Sir Patrick Spens - traditional Scottish ballad

A verrrry old and venerable ballad for which no definite historical basis can be found. It has survived hundreds of years of re-interpretion. This is mine. In trying to discover its roots, the only solid fact that can be tied to it is a burial cairn on the island of Papa Stronsay, one of the Orcadian group, lying over against Norway that has always been known from time immemorial as the burial site of "Sir Patrick Spens". Interestingly,  while the name "Patrick Spens" is Scottish, the people of the island are descended from the Norse and never spoke Gaelic or English. In fact, they knew nothing of the ballad when scolars went there and interviewed them.

There are a gazillion verions of the song. I based this version on a 1950's field recording made in a Scottish pub. If you are a "folk music purist", my apologies. I do get it. There will always be a place for your point of view. But, I like to play it this way.


And the king sits in Dunfermlin Town
Drinkin at the blood red wine
Sayin' where will I find a good  Scots sailor
To sail this ship of mine

Well, up and spoke an elderin knight
Who was sitting at the king's right knee
He said Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
Who sails upon the sea

And the king has written a  letter long and broad
And he has signed it all with his hand
And he sent it to Sir Patrick Spens
Who was walking upon the strand

Oh what is this, and who has done this deed
This ill deed thats been done to me
To send me out, in this time of year
To sail upon the sea

Make haste, make haste, my merry men all
For our good ship sails the morn
Oh pray say nay my master dear
For I fear a deadly storm

Last night I dreamed a doleful dream
Of a shipwreck, of storm and harm
Last night I saw the new moon lying
With the old moon all in her arms

-- many verses omitted here so as to tell the story with music!

Half or'e to Abradore
Its fifty fathoms deep
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens
With the Scots lords at his feet