The bonny lads

Music: Trad. arr. Frances Cockburn. Words: Trad.
performance time approx 1m 30s
Range S1: d' – e'' / S2: b – e'' / A: a – c''
Price code: B
Complexity: **

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Here's a pair of traditional songs from the north of England - one sad, one humourous - about lost love. One bonny lad has gone to sea, the other is just not interested.

The Northumbrian song Ma bonny lad was published in the early 20th century collection North-Countrie Ballads, Songs and Pipe-Tunes (1922) and has been taken up both by folk singers and classical singers (notably Kathleen Ferrier) ever since. The second song – probably also Northumbrian or Scottish – comes from somewhere in the arranger’s memory!

To extend the piece if you wish, start (or repeat) either half with “doo”s or “dah”s in all voices (or of course, devise your own scheme). Feel free, also, to sing at a different pitch – and to make a different relative key transition from the first song to the second.

The recording is by Frances Cockburn's group Simmerdim (in a lower key than published).


Have ye seen owt of ma bonny lad,                     owt: anything
And are ye sure he's weel, oh?                             weel: well
He's gone overland wi' a stick in his hand,
He's gone to moor* the keel-o!

Yes, I've seen your bonny lad,
Upon the sea I spied him.
His grave is green but not wi' grass,                     [he’ll die at sea, so it's sea-green]
And thou'll never lie aside him.

My lad’s a bonny lad,
He works down the pit,
He never comes to visit me
Unless he wants a bit.
I asked him if he’d marry me,
You should’ve seen him wince!
I think I’ve lost my bonny lad:
I’ve never seen him since.


* in some versions, 'row'

‘Keel’ here means a sea-going boat – in other words, the bonny lad has gone to sea

Purchase – 2058: The bonny lads

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