Monday, June 25, 2012

Cruel Ship's Carpenter

I found this song in a book titled 80 English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians collected by Cecil Sharp & Maud Karpeles. The same book was published in the USA as 80 Appalachian Folk Songs. I actually ended up with copies of both the British and the US editions of the book, bought in different second hand book shops! Although the content is identical, I have kept both.

The book contained both words and tune and I transcribed the tune into my computer and worked out the chords from there. Afterwards when I checked I found chords had been provided in the book. I have kept with my own set of chords which are much sparser than those in the book. The melody is in the Dorian mode and I think it could almost be sung over a Gm chord throughout. In fact, I added a G-D drone from a shruti box after recording the song. 

You can hear my version on You Tube.

Chords used in this song

O [Gm] Polly, O Polly, O [F] will you a[Gm]gree
O Will you agree and get [F] married to [Gm] me?
O [C7] William, O [Gm] William, that just cannot be
For [Gm] I am too young to get [F] married to [Gm] thee

O Polly, O Polly, if you will agree
Before we get married, some pleasure we’ll see.
He led her o’er mountains and valleys so deep
Till at length pretty Polly began for to weep

O William, O William, you lead me astray
On purpose my innocent heart to betray.
O Polly, O Polly, I guess you spoke right
For I was a-digging your grave last night

She wrapped her arms round him without any fear,
O How can you kill the girl that you love dear?
O Polly, O Polly, we’ve no time to stand.
And instantly drew a sharp knife in his hand.

He piercéd her heart and the blood it did flow,
And into her grave her fair body did throw.
He covered her up and away he did go.
He left no one but small birds to make their sad moan.

He boarded his ship on the salt sea so wide
And swore by his maker he’d see the far side.
Whilst he was a sailing in his heart’s content
The ship sprung a leak, to the bottom she went.

Whilst he was a lying in his sad surprise
He saw pretty Polly come before his eyes.
O William, O William, you’ve no time to stay;
[N.C.] There’s a debt to the devil that [F] you’re bound to [Gm] pay.

N.C. = No Chord (sing this unaccompanied)

Freeborn Man

This song was written by Ewan MacColl for the radio ballad The Travelling People.  I have put more information about this song and the radio ballads on my Occasional Folk Songs  Blog. 

I found the words and the tune for this song some years ago - I can't remember where now - and worked out the chords from the melody. In the end, for my version, I transposed the song up a tone from C to D to make it more comfortable for me to sing. The chords are for the song sung in D.

Chords used in this song.

I’m [D] a freeborn man of the [G] travelling peop[A]le,
[D] Got no fixed a[A]bode with nomads I am [D] numbered,
[A] Country lanes and by ways were [D] always [G] my [D] way,
I’ve [G] never [D] fancied [C] being lum[D]bered.

O we knew the woods, all the resting places
And the small birds sang when wintertime was over
Then we'd pack our load and be on the road
They were good old times for the rover

There was open ground where a man could linger
Stay a week or two for time was not your master
Then away you'd jog with your horse and dog
Nice and easy, no need to go faster

Now and then you'd meet up with other travelers
Hear the news or else swap family information
At the country fairs, we'd be meeting there
All the people of the traveling nation

I've made willow creels aye and heather besoms
And I've done some begging and some hawking
And some days I've spent wrapped up in my tent
And I've listened to the old folks talking

All you freeborn men of the traveling people
Every tinker, rolling stone, or gypsy rover
Winds of change are blowing, old ways are going
Your traveling days will soon be over

You can hear my version on You Tube

Monday, June 11, 2012

All Things are Quite Silent

This song was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Sussex in 1904 from a Ted Baines and is a lament by a woman whose husband has been taken from their marriage bed by the Press Gang to Serve in the Royal Navy.

I got the words and tune from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The tune is in the Dorian mode and the chords are for the tune as it is in the Penguin Book.
In the end though, I sang it a tone higher using a ukulele tuned ADF#B.

You can hear my version on You Tube

Chords used in this song

All [Dm] things are quite [G] silent, each [C] mortal at [Dm] rest,
When [Dm] me and my [G] true love got [C] snug in one [Dm] nest,
When a [G] bold set of [Am] ruffians they [Dm] entered our [Am] cave,
And they [Dm] forced my dear [G] jewel to [C] plough the salt [Dm] wave.

I [Dm] begged hard for my [G] sailor as though [C] I begged for [Dm] life.
They'd [Dm] not listen [G] to me al[C]though a fond [Dm] wife,
Saying: [G] "The king he wants [Am] sailors, to the [Dm] sea he must  [Am]go,"
And [Dm] they've left me [G] lamenting in [C] sorrow and [Dm] woe.

Through [Dm] green fields and [G] meadows we [C] ofttimes did [Dm] walk,
And [Dm] sweet conver [G]sation of [C] love we have [Dm] talked,
With the [G] birds in the [Am] woodland so [Dm] sweetly did [Am] sing,
And the [Dm] lovely thrushes' [G] voices made the [C] valleys to [Dm] ring.

Al[Dm]though my love's [G] gone I will [C] not be cast [Dm] down.
Who [Dm] knows but my [G] sailor may [C] once more re[Dm]turn?
And [G] will make me a[Am]mends for all [Dm] trouble and [Am] strife,
And my [Dm] true love and [G] I might live [C] happy for [Dm] life.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Old Man From Lee

A song from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs about an old man courting a young woman. The girl's mother is keen but the girl herself is not. On my recording on You Tube I use a concert ukulele in standard GCEA tuning and a rhythmic downstrum with the flesh of the thumb.

Chords used in this song

There [Dm] was an old man came [Am] over from [Dm] Lee
Eh, but I’ll not [A] have him.
There [Dm] was an old man came o’er from Lee,
A-courting me, a-courting me,
With his old grey beard,
With his old grey beard
Just [A7] Newly [Dm] shaven

My mother she told me to get him some pie.
I got him some pie and he put the crust by,

My mother she told me to hand him a stool.
I hand him a stool, he sat down like a fool,

My mother she told me to give him some wine.
I gave him some wine and he drank like a swine,

My mother she told me to take him to church.
I took him to church but left him in the lurch,

My mother she told me to take him to bed.
I took him to bed and he asked me to wed,

The Jovial Beggarman

This song originally comes from a 17th century play called The Jovial Crew by Richard Brome. It was first staged in 1642 during the reign of Charles I and then again in 1661 after the restoration of Charles II. It appeared in a number of broadsides from the 17th to early 19th centuries and can be found on line at the Bodleian Library Broadside collection

The chords are as I use on my You Tube recording where I use a concert ukulele tuned in standard GCEA. There were many more verses in the original and a number of variants. This is just my selection.

Chords used in this song

There [C] was a jovial beggar, he had a wooden [G] leg.
[C] Lame from his cradle and [G7] forcèd for to [C] beg.

And [G] a-begging we will [C] go we will go;
A-[F]-begging [G7] we will [C] go.

A bag for my oatmeal, another for my rye.
A little bottle by my side to drink when I am dry.

Within a hollow tree I live and there I pay no rent.
Providence provides for me and I am well content.

I begged for my master; got him a store of wealth
But now Jove be praised, I beg for myself.

When we are disposèd, we tumble in the grass
With long patchèd coats for to hide a pretty lass.

To London we will go where we will merry be;
With ev'ry man a can in hand, a lass upon his knee

Of all the trades in England, the begging is the best.
For when a beggar's tired, he can lay him down and rest.

I fear no plots against me, I hear no master's bell.
Then who would be a king when a beggar does so well?

Scarborough Fair

Scarborough Fair is well known from the Simon and Garfunkel recording, but here is a fuller set of words. They are based on a version published in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy as "Whittingham Fair" (Whittingham is a village in Northumberland). The chords are for the tune as sung by Simon and Garfunkel who, in turn, got it from Martin Carthy. I give the chords as for a ukulele tuned to the standard GCEA but on my recording on You Tube I actually sing it a tone higher and accompany myself on a ukulele tuned ADF#B.

Chords used in this song

Are you [Dm] going to [C] Scarborough [Dm] Fair
Parsley, [F] sage, rose[G7]mary, and [Dm] thyme
Remember [F] me to one who lives [C] there
For [Dm] once she [C] was a true love of [Dm] mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt...
Without any seam or fine needlework..

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Where water ne'er sprung nor drop of rain fell

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born

Now he has asked me questions three
I hope he will answer as many for me

Oh, will you find me an acre of land
Between the sea foam and the sea sand

Oh, will you plow it with a lamb's horn
And sow it all over with one peppercorn

Oh, will you reap it with a sickle of leather
And tie it all up with a peacock's feather

And when he has done and finished his work
O tell him to come and he'll have his shirt

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The ukulele is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. There are probably many reasons for this, but among those are its small size, making it a very portable "take anywhere" instrument. It is relatively inexpensive and the learning curve for a beginner is relatively shallow. It is possible, in a couple of hours, to learn enough chords to provide a simple accompaniment to a great many songs, but like many apparently simple instruments, there is enough of a challenge to provide a lifetime of enjoyment.

I took up ukulele because, as someone who goes to folk clubs and sings regularly, I wanted to be able to accompany myself. I had tried guitar without success but I found I was quite quickly able to achieve this with the ukulele. In my view, the ukulele is a viable alternative to the guitar which is widely used in folk music. 

I am really only a beginner on the ukulele, but I have been finding great satisfaction in being able to provide accompaniments to some of my favourite songs and I want to share this and also to provide a source of chords for folk songs.

I have found chords for many songs by searching on the internet and there are a great many chord and lyric sites but mostly they focus on popular music of one sort or another and chords for folk songs, though available, are less common. Consequently, I often find it easier to work them out for myself. I hope this blog will provide another resource.

Most of the songs I post here will be in the public domain, either traditional songs with no known author or, if the author of the song is known, they will have been written long enough ago to be out of copyright. I will also be posting some songs by more recent authors, but I will make that clear and in any case, many of these will be well known to you.