Lover's Ghost on his 1975 live album on the Trailer label, The Young Tin Whistle Pest.

Frankie Armstrong sang The Lover's Ghost in 1996 on her ballad album Till the Grass O'ergrew the Corn. The sleeve notes commented:

A glorious tune and a stately text, this song recounts the ultimate nightmare for any lover and does so with a kind of unflinching tenderness. Frankie first heard it sung many years ago by Bert Lloyd, on of her most important influences. The version is that learned by P.W. Joyce as a child in Glenosheen, County Limerick and published in his Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909). The ballad is close to many non-ghostly night visiting songs, such as Here's a Health to all True Lovers, The Light of the Moon and the admirable, but sorely mistreated I'm a Rover.

Alison McMorland & Kirsty Potts sang The Lover's Ghost at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2004. This recording was published a year later on the festival anthology Here's a Health to the Company (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 1). The liner notes commented:

A rather beautiful version of a ballad better known as The Grey Cock (Child 248) and in related forms as the Night Visiting Song. The ballad was first published in Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (1787), but Alison and Kirsty’s derives from versions collected by Maud Karpeles in Newfoundland in 1929 and published in her Folk Songs from Newfoundland (1971) (Bronson 248.5).

Alasdair Roberts and Emily Portman sang The Lover's Ghost in 2010 on his CD Too Long in This Condition. He commented in his liner notes:

This is a revenant ballad from Newfoundland. It was collected by Maud Karpeles in 1929 and published in her Folk Songs from Newfoundland (1971). This version is from the singing of Alison McMorland and Kirsty Potts, recorded at the Fife Traditional Singing Weekend, May 2004. In Volume 2 of Tim Neat's recently published Hamish Henderson: A Biography, Alison recalls being given, by Henderson, a recording of the song as sung by an unknown singer from Salford, near Manchester, England.

Fay Hield learned The Lover's Ghost from the singing of A.L. Lloyd and sang it in 2012 on her CD with the Hurricane Party, Orfeo. Apparently of a ghoulish nature, she is “particularly attached to the lyric ‘and the worms and creeping things…’ ” This video shows the Fay Hield Trio performing The Lover's Ghost at Cecil Sharp House on June 23, 2011:

Tony Rose varies the song's theme in his The Yarmouth Tragedy on his 1982 album Poor Fellows.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Lover's Ghost

“You're welcome home again,” said the young man to his love,
“I've been waiting for you many a night and day.
You're tired and you're pale,” said the young man to his dear,
“You shall never again go away.”

“I must go away,” she said, “when the little cock do crow
For here they will not let me stay.
Oh but if I had my wish, oh my dearest dear,” she said,
“This night should be never, never day.”

“Oh pretty little cock, oh you handsome little cock,
I pray you do not crow before day.
And your wings shall be made of the very beaten gold
And your beak of the silver so grey.“

But oh this little cock, this handsome little cock,
It crew out a full hour too soon.
“It's time I should depart, oh my dearest dear,“ she said,
“For it's now the going down of the moon.“

“And where is your bed, my dearest love,“ he said,
“And where are your white Holland sheets?
And where are the maids, oh my darling dear,” he said,
“That wait upon you whilst you are asleep?”

“The clay it is my bed, my dearest dear,” she said,
“The shroud is my white Holland sheet.
And the worms and creeping things are my servants, dear,” she said,
“That wait upon me whilst I am asleep.”

Fay Hield sings The Lover's Ghost

“You're welcome home, my dear,” said the young man to his love,
“I've been waiting for you many's the night and day.
You're tired and you're pale, my dearest dear,” he said,
“You shall never more be going so far away.”

“I must go away, my dear, when the little cock do crow
For here they'll not let me stay.
Oh but if I had my wish, my darling dear,” she said,
“This night should be never, never day.”

It's, “Oh my little cock, oh my handsome little cock,
I pray you do not crow before the day.
Your wings shall be made of the very beaten gold
And your comb of a silver shining grey.“

But oh this little cock, this handsome little cock,
He crew out a full hour too soon.
“It's time for me to part, oh my dearest dear,“ she said,
“For now it is the going of the moon.“

It's, “Where is your bed, my darling dear,“ he said,
“And where are your white Holland sheets?
And where are the maidens, my darling dear,” he said,
“That will wait upon you while you are asleep?”

“Oh, the clay it is my bed, my dearest dear,” she said,
“This shroud is my white Holland sheet.
And the worms and creeping things are my servants, dear,” she said,
“That will wait upon me while I am asleep.”

Alasdair Roberts and Emily Portman sing The Lover's Ghost

Johnny he promised to marry me,
But I fear he's with some fair one gone.
There's something bewails him and I don't know what it is,
And I'm weary of lying alone.

Johnny come here at the appointed hour,
And he's knocked on her window so low.
This fair maid arose and she's hurried on her clothes
And she's welcomed her true lover home.

She took him by the hand and she laid him down,
She felt he was cold as the clay.
“My dearest dear, if I only had one wish
This long night would never turn to day.

“Crow up, crow up you little bird
And don't you crow before the break of day,
And you'll keep shielding made of the glittering gold
And that doors of the silvery gray.”

“And where is your soft bed of down, my love?
And where is your white Holland sheet?
And where is the fair girl who watches over you
As you taking your long, sightless sleep?”

“The sand is my soft bed of down, my love,
The sea is my white Holland sheet.
And the long, hungry worms will feed off of me
As I lie every night in the deep.“

“Oh, when will I see you again, my love?”
“Oh, when will I see you again?”
“When the little fishes fly and the seas they do run dry
And the hard rocks they melt in the sun.”