> Steeleye Span > Songs > Alison Gross

Alison Gross / Alison Cross

[ Roud 3212 ; Child 35 ; Ballad Index C035 ; trad.]

John Laurie recited the Child ballad Alison Gross in 1962 on the Folkways album The Jupiter Book of Ballads.

Ewan MacColl sang Allison Gross in 1967 on the Argo album Poetry and Song Vol. 5.

Dave and Toni Arthur sang Alison Gross in 1970 on their Trailer album Hearken to the Witches Rune, set to a melody that seems to be a modified (modal) form of the tune Cecil Sharp found in Somerset with The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter, including a form of the refrain: “Line, twine, the willow dee” [Mudcat Café note from Malcolm Taylor].

Steeleye Span recorded Alison Gross for their 1973 album Parcel of Rogues. A live recording from the Royal Opera Theatre in Adelaide, Australia in 1982 was released on the rare Australia-only LP On Tour and in 2001 on the CD Gone to Australia.

Folque did a wonderful Norwegian version of Alison Gross in 1974 on their eponymous debut album, Folque.

Lizzie Higgins sang Alison Cross in 1985 on her Lismor album What a Voice. The liner notes commented:

A haunting, fanciful ballad of magic and transformation. Alison Cross came to Lizzie through her father, who learned it from his mother. The ballad has man Scandinavian analogues.

An earlier recording of Lizzie Higgins singing Alison Gross (note spelling!), made by Peter Hall at the Jeannie Robertson Memorial Concert in 1977, was released in 2006 on her Musical Traditions anthology In Memory of Lizzie Higgins. Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

The text originally appeared in Jamieson, Popular Ballads & Songs 2 [1806], pp.187-190, said to have been collected from Mrs Anna Brown, of Falkland, Aberdeen, in 1792-1794; the only collection from the oral tradition.

Lizzie was deeply interested in the interfaces between the worlds of ordinary folk, of those who practised the Black Arts in league with the Devil, and—as in this ballad—of those of the Scottish fairies, an amoral, unpredictable tribe of whom Stanley Robertson says, “We call them the Guid Folk—because they can dee you an awful lot of damage” (Barrie's dangerously vicious Tinker Bell being a prime depiction). The hero of the song can count himself lucky that the Queen of the Fairies took pity on him, even as a much-desired witch's pet (although, as Child observed, the Scottish Queens are reputed to be more favourably inclined to help humans enchanted by their subjects). Stanley Robertson comments that Lizzie started singing this late in life and probably derived it from print.

Elspeth Cowie learned Alison Cross from Lizzie Higgins when she lived in Aberdeen. She sang it in 2000 on her CD Naked Voice. She also sang it at Celtic Connections 2001 at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in January 2001. This concert was released a year later on the Greentrax CD Scots Women.

Malinky sang Alison Cross in 2000 on their Greentrax album Last Leaves. This track was also included in 2007 on the WildGoose anthology Songs of Witchcraft and Magic. They commented in their album's liner notes:

It's generally a mistake to say no to witches, especially if they try to buy you off as their lover (leman). This guy was really lucky the good fairie queen helped him out. [Alexander Keith's] Last Leaves refers to a version from [about] 1783 by a Mrs Brown and ours is a shortened version from the singing of the great Lizzie Higgins, which leaves you to wonder exactly what a thing-that-toddles-around-the-tree might be. Perish the thought.

Wendy Weatherby sang Alison Cross in 2010 on her Fellside CD A Shirt of Silk or Snow.

Rapunzel & Sedayne sang Alison Cross in 2011 on the Woodbine & Ivy Band's CD The Woodbine & Ivy Band.

Hannah Rarity sang Alison Cross, with lyrics very similar to Malinky's, on her 2018 CD Neath the Gloaming Star.

Lyrics

Lizzie Higgins sings Alison Cross Malinky sing Alison Gross

Aul' Alison Cross she lives in yon tower,
The ugliest witch in the North Countrie,
Has trysted me day forbore
And mony a braw speech she's made tae me.

Chorus (after each verse):
Awa, awa, ye ugly witch,
Haud far awa an' lat me be.
Afore I'll kiss your ugly mou
I'll raither toddle aroond a tree.

Alison Gross lives in yon tower,
The ugliest witch in the North countrie.
She's trysted me ae day til her bower
And mony's the braw speech she made tae me.

She showed me a mantle o reid scarlet
Wrocht wi golden fringes fine.
“Gin ye'll be my lemman saw true,
This guidly gift it sal be thine.”

She showed me a mantle o reid scarlet
Weel wrocht wi gowd and fringes fine,
Says, “Gin ye'll be my leman sae true
This gudely gift it shall be thine.”

Chorus (after every other verse):
Awa, awa ye ugly witch,
Haud far awa and let me be.
Afore I'll kiss yer ugly mou
I'd raither toddle aroond the tree.

She showed me a sark o the softest silk,
Weel wrocht wi pearls aboon the band.
“Gin ye'll be my lemman sae true,
This guidly gift at your command.”

She showed me a sark o the saftest silk
Weel wrocht wi pearls abune the band,
Says, “Gin ye'll be my leman sae true
This gudely gift's at your command.”

She showed me a cup of the guid red gowd
Weel wrocht wi jewels sae fair and fine.
“Gin ye'll be my lemman sae true,
This guidly gift it sal be thine.”

She showed me a cup o the gude reid gowd
Weel wrocht wi jewels sae fair and fine,
Says, “Gin ye'll be my leman sae true
This gudely gift it shall be thine.”

She's taen oot her grass green horn,
She's blew it three times loud and shrill,
Swore by the moon and the stars aboon
She'd gar him rue the day that he was born.

And she's ta'en oot her grass green horn,
She blew it three times loud and shrill.
She swore by the moon and the stars abune
She'd gar me rue the day I ever was born.

She's taen oot her silver wand,
She's turned three times aroond the tree,
Muttered sic words that my senses failed
And I fell doon senseless tae the ground.

And she's ta'en oot her silvery wand,
She straiked it three times o'er her knee,
She's muttered sic words as my senses failed
I feel doon senseless tae the ground.

Wi silver basin an silver kaim
Tae kaim my heidie upon her knee,
High on ilkae Saturday nicht
Aul Alison Cross she comes tae me.

But it fell upon last Halloween
When the Seely Courts cam ridin by,
The Queen's lichit on a gowan bank
Nae far frae the tree whaur I did lie.

It fell upon last Halloween
When the seely coort came riding by,
The Queen's lichit doon on a gowany bank
Nae far fae the tree whaur I did lie.

She's liftit me in her milk-white haun,
She's strikt me three times on her knee,
She's turned me back tae my proper shape:
Nae mair I'll toddle aroond a tree.

And she's ta'en oot her silvery wand,
She straked it three times o'er her knee,
She's turned me back tae ma proper shape
Nae mare tae toddle around the tree.

Steeleye Span sing Alison Gross

Alison Gross that lives in yon tower,
The ugliest witch in the North Country,
Has trysted me one day up to her bower
And many a fair speech she made to me.

She stroked my head and she's combed my hair,
She set me down softly on her knee,
Saying, “If you will be my lover so true
So many good things I would give to you.”

“Away, away, you ugly witch,
Go far away and let me be.
I never will be your lover so true
And wish I were out of your company.”

Chorus (after every other verse):
Alison Gross, she must be
The ugliest witch in the North Country.
Alison Gross, she must be
The ugliest witch in the North Country.

She showed me a mantle of red scarlet
With golden flowers and fringes fine,
Says, “If you will be my lover so true
This goodly gift it shall be thine.”

She showed me a shirt of the softest silk,
Well wrought with pearls about the band,
Saying, “If you will be my lover so true
This goodly gift you shall command.”

She showed me a cup of the good red gold
Well set with jewels so fair to see,
Says, “If you will be my lover so true
This goodly gift I would give to thee.”

“Away, away, you ugly witch,
Go far away and let me be.
I never would kiss your ugly mouth
For all of the gifts that you could give.”

She's turned her right and round about
And thrice she blew on a grass-green horn,
She swore by the moon and the stars up above
That she'd make me rue the day I was born.

Then out she has taken a silver wand,
She's turned her three times round and round.
She's muttered such words till my strength it did fail
And she's turned me into an ugly worm.

Acknowledgements and Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Lyr Req: Allison Gross and Tune Req: Allison Gross How to Sing. Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the Steeleye Span lyrics.