Week 26 – Lord Bateman

Another fine song from the Willett Family repertoire. It’s the very first song on the Topic LP The Roving Journeymen, sung by the octogenarian Tom, and his performance is a real tour-de-force.

He gets very nearly to the end of the tale, too, by the simple expedient of missing out the first few verses! A number of traditional singers – Joseph Taylor for instance – make the fatal mistake of starting this song at the beginning: Lord Bateman sails to the East (to fight in the Crusades?), is imprisoned by a Turk, and tied to a tree. Then, just when the Turk’s daughter makes an appearance, the singer runs out of verses and the song grinds to a halt. Tom Willett dispenses with all the back story, and starts the tale at this point. And where the words might normally be

The Turk he had one only daughter

he does a brilliant bit of rationalisation and sings

Now the turnkey had but one only daughter

It doesn’t matter about his captor’s nationality – the important fact is that he’s a gaoler, and his daughter is going to set our hero free.

I used to finish the song at the same point as Tom Willett, with the verse where Lord Bateman realises the identity of the beautiful, richly attired visitor who is asking him for a slice of bread and a bottle of wine

Now Lord Bateman flew all in a passion
His sword he broke it all in pieces three
Saying I’ll seek no more for no other fortune
Oh it’s since Sofia now have crossed the sea

But I was singing this at home one time when my Dad was around. I finished, and he immediately said “Well, what happened then?” Now admittedly this was what he used to say at the conclusion of pretty much every episode of Play for Today. But this isn’t modern drama, it’s a traditional ballad, and it deserves a proper ending. So I added on three final verses as collected by Sharp, and printed in Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring.

Thanks Dad – you were right.

Lord Bateman

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