Week 244 – Fare thee well dearest Nancy

I learned this from the singing of Fi and Jo Fraser on the Old Swan Band’s second LP, Old Swan Brand.  Although the release date given on the sleeve of that record is 1978, my recollection is that it didn’t actually come out until much later, around 1980 or 1981. I bought my copy at the Bracknell  Folk Festival in, I’m fairly sure, 1982. It was a secondhand copy. A signed, secondhand copy. Which always rather amused me: presumably someone saw the band, and enjoyed their music so much that they not only bought a copy of the record, but got the band to sign it; only to find, when they got it home, that it really wasn’t what they were expecting. Actually, that’s quite feasible, as the signatures on the cover are those of the Swan Band circa 1981 (including Richard Valentine, and “the invisible Paul Burgess”), and the band had a rather different sound by then – much fuller with the addition of the piano and. dare I say it, rather more polished. Also, it’s possible that the purchaser liked the tunes, but couldn’t stand all that singing…

Anyway, I was pleased to give the record a home, and I was particularly taken with this song. I imagine that the record originally had, or was intended to have, a booklet or insert giving details of the provenance of all the songs and tunes. My secondhand copy had none, and neither did the second copy which I inherited from my Mum last year. So maybe this was cut as a result of Free Reed’s financial problems at the time. Whatever the reason, the lack of an insert meant I had no information about where Jo and Fi got this song from (and I’ve never got round to asking either of them).

This was one of the songs I used to sing with Chris Wood in the 1980s, and I remember Chris saying that he thought they’d probably learned it from Mick Hanly’s A Kiss In The Morning Early. That’s one of those classic 1970s LPs which, for some reason, I’m pretty sure I never heard. Poking around on Mudcat and elsewhere, it seems that most of the songs on that album came from Colm O Lochlainn’s book More Irish Street Ballads. But Hanly seems to have used a different tune to the one found in O Lochlainn, and indeed O Lochlainn’s verses may well have been collated from various sources, such as printed broadsides.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter – it’s just a great song. So thanks Jo and Fi.

The sailor's adieu. Broadside printed by  J Pitts of Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The sailor’s adieu. Broadside printed by J Pitts of Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Fare thee well dearest Nancy

4 Comments to “Week 244 – Fare thee well dearest Nancy”

  1. Andy, my copy of Old Swan Brand has four A4 pages of notes. They say about this song:

    Fi & Jo got the words of this Irish version of “Nancy of Yarmouth” from Colm O’Lochlainn and the tune, heard on an Irish record first and then from the singing of Kevin Mitchell, who uses it for another set of words. Jo plays piano.

  2. Thanks very much for that, Reinhard. Jo has just confirmed on Facebook that she and Fi learned it from the Mick Hanly LP – but didn’t provide the extra details about the tune.

  3. Incidentally, Reinhard, at some point in the next few weeks I will be posting a song which is listed on your site, but which doesn’t currently have its own entry. In fact you don’t even list its Roud number. You will, of course, be welcome to reuse any of the information I provide, once I’ve typed it up!

  4. … probably because I didn’t know/check that it has a Roud number. I’m looking forward to your posting!

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