Sometimes when I go to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library I am looking for something in particular. But recently I’ve taken just to browsing through the bound volumes of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes and Folk Words. Somehow it can be quite a thrill to see some classic of the folk revival, as originally notated a hundred years or so ago, in Sharp’s hand. But even better when you come across an unusual variant of a song, or discover a song which you’ve never encountered before.
Such was the case with ‘A Cornish Young Man’, which Sharp noted down on 11th April 1904 from Fred Crossman of Huish Episcopi in Somerset. In the 1950s, Fred’s son – also Fred – was recorded singing a version of the same song by Peter Kennedy. But Mr Crossman Junior had learned it from another singer in the area and, funnily enough, had no recollection of the song having been in his father’s repertoire.
I have added three extra verses at the end of the song, taken from a ballad sheet in the Bodleian’s collection, titled ‘The Outlandish Dream’ (which starts, potentially misleadingly, with the phrase “An Outlandish Knight”).
Of course it is always rash, having found a “new” song in Sharp’s MSS, to assume that no one has been there before you. In particular, that Martin Carthy hasn’t been there before you. Since learning the song I’ve discovered that Martin has recorded ‘A Cornish Young Man’, and it’s on the CD version of Right of Passage – a fact which had escaped my attention since I only have the vinyl version of that album.
A Cornish Young Man