Lord Bateman

Provoked by my previous post on Wood Wilson Carthy, and a train of thought which led me to check my itunes library, I found I have at least eight different versions of this ballad. A quick google and a bit of digging shows the song was collected in various fragmentary forms and slightly differing titles from across the UK and as far away as the Appalachians. It was first recorded in North Lincs, with a version sung by both the the great Joseph Taylor and Mr Thomson. Such a widely travelled song must be special. I suppose the question then is this – what does the song have that makes it such a popular choice for both the original and revival singers? What works for me is the economy of the storytelling, typical of a great folksong, polished and honed by generations of performers who have removed anything unnecessary, and making sure the poetry really shines. We have an epic tale worthy of any movie, a wild roving hero,

Lord Bateman was a noble lord,
A noble lord of high degree,
And he shipped himself on board a sailing ship,
Some foreign lands he would go see

who falls into danger,

He sailed East, and he sailed West,
Until he came to proud Turkey.
And he was taken and put in prison
Until his life was quite weary.

is rescued through the power of love,

She’s taken him to her father’s hall
And given to him a glass of wine.
And ev’ry health that she drank unto him was
“I wish, Lord Bateman, that you were mine.

” but who is then parted from his love, but both vow to meet seven years on (a mystical number).

For seven long years I’ll make a vow,
And seven long years I’ll keep it strong;
If you will wed with no other lady
Then I will wed no other man.”

The time elapsed, thousands of miles are covered

Seven long years were up and past
These seven long years as I tell to thee
And she’s packed up all of her gay clothing,
And said Lord Bateman she would go see.

and the narrative concludes after a cliffhanger ending. Does Turkey’s daughter get her man? What if he’s got married in the interim? Choose one of the following versions to find out, if you don’s already know!
These all show the adaptability of the song, Jim Moray has a decent stab, but is a bit speedy, Chris Wood’s is still my favourite, though Sandy’s unaccompanied has a stateliness to it, and Sinead and Christy’s is pretty epic and exotic.

Interestingly we also have this –

There is a romantic legend that the mother of Thomas Becket was a Saracen princess who followed his father, a pilgrim or crusader, back from the Holy Land, and wandered about Europe repeating the only English words she knew, “London” and “Becket,” until she found him.

Woo – wouldn’t that be brilliant!

There is no foundation for the story.

Bugger! Nonetheless, it’s a great story, and one that should continue to be retold and reworked. (Of course if it were a movie it would be a re-boot!).

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