Week 303 – Green Bushes

Having recorded the debut Magpie Lane album, The Oxford Ramble, we realised that we’d got a number of concerts coming up and 60 minutes of material wasn’t going to be enough to provide a full evening’s entertainment. This is one of the Oxfordshire songs I introduced to the band’s repertoire to make up the deficit. You can watch our very first performance of the song on YouTube, and we recorded it on our second CD, Speed the Plough, with Ian Giles on vocals and me playing concertina.

Over time Ian’s introduction to the song grew to be quite an epic. It featured a certain amount of fun around the man’s unprompted offer of beavers (beaver = a hat; but you knew that of course). And then much surreal nonsense about the route which the forsaken lover took en route to his tryst – “over yonder green lea, not around yonder green lea, not through yonder green lea…” culminating in a splendid woodland-based pun which I won’t reproduce here just in case we ever decide to bring the song back into lour live repertoire (also, it doesn’t really work when written down).

I always enjoyed playing that concertina arrangement and, back in the summer when I decided to have a go at learning the song, part of the attraction was the thought of reviving the anglo accompaniment. However, as with ‘Nowell Nowell’, I soon realised that arrangements I use when accompanying someone else often don’t work when I try to sing the song myself. So I’ve opted for the simple approach, and sing the song unaccompanied.

Our version of the song was noted by Cecil Sharp on 15th September 1922 – so towards the end of his life – from 78 year old from Joseph Alcock of Sibford Gower, in North Oxfordshire. I’m guessing that Sharp was accompanied – and possibly introduced to Mr Alcock – by Janet Blunt, as she noted the song from him on the same day.

Green Bushes as collected from Joseph Alcock by Cecil Sharp

Green Bushes as collected from Joseph Alcock by Cecil Sharp. From the VWML Archive Catalogue.

The song seems to have been widely printed on ballad sheets in the nineteenth century, sometimes in a version where the suitor tricks the young woman’s father – a shepherd – into granting  permission for him to marry her; but in other cases with words which tally almost exactly with those collected in oral tradition.

A new song called The green bushes, from the Bodleian Broadside Ballad collection.

A new song called The green bushes, from the Bodleian Broadside Ballad collection.

 

Green Bushes

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