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Traditional English Folk Songs

A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs Full English - A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs features the amazing talents of Mat Williams who did most of the vocals and also played most of the traditional instruments involved in the recordings, such as Guitar, Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Banjo, Banman, Upright Bass, Piano and many more. Mat invited some fellow folk musicians to share him for this album and add more traditional instruments, such as the Irish Whistle, Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran. Enjoy the music and read along as you listen!


The Girl I Left Behind Me

Sound Sample:
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I’m lonesome since I crossed the hill
And o’er the moorland sedgy,
Such heavy thoughts my heart do fill,
Since parting with my Betsey.
I seek for one as fair and gay,
But find none to remind me
How sweet the hours I passed away
With the girl I left behind me.

O ne’er shall I forget the night,
The stars were bright above me
And gently lent their silv’ry light
When first she vowed to love me.
But now I’m bound to Brighton camp
Kind heaven then pray guide me
And send me safely back again,
To the girl I left behind me.

Her golden hair in ringlets fair,
Her eyes like diamonds shining,
Her slender waist, her heavenly face,
That leaves my heart still pining.
Ye gods above oh hear my prayer,
To my beauteous fair to find me
And send me safely back again,
To the girl I left behind me.

Words & Music: Traditional,
arranged & performed by Mat Williams

The bee shall honey taste no more,
The dove become a ranger,
The falling waters cease to roar,
Ere I shall seek to change her
The vows we’ve made to heav’n above
Shall ever cheer and bind me
In constancy to her I love,
The girl I left behind me.

In constancy to her I love,
The girl I left behind me.

Origin and meaning of The Girl I Left Behind Me

This tune is so well known that it immediately conjures up fifes and drums and marching troops and flags flying and uniforms gleaming as soldiers leave garrison, or camp, to go to war. There has been much scholarly (and less than scholarly) dispute about the origin of the tune:

“It’s English.”
“No it isn’t, it’s American.”
“Well, the version I have is definitely Irish.”
“That may well be so, but if you look carefully you will see that your version actually has a different tune.”
“No it doesn’t”
“Yes it does.”

and so on. Ah the joys of civilised academic research!

Whether or no any of the sources can be verified beyond doubt doesn’t matter at all to most listeners. As with many good tunes associated with the brutal and licentious soldiery, there are many vulgar versions of the words which a person of delicate sensibilities would blush to set down - and anyway, you can look them up for yourself.

Whatever it’s provenance, it’s a rattling good tune and has been used (because it is so catchy) in film scores, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Popeye, commercial jingles and, with different lyrics, became a drinking song called “Waxie’s Dargle.” I mention this last simply because it is such a lovely title.

Given all this, it is a welcome surprise to listen to an arrangement where the singer has really read, and what’s more, understood the words. Taken at a slower pace the tune allows the words to find their proper value. It is not a jolly farewell quick march at all but a heartbroken lament.

There is nothing particularly original in the words, no startling images. In fact, many lines are cliches:

“Her golden hair in ringlets fair,
Her eyes like diamonds shining,
Her slender waist, her heavenly face,
That leaves my heart still pining.”

And none the worse for that - cliches only become cliches because they are true for so many people.

The last verse uses the same technique as many folk ballads - indeed, Chaucer uses the same images in “The Canterbury Tales” - a list of impossible things that must happen before the lover could be unfaithful. (The reverse, in fact, of Scarborough Fair.)

For example, the following is from an Appalachian song which borrows from Robert Burns “My love is like a red, red rose” which in turn was collated by him from various Scottish folk songs.

Ten Thousand Miles
“The seas will never run dry, my love
Or the rocks melt with the sun
I’ll never prove false to the boy I love
Till all these things are done.”

My Love Is Like A Red, Red, Rose

“Till all the seas gang dry my dear
And the rocks melt with the sun,
And I will love thee still my dear
While the sands of life shall run.”

These were obviously highly satisfactory endings to love poems.

The slowing of the tune and the attention paid to the words illustrate perfectly the differences that can exist in the marriage of words and music. Change either one and the result is a new song.

Commentary written by Gillian Goodman,
© ClassicRocks, Mat Williams 2012


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