Sir Patrick Spens

Marci and I are away in the mountains this morning, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology you should be able to enjoy this classic old folk song. Get comfortable, because it’s over six minutes long! Pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy this old Scottish tale, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, as performed live only a few weeks ago by the great Martin Carthy.

There are several different versions of this old song, both musically and lyrically. Lyrically there is a shorter version (in which Patrick and his men drowned on the way from Scotland to Norway), and a longer version (in which they drowned on the way back). Carthy records the longer version here; the shorter version has been recorded by both Nic Jones and Martin Simpson, among many others. All these versions share the same tune, which was discovered by Nic Jones in Christie’s Traditional Ballad Airs. Other tunes, or versions of tunes, have been recorded by Ewan McColl and Fairport Convention.

‘Mainly Norfolk ‘ has a good summary of the recording history of this song here.

As for Martin Carthy, the Guardian did a great interview with him in celebration of his 70th birthday last year. His page at the Waterson:Carthy website is here. Curious guitarists might like to know that his guitar is tuned to CGCDGA.


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