The Banks of Green Willow

Rod Stradling: On Autumn Harvest ah007: Old Songs & Bothy Ballads: Grand to Be a Working Man. Recorded at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2008.

This ballad is in FJ Child's collection under the title Bonnie Annie (Child 24) although Banks of Green Willow seems to be the most common traditional form. The earliest version was collected from northeast Scottish tradition and in included by George Kinloch in his Ancient Scottish Ballads of 1827. This version has been put together by Rod from texts in Child and a tune said to be from David Clements of Basingstoke, Hants, as collected by Vaughan Williams in 1909 and as in Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads. Further notes beneath the song text.

1: It's of a sea captain,
Come o'er the salt sea billow;
And he has courted a fair maid,
By the banks of green willow;
And he has courted this fair maid,
Till she was with child O (1).

2: Crying, "Oh me love what shall I do,
What will become of me;
For me father an me mother
They both will disown me?"

3: "Well, get to me your father's gold,
And some of your mother's money;
And you can go sailing over the ocean,
Along with your Johnny."

4: So she's got her father's gold,
And some of her mother's money;
And they have put foot on board of shipping (2),
Both her and her Johnny.

5:Now they'd not been a-sailing,
Not six weeks nor so many;
Before the sails though being outspread,
Miles they'd made not any.

6:They'd not been kept there (3),
Not six hours nor so many;
Before she was wanting women's help,
And could not get any.

7: "Well, it's hold your tongue you foolish girl,
Oh, hold your tongue my Annie;
You cannot get no women's help,
Neither for love nor for money.

8: And then a great storm it came upon them,
Miles they've made not any;
And she was delivered,
Of a beautiful baby.

9: But the seas they rose above them (4),
And the winds roared like thunder;
But still the sails would not fill,
And it's caused them to wonder.

10: "For there's fey folk on me gallant ship,"
The captain, he cries, so boldly;
"Or there is craft work on me gallant ship,
She will not sail for me."

11: And he's cast those black bullets (5),
Cast them twice six and forty;
And all those black bullets,
Fell on his dear Annie.

12: "Oh captain, dearest captain,
Here is fifty pound for thee;
If you would convoy me back home again,
Both me and my baby."

13: "Oh no," replies the captain,
"See the storm, it is agin me (6);
And it would be better to lose two lives,
Than it would to lose so many."

14: So he's tied a kerchief round her head,
Tied it soft and easy;
And he has thrown her right overboard,
Both her and her baby.

15: See how my love she do swim me boys,
See how my love don't taver (7);
See how me love do swim me boys,
Don't it make my heart quaver;
For she might never cease her swimming;
Till the banks of green willow.

16: But then the storm it did abate,
And the tide began a-flowing;
And the sails they did fill at last,
With a landward breeze blowing (8).

17: So they have steered for the land,
And at length reached the shore O;
But the corpse of fair Annie,
Had got there before O.

18: "Let the bells be rung so mournful,
As well befits a lady;
And 'tis here she shall be buried,
Both her and her baby."

19: "And I will buy my love a coffin,
Of the gold that shines so yellow;
And it's here she shall be buried,
On the banks of green willow."

Notes from Rod Stradling:
1) A simple way to get all the necessary information into the first verse.
2) Stolen from Denny Smith - it appears there in his text of Lord Bateman
3) 'A-sailing', from the previous verse, is repeated here in most traditional versions. Since it's clear that the ship won't sail, I felt the need to change it.
4) This and the following verse are largely my own inventions, I think.
5) The verse which hooked me in the first place - it comes from Child, his A text.
6) Another of my additions - basically to compress about three verses into one.
7) Taver: an old word meaning to become 'fatigued or exhausted with wandering or with toil or struggle'. The final line shows the Captain worried about exactly what he may find, at landfall.
8) Another invented verse of mine - again to achieve some compression.
A ballad I've vaguely known for a very long time, and have often thought about learning - and then haven't. The prompt to do so in this case was a single line (so often the way!) in Jon Boden's version of it - 'He has cast the black bullets, he's cast them twice six and forty'. Sends a shiver, doesn't it? [PS: These lines are from Kinloch's version of 1927].

Seemingly, Jon's version is from Martin Carthy so, as one may imagine, it has already been composited from a number of sources. I've not yet had the opportunity to ask Martin about the details. The tune is said to be from David Clements, of Basingstoke, Hants, as collected by Vaughan Williams in 1909, and as appears in Bronson - but, having listened to Mr Clements sing it (on the CD A Century of Song), I would suggest that Butterworth's orchestral rhapsody is the more likely source. The only other examples I had available were Child, Purslow's Constant Lovers, where a version mainly from Henry Way appears, collected by Hammond in Bridport Union, and The Penguin Book, supplying one from Emma Overd, of Langport, Somerset. Purslow makes the point that most collected texts are 'corrupted or deficient in significant detail', and admits that he has 'taken verses from several versions in both the Hammond and Gardiner manuscripts' to construct the one he prints. Also the Classic English Folk Songs/Penguin one has been compiled from fragments.

So I did the same, using the Baring-Gould C(a) text in Child as a basis - this is one from John Masters of Bradstone in South Devon, collected by Baring-Gould in 1889. I then added bits from Boden/Carthy, Purslow, CEFS and, I have to admit, inventing a few odds and ends myself. It's quite a long text when all the traditional versions are added together, and there's a good deal of needless repetition without taking the story much further. These are the places (as indicated above), where I've made up verses or lines which, I hope, do the necessary.

c p 2009 Autumn Harvest :