This week I was going to post the Copper Family’s ‘Sheepshearing Song’. However when I looked on the net to get some background information, I discovered that actually I’d already done that song almost exactly a year ago! My memory’s not what it was, you know…
So, here’s another one from the Copper Family repertoire, which I learned from Bob Copper’s book A Song for Every Season. On the vinyl box-set it’s sung solo by a young Jill Copper, while on the Topic CD You Never Heard So Sweet released last year, there’s a 1951 recording of Jim Copper singing the song, under the title ‘Lemany’.
I’ve often puzzled over the last verse: what was the white robe the singer used to wear, and why did the girl’s parents look down on him him for wearing it? was he some kind of a priest, or a member of the Carmelite order?
Having seen the ballad sheet shown below from the Bodleian Library, I think the answer is more prosaic. The last verse here (sung from the woman’s perspective) is
Why did you banish my true love from me?
Why did he die and I never see him more?
Because that my parents look’d slightly on him
They robbed me of the lad I adore
So I suspect “robbed” has at some point been misheard as “robed”, and from there we get the Coppers’
But it was her cruel parents that looked so slightly on me,
All for the white robe that I once used to wear.
The reference in the penultimate verse, incidentally, to playing on the pipes of ivory is, I’m assured a “delicate euphemism for lovemaking”. Caroline Jackson-Houlston, who sings a Dorset version of this song, pointed this out to me many years ago; you can read more on this in her article Thomas Hardy’s Use of Traditional Song in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Dec., 1989), pp. 301-334.