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> Louis Killen > Songs > The Oak and the Ash
> Maddy Prior > Songs > North Country Lass

The North Country Maid / The Oak and the Ash

[ Roud 1367 ; G/D 5:1058 ; Ballad Index LK43B ; trad.]

Isla Cameron and Louis Killen sang The Oak and the Ash in 1961 on their Prestige album The Waters of Tyne. Ewan MacColl commented in the sleeve notes:

The earliest printed version of this ballad is a black-letter copy in the Roxburghe Collection. The narrator of Sir Walter Scott's novel, Rob Roy, tells how his Northumbrian nurse amused him by singing the songs of her native country and names The Oak and the Ash as a Northumbrian song.

The Galliard sang North Country Maid in 1963 on their Monitor album England's Great Folk Group.

The Watersons sang The North Country Maid in 1966 on their second album, The Watersons. Like all but one tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. The Watersons also sang The North Country Maid in 1965 on their BBC TV documentary video Travelling for a Living; this can be found on YouTube now:

A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

This familiar song can be found in a black-letter copy also in the Roxburghe Collection. There, it's titled The Northern Lasse's Lamentation; or, the Unhappy Maid's Misfortune, and it's prefaced by a few melancholy lines:

Since she did from her friends depart
No earthly thing can cheer her heart,
But still she doth her case lament
Being always fill'd with discontent,
Resolving to do naught but mourn
Till to the North she doth return.

J. Collingwood Bruce and John Stokoe printed a set of the song in their Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882, noting how: “Sir Walter Scott, in his novel Rob Roy, makes the narrator of the tale (Francis Osbaldiston) in recounting recollections of his childhood, tell how his Northumbrian nurse (old Mabel) amused him by singing the ditties of her native countrie, and specially names O! the Oak and the Ash and the Bonny Ivy Tree as a Northumbrian ballad.”

The stately tune started life as a dance tune, found in many places and under many titles but especially in Sir James Hawkin's Transcripts of Music for the Virginals, and The Dancing Master, of 1650, under the title Goddesses.

The refrain in all its home-sick nostalgia may be encountered, oddly enough, in the robust and unbuttoned sailors' song, Home, Dearie Home, or Rosemary Lane.

The song's popularity has scarcely waned in the twentieth century; Marianne Faithfull recently recorded The North Country Maid and it might make the top twenty yet.

Paul and Linda Adams sang North Country Lass in 1976 on their Sweet Folk All album Country Hirings.

Megson recorded this song as Oak and Ash in 2005 on their CD On the Side. They commented in their liner notes:

Our version of the traditional folk song, which tells of a Northern Girl in London who longs to be back in her home country.

Maddy Prior sang North Country Lass in 2008 on her Park CD Seven for Old England. She commented in her liner notes:

Playford's Dancing Master (1651) again, but I think I first heard it sung by The Watersons way-back-then. We have set it more in the style of the time, and it particularly appeals to me, now living in Cumbria.

Lyrics

The Watersons sing The North Country Maid

A North Country maid
Up to London has strayed
Although with her nature it did not agree
And she's wept and she's sighed
And she's wrung her hands and cried
Oh I wish once again in the North I could be

Chorus (after each verse):
Where the oak and the ash and the bonny ivy tree
All flourish and bloom in my North Country

How sadly I roam
And lament my dear home
Where lads and lasses are making the hay
Where the bells they do ring
And the little birds they sing
And the maidens and meadows are pleasant and gay

No doubt if I please
I could marry with ease
For where bonnie lasses are lovers will come
But the lad that I wed
Must be North Country bred
And must carry me back to my North Country home

Maddy Prior sings North Country Lass

A North Country lass
Up to London did pass
Although with her nature it did not agree
Which made her repent
And so often lament
Still wishing again in the North for to be

Chorus (after each verse):
Where the oak and the ash and the bonny ivy tree
Do flourish at home in my own country

I like not the court
Nor to city resort
Since there is no fancy for maids such as me
Their pomp and their pride
I never can abide
Because with my humour it does not agree.

How oft have I been
On the Cumberland green
Where the young men and maidens resort for to play
Where we with delight
From morning till night
Do feast it and frolic on each holiday

When I had the heart
From my friends to depart
I thought I should be a lady at last
But now I do find
That it troubles my mind
Because that my joys and my pleasures are past

The ewes and the lambs
With the kids and their dams
To see in the country how finely they play
The bells they do ring
And the small birds do sing
And the fields and the gardens so pleasant and gay

Acknowledgements

Garry Gillard transcribed the Watersons's version