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> Eliza Carthy > Songs > The Nightingale

The Nightingale

[ Roud 1093 ; Laws M37 ; G/D 1:18 ; Henry H75a ; Ballad Index LM37 ; Bodleian Roud 1093 ; trad.]

Cyril Tawney sang The Nightingale in 1964 on the Topic anthology Farewell Nancy: Sea Songs and Shanties. and on the album's 1993 extended CD reissue called Blow the Man Down. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's liner notes:

The eighteenth century was a fat time for farmers and, it seems, a time when farm-workers pursued the daughters of rich men. At least, for a while, that was the dominant theme of broadside ballads. Stock reaction of wealthy parents was to have the young man pressed away to sea. Inevitably, he died in storm or battle and appeared as a ghost at his sweetheart's bedside. Among scores of ballads telling this story, The Nightingale was favourite. There's a description of Somerset glove-makers singing it at work, humming a phrase between each line of text to spin the song out.

The Clancy Brothers with Louis Killen in lead sang The Nightingale in 1972 on their album Save the Land.

Frankie Armstrong sang The Nightingale in 1973 on the Topic anthology The Valiant Sailor: Songs & Ballads of Nelson's Navy. This track was also included in 2000 on the Fellside CD reissue of her album Lovely on the Water. The liner notes commented:

Nightingale was a name frequently used for naval vessels. There was a ship of that name in 1783, which could be the one in this song. Our version is substantially from a Worcestershire woman, Mrs Webb (collected by Hammond in 1905). Storm and shipwreck were great killers of sailors. During the French wars, almost twice as many British seamen (12,680) died by foundering, wreck, accidental fire and explosion, as from enemy action (6,540).

Mark Dunlop sang The Nightingale in 2008 on his Greentrax CD Islands on the Moon.

Eliza Carthy sang The Nightingale in 2010 on her and Norma Waterson's Topic CD Gift. A live recording from the Union Chapel in November 2010 was released in the following year on the DVD and CD The Gift Band Live on Tour. Eliza commented in the original album's liner notes:

This is from two places. The source of the song is Cyril Tawney, one called Cyril Tawdry by a lady in Padstow who complained to my Mam that the town “had not been the same since it was invaded by Cyril Tawdry and all those hippies”… mother did keep a respectful if somewhat guilty silence at that point, having in face been one of those hippies. Sorry Padstow. Unless of course by “hippies” the lady meant Rick Stein and his mates.

The inspiration for the song was from our very good friend Hal Willner, who suggested that I sing it as part of the Rogues' Gallery series of concerts. More fun had been had at those things than should be allowed, and we are delighted to be a continuing part of them. Thank you Hal and everyone for good memories that have become very good stories.

Vic Shepherd and John Bowden sang The Nightingale in 2015 on their Hallamshire Traditions CD Still Waters. They noted:

Another song from the singing of Helen Schneyer [besides Roll the Woodpile Down]. The story of this song was a popular and common one in broadside ballads found in tradition in England, Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Canada. All describe how young men of low degree who pursued the daughters of rich men were conveniently pressed away to sea; usually, as in this version, the young man dies and appears as a ghost at his sweetheart's bedside.

Nick Dow sang The Nightingale on his 2018 album of unaccompanied traditional folk songs, Far and Wide. He noted:

From the singing of the late Frank Harte. To my knowledge there are no English versions of this song of a pressed man hoping to survive a foreign war. It may be found in the Sam Henry Collection and has been recently recorded by Mark Dunlop on his solo CD. There a some compelling images in the song.

Lyrics

Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson sing The Nightingale

Both young and old, I pray lend an ear
To a lovesick maiden in deep despair
Whose heart was young, but whose courage failed
When her true love sailed on the Nightingale

Her parents were of high degree,
Her true love not so rich as they.
So they sent a press gang which did not fail
To steal her true love for the Nightingale.

As she one night on her pillow lay
A form before her these words did say:
“Go tell your parents so they might quail
For the loss of your true love in the Nightingale.

“On the fourteenth day of December last,
The storms did blow a most fearful blast.
We lost our spars, likewise every sail.
What a dismal wreck was the Nightingale!”

As she awoke in a terrible fright,
It being the hour of twelve at night,
To see his form standing cold and pale,
Just as he was drowned on the Nightingale,

These words he spake in lamenting cries:
“In the Bay of Biscay my body lies
To become the prey of a shark and whale,
With my drowned shipmates on the Nightingale.”