> Martin Carthy > Songs > Sovay
> Dave Swarbrick > Songs > Sovay
> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Sovay, the Female Highwayman
> Anne Briggs > Songs > Sovay

Sovay / Cecilia / The Female Highwayman

[ Roud 7 ; Laws N21 ; Henry H35 ; Ballad Index LN21 ; VWML CJS2/10/2685 ; Bodleian Roud 7 ; Wiltshire 561 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang Sovay in 1965 on his first album Martin Carthy. A slightly different version is on the 1983 LP Brass Monkey, re-released in 1993 both on the CD The Complete Brass Monkey. and on Rigs of the Time: The Best of Martin Carthy and in 2003 on the Martin Carthy anthology The Definitive Collection. A live recording with Dave Swarbrick at the Folkus Folk Club in 1966 is available on Both Ears and the Tail, another one—recorded at Focal Point, St. Louis, Missouri in 1990—is on their album Life and Limb.

Martin Carthy commented in his original recording's sleeve notes:

Sovay Sovay was a great favourite among country singers and was printed by Such, among others, under its alternative title of The Female Highwayman. Her name varies from place to place—Sovay, Silvy, Shilo, Sally, etc. —but the story remains the same being a rather involved and slightly chancy way of establishing her lover's good faith. The tune sung here was collected by Hammond in Dorset and slightly altered rhythmically by Bert Lloyd giving it a somewhat Balkan lift. The text is collated from various versions.

This video shows Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick on the Australian TV programme “Tonight Live” on January 22, 1990:

A.L. Lloyd sings a very similar version (same tune, slightly different words) of Sovay, the Fenale Highwayman on First Person. This was re-released, for example, on the CD reissue of Bold Sportsmen All and on Classic A.L. Lloyd. These are his sleeve notes:

Another girl who dressed in men's clothes, high-spirited this time to a dangerous degree. The heroine of this piece has been called “the kinkiest girl in folk song”. It's not quite clear whether her name is really Sylvie or Sophie, but of her forthright and adventurous character there can be no doubt. Lucy Broadwood found this “an exceedingly favourite ballad with country singers”, and every collector of prominence has found versions of it. The good Dorian tune here is akin to the one Sharp published to the words of The Flash Lad (he called it The Robber) in his Somerset series, Vol. V, and is substantially the same as H.E.D. Hammond's Sovie tune from Long Burton, Dorset. In a couple of places I've added a pinch of spice to the rhythm which seems to me to suit the character of both the song and its heroine.

Pentangle sang Sovay in 1968 on their second Transatlantic album, Sweet Child.

Anne Briggs recorded Sovay in 1973 but the ensuing album was shelved, only to be released in 1996 as Sing a Song for You. She commented:

Other people have minutely psychoanalysed this song, so I won't! Just to say it's an amusing exchange of gender roles—“it made him blush like a rose” when he realised that he'd been had. But “she'd have pulled the trigger and shot him dead” if he'd blown it. Strong stuff.

Benji Kirkpatrick sang Sovay in 2005 on the anthology Song Links 2: A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and Their American Variants, and Jeff Davis sang the related American variant Pretty Sylvia.

The Witches of Elswick sang Sovai in 2003 on their first CD Out of Bed. They commented in the liner notes:

Becky and Fay have sung this for years, albeit a couple of hundred miles apart, and forced Bry and Gillian to sing it at gun point in true highway woman style. They got it right in the end.

Rubus sang this song as Cecilia in 2008 on their CD Nine Witch Knots. Emily Portman commented in their liner notes:

Cecilia, disguised as a highwayman, holds up and threatens to shoot her boyfriend as a test of his loyalty. Some may see this song as celebrating a feisty feminist before her time; but it could also be seen to tread a fine line between militancy and madness. This version comes from the singing of Mabs Hall of Sussex (Ripest Apples, Veteran VT107) who leaves us to make our own minds up about the lovers' fate.

The Outside Track sang Silvy Silvy, “from Helen Creighton's collection of songs from New Brunswick”, in 2010 on their CD Curious Things Given Wings.

Andy Turner sang Sovay as the April 21, 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week, and returned to it in 2017 on Magpie Lane's CD Three Quarter Time. They commented in their liner notes:

Sovay was collected in 1911 from William Pratley of Ascott-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire, by Cecil Sharp. [VWML CJS2/10/2685] . Mr Pratley was also a Morris dancer, and was one of Sharp’s sources when collecting the Ascott-under-Wychwood Morris dances. Our arrangement starts with a processional Morris dance from Wheatley in Oxfordshire called, reasonably enough, The Wheatley Processional.

Steve Roud included The Female Highwayman in 2012 in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Lucy Ward, James Findlay, Bella Hardy and Brian Peters sang it a year later on the accompanying Fellside CD The Liberty to Choose: A Selection of Songs from The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

See also The Male Female Highwayman on the Kipper Family's 1984 album Since Time Immoral.

Laura Smyth sang Cecilia on her and Ted Kemp's 2017 CD The Poacher's Fate. They noted:

Tales of women cross-dressing occur frequently in traditional folk song. By adopting men's clothing the woman is liberated, becoming an active character in the story. In Cecilia the woman tests the loyalty of her sweetheart. Laura learned this song from the fantastic larger-than-life Sussex singer and gin drinker, Gordon Hall. Whilst not using the same vocal mannerisms, Laura hopes that she has captured some of the spirit of Gordon's performances.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Sovay

Sovay, Sovay all on a day,
She dressed herself in man's array
With a sword and pistol all by her side
To meet her true love, to meet her true love, away did ride.

As she was riding over the plain
She met her true love and bid him stand:
“Your gold and silver, kind Sir,” she said,
“Or else this moment, or else this moment, your life I'll have.”

And when she'd robbed him of his store
She said, “Kind Sir, there is one thing more:
A golden ring which I know you have,
Deliver it, deliver it, your sweet life to save.”

“Oh that golden ring a token is;
My life I'll lose, the ring I'll save.”
Being tender-hearted just like a dove,
She rode away, she rode away, from her true love.

Now next morning in the garden green
Just like true lovers* they were seen;
He spied his watch hanging by her clothes
Which made him blush, made him blush, like any rose.

“Oh what makes you blush at so silly a thing,
I thought to have had your golden ring;
'Twas I that robbed you all on the plain,
So here's your watch, here's your watch and your gold again.”

“Oh I did intend and it was to know
If that you were me true love or no.
So now I have a contented mind
My heart and all my heart and all my dear is thine.”

*MC pronounces it loviers or lovyers.

Brass Monkey' sing Sovay

Sovay, Sovay all on a day
She dressed herself in man's array
With a sword and a pistol all by her side
To meet her true love, to meet her true love, away did ride.

And as she was a-riding over the plain
She met her true love and bid him stand;
“Your gold and silver, kind Sir,” she said,
“Or else this moment, or else this moment, your life I'll have.”

And when she'd robbed him of his store
She says, “Kind sir, there is one thing more:
A golden ring which I know you have,
Deliver it, deliver it, your sweet life to save.”

“Oh that golden ring a token is:
My life I'll lose, the ring I'll save.”
Being tender-hearted just like a dove,
She rode away, she rode away, from her true love.

Oh next morning in the garden green
Just like true lovers they were seen;
Oh he spied his watch hanging by her clothes
And it made him blush, made him blush like any rose.

“Oh what makes you blush at so silly a thing,
I thought to have had your golden ring:
It was I that robbed you all on the plain,
So here's your watch, here's your watch and your gold again.”

“I did intend and it was to know
If that you were me true love or no.
For if you'd have give me that ring,“ she said,
“I'd have pulled the trigger, I'd have pulled the trigger, and shot you dead.”

A.L. Lloyd sings Sovay, the Female Highwayman

Sovay Sovay all on a day
She dressed herself in man's array
With a brace of pistols all at her side
To meet her true love, to meet her true love, away she ride.

As she was galloping on the plain
She met her sweetheart and bid him stand:
“Stand and deliver, young man,” she said,
“If and you do not, if and you do not, I'll shoot you dead.”*

He delivered up his golden store
And still she craved for one thing more:
“That diamond ring that I see you wear,
Oh hand it over, oh hand it over, and your life I'll spare.”

“From me diamond ring I wouldn't part,
For it's a token from me sweetheart.
Shoot and be damned, you rogue,” said he,
“And you'll be hanged, and you'll be hanged for murdering me.”
She being soft-hearted much like a dove
She turned her horse and she rode away from her true love.

Next morning in the garden green
Young Sophie and her love were seen;
He spied his watch hanging by her clothes
Which made him blush, lads, which made him blush like any rose.

“Why do you blush you foolish thing,
I thought to have that diamond ring.
Twas I who robbed you all on the plain
And here's your gold, love, and here's your gold and your watch and chain.”

“I only did it for to know
Whether you were a man or no;
If you had given me that ring,”she said,
“I'd have pulled the trigger, I'd pulled the trigger and shot you dead.”

* Malcolm Douglas hears this as “if'n”, but I think of the “an” as the archaic word also meaning “if”.

The Witches of Elswick sing Sovai

Sovay Sovay all on a day
She dressed herself in man's array
With sword and pistols down by her side
To meet her true love, to meet her true love, away did ride.

She met her true love all on the plain
She stepped up to him and bade him stand:
“Stand and deliver unto me
“Or else this moment, or else this moment I'll shoot you dead.”

He gave her all his golden store
But still she said, “There is one thing more:
A diamond ring, sir, I've seen you wear;
Make haste and give it, make haste and give it, your life I'll spare.”

“This diamond ring is a pledge of love;
My life I'll lose before the ring I'll give.”
Being tender-hearted just like a dove,
She turned around, she turned around and left her love.

One day after these two were seen
Walking together in the garden green,
He spied his watch hanging by her clothes
Which made him blush, made him blush like any rose.

“What makes you blush so silly a thing,
I fain would have had your diamond ring.
It was I who robbed you down on the plain
So here's your watch, love, here's your watch and your gold again.”

“I did it just for to know
If that you were a true love or no;
But if you'd have given me that ring,”she said,
“I'd have pulled the trigger, I'd have pulled the trigger and shot you dead.”

Laura Smyth sings Cecilia

Cecilia on one certain day,
She dressed herself in man's array,
With a brace of pistols all by her side
To meet her true love, to meet her true love,
To meet her true love away did ride.

She met him boldly on the plain,
“Stand and deliver,” she said, “young man,
Stand and deliver, young man,” she said,
“Or else this moment, or else this moment,
Or else this moment your life I'll lay.”

She robbed him of his watch and gold,
Gave him the empty purse to hold.
Saying, “There's one thing more on your finger now:
Deliver it to me, deliver it to me,
Deliver it your life to spare.”

“This diamond ring a token was,
Before I'd lose it I'd lose my life.”
She being tender hearted, more like a dove,
She rode away, she rode away,
She rode away from her own true love.

Now early next morning plain to be seen
This couple walked on the garden green,
When he saw his watch hanging by her clothes
Which made him blush, which made him blush,
Which made him blush like the damask rose.

“How can you blush at such a thing,
More if I'd had your diamond ring.
For it was I who robbed you upon the plain,
So take your gold, love, so take your gold, love,
So take your gold, love, and watch again.”

“Why did you enter such a foolish plot?
Suppose your pistols you would have shot,
And if you had killed me out on the plain,
Forever after, forever after,
Forever after you'd be brought to shame.”

“I did intend and 'twas to know
Whether your love it was true or no.
But now I have a contented mind,
My love and all, my love and all,
My love and all, dear, they are thine.”

So this couple married were
And they do live a most happy pair.
For the bells do ring and the music play
And they have pleasure, and they have pleasure,
And they have pleasure both night and day.