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Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)

26 Jan 08 - 12:48 PM (#2245467)
Subject: Lyr Add: Silkie (Anne Lister)
From: Mrrzy

by Anne Lister (Tabster) on Waiting for the Hero

I heard a mother lull her bairn
And aye she rockit and she sang
She took so hard upon the verse
That the heart within her body rang.

O row cradle and go cradle
And ay sleep thou my bairn within
O little ken I my bairn's father
Or yet the land that he lies in.

O up then spoke a grimly ghost
That lay so long at her bed feet
Saying here am I thy bairn's father
Although I'm not your love so sweet.

Jo Immrannoe it is my name
Jo Immrannoe they do call me
And my lands they lie both broad and wide
Among the rocks of Sule Skerry.

And foster well my young young son
And for a twelve month and a day
And when the twelvemonth's fairly done
I'll come and pay the nurse's fee.

But how shall I my young son ken
And how shall I my young son know
Mongst all the silkies in Sule Skerry
He will be midmost among them all.

My husband is a proud gunner
And aye a proud gunner is he
And the very first shot that he will fire
Will be at my young son and thee

I fear no living proud gunner
I fear no mortal man, quoth he
For powder will not burn in salt
So I and thy young son will go free.

Oh when that weary twelvemonth came
He came to pay the nurse's fee
He had one coffer full of gold
And another full of white money.

Upon the Skerry is your young son
Upon the Skerry lieth he
Since thou will see thy own young son
Now is the time to speak with he.

The gunner lay behind a rock
Behind a tanglie rock lay he
And the very first shot the gunner fired
It struck his wife about the bree.

Jo Immrannoe and his young son
With heavy hearts took to the sea
Let all that live on mortal land
Ne'er mix with silkies of the sea.

26 Jan 08 - 02:47 PM (#2245544)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (Anne Lister)
From: Susan of DT

There are great chunks of the traditional (Child #113) ballad in here and most of the rest is paraphrased from The Grey (or Great) Silkie (or Selchie) of Sule Skerry, see SILKIE1 SILKIE2 and SILKIE3 in the DT.

26 Jan 08 - 02:53 PM (#2245548)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (Anne Lister)
From: Anne Lister

It's actually not a paraphrase from anything, and I didn't write it .. it's from the Penguin Book of Ballads. I'd have to dig out my copy to tell you more.


26 Jan 08 - 04:47 PM (#2245648)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (Anne Lister)
From: Susan of DT

I put it in as SILKIE4. I'll remove the attribution. It looked awful close to the versions I knew. Check the other songs MRRZY posted to see whether they are really yours. I seem to remember your giving us permission to include your songs, when I saw you a few years ago. Is that OK?

26 Jan 08 - 04:52 PM (#2245655)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Malcolm Douglas

This is a North Ronaldsay text, taken down by Charles R Thomson of Howar in 1859 or 1860, on behalf of John Keillor, the minister of the island. Keillor was gathering material for John Francis Campbell (compiler of Popular Tales of the West Highlands) but this text (no tune was noted) remained unpublished until it appeared in David Thomson's People of the Sea (London: Turnstile Press, 1954, 206-7).

It is altered in places if the transcription above is accurate, so I'd recommend that you hold off adding it for now, Susan; if it is to be included in the DT it ought to be an accurate copy of the traditional form rather than one taken from a modern arrangement.

To what tune has it been set for this record? If lyrics of all the songs are to be posted here, contextual information ought to be included.

Further commentary is in Alan Bruford, 'The Grey Selkie', in Ballad Studies, ed. Emily Lyle. Cambridge: D S Brewer for the Folklore Society, 1976, 41-65.

26 Jan 08 - 05:01 PM (#2245658)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Anne Lister

I used an adaptation of the melody used by Joan Baez - not a traditional tune.


26 Jan 08 - 06:55 PM (#2245780)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Susan of DT

Malcolm - It is sitting in my "fornext" directory as a text file that can easily be updated. Let me know when it gets posted - I'll be away for a couple of weeks.

26 Jan 08 - 08:52 PM (#2245826)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Mrrzy

What I like about this version is that it explains, in the Joan Baez version, the otherwise incomprehensible gunner shooting line.

Did the gunner shoot his wife by accident?

26 Jan 08 - 09:04 PM (#2245836)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Malcolm Douglas

That's the implication, but it occurs in no other version of the song. Bruford thought the final verses rather contrived, and suggested that they 'were added by some local person to supply the defective version of the ballad which he had heard', but that that person 'was working within the tradition'.

The gunner episode in other versions is quite straightforward, surely?

26 Jan 08 - 09:08 PM (#2245839)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Ythanside

From the singing of Bill Alldrick.

The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry

An earthly maid she sits and sings,
And oh, she sings la loo la lee,
Little ken I my bairn's father,
Far less the land whaur he may be.

It wasnae well, the maid she cried,
It wasnae well, alas, said she,
That the great silkie o' Sule Skerry,
Should come and get a bairn wi' me.

Then one arose at her bedfoot,
And a grumlie guest I'm sure he'll be,
Saying, here I am thy bairn's father,
Although I be not comely.

I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
But when I'm far and far frae land,
My home it is in Sule Skerry.

And he has taken a purse o'gold,
And he has placed it on her knee,
Saying gie tae me my ain wee son,
And take this for your nurses fee.

It shall come to pass on a summer's day,
When the sun shines hot on every stone,
That I shall take my little young son,
And teach him how to swim the foam.

And ye shall marry a fine gunner,
And a very fine gunner I'm sure he'll be,
And e'er he shoots, wi' his first shot
He'll kill baith my young son and me.

The best and most comprehensible of many versions I've heard of this ancient song.


26 Jan 08 - 09:42 PM (#2245855)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Susan of DT

The gunner shoots the two seals (silkies), father and son, not the woman. Silkies (Selchies) are mythical critters that are shapechangers who can appear as humans or seals.

27 Jan 08 - 12:54 PM (#2246257)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister)
From: Bonecruncher

There is a congenital defect of the hands and feet, syndactyle, where the fingers or toes are fused together like flippers. Due to intermarriage this was, at one time, common in the Shetland Islands.
In years gone by it was said that a child with this defect was the result of a union between the mother and a seal.