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George Collins Is Innocent!

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GEORGE COLLINS
GEORGE COLLINS (2)
GEORGE COLLINS (3)


Related threads:
(origins) Origins: George Collins: revisited (86)
George Collins - what's it all about? (18)
Penguin: George Collins (13)
Lyr Req: Tony Rose's George Collins (5)
Lyr Req: Shirley Collins' George Collins (10)
TUNE ADD: George Collins (3) (1)


Phil Edwards 12 Oct 11 - 06:40 AM
Richard Bridge 12 Oct 11 - 06:54 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 12 Oct 11 - 07:03 AM
GUEST,AlanG at work 12 Oct 11 - 07:06 AM
JHW 12 Oct 11 - 07:25 AM
Jack Campin 12 Oct 11 - 07:50 AM
Phil Edwards 12 Oct 11 - 08:01 AM
RTim 12 Oct 11 - 09:21 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 13 Oct 11 - 05:05 AM
RTim 13 Oct 11 - 08:34 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 13 Oct 11 - 05:10 PM
RTim 13 Oct 11 - 05:43 PM
RTim 13 Oct 11 - 05:53 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 13 Oct 11 - 06:04 PM
GUEST,Kozh-Noe 30 Apr 12 - 09:26 AM
Steve Gardham 30 Apr 12 - 02:03 PM
Jack Campin 11 Sep 15 - 09:47 AM
Bill D 11 Sep 15 - 10:20 AM
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Subject: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 06:40 AM

Since becoming the owner of a copy of Tony Rose's Bare Bones, I've been listening quite a lot to his version of George Collins - one of the most quietly powerful tracks on an album that's full of them. (If there was ever an album that sneaks up on you & socks you over the head with love & death & passion, it's that one.)

George Collins (a.k.a. Giles Collins) is a variant on Clerk Colvin (a.k.a. Clerk Colvill) without the supernatural elements, and with a bit of Lady Alice added on at the end. Clerk goes out one morning, sometimes brushing off a warning from his wife not to go with any strange women, sometimes one from his mother; he sees a strange woman & instantly falls for her; he kisses her; she turns out to be a mermaid and to have poisoned him; he goes home and dies. George or Giles is different in that he has a girlfriend rather than a wife, she doesn't warn him and the strange woman isn't a mermaid; his girlfriend weeps for him when he's dead and promises to kill herself.

Looking into all this, I came across Frankie Armstrong's notes on the song, cited on Reinhard's site:

Clerk Colven is a two-timer: his wife suspects as much, but his mermaid lover is quite sure of it and acts accordingly. ... There cannot be a more unpleasant macho couplet in balladry than Colven's sneering boast to his wife that

    "I never saw a fair woman
    But with her body I could sin."

This level of hubris ensures his inevitable and well-merited demise. The mermaid is not one to forgive and forget and, says Frankie, while not a wholly desirable role model from a marriage counsellor's point of view, she is very satisfying to sing about.


But what does Clerk say to his wife (or mother)? Certainly there's one variant (in Bronson) in which he replies to her warning with the lines above - "don't bother me with your talk about being faithful, I'm the kind of guy who likes to roam around", in effect. But both the Child variants which feature the wife have something different:

A: 'O haud your tongue, my gay ladie,
Tak nae sic care o me;
For I nae saw a fair woman
I like so well as thee.'

The B variant is particularly interesting:

B: 'Now speak nae mair, my lusty dame,
Now speak nae mair of that to me;
Did I neer see a fair woman,
But I wad sin with her body?'

It's a rhetorical question, not a boast - "Of course I'll be true to you - do you think I'm the kind of man who sleeps with every woman he meets?" This to me makes much more sense of the story - he's not intending to meet the mermaid, he's bewitched by her - and it makes me think that the Bronson text is probably a garbled version of Child's B version.

Frankie's idea that Clerk was two-timing the mermaid (which, to be fair, Child also suggested) also seems weird and unhistorical - supernatural beings in ballads are strange and powerful and scary, they're not people like us whose feelings we care about. As for the idea that by the end of the ballad we're somehow expected to be rooting for the mermaid rather than Clerk, I can't see any support for that at all.

Clerk Colvill is innocent! Beware of the mermaids!

PS George Collins never met a mermaid, so this post isn't really about him. I couldn't resist the title, though (British readers of a similar age will know why).


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 06:54 AM

I hope you are not planning to dig up any cricket pitches.


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:03 AM

Yes Richard,
They said that about him too. I believe there is still a railway bridge in the east end bearing that claim.

Hoot


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: GUEST,AlanG at work
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:06 AM

So if GC never met a mermaid, who was the "Fair pretty maid washing on a marble stone"?

I've been singing the song for more than 30 years and she's been a mermaid (or some other water nymph) all that time!


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: JHW
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:25 AM

cf Shirley Collins on The Sweet Primeroses (1967 Topic/Bill Leader).
From her notes
'Originally it concerned a mortal man who became the lover of a water-sprite. He leaves her and in revenge she kills him with a poisoned kiss.'
'Peter Kennedy had this from Enos White in Sussex'.


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 07:50 AM

So few versions of this have been collected that speculation reminds me of that bit in Graves's The White Goddess where he tries to answer Donne's question of who cleft the devil's foot.

One other angle on it: Colvin dies of syphilis, not poison. The symptoms are characteristic of the disease in its earliest phase, between 1497 and 1510, when it causes intense bone pain very rapidly and often death within weeks as the bones splintered apart. Colvin's ever-worsening headache is his skull disintegrating from infection. After 1510-ish this form of the disease was never seen again - seems like herd immunity reduced its severity, resulting in something that settled down to the largely symptomless tertiary course we see today. (See Quétel's History of Syphilis for the details). So the medical picture dates the events in the ballad quite precisely.

The most likely way for the mermaid to have syphilis is if she's a prostitute. I've seen later references to prostitutes swimming out to ships for business where the sailors described them as mermaids.


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 08:01 AM

Alan - poor old George certainly met somebody, but she wasn't actually described as a mermaid / water-sprite / whatever. There's certainly something fishy (sorry) going on - I mean, she says

"Come hither, come hither, George Collins ... Your life will not last you long"

and he thinks "Nice one, I'll go for some of that!" That alone suggests she's put him under some kind of enchantment. I like the way it's not spelt out, though.

Jack - you old romantic. It certainly fits, in a horrible sort of way.


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: RTim
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 09:21 AM

- JHW - Enos White was from Axford near Basingstoke in Hampshire, and he was collected from by Bob Copper in the 1950's.
In the early 1900's - Dr. George Gardiner collected 5 versions of George Collins in and around The New Forest, Hampshire - none of which were totally complete.
Two of the versions were collected in Lyndhurst, from a singer and his Son in Law - and they had different tunes!!
I have recorded two versions of the song, one based on the Enos White version and one from George Blake.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 05:05 AM

Enos White's singing of 'George Collins', in Bob Copper's recording of him, is one of my all time favourites. I think it's a truly great performance. On the strength of this one recording I would say that Enos White was one of the great English tradional singers - but does anyone know what other songs he had in his repertoire and were any more recordings made?

I think (without dragging my vinyl discs out of the 'attic' and checking) that I first heard this recording on the Topic/Caedman 'Folk Songs of Britain' set. But it's also on one of the Topic 'Voice of the People' CDs (Vol 3., 'O'er his grave the grass grew green: Tragic ballads').


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: RTim
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 08:34 AM

It would seem that the only other song collected from Enos White was "The Bold Dragoon".
It appears on a FolkTrax recording - FTX-476 Three Maid's a Milking - Folk Songs from Hampshire. Therefore it was recorded by Peter Kennedy, or he took the credit for it!
Enos was married to a Randall, who was also a singer Bob Copper collected, and he also knew Bob Fosbury.
However, I can find no other songs listed that he sung.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 05:10 PM

Thanks Tim. A bit sad really.


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: RTim
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 05:43 PM

Thanks all for allowing this "Topic Draft" on Enos White;

I have discovered, going back to my copy of Bob Copper's - Songs and Southern Breezes,
it seems that Enos also sang "In Sheffield Park" - see page 110 & 111.

It also says on page 110, "Then we talked of songs he knew himself and I later made several recordings, among them 'George Collins' and 'The Bold Dragoon.'
So who really knows how many he knew?

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: RTim
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 05:53 PM

Found Another!!
According to the online RVW Library lists - Enos White also sang:
"We're All Jolly Fellows That Follow the Plough" - and an audio recording
exists in the BBC Archives, as it seems do the versions of the other three songs.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 13 Oct 11 - 06:04 PM

Perhaps, eventually, enough recordings will turn up to allow Musical Traditions (or a similar organisation) to issue a CD. When it happens it will be long overdue!


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: GUEST,Kozh-Noe
Date: 30 Apr 12 - 09:26 AM

Hello ! I'am from Brittany and sing Aotroù ar c'hont (a ballad which looks like the scandinavian ones Elveskud, Riaddaros, etc.)
I think also that the heroe is innocent. Two countries only show him guilty : Germany (Staufenberg) and Scotland/England (Colven/Collins).

I am mading a collection of all european versions (and extra-european : for instance Quebec and french island of "La Réunion"). Please send me versions and all you think about it to kozh-noe at orange.fr

And excuse my poor english ! You may mail to me in breton language if you wish...

   Padrig

Kozh-Noe means : as old as Noe -- collecting songs from old ages


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Apr 12 - 02:03 PM

Hi Padrig,
Does this include ballads such as Sir Oluf and the Elf-King's Daughter, Sir Nann and the Fairy? My own opinion on the British versions is that they're burlesques of an earlier version. I have quite a few continental versions such as Prior, Borrow, Olrik, Grundtvig etc.


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Sep 15 - 09:47 AM

I looked at a catalogue of the museum at the Royal College of Surgeons this week, which had a picture of a skull with syphilitic osteitis - the outer layer of bone has completely disintegrated and there are deep splits right through the skull as if it had been chopped up with a cleaver. That image isn't on the web, but some only slightly less dramatic ones are:

Alexis Thomson: Manual of Surgery, 6th ed
McCrae Collection specimen

You'd certainly take to your bed with a headache if that happened to you. (The distinctive thing about the earliest years of syphilis, before 1510, is that it happened much faster).


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Subject: RE: George Collins Is Innocent!
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Sep 15 - 10:20 AM

Clerk Colvin was guilty

A good example of why Glugle searches should have double quotes..... all I wanted was versions of lyrics.

Back to the topic.....


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