I’ve been singing this one for an awful long time, and I never tire of it. Bob Copper sings it solo on A song for every season and I learned it from my friend Mike’s single LP of songs drawn from the box set. Mike made up two harmony lines for the chorus, and we were able to make use of those when, as students, we sang the song with Caroline Jackson-Houlston. When Mike went on a year abroad I carried on singing it in harmony with Caroline, and then when I left University I went back to singing it on my own. Which I’ve been doing ever since. Then a dozen or so years ago, Ian Giles suggested we should add it to the Magpie Lane repertoire. It’s a great joy to sing it in harmony with Ian (happy birthday, by the way!), and a particular joy when we sing it at a club or festival and it seems like the entire room is singing along.
We recorded the song, under the title of ‘The Constant Lovers’ on our 2002 CD Six for Gold. Below you’ll find a version of us singing it at the Oxford Folk Festival in 2006. I remember that we had sung it two years earlier, at the first Oxford Folk Festival, which happened to be the same day as Bob Copper’s memorial service in Rottingdean.
Gordon Hall also learned the song from Bob Copper but, in typical style, added a few extra verses:
Legend gives us a happy ending to this lovely old song
I pray you pay attention, I shan’t keep you long.
When Phoebe leapt from the clifftops to the wild billows roar
There a bloody big bramble snarèd up in her drawers
And she cried o-o-o-oh, my love is gone
That sweet youth I adore
And I’m left a-swinging, by my calico drawers.
A young naval lieutenant, so salt (?) and so true
Was patrolling inshore for King George’s Revenue
When he spied that young damsel through his eyeglass (?)
He said: I knows that’s my Phoebe by the size of her -
Ah-ah-ah-ah, my lover’s saved
That sweet girl I adore
She’s been saved by the bramble and her calico drawers.
Well he lowered a boat and he rode for the shore
And he brought that fair damsel to safety once more
Straight away to the church, where they married in speed
Now in a cot by the seaside they live happy indeed
Crying o-o-o-oh, my lover’s saved
That sweet love I adore
She’s been saved by a lawyer, and her calico drawers.
And so now every morn when the sun shines so clear
Especially when tourists and trippers are near
This constant young couple earn a fortune in gold
By exhibiting the scars where the brambles took hold
Crying o-o-o-oh, my lover’s saved
We’ve got bright gold in store
And it all came through wearing those calico drawers.
You can hear Gordon’s version on the CD Good Things Enough (Country Branch CBCD095).
Another Sussex singer who learned it from Bob was Ron Spicer, and a recording of him singing the song is on the Veteran CD When the May is all in Bloom. John Howson’s notes to that CD say
In Sussex, Jim Copper had the first verse and the tune and Bob completed it from the Gardiner manuscripts. Ron first heard Bob singing it and he says that it is thought of as being of local origin as the cliffs at Fairlight near Hastings are known as a ‘lover’s leap’.
Derek Schofield investigated the background to Bob Copper’s song in the Autumn 2012 edition of English Dance & Song, without being being able to reach any definite conclusion. The Gardiner connection seems to be tenuous – there’s not a version collected by him with the same words as Bob’s, and in any case Jon Dudley thinks it unlikely that Bob ever searched through collectors’ manuscripts at Cecil Sharp House. A more promising clue is given in the notes to the Song for every season box set:
First verse and tune from Jim Copper (from his father), rest of words from Folk magazine, No. 1.
But in that 1962 EFDSS magazine the source is given as – the Copper Family! There’s no definite evidence, but it seems quite possible that Peter Kennedy, who recorded the Coppers, edited Folk magazine, was prominent in the EFDSS and most probably had spent time going through the Gardiner MSS, provided Bob with a complete set of words, then collected it back from him!
Whatever the story, it’s a great song.
The lover’s lament for her sailor. Broadside printed by H. Paul, 22 Brick Lane, Spitalfields, from the Bodleian Collection.
My Love is Gone
Andy Turner – vocal
Ian Giles, Andy Turner, Marguerite Hutchinson, Sophie Thurman, Jon Fletcher, Mat Green – vocals