Tam Lin

Here’s another one of the Child Ballads reinterpreted by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer.

Here are the lyrics as Anais and Jefferson sing them:

Janet sits in her lonely room
Sewing a silken seam
And looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses green

And Janet sits in her lonely bower
Sewing a silken thread
And longed to be in Carterhaugh
Among the roses red

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
And she has gone to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go

She hadn’t pulled a rose, a rose
A rose, but only one
When then appeared him, young Tamlin
Says, “Lady, let alone”

“What makes you pull the rose, the rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you come to Carterhaugh
Without the leave of me?”

“But Carterhaugh is not your own
Roses there are many
I’ll come and go all as I please
And not ask leave of any”

And he has took her by the hand
Took her by the sleeve
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses green

And he has took her by the arm
Took her by the hem
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses red

There’s four and twenty ladies fair
Sewing at the silk
And Janet goes among them all
Her face as pale as milk

And four and twenty gentlemen
Playing at the chess
And Janet goes among them all
As green as any glass

Then up and spoke her father
He’s spoken meek and mild
“Oh, alas, my daughter
I fear you go with child”

“And is it to a man of might
Or to a man of means
Or who among my gentlemen
Shall give the babe his name?”

“Oh, father, if I go with child
This much to you I’ll tell
There’s none among your gentlemen
That I would treat so well”

“And, father, if I go with child
I must bear the blame
There’s none among your gentlemen
Shall give the babe his name”

She’s let the seam fall at her hell
The needle to her toe
And she has gone to Carterhaugh
As fast as she could go

And she is down among the weeds
Down among the thorn
When then appeared Tamlin again
Says, “Lady, pull no more”

“What makes you pull the poison rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you harm the little babe
That I have got with thee?”

“Oh I will pull the rose, Tamlin
I will break the tree
But I’ll not bear the little babe
That you have got with me”

“If he were to a gentleman
And not a wild shade
I’d rock him all the winter’s night
And all the summer’s day”

“Then take me back into your arms
If you my love would win
And hold me tight and fear me not
I’ll be a gentleman”

“But first I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild wolf
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your own true love”

“And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild bear
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your husband dear”

“And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear me not
And you will love your child”

At first he changed all in her arms
Into a wild wolf
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her own true love

And then he changed all in her arms
Into a wild bear
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her husband dear

And then he changed all in her arms
Into a lion bold
She held him tight and feared him not
The father of her child

And then he changed all in her arms
Into a naked man
She’s wrapped him in her coat so warm
And she has brought him home

Tam Lin is one of the most mysterious ballads in the tradition. Anais and Jefferson have chosen to omit a great chunk of back story – the story of how Tam Lin became a shape changer in the first place, as a result of an encounter with the Queen of Faerie. Anne Briggs sang an earlier version of the ballad which includes this story; you can read the lyrics she used here and you can listen to her version here.

Two by Martin Carthy

I hope to see Martin Carthy live one day; there are very few performers for whom I have a greater respect. Here’s his take on a couple of traditional songs: ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’ and ‘My Son John’. The second has been ‘tweaked’, as he puts it, to situate it in a contemporary situation.

Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child Ballad #1)

Here’s another one of Anais and Jefferson’s re-imaginings of the old Child Ballads:

Here are the lyrics as Anais and Jefferson sing them:

There were three sisters in the north
Lay the bend to the bonny broom
And they lived in their mother’s house
And you’ll beguile a lady soon

There came a man one evening late Lay the bend…
And he came knocking at the gate And you’ll beguile…

The eldest sister let him in
And locked the door with a silver pin

The second sister made his bed
And laid soft pillows ‘neath his head

The youngest sister, fair and bright
She lay beside him all through the night

And in the morning, come the day
She said, “Young man, will you marry me?”

And he said, “Yes, I’ll marry thee
If you can answer this to me”

“What is greener than the grass?
And what is smoother than the glass?”

“What is louder than a horn?
And what is sharper than a thorn?”

“What is deeper than the sea?
And what is longer than the way?”

“Envy’s greener than the grass
Flattery’s smoother than the glass”

“Rumor’s louder than a horn
Slander’s sharper than a thorn”

“Regret is deeper than the sea
But love is longer than the way”

The eldest sister rang the bell
She rang it from the highest hill

The second sister made the gown
She sewed it of the silk so fine

The youngest sister, true and wise
They’ve made of her a lovely bride

And now fair maids, I bid adieu
These parting words I’ll leave with you

May you always constant prove
Unto the one that you do love

More information about the Child Ballads is here. Anais Mitchell’s website is here.

Sir Patrick Spens

I think this is just stunning:

Here are the lyrics:

SIR PATRICK SPENS (Child Ballad #58)

 The king sits in Dumfermline town
Drinking the blood red wine
Where can I get a good captain
To sail this ship of mine?

Then up and spoke a sailor boy
Sitting at the king’s right knee
“Sir Patrick Spens is the best captain
That ever sailed to sea”

The king he wrote a broad letter
And he sealed it with his hand
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens
Walking out on the strand

“To Norroway, to Norroway
To Norway o’er the foam
With all my lords in finery
To bring my new bride home”

The first line that Sir Patrick read
He gave a weary sigh
The next line that Sir Patrick read
The salt tear blinds his eye

“Oh, who was it? Oh, who was it?
Who told the king of me
To set us out this time of year
To sail across the sea”

“But rest you well, my good men all
Our ship must sail the morn
With four and twenty noble lords
Dressed up in silk so fine”

“And four and twenty feather beds
To lay their heads upon
Away, away, we’ll all away
To bring the king’s bride home”

“I fear, I fear, my captain dear
I fear we’ll come to harm
Last night I saw the new moon clear
The old moon in her arm”

“Oh be it fair or be it foul
Or be it deadly storm
Or blow the wind where e’er it will
Our ship must sail the morn”

They hadn’t sailed a day, a day
A day but only one
When loud and boisterous blew the wind
And made the good ship moan

They hadn’t sailed a day, a day
A day but only three
When oh, the waves came o’er the sides
And rolled around their knees

They hadn’t sailed a league, a league
A league but only five
When the anchor broke and the sails were torn
And the ship began to rive

They hadn’t sailed a league, a league
A league but only nine
When oh, the waves came o’er the sides
Driving to their chins

“Who will climb the topmast high
While I take helm in hand?
Who will climb the topmast high
To see if there be dry land?”

“No shore, no shore, my captain dear
I haven’t seen dry land
But I have seen a lady fair
With a comb and a glass in her hand”

“Come down, come down, you sailor boy
I think you tarry long
The salt sea’s in at my coat neck
And out at my left arm”

“Come down, come down, you sailor boy
It’s here that we must die
The ship is torn at every side
And now the sea comes in”

Loathe, loathe were those noble lords
To wet their high heeled shoes
But long before the day was o’er
Their hats they swam above

And many were the feather beds
That fluttered on the foam
And many were those noble lords
That never did come home

It’s fifty miles from shore to shore
And fifty fathoms deep
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens
The lords all at his feet

Long, long may his lady look
With a lantern in her hand
Before she sees her Patrick Spens
Come sailing home again

Most modern versions of this old ballad (June Tabor says it first appeared in Percy’s Reliques in 1765) follow the tune used by Nic Jones, but there are several other tunes too. I have no idea where Anais and Jefferson got their tune from – perhaps Anais wrote it – but I think it’s glorious! As are their harmonies! This is taken from a new album of songs from the Child Ballads; Anais and Jefferson say that the songs on this album have been ‘carefully re-imagined to reflect an American sensibility as well as a deep respect for the tradition’. Good for them, I say; this is what the folk process has always done (and I’ve done a fair bit of it myself!).

Anais’ website is here. There are some interesting notes about the various versions of this song here. I want this album!!!

Too much rush…

282194-high_res-doctor-whoMarci and I have been watching a few of the more recent episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ lately. I love Matt Smith; he’s just mad enough to be the Doctor, in fact he’s probably the closest thing to Tom Baker that Doctor Who has had for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes around in his ‘off-duty’ hours with an ‘I Am From Space’ tee-shirt on.

Nonetheless, when I watch one of the episodes in the revived series (note: the original series ended in 1989; the revived series began in 2005), I have this nagging sense of tiredness. The old series had long stories; granted, the episodes were about half an hour long, but each story lasted for between four and six episodes. You had more time for character development, more time for intricate plots. Everyone didn’t seem to be in such a blasted rush. And there was no frenetic background music most of the time; those were the days when you only got background music if something dark and sinister was about to happen!

I know, I know, some people found the old episodes slow. I didn’t; I love long stories, as long as they’re good ones. ‘Lord of the Rings’ is 1200 pages long and I’m always sorry when I get to the last chapter; I don’t want Frodo to go to the Grey Havens, I want him to come back and have more adventures! I don’t find ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ too long; I love the way Tolstoy has room to stretch out and really develop the characters so that you feel you know them as fully rounded human beings by the time the story is over. I don’t find traditional folk ballads too long, either; I love the dramatic tension you get as the story unfolds from verse to verse.

But of course, we live in an age of hurry and rush. I doubt if Tolkien would have been able to publish ‘The Lord of the Rings’ today without Rayner Unwin asking him to cut 400 pages from it. Most people want quick novels of around 250 pages; Heck, most people don’t want novels at all; they want blog posts you can read in five minutes.

This presents Christianity with a problem. Character transformation is a vital part of the gospel: ‘And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). But this transformation can’t be rushed; it’s a lifetime thing, coming from long, patient prayer, practice, and perseverance. It doesn’t come in an ‘instant’ passage, and you can’t go to a short course and get it all in a weekend.

No – if you want to grow in Christ, you need to be willing to take time for it. You can’t getphoto-1_wa all the nuances of Jesus’ character in a 45-minute episode or a four-verse pop song; you need a miniseries that lasts a lifetime, a song that’s sung slowly and attentively, savouring every word and every image. Sorry to bring you the bad news on this, but there’s no short cut. If you want it badly enough, you will need to take time for it, and perhaps cut some other things out of your life to make room for it. In the long run, it’s worth it.

Jelly-baby, anyone?


“Jesus absorbs hate, returning good for evil”.

I’ve just discovered Marty Troyer’s Peace Pastor blog. Here’s a quote:

546094_271237436327333_418077736_nWhen Pilate asks Jesus if he’s really a king, Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not recognized in this world. If it were from this world, My servants would be fighting for my freedom.” (John 18:36) Instead of entering the expected cycle of violent retribution or choosing to flee, Jesus chooses nonviolent self-sacrifice and forgiveness. Instead of a justifiable war cry, all we hear from Jesus is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) At the precise moment one would expect divine anger to boil over into a kind of tit for tat, Jesus refuses every form of retribution imaginable.

And when the rubber meets the road and a disciple has wrongly used violence to protect Jesus (Matthew 26:52) he responds, “Put your sword back into its place, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” When Jesus first sees his followers who each hid out of empire’s gaze as he dies a painful death, his words are anything but vengeful: “Peace be to you.”

Rather than tit for tat, Jesus absorbs hate, returning good for evil.

Read the rest here. And bookmark him too.

The slippery slope

Last night I stumbled on a really interesting interview with Linda Manzer. Here it is:

For those of you who want the Coles Notes version, Linda was trained by Jean Larrivée between 1974 and 1978; she then went on to work with Jimmy D’Aquisto before setting up in business for herself. As she points out in the interview, female luthiers are a rarity (and interestingly, most of them are Canadian – one of a number of ways in which Canadian lutherie appears to be unusual – see this article for another), but she has made quite a name for herself over the years, building instruments for Carlos Santana, Pat Metheny, Stephen Fearing, Liona Boyd and Bruce Cockburn, to name just a few. She now builds about ten guitars a year, and they start at a whopping $30,000 each. This strange-looking one would cost about $100,000 if she felt moved to build another one.

I started playing guitar when I was about fourteen, and played cheap guitars for the next thirty years. I got married when I was twenty, became a minister in a Council of the North diocese on minimum stipend, and quickly started having children; we then moved to the Northwest Territories where life was even more expensive. I first heard a Larrivée guitar in 1977 (played by the great Bruce Cockburn), and always dreamed of buying one, but for most of my life they were way out of my league. I played $250-$350 models, cheap laminates; I did my best to play them well, but there’s a limit to how good you can sound on an instrument like that. Still, I don’t complain; we had other priorities, and I’m sure they were right.

When Jean Larrivée started out he was building guitars for individuals, just as Linda Manzer is now. But over the years he expanded and now, although his place can’t accurately be described as a factory with a production line, it’s part way in that direction. Larrivées now run from about $1600 to about $5000 (list price – you can get them cheaper in stores), and if you want a custom model you’ll pay more, of course. I got my OM-03E five years ago for about $1200 (they’re a lot more now, though you can get them cheaper here) and it suits me just fine, although of course I always dream of a better one (no matter how good a guitar you get, there’s always a better one!).

Still, I’m troubled by the slippery slope. I don’t challenge Linda Manzer’s right to charge top dollar for her instruments – she’s making some of the finest guitars in Canada today, and she’s a skilled craftsperson who puts hundreds of hours into each of her guitars. What troubles me is that its easy for me to sideline my conscience. I’d never think of buying a top line BMW or Audi (not that I could ever afford it); to me, that would be stealing money from the poor and needy, as John Wesley would have said. So why do I dream about this guitar sometimes?

Before I bought my Larrivée, my favourite instrument was a Seagull S-6 Folk; it had no electronics, laminate back and sides, and a solid cedar top, and it cost me all of about $350 (Seagulls are amazingly cheap for the quality of guitar you get. Oh yes, they’re Canadian-made, too). It sounds a bit clunky to me now, after five years of playing the Larrivée, but it sounded just fine when I bought it. Still, I can just about justify the Larrivée; it’s one of the cheapest guitars they make, it’s all solid wood (the gold standard for acoustic guitars), and it’s very affordable for many baby-boomers like me who’ve got no kids left at home and a mortgage paid off.

But $30,000? The only people who can afford to buy a $30,000 guitar are very rich people. Probably, very rich people who make music for a living and so need the best tool they can afford. I guess I’d draw the line there (or rather, Marci would, since we’d need to take out a second mortgage to be able to afford it!).

Bottom line? Jean Larrivée is making very fine instruments, but I think he’s still making guitars for ordinary people. Linda Manzer isn’t; she’s making guitars for the pros.

But then, who am I to point the finger? After all, this image has been doing the rounds on Facebook lately:


It troubles me a little that people can be smug enough to point fingers at mega-churches when we’ve all made compromises. After all, are we all living in the cheapest possible house so that we can give the extra to the poor? Are we all driving the cheapest possible car? Do we always take the cheapest possible holidays? Do we all eat and drink at home rather than going out for meals or a $5 latte at Starbucks?

So is my $1200 Larrivée more important than feeding the poor? Wasn’t the Seagull doing just fine?

It’s a slippery slope…

Apparently not just a ‘phase’ I’m going through

Six years ago this month, I travelled to the UK to begin a three-month sabbatical leave, the first and only sabbatical I have ever taken. I made the decision to spend my time continuing my reading and exploration of Anabaptist Christianity. A lot of people were surprised that I elected to do that in England (rather than, say, Goshen, Indiana), given that there is no ethnic Mennonite tradition in England. But I did this deliberately, because I was not interested in learning about ethnic Mennonite culture per se, but rather in Anabaptism as a spiritual tradition, a tradition of discipleship.

As it happened, in the course of the sabbatical I became less confident that generic Anabaptism and Mennonite history and practice can be separated – generic ‘Anabaptism’, ungrounded in the real practice of a real, flesh and blood congregation, can easily become a mirage rather than a movement made up of flawed and fallible human beings – but I remain grateful for the time I spent in the UK. It was through the website of the Anabaptist Network in the UK that I had first been captivated by Anabaptist thought, and I relished the opportunity to meet the people involved in the Network, to spend time at the London Mennonite Centre (now The Mennonite Trust) reading in their library, and to continue my reading and pondering over the course of the three months I was in England.

Of course, it would be wrong to say that I knew nothing of Anabaptism before that day some time in 2005 when I first (accidentally) clicked on the website of the Anabaptist Network. I’d had Mennonite friends for years, I’d read some of the novels of Rudy Wiebe, and I’d read about the Anabaptists in church history classes in college. But, of course, I’d read about them from the perspective of people who disagreed with them – never allowing the Anabaptists themselves to explain their convictions to me. Now I did, and immediately I felt at home.

I did not become a Mennonite – although I came close for a while – and so it would be easy to come to the conclusion that Anabaptism was a ‘phase’ I went through. That would be a wrong conclusion. I continue to this day to think of myself as an ‘Anabaptist Anglican‘. Many of the key emphases of Anabaptism – discipleship as the controlling paradigm of the Christian life, the centrality of the life and teaching of Jesus, reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus (yes, the much-maligned ‘canon within the canon’), the separation of church and state and the primary loyalty to Jesus as Lord and King above any allegiance to the state, a distrust of clericalism, every-member ministry, a preference for simple worship and simple living, pacifism and nonviolence, reconciliation – these and many more things have continued to be central to my understanding of what it means to be Christian and what it means to be ‘church’. The Anabaptist in me continues to challenge the Anglican, just as sometimes the Anglican continues to challenge the Anabaptist. I know that I am no longer entirely comfortable as an Anglican (if I ever was), but I am sure I would not be entirely comfortable as a Mennonite either. And maybe that’s a good place to be.

Still, the seven ‘Core Convictions‘ of the Anabaptist Network continue to express some of my deepest ideals of what being a Christian is all about – even if I am not in entire agreement with every single detail of them. Stuart Murray Williams has written a fine book exploring them – ‘The Naked Anabaptist‘ – and that book has been an inspiration to me as I continue on this journey as an Anabaptist Anglican. I have no idea where that journey will lead, but one thing I am sure of is that it’s not ‘just a phase’ I’m going through!

At about the same time I began to get interested in Anabaptist Christianity, I also began another new interest – traditional folk music. It would not be strictly accurate to say that I was unaware of trad folk before this; I had listened to Planxty as a teenager, I knew about Martin Carthy, and I knew that Paul Simon had pinched Martin’s arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’ without acknowledging that it was a traditional song. I had been a Pentangle fan since my teens, I knew about Steeleye Span, and I occasionally sang songs like ‘The Water is Wide’.

Nonetheless, my main musical interest was not trad folk – it was ‘singer-songwriter’ music. I had been a big Simon and Garfunkel fan as a teenager, and Bruce Cockburn’s guitar playing had wowed me as a young adult. I saw Martin Simpson at the Edmonton Folk Festival in the 1990s and barely noticed him. But that began to change about eight years ago. I heard Andy Irvine play at the folk festival and heard him talk about how he had learned his songs from old singers in pubs in Ireland, and I began to catch a glimpse of a living tradition. I was captivated by the magical voice of Kate Rusby and began to be interested in where these old traditional songs she sang came from. And then, a single album by Martin Simpson, ‘The Bramble Briar‘ (quickly followed by ‘Kind Letters‘) exploded on my consciousness, and gradually I began to realize that what I wanted as a musician was to take my place in the long line of people who had sung these old songs, shaped them and moulded them and passed them on to a new generation.

It was about that time that I started playing at open stages in Edmonton, so a lot of people here assumed I had always been a traditional singer, but in fact it was very new at the time. Now, however, it seems to have stuck. Yes, I do write songs of my own, but I don’t see myself primarily as a songwriter. I love the traditional music of the country of my birth (and its North American offshoot), and I want to pass it on.

So (to misquote 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’) these two interests are apparently not ‘just a silly phase I’m going through’. I’ve had those sorts of phases, but these two have stuck. And I’m thankful for that.