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The Bold Fisherman

[ Roud 291 ; Laws O24 ; G/D 4:834 ; Ballad Index LO24 ; Bodleian Roud 291 ; Wiltshire Roud 291 ; trad.]

Harry Cox sang Bold Fisherman in a recording made by E.J. Moeran in London in 1934. This was included on the anthology Come Let Us Buy the Licence: Songs of Courtship & Marriage (The Voice of the People Series Vol. 1, Topic 1998) and on the World Music Network compilation The Rough Guide to English Roots Music. He also sang Bold Fisherman in October 1965 in a recording made by Leslie Shepard, which was included in 2000 on his Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy.

A.L. Lloyd sang The Bold Fisherman on his and Ewan MacColl's 1957 Riverside album Great British Ballads Not Included in the Child Collection. This track was reissued in 2011 on his Fellside anthology Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun. Kenneth F. Goldstein commented in the original album's booklet:

At first reading, this ballad may not appear to be unlike several others that tell of a young man meeting with a person of high degree whose status is not immediately apparent to her. Lucy Broadwood, however, found it to be the remains of an allegorical legend from early Christian mythical literature (see JFSS, V, pp. 132-135). Variants of this song make reference to the Royal Fisherman, the three Vestures of Light, the Recognition and Adoration by the illuminated humble soul, and the free pardon leading to the mystical union of the bride and bridegroom in the House of the Father—all are familiar elements in the mystical symbolism of the early Christian Church.

To be sure such symbolism had lost all of its original meaning to the folksingers from whom the ballad had been collected since the end of the last century. To them, it was another love ballad, and in this form has come down in tradition to this day.

The earliest published version appeared in L.E. Broadwood and J.A. Fuller-Maitland's English County Songs, London, 1893, though it probably existed in tradition considerably earlier. Nineteenth century broadsides of the ballad have been found, but this in itself has supplied little information concerning the true age of the ballad. That is was popular in England is known from its wide distribution there. It is extremely rare in North America.

The version sung by Lloyd was learned from a recording made in 1936 for the English Folk Dance and Song Society by Harry Cox, traditional singer from Catfield, Norfolk.

Sam Larner of Winterton, Norfolk, sang The Bold Young Fisherman in a recording made by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in 1958-1960. It was include in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth.

The Bold Fisherman has also been in the repertoire of the Copper Family for a long time, but they (Bob, John, Jill and Lynne Copper and Jon Dudley) only recorded it in October 1987 for their LP Coppersongs: A Living Tradition. Bob Copper and his grandsons Mark, Andy and Sean Barrat sang it again on their CD Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues.

The Young Tradition sang The Bold Fisherman on their eponymous first album in 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. The original album's sleeve notes commented:

This song has been widely distributed throughout the country; versions have been collected from Harry Cox and the Copper Family. It appears to be a simple story of boy meets girl, with the boy turning out to be a lord in disguise. However, Lucy Broadwood puts forward the theory that the song contains an element of Christian symbolism in its origins: the girl is the sinful soul who meets Christ—the fisher of souls—and recognises him by his “chains of gold”. She begs forgiveness for her presumption, which is readily granted and she becomes the bride of Christ.

George Belton sang The Bold Fisherman in 1967 on his EFDSS album All Jolly Fellows ….

Alice Webb sang two verses of The Bold Fishing Man to Peter Shepheard in her caravan at Apperley Lock, near Tewkesbury, at Christmas 1968. This recording was included in 2007 on the Brazil Family's Musical Traditions anthology Down By the Old Riverside.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior recorded The Bold Fisherman in 1969 for their second duo album Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 2. Their album notes comment:

Throughout early Christian mystical literature the Fisherman was one of the most recurrent symbols of the Christ figure. Lucy Broadwood also points out that “the Recognition and Adoration by a Humble Soul, the free Pardon, the Mystical Union of Bride and Bridegroom in the House of the Father”, are familiar elements of Christian tradition and can all be found in this ballad. These facts all weigh heavily towards the theory that this is an exceedingly ancient song of medieval allegorical origin whose former significance may have become meaningless to the singer who passed it on.

Alternatively it could be a very classic love story.

Shirley Collins learned The Bold Fisherman from the Copper Family too and recorded it during the sessions for her and her sister Dolly's 1970 album Love, Death & the Lady. But, like three others, this track was left out of the album and only found its way onto the 1994 and 2003 CD reissues. It was also included in the 4CD anthology Within Sound.

Walter Pardon sang The Bold Fisherman in a recording made in his home by Bill Leader, Peter Bellamy and Reg Hall on June 15, 1974. This was published in 2000 on his Topic anthology CD A World Without Horses.

Andy Turner sang The Bold Fisherman in 1990 on his cassette Love, Death and the Cossack. He commented in his liner notes:

Cecil Sharp collected a dozen songs in the Hamstreet area, on the edge of Romney Marsh in Kent, in September 1908. The majority, including The Bold Fisherman, came from James Beale of Warehorne; I have supplemented the words from the Copper Family version.

Bow Lewis sang Bold Fisherman on his 2003 CD The Painful Plough. He sang it live at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2009. A recording of this concert was released a year later on his CD Drive Sorrows Away.

Tim van Eyken sang Fisherman in 2006 on his Topic CD Stiffs Lovers Holymen Thieves.

Rachael McShane sang The Fisherman with somewhat different verses in 2009 on her CD No Man's Fool and at the National Forest Folk Festival 2009:

Jon Boden sang The Bold Fisherman as the March 7, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day, giving Tim Hart and Maddy Prior as his source. He commented in his blog:

Sharron Krauss used to sing this at the Half Moon—always brought the house down. I've read a few strange articles claiming that this has something to do with Jesus. I suspect not.

Emily Portman sang The Bold Fisherman at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2011. This recording was included a year later on the festival anthology The Little Barn of Yarn (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 8).

Sound Tradition sang Bold Fisherman in 2014 on their CD Blackbird.

Derek Gifford sang Bold Fisherman in 2015 on his WildGoose CD Songs from the Past … into the Future. He commented in his liner notes:

This is one of the first and finest English traditional songs I ever learnt and it has stood the test of time. Some say this song is the story of the marriage of Christ. This version was collected by Lucy Broadwood from a Mrs. Joiner of Chisnell Green, Hertfordshire in 1914.

Alex Cumming and Nicola Beazley sang Billy Taylor on their 2016 CD Across the Water. They commented:

A beautiful song about a young man and woman meeting at a river side. This version was collected [on February 7, 1906] by Cecil Sharp in Somerton, Somerset, from a Mrs Pike.

Lyrics

Harry Cox sings Bold Fisherman The Young Tradition sing The Bold Fisherman

One morning in the Month of June
Down by a riverside
There she beheld a bold fisherman
Come rowing by the tide,
Come rowing by the tide;
There she beheld a bold fisherman
Come rowing by the tide.

As I walked out one May morning
Down by the riverside,
There I beheld a bold fisherman
Come rowing by the tide,
Come rowing by the tide;
There I beheld a bold fisherman
Come rowing by the tide.

“Morning to you, bold fisherman,
How come you fishing here?”
“I come a-fishing for your sweet sake
Upon this river clear,
All on this river clear;
I came a-fishing for your sweet sake
All on this river clear.”

“Good morning to you, my bold fisherman,
How come you fishing here?”
“I come here a-fishing for your sweet sake
All on this river clear,
All on this river clear;
I come here a-fishing for your sweet sake
All on this river clear.”

He lashed his boat up to the stem
And to the lady went,
He took her by the milk-white hand
For it was his intent,
For it was his intent;
He took her by the milk-white hand
For it was his intent.

He drew his boat unto the bank
And for her mate did went,
He took her by the lily-white hand
Which was his full intent,
Which was his full intent;
He took her by the lily-white hand
Which was his full intent.

Then he pulled off his morning gown
And gently laid it down,
There she behold three chains of gold
Hang dangling three times round,
Hang dangling three times round;
There she behold three chains of gold
Hang dangling three times round.

He took the cloak from off his back
And gently laid it down,
There she behold three chains of gold
Hang dangling three times round,
Hang dangling three times round;
There she behold three chains of gold
Hang dangling three times round.

Down on her bended knee she fell;
So loud or mercy called,
“I'm calling you a bold fisherman;
I think you are some lord,
I think you are some lord;
I'm calling you a bold fisherman
I think you are some lord.”

She fell down on her bended knee,
For mercy she implored,
“In calling you a bold fisherman
When I fear you are some lord,
When I fear you are some lord;
In calling you a bold fisherman
When I fear you are some lord.”

“Get up, get up, get up,” he cried,
“From off your bending knee.
You have not said one single word
At least offended me,
At least offended me;
You have not said one single word
At least offended me.”

“Rise up, rise up, my fair young maid,
From off your bended knee.
There is not one word that you have said
That has offended me,
That has offended me;
There is not one word that you have said
That has offended me.”

“I will take you to my father's hall
And there make you my bride,
Then you will have a bold fisherman
To row you on the tide,
To row you on the tide;
Then you will have a bold fisherman
To row you on the tide.”

He took her by the lily-white hand,
Saying: “Married we shall be,
Then you will have a bold fisherman
To row you on the sea,
To row you on the sea;
Then you will have a bold fisherman
To row you on the sea.”

Shirley Collins sings The Bold Fisherman Tim Hart & Maddy Prior sing The Bold Fisherman

As I roved out one May morning
Down by the riverside,
There I beheld a bold fisherman
Come rowing by the tide,
Come rowing by the tide;
There I beheld a bold fisherman
Come rowing by the tide.

As I walked out one May morning
Down by a riverside,
There I beheld a bold fisherman
Come rowing down the tide.

I stepped up to this bold fisherman,
“How come you are fishing here?”
“I've come a-fishing for your sweet sake
All by the river clear,
All by the river clear;
I've come a-fishing for your sweet sake
All by the river clear.”

“Bold fisherman, bold fisherman,
How came you fishing here?”
“I have come for you, fair lady gay
All down the river clear.”

He drew his boat up to the bank
And for her maid did spend,
He took her by the lily-white hand
Which was his full intent,
Which was his full intent;
He took her by the lily-white hand
Which was his full intent.

He tied his boat unto a stand
And to this lady went,
For to take hold of her lily-white hand
It was his full attempt.

And he drew the cloak from off his back
And gently laid her down,
There she beheld three chains of gold
Hang dangling three times round,
Hang dangling three times round;
There she beheld three chains of gold
Hang dangling three times round.

Then he embraced his morning gown
And gently laid it down,
And she beheld three chains of gold
Went twinkling three times round.

She fell down on her bended knees
For mercy she implored,
“In calling you a bold fisherman
When I fear you are some lord,
When I fear you are some lord;
In calling you a bold fisherman
When I fear you are some lord.”

She fell down on her bended knees,
Crying: “Pardon, pardon me,
In calling you a bold fisherman
Come rolling down the sea.”

“Rise up, rise up, my sweet pretty maid,
From off your bended knee.
There is not a word that you have said
Has least offended me,
Has least offended me;
There is not a word that you have said
Has least offended me.”

And he took her by the lily-white hand,
Saying, “Married we shall be,
Then you shall have a bold fisherman
To row you on the sea,
To row you on the sea;
Then you shall have a bold fisherman
To row you on the sea.”

He took her by the lily-white hand,
Saying: “Follow, follow me,
I'll take you to my father's house
And married we shall be.”

Rachael McShane sings The Fisherman  

As I walked out one May morning
Down by a riverside,
And there I spied a fisherman
Come rowing down the tide,
Come rowing down the tide;
And there I spied a fisherman
Come rowing down the tide.

“Good morning to you, fisherman,
Good morning, Sir, I pray,
For calling you a fisherman
Just by the break of day,
Just by the break of day;
For calling you a fisherman
Just by the break of day.”

He rowed his boat unto the shore
And tied it to a stake,
He stepped up to this lady gay
And hold of her did take,
And hold of her did take;
He stepped up to this lady gay
And hold of her did take.

Then he pulled off his morning gown
And spread it on the ground,
And there she spied three chains of gold
All from his neck hung down,
All from his neck hung down;
And there she spied three chains of gold
All from his neck hung down.

Down on her bended knee did fall;
“Oh pardon, Sir, on me
For calling you a fisherman;
Come rowing on the sea,
Come rowing on the sea;
For calling you a fisherman;
Come rowing on the sea.”

“Rise up, rise up, my pretty maid,
And come along with me;
There's not one word that you have said
That least offended me,
That least offended me;
There's not one word that you have said
That least offended me.”

“I'll take you to my father's house
And married we shall be,
And you shall have a fisherman
To row you on the sea.
I'll take you to my father's house
And married we shall be,
And you shall have a fisherman
To row you on the sea,
To row you on the sea;
And you shall have a fisherman
To row you on the sea.”