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> Norma Waterson > Songs > Sheep-Crook and Black Dog

Sheep-Crook and Black Dog / Flora / Spread the Green Branches

[ Roud 948 ; Henry H30a ; Ballad Index HHH030a ; Bodleian Roud 948 ; Wiltshire Roud 948 ; trad.]

Queen Caroline Hughes of Dorset sang Sheep-Crook and Black Dog to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in 1963. This recording was included in 2014 as the title track of her Musical Traditions anthology Sheeep-Crook and Black Dog. Peter Kennedy recorded Caroline Hughes singing My Black Dog and Sheep Crook in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset on April 19, 1968. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of Southern English gypsy traditional singers, I'm a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Series Volume 22).

Ewan MacColl sang this song in 1966 on his album The Manchester Angel; the track was later reissued on his anthology CD, The Real MacColl. His original album's liner notes commented:

This piece is something of a rarity these days, though it has been in the traditional repertoire for some time. A version under the title of Clara and Corydon was printed in Christie’s Traditional Ballads (1876) and it appears to have been known in Sussex under the title of Floro. Catnach printed it as a broadside and Kidson reported having a garland version in his possession entitled The Constant Shepherd and Inconstant Shepherdess, printed in 1775. The version given here was learned from Caroline Hughes.

In 1972, Steeleye Span recorded Sheep-Crook and Black Dog for their fourth LP, Below the Salt. The album's sleeve notes give a ‘modernised’ version of the song's topic:

With you I would share my position as clerk in the accounts department;
With you I would share my desk, pens and ledgers;
With you I would share my luncheon vouchers and season ticket—
But since you became an “exotic dancer” in that Soho club we seem to have grown apart.

The Irish day labourer Eddie Butcher sang this as Flora on his 1976 Free Reed album I Once Was a Daysman. The album notes comment:

Another song Sam Henry found in north Co. Derry, although it is now probably better known in southern English versions. Lucy Broadwood printed a Surrey set in English County Songs and more recently it has been recorded from a West Country traveller, the late Queen Caroline Hughes. It also crossed the Atlantic and has been found in Newfoundland (as Floro) and in Nova Scotia.

John Wright sang Sheep Crook, Black Dog in 1993 on his Fellside album Ride the Rolling Sky.

Brian Peters sang Sheepcrook and Black Dog in 1997 on his album Sharper Than the Thorn with Eliza Carthy playing fiddle. He commented in his liner notes:

Sheepcrook and Black Dog, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Sussex, looks at first like harmless pastoralism but is actually about warm love gone cold, despair and the threat of suicide. Most of us have been there at some point.

Sandra and Nancy Kerr learned Sheepcrook and Black Dog from Caroline Hughes' version too and recorded it in 1996 on their Fellside album Neat and Complete. The same did Norma Waterson, who recorded it in 2000 for her third solo album, Bright Shiny Morning.

Rubus sang Sheep Crook and Black Dog in 2008 on their CD Nine Witch Knots. Emily Portman commented in their liner notes:

A story of love gone wrong, again. For a change the heart-breaker is a woman who, being upwardly mobile, soon forgets the promise she made to a lowly shepherd. Ewan MacColl evidently developed Queen Caroline Hughes’ superb version, but I like what he did with it, so I nicked it (with a little help from Sandra Kerr!).

Bob Lewis sang this song as Spread the Green Branches at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2009. This recording was published a year later on the festival anthology There's Bound to Be a Row (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 6) and on his CD Drive Sorrows Away. The album's notes commented:

An old, rare and rather beautiful song that Bob learned from an old neighbour of his mother's in Heyshott, West Sussex. Wherever the song has been found—from the south east of England to the Newfoundland Outports—it is often sung, as here, to rather fine modal tunes—in this case in the Dorian mode. Because of the text of the last verse (not present in all versions), the song is sometimes given the title Sheepcrook and Black Dog.

Former Witch of Elswick, Fay Hield learned Sheepcrook and Black Dog for Ralph Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp's bi-centenary (i.e. the centenary of the year in which both began collecting folk song) celebrations at Cecil Sharp House. She then recorded it in 2010 for her first solo CD, Looking Glass. Her version is quite similar to the one of Bob Lewis.

Lyrics

Steeleye Span sing Sheep-Crook and Black Dog Norma Waterson sings Sheep-Crook and Black Dog

Chorus (x2):
Here's my sheep-crook and my black dog, I give it to you.
Here's my bag and my budget, I bid it adieu.
Here's my sheep-crook and my black dog, I leave them behind.
Fine laurel, fine floral, you've proved all unkind.

I'll lay o'er the green branches although I am young,
How dearly I loved my love, how sweetly she sang.
Was there ever a young man in such a sorry state
As me with my Flora, my laurel of late.

All to my dear Dinah these words I did say,
“Tomorrow we'll be married love, tomorrow is the days.”
“'Tis too soon dear Willy my age is too young,
One day to our wedding is one day too soon.”

All to my dear Flora these words I did say,
“Tomorrow we'll be married love, tomorrow is our day.”
“Oh no dearest William my age it is too young,
One day to our wedding is one day too soon.

“I'll go into service if the day ain't too late,
Oh, to wait on a fine lady it is my intent,
And when into service a year or two bound,
It's then we'll get married and both settle down.”

“For I'll go into service if the day ain't too late;
I'll be apprenticed to a fine lady it is my intent.
And when into service for a year or two bound
It's then we'll get married, love, and I'll settle down.”

A little time after a letter was wrote,
For to see if my dear Dinah had changed her mind.
But she wrote that she'd lived such a contrary life,
She said that she'd never be a young shepherd's wife.

But a little while after a letter was wrote,
All a-saying that Flora had changed her mind.
And she said that she lived such a contrary life,
She'd never be, she couldn't ever be a young shepherd's wife.

(Chorus)

Here's my black dog, here's my sheep crook, I'll will give unto you.
Here's my bag and my budget, I will bid 'em all adieu.
Here's my black dog and my sheep crook, I'll will leave 'em all behind
Since Flora, my laurel, you've proved so unkind.

Bob Lewis sings Spread the Green Branches Fay Hield sings Sheepcrook and Black Dog

Oh spread the green branches oh whilst I am young,
So well did I like my love, so sweetly she sung;
Was ever a man in such happy a state,
As me with my Flora, fair Flora so brave.

Oh spread the green branches over while I am young,
So well did I like my love, so sweetly she sang.
Was ever a man in such happy a state
As me with my Flora, my Flora so brave?

I will go to my Flora and this will I say,
“Tomorrow we'll be married, it wants but one day.”
“Tomorrow,” says fair Flora, “That day is to come,
To be married so early, my age is too young.”

I went to my Flora and this I did say,
“Tomorrow we’ll be married, love, it wants but one day.”
“One day,” said fair Flora, “that day is to come,
I’ll not marry so early, my age is too young.

“We'll go for a service and service we'll get,
And perhaps in a few years after might substance and reap.”
“Oh don't go to service, leaving me here to cry.”
“Oh yes, lovely shepherd, I'll tell you for why.”

“I’ll go for a service and a service I’ll get,
And perhaps in a few years might substance and reap.”
“Don’t go for a service, leaving me here behind.”
“Oh yes, my lovely shepherd, I’ll return by and by.”

As it happened to service and to service she went,
To wait on a lady it was her intent;
To wait on a lady, a rich lady gay,
Who clothèd fair Flora in costly array.

She got her a service and to service she went
To wait on a lady which was her intent;
To wait on a lady and a rich lady gay
Who clothed fair Flora, my Flora so brave.

A little time after a letter he sent
With three or four lines in it to know her intent.
She wrote that she lived in such contented life
That she never did intend to be a young shepherd's wife.

A little while after and a letter he sent
With three or four short lines to gain her intent.
She wrote that she lived such a contented life,
That she never would intend to be a young shepherd’s wife.

These words and expressions appeared like a dart,
I'll pluck up my courage and cheer up my heart.
Oh being that she'd never write to me any more,
Her answer convinced me quite over and o'er.

These words she had written, they appeared like a dart.
I must draw all my courage and show a brave heart.
Oh being that, she will never write unto me any more,
Her answer so convinced me quite over and o’er.

My yowes and my lambs, I will bid them adieu,
My bottle and budget I'll leave them with you;
My sheepcrook and black dog I'll leave them behind,
Since Flora, fair Flora so changèd her mind.

My ewes and my lambs, I will bid them adieu,
My bottle and budget I’ll leave here with you;
My sheepcrook and my black dog I will leave here behind,
Since Flora, fair Flora, so changed her mind.

Links and Acknowledgements

See also the Mudcat Café thread Sheepcrook & Black Dog.

Steeleye Span's version transcribed by Reinhard Zierke with the help of Patrick Montague. Norma Waterson's version transcribed by Garry Gillard.