minstrel: A Calling-On Song

Patricia Yarrow yarrowp at mscd.edu
Tue Jun 10 09:47:31 PDT 2008

In point of fact - the *tune* is traditional.  It's the Earsdon Sword Dance
Song.  The Watersons have a recording of it on their classic album _Frost
and Fire_.   It appears to be 19th century based on internal evidence.
(There's also an older set of lyrics, but I don't believe it has a fixed

Commentary from the Watersons liner notes, by English folksong scholar A. L.

At one time the old death-and-resurrection folk play was performed all over
these islands. Nowadays it only crops up here and there, in bits and pieces.
The most ancient and fullest form we know presents to us the Fool or
Medicine Man with his six hero sons, armed with swords. The sons put their
father to death and lament for him, comparing him to the evening sun. But
the Fool arises from the dead and recounts his journey to the other world.
In north Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland the sword-dance part of the
drama survives, notably among miners. The present song is proper to the coal
miners of Earsdon; it's sung by the captain of the sword-dancers and with
it, he calls on each of his heroes and gives him a fictitious name and
character, as a kind of disguise. The curious tune has been used for several
songs, including the old sailor ballad of The Ratcliffe Highway.

Here are the lyrics:

Good people, give ear to my story, we have called for to see you by chance;
Five heroes I've brought blithe and bonny, intending to give you a dance.
For Earsdon is our habitation, the place we were all born and bred.
There are not finer boys in the nation, and none shall be more gallantly
'Tis not for your gold or your silver, nor yet for the gain of your gear,
But we come just to take a week's pleasure, to welcome the incoming year.

My lads, they are all fit for action, with spirits and courage so bold;
They are born of a noble extraction, their fathers were heroes of old.
Now this is the son of brave Elliott, the first youth that enters my ring;
So proudly rejoice I to tell it, he fought for his country and king.
When the Spaniards besieged Gibraltar, bold Elliott defended the place,
Soon caused them their plans to alter; some died - others fell in disgrace.

Now my next handsome youth that does enter is a boy, there are very few
His father beat the great De Winter, and defeated the fleet of the Dutch.
His father was the great Lord Duncan, who played the Dutch ne'er such a
That they fled from their harbours, ran funkin', and they fled to the great
Dogger Bank.
This one is the son of Lord Nelson, that hero that fought at the Nile;
Few men with such courage and talent, the Frenchmen he did them beguile.
The Frenchmen they nearly decoyed him, but the battle he managed so well,
In their fortress he wholly destroyed them, scarce one got home for to tell.

Now my next handsome youth that does enter is a boy of ability bright;
Five thousand gold guineas I'd venture that he like his father would fight.
At Waterloo and Tarryvary, Lord Wellington made the French fly;
You scarcely can find such another, he'd conquer or else he would die.
Now my last handsome youth that does enter is a boy that is both straight
and tall;
He is the son of the great Buonaparte, the hero that cracked the whole all.
He went over the Lowlands like thunder, made nations to quiver and quake;
Many thousands stood gazing in wonder at the havoc he always did make.

Now you see all my five noble heroes, my five noble heroes by birth,
And they each bear as good a character as any five heroes on earth;
If they be as good as their fathers, their deeds are deserving records;
It is all the whole company desires to see how they handle their swords.


Adelaide wrote:

From: minstrel-bounces at pbm.com [mailto:minstrel-bounces at pbm.com] On Behalf
Of Lisa and Ken Theriot
Sent: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 10:29 AM
To: minstrel at pbm.com
Subject: Re: minstrel: A Calling-On Song

Fionnghuala wrote:

[Out of curiosity:  does anyone know if there is sheet music available
for the Steeleye Span "Calling-On Song" by Ashley Hutchings?  My
search-skills are mighty, but so far coming up empty.]

Not only are your search skills mighty, my lady, but that fact that you
know it to be a modern composed piece and not traditional puts you ahead
of most folks in scholarship.

I haven't seen sheet music, but he (Ashley Hutchings) has a website:


The e-mail for purchasing items is listed as info at abicat.co.uk ; I bet
that's the source if it exists.


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