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'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'

21 Feb 00 - 03:36 PM (#182300)
Subject: Patrick Spens and Hughie Graeme

On his cd "Classic Scots Ballads," Ewan MaColl sings a song called "Hughie Graeme" that sounds strikingly similar to the version of "Patrick Spens" sung by the more popular band Fairport Convention. Are these two distinct tunes, or variants on one and the same? the lyrics, at least, are completely different. also, if anyone has chords for the Ewan MacColl version, please do tell me. I'd appreciate anything on these two songs.

25 Oct 03 - 01:04 AM (#1041467)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Malcolm Douglas

They are essentially the same tune. It isn't unusual for completely different songs to share tunes (or vice versa). Unfortunately, Fairport rarely bothered to say where their material came from, and I can't remember just now whether or not that tune was ever associated with Patrick Spens traditionally. Anyhow, it's way past my bedtime. Perhaps someone in a different time-zone will know. Otherwise I'll try to look into it tomorrow. Meanwhile, if you run a search for either song through the search engine on the main Forum page (remember to try alternate spellings too) you'll find out quite a bit about them.

25 Oct 03 - 06:35 AM (#1041522)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: The Shambles

Did you see June Tabor last night (Friday) singing 'Hughie Graeme' on BBC TV's Later with Jools Holland?

25 Oct 03 - 06:45 AM (#1041525)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: The Shambles

See June on Jools

25 Oct 03 - 09:20 AM (#1041582)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'

Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band did a fine version of "Hughie the Graham" on his 1998 solo CD called "A Job of Journey Work" (Pig's Whisker Music PWM05010).

It seems to be about one of the Border Reivers, those gangs of thieves and outlaws who caused so much trouble along the Scottish-English border up until about the time of King James I/VI, who clamped down on them pretty severly. The action takes place around Carlisle, where nowadays Graham is apparently the commonest surname in the Carlisle telephone directory.

The Grahams (along with the Armstrongs) were apparently among the chief of these riding clans. For anyone interested, there is an excellent book called "The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers" published in 1989 in paperback by Harper Collins. The author is George MacDonald Fraser, who is better known for the (nine) Flashman novels, though he has also written "The Holywood History of the World" and several short stories, etc. There is a quote in the introduction by Richard Fenwick (one of the Border Wardens charged with the thankless task of keeping order) 1597: "If Jesus Christ were emongest them, they would deceave him, if he woulde heere, trust and followe their wicked councells!"

At the end of the book in Appendix I is reproduced the Archbishop of Glasgow's (Gavin Dunbar) "Monition of Cursing" against the Border Reivers in the early 16th century, in which he excommunciated all border thieves. This runs to several pages as it is over 1500 words and so is too long to reproduce here, but the book firmly states that this intevention was futile in the long run. (The Bishop of Durham also cursed the Tynedale reivers at the same time, wih the same lack of effect).

I must say the tune of Hughie the Graham didn't sound familiar, and I have heard Fairport Convention's version of Sir Patrick Spens.

One version of Sir Patrick Spens contains the line about the Old Moon in the New Moon's arms; I wonder if this is where the saying originates? When the Moon is at the crescent stage a few days after New Moon, the reflected light from the Earth lights up the shadow side to some extent, giving the impression of the New Moon (ie the part brightly lit by the sun) holding the Old Moon (basically dark except where lit by "Earthshine"). The earth lights up the Moon at Night just as the Moon lights the earth at night, but being several times larger and also reflecting more light due to its atmosphere, which of course is lacking in the moon, it has a proportionally much greater affect on the Moon than the latter does on the sun.

I hope you can follow all this!

25 Oct 03 - 11:01 AM (#1041616)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Santa

Hughie The Graeme is also sung by Ross Kennedy on Fellsides's excellent collection of Border songs Fyre and Sworde.

Junt Tabor's version is from her new album An Echo of Hooves, which also contains Sir Patrick Spens. I don't recall them being the same tune, though I didn't think that her TPS was the tune I remembered from when it was sung every folk club evening across the country.

Perhaps I should go and listen to them all again...

25 Oct 03 - 11:41 AM (#1041627)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Malcolm Douglas

There are a number of tunes for both songs, and various forms of greater or lesser authenticity have been recorded by all manner of Revival performers. It is to tradition that we must look for an answer to Alex's main question, though guitar chords will have to come from another source; perhaps one of Ewan MacColl's books of Scottish songs.

Hughie (the) Graeme or Graham is number 191 in Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, and number 84 in the Roud folk song index. Various attempts have been made to tie it to historical events, and certainly some of the names may refer to real people of the 16th century; but details do not seem to correspond, so this remains, so far as I know, speculative. Child examined the evidence with his usual care. Although found more often in Scottish than in English tradition, the earliest examples are English broadside ballads of the later 17th century, and some of these can be seen at  Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:

The life and death of Sir Hugh of the Grime.

There are actually two distinct versions of the song associated with Ewan MacColl, and that may lead to some confusion. One had a tune learned from Thomas Armstrong of Newcastle, and MacColl set it to Child's C text, from Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Bronson, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, III, no. 191.6 p. 181, note). That tune is a close relative of the one printed in Bruce and Stokoe's Northumbrian Minstrelsy (1882, 34-36) which was from Liddesdale tradition.

It is the other set with which we are concerned here. Text and tune are in the DT:  Hughie Grame: unfortunately, no information is given as to any traditional source for either tune or text. The tune appears to be that noted by James Duncan from a Mrs Lyall of Skene, Aberdeenshire, in August 1908; she had learned it "from a schoolgirl thirty years ago" (Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection, II, 1983, no. 271 pp. 291, 557). Only one of the two verses Mrs Lyall knew survives; it has the "Tey ammarey" refrain. A small number of other versions have refrains, but they are quite different. Assuming that this is not one of the rather surprising number of unusual ballad variants that turned out to be circulating among MacColl's close relatives, then I would think that he set a collated text to Mrs Lyall's tune and refrain. The result is the best-known form of the song among Revival singers, I'd say.

Sir Patrick Spens (Child 58, Roud 41) has been rather more widespread in tradition, though only in Scotland and (thence) the USA. Child's notes are reproduced at  The Child / Carthy / Watersons Discography. It is another ballad which many have tried very hard to tie to real events; though without managing to prove anything conclusive. The tunes usually associated with it don't seem to be related to the one in question here. I rather think that Fairport Convention just lifted it from MacColl's recording of Hughie Grame (or got it from that source at some further remove) and stuck it on to a Patrick text from somewhere or other, cut down and anglicised by themselves. The refrain is still there, though they play that part of the melody instead of singing it.

25 Oct 03 - 11:46 AM (#1041629)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Uncle_DaveO


That's exactly what I have always understood "The auld moon in the new moon's airms" to mean.

Dave Oesterreich

25 Oct 03 - 02:24 PM (#1041686)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: GUEST,Lighter

Though far away in America, I was following the British folk scene closely in the '60s and '70s. My impression was then, and is now, that Fairport had simply anglicized MacColl's lyrics to "Sir Patrick" (a song whose words and air he said he learned from his father) and set the modified words to one of MacColl's tunes to "Hughie Graeme." The first appearance of MacColl's "Sir Patrick" on an LP, unless I am greatly mistaken, was on the Riverside series "English and Scottish Popular Ballads," issued in 1956. MacColl sang it again (in a stronger performance, IMHO) on a similarly titled Folkways record in the early '60s.

MacColl seems to have been responsible for the circulation of a very high proportion of the repertoire recorded commercially by Lowland Scots singers in the '60s. Another great recording of "Sir Patrick" using MacColl's (father's) tune was by Jean Redpath, on "Jean Redpath's Scottish Ballad Book," on the Elektra label, about 1962.

25 Oct 03 - 03:59 PM (#1041711)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Malcolm Douglas

If the Fairport Patrick Spens text was based on MacColl's Riverside recording, it was extensively cut and re-written, and material introduced from other sources. Still, it does seem that we can be reasonably certain about the Hughie Graeme tune. Did MacColl say where he got it from? The Riverside series was too early for me.

26 Oct 03 - 10:22 AM (#1041999)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: GUEST,Crystal

The Corries sung a version of Hughie Graeme. The words were quite close to the Child ones.

26 Oct 03 - 01:39 PM (#1042067)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: GUEST,Lighter

Malcolm: I'm away from home but will check on this ASAP.

27 Oct 03 - 11:34 AM (#1042609)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Kevin Sheils

Certainly the booklet in the 4CD Fairport Box set confirms that they weldede the words of Sir Patrick Spens to the tune of Hugh the Graeme

27 Oct 03 - 03:03 PM (#1042753)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: GUEST,Lighter

MacColl recorded "Sir Patrick Spens" on Vol. 2 of "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads" (Riverside RLP-624), released in 1956. According to the notes by Kenneth Goldstein, the song came "from MacColl's father" (i.e., William Miller, of the town of Stirling).

MacColl sang the same version on "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume 1" (Folkways FG4509), released about 1962.

To me, the Folkways track remains one of the finest unaccompanied ballad performances on record. If MacColl, or his father, or somebody else, simply cobbled this version together, they did a fabulous job. The story is actually fuller and more dramatic than that told in Percy's often reprinted "classic" text. Unlike so many recent attempts to "rewrite" or "adapt" traditional ballads, MacColl's "Spens" does not strike one false note, IMO, in words or melody. Bronson gives text and tune as No. 58.11 in his collection.

MacColl recorded two versions of "Hughie Graeme." The first, now little known, appears on vol. 3 of the Riverside set (RLP-626). The text is Sir Walter Scott's, from "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,"
minus stanzas 10, 11, and 16. The tune, on the other hand, came "from
Thomas Armstrong of Newcastle." Bronson transcribes the tune as No. 191.6.

MacColl acknowledged that his other "Hughie" tune came from Mrs. Lyall, via Greig and Keith. The text is collated. He recorded this song at least three times: on "Classic Scots Ballads" (Tradition TLP 1015) and "Chorus from the Gallows" (Topic 12T16) (both 1959, the latter released in 1960, and on "English and Scottish Folk Ballads" (Topic 12T103) in 1964. (Peggy Seeger's American-style guitar accompaniment on the 1959 tracks is tasteful and unobtrusive, but can't hold a candle for "atmosphere" to Alf Edward's concertina in 1964.

As Malcolm observes, Bronson gives Mrs. Lyall's tune as 191.4. The DT's version, as indicated, comes from MacColl's songbook. When Daithi Sproule performed the song around 1980, he changed the politically distracting "Londonderry" in the refrain to "dandle derry." Later singers have done the same.

BTW, my wife says she instantly knew the meaning of "the old moon in the new moon's arms." It took me years to figure it out.

27 Oct 03 - 07:31 PM (#1042889)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Alex.S

Thank you for your help ebveryone. Lighter, what is politically distracting about the refrain londonderry?" Sorry, I am but a humble yankee...

28 Oct 03 - 10:19 AM (#1043163)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Wolfgang

what is politically distracting about the refrain londonderry

The word itself, Alex. On the one side of the great political divide in Northern Ireland, the name Derry is preferred, on the other side the name Londonderry.


01 Dec 03 - 11:14 AM (#1063725)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Abby Sale

But where is Strievling toon?
Stirling, maybe? It would be a good place to hold the trial. Grieg notes the "15 o' them" to be the number of a Scottish jury. English versions would be more likely to have their own eleven or twelve.

Can it be assumed that the epithet "the Grame" necessarily means he was the chief of the Grahams, not just one of them? (Especially since he's "Sir?")

I think the oral tradition of this song - that it refers to an affair between Mrs Hugh & a politicaly powerful bishop, etc, - is as valid a part of the song as the text. As I understand it, it is, after all, the traditional explanation of it, not mere modern speculation.

Historical truth is less interesting....and sometimes even less factual.

As soaps go, this song has a lot going fr it. I've always been taken that Lady Hume is willing to pay 100 milk-white steeds for ransom. Considering that it was Lord Hume that arrested Hugh in the first place, I can only think there's something fishy going on there, as well.

02 Dec 03 - 12:04 PM (#1064487)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Abby Sale


20 Jan 09 - 06:23 PM (#2544470)
Subject: RE: 'Patrick Spens' and 'Hughie Graeme'
From: Phil Edwards

Looking at different versions, there seems to be a lot of variation in the name, sex and social standing of the people who try to buy Hugh the Graeme's life. I was struck by Lord Hume/Lady Hume myself, but I suspect it's a relatively late mutation.

The other odd thing about the ballad is H the G's twelve- or fifteen-foot leap - I mean, it's impressive, but he doesn't seem to be attempting to escape. I suppose it gained him the time to give his father four verses of detailed instructions.

I'm very taken with Tony Capstick's version (on _Punch and Judy Man_, which remarkably appears to be available on CD). He takes the tune used by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, which is in 4:4 with one bar of 6:4, and stretches most of the 4:4 bars to 7:4. Described like that it sounds outlandish, but it works well.