Week 2 – A Shepherd of the Downs

The largest single source of songs in my repertoire is almost certainly the Copper Family of Rottingdean in Sussex. So this is just the first of many.

Like a lot of the Coppers’ repertoire, this started life in the 18th century as a rather flowery romantic pastoral ballad, ‘The Contented Lovers: or A Courtship, between a SHEPHERD and a NYMPH’ – see the Bodleian Library’s Broadside Ballad collection. The oral tradition has introduced a number of changes – not least the opening line “Shepherd Adonis being weary of his sport” has been changed to something likely to resonate more with a Sussex shepherd. And all mentions of nymphs have disappeared, along with around a dozen verses. The finished article, as the Coppers sing it, is still pastoral and romantic, but it’s no longer twee – it benefits from a fine tune, and the words have a quiet dignity. I find much to admire in the shepherd’s outlook on life:

“No pride nor ambition, he valued no care”

I think that the first time I heard this song was on the LP No Relation by Royston Wood and Heather Wood, and I suspect that I learned the song from Bob Copper’s book A Song for Every Season some time before I’d actually heard Bob and John sing it on the 4 LP set of the same name. That set was of course on Leader Records so, like the rest of the albums on that label has, for reasons which are well-known (but none the less unfathomable and quite frankly unforgiveable), never been released on CD. You can however hear Bob and Ron sing the song on the excellent Topic CD Come Write Me Down.

You can find the Copper Family words at www.thecopperfamily.com/songs/coppersongs/shepherd.html

A Shepherd of the Downs

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