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The Barbados Lady


Martin Carthy sang The Barbados Lady in 2009 on Brass Monkey’s sixth album, Head of Steam. He commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

Cecil Sharp called this song Nancy of Yarmouth, thereby guaranteeing that it would be confused with the other and quite different sea song of the same name. His “Nancy” is, among other things, a ghost story and it is that on which I have focused. In the full story events seem to tumble out in a quite arbitrary fashion lending to the narrative a quite astonishing complexity overall. I’ve concentrated on the middle of the story with its ghostly element adding to those of love, jealousy, yearning and loss. This mixes versions with Sharp had from William Hedges of Chipping Camden and the Bridgwater singer Jack Barnard: throw into the mix the version which he found during his Appalachian sojourn in 1916 and sung by Mrs Mary Sands of Allanstand, North Carolina (whence the Barbados Lady), and there you are. Mrs Sands’ melody is the kind for which I am a complete sucker and that’s what is sung here.


A Barbados lady, a Barbados lady,
A Barbados lady of the fortunes so great,
She fell in love with a brave English soldier, saying,
“Oh if I can’t have Jimmy I’ll die for his sake.”

A Barbados lady, a Barbados lady,
A Barbados lady young Jimmy denied, saying,
“Back in old England my sweetheart is waiting
And when I will turn up I’ll make her my bride.”

She dressed herself in a gorgeous apparel
And in costly diamonds she braided her hair.
With a hundred of servants to wait all upon her
And with her hair made and she went to him there.

Says, “If you could fancy a Barbados lady,
A Barbados lady and a fortune so great,
Then you would have servants to wait all upon you
And you’d have sweet music to rock you to sleep.”

A Barbados lady, a Barbados lady,
A Barbados lady then did deny,
“For back in old England my sweetheart is waiting
And when I get home I’ll make her my bride.”

He sailed away from the Barbados lady
But she wrote a letter to the bosun her friend,
Says, “A handsome reward I freely will give
If the life of young Jimmy you bring to an end.”

And as they were a-sailing all over the ocean,
Homeward they were bound on board of the ship,
For the sake of her money, her wit and her beauty
He tumbled young Jimmy straight into the deep.

In the dead of the night Nancy was sleeping
When her drowned love to her window appeared,
Saying, “Arise, arise oh my love, oh my Nancy,
Remember the vow you made to your dear.”

“It’s the dead of the night, the moon shine bright,
Oh surely that be the voice of my dear.”
She raised her head from her downy soft pillow
As paler than death he seemed to appear.

“Oh I am the lad that you did admire,
My body lies low in the watery deep.
Come down to the seashore, there I’ll be waiting
And there you and I can take all our sleep.”