> Lal & Norma Waterson > Songs > The Welcome Sailor

The Welcome Sailor / A Seaman and His Love

[ Roud 604 ; Laws N29 ; Henry H581 ; Ballad Index LN29 ; Bodleian Roud 604 ; trad.]

Lal Waterson sang The Welcome Sailor on her and her sister Norma's album A True Hearted Girl. This track was also re-released on the 1992 CD For Pence and Spicy Ale, in 2003 on the Watersons anthology The Definitive Collection, and in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Grace Notes (Maggie Boyle, Lynda Hardcastle and Helen Hockenhull) sang Welcome Sailor in 1998 on their Fellside CD Red Wine & Promises. Lynda Hardcastle commented in the liner notes:

A classic traditional song which I first heard from Lal Waterson in 1977. I enjoy listening to unison singing and there isn't much of it about.

Bob Hudson notes:

This song, also known as A Seaman and His Love, is from a family of sailor songs referred to as the “Riley Ballads,” which includes such other famous songs as The Dark-Eyed Sailor and The Mantle So Green. Originally printed in England as broadsides, these songs spread quickly to both sides of the Atlantic. They are called the “Riley Ballads” because a sailor named Riley, or John Riley, so frequently figures in them.

Joan Baez sings John Riley (Roud 270; Laws M8; G/D 1:22; Henry H468) on her first, eponymous album (Vanguard VSD 2077). Other versions of John Riley were sung by Roger McGuinn with Judy Collins on his album Treasures from the Folk Den and by The Trugs on the Fellside anthology Voices in Harmony.

Compare all these versions to The Poor and Young Single Sailor sung by Nancy Kerr on her and Eliza Carthy's second album Shape of Scrape and to The Dark-Eyed Sailor, sung by Steeleye Span on their first album, Hark! The Village Wait, and by June Tabor and the Oysterband on their album Freedom and Rain.

Cover Versions

  1. Richard Youngs on Migrating Bird: The Songs of Lal Waterson (2007)


Lal Waterson sings The Welcome Sailor

All in the dead of the night,
Darkness being over,
The moon did give no light
No one could discover.

Down by a river side
Where ships were a-sailing,
A lovely lass I spied
Weeping and a-wailing.

And I boldly stepped up to her,
Asking what grieved her.
The answer that she gave
Was no one could relieve her.

“They pressed my love,” cried she,
“To cross the wide ocean.
And my heart is like the sea
Always in motion.”

“Mark well, my love,” cried he,
“Mark well my story.
'Twas your true lover and I
Fought for old England's glory”

“But by a fatal shot
We both were parted.
Deep was the wound he got,
Though he died valiant hearted.”

“And he told me before he died
His heart was broken.
Take this gold ring, said he,
Take it as a token.”

“Take this ring to my love,
There is no one fairer.
Tell her to be kind
And to love the bearer”

She wrung her hands and cried
And flew up in anger.
“Begone, young man,” said she,
“For I'll wed no stranger.”

He flew into her arms
He could stay no longer
“God bless the wind,” cried she,
“That brought you over.”
“God bless the ship,” cried she,
“That brought you over.”

Then they sat down and sang
But my love sang the clearest
Like a nightingale in the spring
Saying, “You're welcome home, my dearest.”


Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription.