249. Sir Patrick Spens (Child 58) - (Traditional Scottish)
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Uploaded on Mar 13, 2011
This song, of Scottish origin, is one of the most popular of the ballads collected by Francis James Child. It is believed to be based on an actual event - the king is probably King Alexander III of Scotland, who sent Sir Patrick Spens on his dangerous voyage to Norway to bring back the child of the king's daughter Margaret, who had married Eric, the young King of Norway (1281), but had died in childbirth. The king's seven-year-old grand-daughter (the Maid of Norway) was therefore the heir to the Scottish throne. There is no record of a "Patrick Spens" himself, so he is probably a fictional character.
The ballad has many variations but they all tell basically the same story: The King of Scotland asks for the most skillful sailor in the land to take charge of his ship. Sir Patrick's name is mentioned by an old knight, and the king sends him the unwelcome letter commanding him to set sail at the most dangerous time of year. In some versions the ship is wrecked on the way over, while in longer versions Sir Patrick safely reaches Norway, only to be accused by the Norwegian lords of wasting their king's resources. Offended, Sir Patrick leaves the following day despite the bad omen of seeing the new moon with the old moon in its arms, which would indicate dangerous tides. The inevitable result is that the ship sinks, taking him and the Scottish lords to the bottom of the sea. The last few verses point up the ironic contrast between the lifestyle of the lords (and their ladies) with the men's ignoble death.
I first knew this ballad as a poem in one of my school textbooks.
There is a popular version of the song which was sung by Fairport Convention, but my performance here is based on my memory of the way it was sung by Ewan MacColl.
I tried putting the lyrics here in case my fake Scottish accent was hard to follow, but they didn't fit. But you can find them on my website.
For a playlist of all my a capella songs:
You can also watch a playlist of my renditions of the Child ballads:
For lyrics and chords of my songs please see my website: http://www.raymondcrooke.com
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