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Claudy Banks / Banks of Claudy

[ Roud 266 ; Laws N40 ; G/D 5:1036 ; Ballad Index LN40 ; trad.]

Claudy Banks is one of the best-known songs from the repertoire of the Copper Family. They sang it in a recording made by Peter Kennedy at Cecil Sharp House that was published in 1960 on the HMV LP A Pinch of Salt. Later they recorded of for their albums and later on their albums A Song for Every Season (1971), Coppersongs: A Living Tradition (1988), and Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues (1998).

This YouTube video shows the Copper Family at Crawley Folk Festival on July 1, 2007:

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sang The Banks of Claudy in a December 1955 recording made by Peter Kennedy that was included in 1976 on his posthumous Topic anthology Ye Subjects of England: Traditional Songs from Sussex. Mike Yates commented in the liner notes:

… Finally we include two fragments from Pop's repertoire, Jack the Jolly Tar-O, which seems to be based on the classic ballad of Glasgerion (Child 67), and The Banks of Claudy, Pop's favourite song. A complete version of the latter is given in Ken Stubb's book The Life of a Man (1970) together with some of Pop's other songs.

The Young Tradition sang Banks of Claudy on their eponymous debut album of 1966, The Young Tradition. They also sang it on November 17, 1968 at their concert at Oberlin College, Ohio, that was published in 2013 on their Fledg'ling CD Oberlin 1968. Their original album's liner notes commented:

The Banks of Claudy, along with John Riley, is probably the most widespread of the “broken token ballads”; the theme of the returned sailor whom the faithful girlfriend fails to recognise, being one of the top three tales in folklore all over the English-speaking world. This version is as true to type as any, except that the actual token is not mentioned. Like The Innocent Hare we adapted this for three voices from the singing of the Copper Family of Rottingdean.

Shirley Collins learnt Claudy Banks from the Copper Family too and sang it on her album with the Albion Country Band, No Roses. She commented in the sleeve notes of the Mooncrest CD reissue:

A favourite song from the repertoire of the Copper Family who have lived in and around Rottingdean for centuries. On of the genuine traditional singing families, their contribution to the English folk song stock is inestimable. To listen to Bob Copper singing and talking about Sussex rural life is one of the greatest delights I have known, and I'm glad I was born in the same country.

(Note: Terry McDonald pointed out to me that the last sentence would make more sense if it ended “born in the same county”. Strange as it is, the Castle CD reissue quotes her with “… born in the same century”.)

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Banks of Claudy in 1971 on his eponymous Trailer album, Martyn Wyndham-Read, and in 1992 on his Fellside CD Beyond the Red Horizon.

Shropshire farm worker Fred Jordan sang The Banks of Claudy on his 1974 Topic LP When the Frost is on the Pumpkin. Another version, recorded in 1978/79, was included in 2003 on his Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad. Mike Yates commented in the former album's liner notes:

The motif of the sailor returning home in disguise to test the fidelity of his loved one is as old as Homer. It has lasted well throughout history and may be considered to be among our most ancient folklore themes. Several of the ballads in Professor Child's collection are based on the idea, Hind Horn being perhaps best known. Though The Banks of Claudy belongs to the Irish broadside press, it would seem to stem from a long seventeenth century blackletter sheet The Valiant Seaman's Return to His Love in which the sailor returns wearing a definite and carefully planned disguise. The song has lasted well, having been collected frequently in Britain, North America and Australia. Fred learnt his version, indirectly via the folkclub scene, from that sung by the Copper Family of Rottingdean, Sussex.

Maggie Boyle sang The Banks of Claudy accompanied by Steve Tilston on arpeggione on their 1992 album Of Moor and Mesa. Their liner notes commented:

This Ulster song uses a popular theme of the roving lover returning to his sweetheart to cruelly test her emotions by disguising himself and telling her that not only was he false, but that he had been killed. A good story, but it casts serious doubt on the optical ability of the unfortunate female!

Eliza Carthy sang Claudy Banks in 1996 on Waterson:Carthy's second album, Common Tongue, and on the World Music Network anthology The Rough Guide to English Roots Music. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Claudy Banks is a small pearl. We have (probably) Vaughan Williams to thank for recording this on a cylinder around 1908-10 from a sweet Southampton singer called Frederick White, whose recording survives rather damaged but still to be relished. It's one of the so-called Broken Token songs—albeit one that has no broken token!

The cylinder recording of Frederick White singing Claudy Banks in 1909 mentioned in the last comment was included in 1998 on the EFDSS CD A Century of Song together with the Copper Family's 1998 version from Coppersongs: A Living Tradition.

Jon Boden sang Claudy Banks as the May 31, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Steve Roud included Claudy Banks in 2012 in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. James Findlay 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.

Lyrics

The Young Tradition sing Banks of Claudy

'Twas on one summer's evening all in the month of May
Down by a flowery garden where Betsy she did stray.
I overheard a fair maid in sorrow to complain,
All for her absent lover who ploughs the raging main.

I stepped up to this fair maid and put her in surprise,
I owned she did not know me, I being all in disguise.
Said I, “My charming creature, my joy and heart's delight,
How far have you to travel this dark and rainy night?”

“Away, kind sir, to the Claudy banks if you will please to show,
Pity a poor girl distracted, it's there I have to go.
I'm a-looking for a young man and Johnny is his name,
And I'm told it's there on Claudy banks today he do remain.”

“If my Johnny he was here this night he'd keep me from all harm,
But he's cruising the wide ocean in tempest and in storm,
He's a-cruising the wide ocean for honour and for gain.”
“But I'm told his ship got wreck-ed all on the coast of Spain.”

Now when she heard this dreadful news she fell into despair,
All wringing of her hands and a-tearing of her hair.
“Since my Johnny's gone and left me no man on earth I'll take,
But it's all my life on Claudy banks I'll wander for his sake.”

Now Johnny hearing her say so he could no longer stand,
He fell into her arms crying, “Betsy, I'm that man,
I am that faithful young man and whom you thought was slain,
And since we've met on Claudy banks we'll never part again.”

Shirley Collins sings Claudy Banks

'Twas on a summer's evening all in the month of May
Down by a flowery garden where Betsy she did stray.
I overheard a fair maid in sorrow to complain,
All for her absent lover that ploughs the raging main.

I stepped up to this fair maid and put her in surprise,
She owned she did not know me, I being all in disguise.
Says I, “My charming creature, my joy and heart's delight,
How far have you to travel this dark and rainy night?”

“Away, kind sir, to the Claudy banks if you will please to show,
Pity a poor girl distracted for there I have to go.
I am in search of a young man and Johnny is his name,
And on the banks of Claudy I'm told he does remain.”

“And if Johnny he was here tonight he'd keep me from all harm,
He's a-cruising the wide ocean in tempest and in storm,
He's a-cruising the wide ocean for honour or for gain.”
“But I'm told his ship's got wreck-ed all on the coast of Spain.”

Now when Betsy heard this dreadful news she fell into despair,
With a-wringing of her hands and a-tearing of her hair.
“Now Johnny's gone and left me no man on earth I'll take,
But in some lonesome valley I'll wander for his sake.”

Young Johnny hearing her say so he could no longer stand,
He fell into her arms crying, “Betsy, I'm that man,
I am your faithful young man and whom you thought was slain,
But since we meet on Claudy banks we'll never part again.”

Eliza Carthy sings Claudy Banks

As I rode out one evening all in the month of May
Down by the banks of Claudy I carelessly did stray.
There I beheld a fair maid in sorrow did complain,
Lamenting of her own true love who had crossed the raging main.

Chorus:
Ey-oh ey-oh he is my darling boy
He is the darling of my heart
All on the walls of Troy

I stepped up unto her and caught her in great surprise.
I own she did not know me for I was in disguise.
I said, “My pretty fair maid, my joy and heart's delight,
How far do you mean to wander on this dark and dreary night.”

“Oh, the banks of Claudy I wish you would me show,
Take on a fair young maid who has nowhere else to go.
For I'm in search of a young man, young Johnny it is his name,
And on the banks of Claudy I hear he does remain.”

(Chorus)

“This is the banks of Claudy, on them you do now stand.
Do not believe your Johnny for he is a false young man.
Do not believe young Johnny he will not meet you here.
Through the green woods you may tarry, no danger you may fear.”

“Oh, but if Johnny he was here tonight he would keep me from all harm.
But he's on the field of battle and in his uniform,
He's on the field of battle, all danger does defy,
Like a royal king of honour all in the wars of Troy.”

(Chorus)

“It's six long months and better since my Johnny left the shore
To cross the raging ocean where the thundering billows roar,
To cross the raging ocean for honour and for fame.”
“And I heard his ship was wrecked all on the cruel coast of Spain.”

As soon as she had heard this she fell in a deep despair,
A-wringing of her lily-white hands and a-tearing of her hair.
Saying, “If my Johnny's drownded no other man I'll take,
Through lonesome woods and valleys will I wander for his sake.”

(Chorus)

As soon as he had heard this no longer could he stand,
He flew into her arms, crying, “Betsy, I'm the man.”
Saying, “Betsy I'm the young man who's caused you grief and pain.
And since we've met on Claudy banks we will never part again.”

(Chorus)

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Eliza Carthy by Garry Gillard.