also from the same site Jakes own explanation of the song:-
BBC TV 20 January 1981
I prefer not to explain songs; songs should just sing for themselves. I'll try and make it quick.
The song is about a . . . about a woman . . . er, who was a shepherdess. Well, not a shepherdess: that's too . . . fine a word. She was a . . . sheepminder. And she wasn't really . . . a woman: she was a girl. And she was a little girl. And this happened, this happened about sixty year ago; sixty year ago.
She was sent up to look after the sheep on the moor, and to fend for herself – you know: scrabble about for her own food. And of course, er, after three of four years of this she passed away. And it was some time before they found her. And when they found her, they found her as they find . . . dead sheep; you know: a wisp of wool and a scrap of bone. And that was her life, one end to another. Fourteen, fifteen year old. That's how they used to treat children, they used to do it like that, and, given 'em a chance and the bastards still do.
Braden's Week, BBC TV 6 November 1971
In Swaledale, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, sheep-farmers used to, and some still do, count their sheep in a very curious fashion: instead of one, two, three, four they go thus: yan, tan, tether, mether, pip; azar, sazar, akker, conter, dick; yanadick, tanadick, tetheradick, metheradick, bumfit; yanabum, tanabum, tetherabum, metherabum, jigget. Having reached twenty they then take a stone, representing the twenty sheep that they have counted, and if they possess more than twenty sheep then they go for another twenty: yan, tan, tether, mether, pip; another twenty, another stone; yan, tan, tether, mether, pip; again twenty, again another stone.
Some time ago my grandmother told me – vaguely, casually, in a very off-hand sort of way – that we had a great aunt, Aunt Molly, who was a shepherdess. Not one of your petticoated shepherdesses with a frilly pinafore and a creamy complexion: this woman started minding sheep at the age of seven, scarcely left the moor, rotted and died with her ghastly sheep at the age of twenty-eight. Believe me, it comes as a shock to one at thirty-three years old, purple-shirted, Hush-Puppied, with the Aqua Velva still cool upon my cheek, with a house and a car and access to most kinds of physical contentment to discover that I'm related by bone, skin, time and place to somebody who led such a grim, grinding swine of a life.