Both ‘Locks and Bolts’ and ‘William Taylor’ were on the first Martin Carthy album I ever heard, Crown of Horn. But not very long after hearing that record, I got to hear both songs sung by Martin’s source, the wonderful George ‘Pops’ Maynard, via the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England. When I learned the songs, I learned them from Pops, but the way I sang them was very heavily influenced by Martin’s versions.
Only one person took me to task over this, and that was the mighty Graham Metcalfe. It must have been 1979 or 1980, at the Gypsy Davy Folk Club, held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, just inside the Oxford ring road. I had sung ‘The Rambling Irishman’ and ‘Locks and Bolts’. I’d sung the first trying to sound like Cathal McConnell, and the second trying to sound like Martin Carthy – and trying to sound like Carthy at a period when he was, by his own admission, at his most mannered. Graham said something like “You’re a good singer, but you need to sing in your own voice”. Fortunately I had enough nous to recognise that he was right, and started to make a conscious effort to pare away some of the folky mannerisms, and to stop trying to sound like someone else. Others will have to judge if I was successful or not, but I think I can safely say that these days – and in fact for a long time now – I sing pretty well everything in the same voice.
A check of the Roud Index shows that this song has been collected just a few times in England, but fairly frequently under various titles in Scotland and, especially, in North America. There’s a good round-up of collected versions, and the song’s history, at www.joe-offer.com/folkinfo/songs/4.html, The links on that page to the Max Hunter Song Collection are broken, but these Arkansas versions are well worth seeking out. The main page for that collection is at http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/ and you’ll find the various versions of ‘Locks and Bolts’ listed in these search results – give them a listen.
I see that the song has a pretty venerable pedigree:
There is a broadside by Martin Parker (1635) sharing a refrain with this song; the situation described is much the same, though the hero simply moans about it at some length and doesn’t actually do anything:
The lovers joy and grief, or, A young-mans relation, in a pittiful fashion . Printed between 1674 and 1679 for F. Cole [sic], T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke [Bodleian 4o Rawl. 566(208)].
The tune indicated, Young Men and Maids, was also known as Locks and Bolts do Hinder and, earlier, as Lulling Beyond Thee; some early forms of John Barleycorn were sung to it.
I’ll conclude on an irreverent note, When I sing the penultimate verse (“He took his true-love all by the hand / Took his sword all in the other / Says: If you have more right than I / Take one and fight the other”) I can’t help feeling that her uncle’s servant misses a trick. Surely, if he’d been on the ball, he’d have taken the sword and fought the young woman…
Locks and Bolts