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The Old Churchyard

[ Roud 3386 ; Ballad Index R620 ; trad.]

Almeda Riddle from Heber Springs, Arkansas, sang the beautiful hymn The Old Churchyard in 1972 on her Rounder album Ballads and Hymns from the Ozarks.

Sarah Gunning sang The Old Churchyard in Medford, MA, on May 5, 1974 to Mark Wilson. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Tradition anthology of folk songs of the Upper South, Meeting is a Pleasure Volume 3. Mark Wilson commented in the accompanying booklet:

This, I think, is one of Sarah's loveliest performances and I imagine that I failed to include it on her Rounder LP only because we had just previously issued a fine performance by Almeda Riddle (a version which was apparently taken up by the British folk-rock movement, somewhat to my surprise). Almeda's recorded version includes several lyric groupings that were not found in her book (A Singer and her Songs) nor heard here. Versions similar to Sarah's can be found in G P Jackson, Down East Spirituals (from the Georgia Sacred Harp of 1869) and, from black tradition, Taylor, Plantation Melodies (1882).

Waterson:Carthy sang The Old Churchyard in 2002 on their fourth album, A Dark Light. This track was also included in 2003 on the Watersons anthology The Definitive Collection. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

When, in 1976, The Watersons were invited to the Bicentennial celebrations on the Mall in Washington DC, we met various of our idols including a remarkable old-fashioned singer from Arkansas called Almeda Riddle, who insisted that people called her “Granny” and who always knew an extra verse to just about any song you could sing her—unless the singer was Walter Pardon who, of course and as was his wont, knew yet another. She sang The Old Churchyard and showed endless delight when we announced that we wanted to sing it.

Olivia Chaney sang The Old Churchyard in 2017 on Offa Rex's CD The Queen of Hearts. She commented:

Waterson/Carthy—the great Norma Waterson (Martin Carthy's wife) is part of a singing family in the north of England, in Hull. They were integral to the folk revival and specifically to unaccompanied and harmony singing. I've always loved this song via their recording of it, and used to sing it a cappella at gig when I'd begun delving back into traditional British song. I thought it would be fitting for this project as they learnt it from an American singer from Arkansas called Almeda Riddle (who also taught Norma a version of Wayfaring Stranger…). And so the tradition of the echoing back and forth between our cultures evolves and continues.

The Dovetail Trio sang The Old Churchyard on their 2019 CD Bold Champions.

Lyrics

Almeda Riddle sings The Old Churchyard Waterson:Carthy sing The Old Churchyard

Oh come, come with me out to the old churchyard,
I so well know those paths through the soft green sward.
Friends slumber there that we want to regard;
We will trace out the names in the old churchyard.

Come, come with me out to the old churchyard,
I so well know those paths 'neath the soft green sward.
Friends slumber in there that we want to regard;
We will trace out their names in the old churchyard.

Oh mourn not for them, their sorrows are o'er,
And why weep for those who will weep no more?
For sweet is that sleep, though cold and hard
Their pillows may be in the old churchyard.

Mourn not for them, their trials are o'er,
And why weep for those who will weep no more?
For sweet is their sleep, though cold and hard
Their pillows may be in the old churchyard.

I know that it's vain when our friends depart
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
And I know that the joy of life is marred
When we follow those friends to the old churchyard.

I know that it's vain when our friends depart
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
And I know that the joy of life is marred
When we follow lost friends to the old churchyard.

But were I at rest beneath yonder tree,
Oh, why would you weep, my friend, for me?
I'm so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
That peace I seek in the old churchyard?

But were I at rest 'neath yonder tree,
Oh, why would you weep, my friends, for me?
I'm so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
The peace I seek in the old churchyard?

Why weep for me, for I'm anxious to go
To that haven of rest where no tears ever flow;
And I fear not to enter that dark lonely tomb
Where our saviour has lain and conquered the gloom.

𝄆 I rest in the hope that one bright day
Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay,
And old Gabriel's trumpet and voice of the Lord
Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard. 𝄇

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: The Old Churchyard (Watersons).