Other people’s songs: Mary Ann (and the True Lover’s Farewell)

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: I can’t find much online about the song. According to Wikipedia “Mary Ann” is a folk song originating from at least as far back as the ethnomusicology of Marius Barbeau, a Canadian folklorist, and perhaps as far back as the mid-19th century. It describes the parting of a man from his love, “Mary Ann”, to faraway at sea.

Tony: I suspect most countries have one person who above all others has worked to collect and record early folk songs from his/her society.  In England that person was Cecil Sharp (1859 – 1924) and indeed the HQ of the English folk song and dance society is in superb building in north London named Cecil Sharp House which has acted as a centre for the preservation of English folk songs which date back to the 13th century.  (I actually had the honour of performing there, something of which I am rather proud although it was a very long time ago!)    Sorry, I digress…..

Aaron: Peggy Seeger sings the song on the 1958 Kapp album ‘Alan Lomax Presents Folk-Song Saturday Night’.

Aaron: Bob’s version appeared on his 1973 studio album, Dylan.

Tony: This is one of a number of Dylan songs that I find I have completely forgotten about.  Listening to it now without any memory of it from the past, it sounds rather strange; Bob seems to want to turn the folk song into a something contemporary in terms of the way he sings it.  It is an interesting idea although I find it grates for me.   But perhaps if I didn’t know about its origins I might just accept it as a Dylan composition as this is what it sounds like.

Aaron: I can only find one more subsequent version which appeared in 1980: Stuart M. Frank on his Songs of Sea and Shore album

Aaron: I also just found this online about the song which gives more details

‘This unusual sailor’s song comes from the collection of Dr. Marius Barbeau, the dean of Canadian folklorists. He heard it in 1920 in the town of Tadoussao in the province of Quebec. The singer, Edouard Hovington, who was then ninety, had been for many years an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the famous fur-trading company which played such an important part in Canada’s early history. He said he had learned it from an Irish sailor some seventy years earlier, which would carry it back at least to 1850.

‘”Mary Ann” is obviously descended from the old English song, “The True Lover’s Farewell”, which is also the ancestor of “The Turtle Dove” and Burns’ “My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose”, but this is one of the most unusual of the many variants.

The nautical references give it a salty flavour quite appropriate to the Tadoussao region which abounds in tiny fishing villages. However it did not originate in Canada, for almost the same words are given in a book of Victorian Street Ballads edited by W. Henderson and published in London in 1937. Even the lobster and the blue fish, which seem typically Canadian, are found in the English version.’

Fare thee well, my own true love
Fare thee well, my dear
For the ship is a-waiting and the wind blows out
And I am bound away to the sea, Mary Anne
And I am bound away to the sea, Mary Anne

Ten-thousand miles away from home
Ten-thousand miles or more
The sea may freeze and the earth may burn
If I never no more return to you, Mary Anne
If I never no more return to you, Mary Anne

A lobster boiling in the pot
A bluefish on the hook
There suffering long it's nothing like
The ache I bear for you, my dear Mary Anne
The ache I bear for you, my dear Mary Anne

Had I brought a flask of gin,
Sugar here for two
And a great big bowl for to mix 'em in
I'd pour a drink for you my dear Mary Anne
I'd pour a drink for you my dear Mary Anne

Fare thee well, my own true love
Fare thee well, my dear,
For the ship is a-waiting and the wind blows out
And I am bound away to the sea, Mary Anne
And I am bound away to the sea, Mary Anne

Tony:  Since The True Lovers’ Farewell, has been mentioned I wonder if I can sneak in a recording of it, which I really do like.  There are a number of quite different interpretations of the song around, but this one really is my favourite.  I really know virtually nothing of Canadian folk music, but much English folk music of the time was in 6/8 time, meaning that the song’s beat was 1 2 3 4 5 6 – with the emphasis on the first and then to a lesser degree the fourth note of each bar.   This version keeps to that style – something that has been lost in the other versions above.

I’ve learned quite a bit following this trail – thanks as ever Aaron.

Other people’s songs: the series

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31.  Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  32. Other people’s songs: Highway 51
  33. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  34. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  35. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  36. Other people’s songs: Highway 51 Blues
  37. Other people’s songs: Freight Train Blues
  38. Other People’s Songs: The Little Drummer Boy
  39. Other People’s Songs: Must be Santa
  40. Other People’s songs: The Christmas Song
  41. Other People’s songs: Corina Corina
  42. Other People’s Songs: Mr Bojangles
  43. Other People’s Songs: It hurts me too
  44. Other people’s songs: Take a message to Mary
  45. Other people’s songs: House of the Rising Sun
  46. Other people’s songs: “Days of 49”
  47. Other people’s songs: In my time of dying
  48. Other people’s songs: Pretty Peggy O
  49. Other people’s songs: Baby Let me Follow You Down
  50. Other people’s songs: Gospel Plow
  51. Other People’s Songs: Melancholy Mood
  52. Other people’s songs: The Boxer and Big Yellow Taxi
  53. Other people’s songs: Early morning rain
  54. Other people’s Songs: Gotta Travel On
  55. Other people’s songs: “Can’t help falling in love”
  56. Other people’s songs: Lily of the West
  57. Other people’s songs: Alberta
  58. Other people’s songs: Little Maggie
  59. Other people’s songs: Sitting on top of the world
  60. Dylan’s take on “Let it be me”
  61. Other people’s songs: From “Take me as I am” all the way to “Baker Street”
  62. Other People’s Songs: A fool such as I

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