I have high standards for this song, because it is amongst my top two or three all time favourite traditional folk songs. I’ve been searching YouTube all summer for a version I really liked, so I could share it with you. Well, here is New England guitarist David Surette with a lovely DADGAD arrangement (for non-guitarists, DADGAD is an alternative tuning much used by ‘Celtic’ musicians, in contrast to standard guitar tuning which is EADGBE).
The Franklin expedition was lost in the Canadian Arctic in the late 1840s, and for many years Franklin’s widow funded further expeditions to look for her husband and his crew. Franklin and his ships have still not been found, although some of the bodies of his men have been discovered, and I heard today that the Canadian government is going to have another look very soon!
This song is sometimes called ‘Lord Franklin’ and sometimes ‘Lady Franklin’s Lament’. It first appeared on a broadside ballad sheet in London around 1850, but quickly passed into the tradition and evolved, as traditional songs will. Mainly Norfolk gives a couple of alternative versions of the song along with a short list of British recordings. Mudcat has a number of interesting and wide-ranging threads on the song (including some amusing parodies of the lyrics); this one is as good a place to start as any.
I should say that my two absolute favourite recordings of Lord Franklin are not available on YouTube; they are Nic Jones’ live version (now found on his CD ‘In Search of Nic Jones‘), and a beautiful arrangement by Irish singer Éilís Kennedy on her CD ‘Time to Sail’. If you can get them, do! (‘Time to Sail’ is hard to find nowadays)
David Surette is a very fine guitarist and guitar teacher in New England. He shares a website with Suzy Burke here, on which I learn the following:
One of New England’s finest guitarists, David Surette has been quietly generating a growing following for his work as a soloist. His solo albums “Back Roads” and “Trip to Kemper” have helped to establish him as a top player and arranger of Celtic fingerstyle guitar, yet his diverse repertoire also includes original compositions, blues and ragtime, traditional American roots music, and folk music from a variety of traditions, all played with finesse, taste, and virtuosity. He is equally at home on the mandolin and bouzouki, and is well-known as a top-notch accompanist in New England’s contra dance and Celtic music circles, and is also in demand as a studio musician and sideman. He has performed throughout the country at festivals, concerts, coffeehouses and contra dances, and in 1999 toured in Brittany, France. Since 1988 Surette has enjoyed an inspired musical partnership with singer Susie Burke, with whom he has just released a duo recording, “Sometimes in the Evening”. He also plays regularly with fiddler Rodney Miller, with whom he performed at the 1999 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and wth whom he has released two recordings. In addition to performing and recording, Surette maintains an active teaching schedule, and is head of the folk department at the Concord (NH) Community Music School. He has also taught at numerous summer music camps, including Augusta Heritage Festival (WV), Swannanoa Gathering (NC), Summer Acoustic Music Week (NH), and Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddle School (CA). He was awarded an NEA travel grant in 1994 to study the traditional music of Brittany, and has written a book of Celtic guitar arrangements for Mel Bay Publications.