Duration: 12′

  • English folksong settings
  • Mixed chorus, harp or piano
  • 1: Green bushes  |  2: The rambling sailor  |  3: The crystal spring  |  4: O, no John!
  • Oxford University Press
  • First performance 13 July, 2003  |  Canterbury Chamber Choir, Sally Pryce (hp)/George Vass  |  St Mary’s Church, Sittingbourne, Kent

Score available from OUP – https://global.oup.com/academic/product/a-fancy-of-folksongs-9780193368767

A ‘fancy’ of four folk songs are brought together in joyful celebration of youthful love and courtship. They are scored for mixed voices and harp and have been specially written for the Canterbury Chamber Choir. Green Bushes, for all voices, tells of a lady who waits for her lover, but not for long because she has another offer from a young man walking by. The lover arrives – too late.

The Rambling Sailor, a swaggering song in five time, is sung by the men of the choir. With bravado the sailor recounts how he is giving up his sea travels in favour of a more pleasing pastime, the pursuit of young ladies. He has permission from the King, so that’s alright then.

The Crystal Spring, for female voices, opens with soprano solo. A young man asks his lady if she could ‘fancy’ him and he assures her that he can provide her with everything she desires. Can she believe him? This leads straight into the final song, O, No John, for all voices. The trick here is for the young man to elicit the answer he requires from a young lady, whose ‘father always bid me answer ‘No’. It takes a few verses for him to work out how to word his proposal of marriage to achieve this. A negatively positive ending.

A Fancy of Folksongs

Green Bushes

As I was a-walking one morning in Spring,
For to hear the birds whistle and the nightingale sing,
I saw a young damsel, so sweetly sang she
Down by the Green Bushes he thinks to meet me.
I stepped up to her and thus I did say:
Why wait you, my fair one, so long by the way?
My true Love, my true Love, so sweetly sang she,
Down by the Green Bushes he thinks to meet me.
I’ll buy you fine beavers and a fine silken gown,
I will buy you fine petticoats with the flounce to the ground.
If you will prove loyal and constant to me
And forsake your own true Love I’ll marry thee.
I want none of your petticoats and your fine silken shows,
I never was so poor as to marry for clothes.
But if you will prove loyal and constant to me
I’ll forsake my own true Love and marry thee.
Come let us be going, kind sir, if you please;
Come let us be going from beneath the green trees.
For my true Love is coming down yonder I see,
Down by the Green Bushes he thinks to meet me.
And when he came there and found she was gone,
He stood like some lambkin for ever undone;
She has gone with some other and forsaken me,
So adieu to Green Bushes, cried he.

The Rambling Sailor

I am a sailor stout and bold,
Long time I’ve plough’d the ocean,
I’ve fought for King and country too,
Won honour and promotion.
I said: My brother sailor I bid you adieu,
No more to sea I will go with you;
I’ll travel country through and through,
And I’ll be a rambling sailor.
If you should want to know my name
My name is young Johnson.
I’ve got permission from the King
To court young girls and handsome.
I said: My dear what will you do?
Here’s ale and wine and brandy, too;
Besides a pair of new silk shoes,
To travel with a rambling sailor.
The King’s permission granted me
To range the country over:
From Bristol Town to Liverpool,
From Plymouth Sound to Dover.
I said, in whatever town I went
To court young maidens I was bent
And marry none was my intent,
But live a rambling sailor.

The Crystal Spring

Down by some crystal spring where the nightingales sing
Most pleasant it is in season the groves ring.
Down by the riverside a young captain I espied,
Entreating of his true love for to be his bride.
Dear Phyllis, says he, can you fancy me?
In your soft bowers a crown it shall be.
You shall take no pain, I will you maintain,
My ship, she’s a-loaded, just come from Spain.
And if e’er I prove false to my soft little dove,
May the ocean turn desert, elements move.
For where e’er I shall be, I’ll be constant to thee.
Like a rover I’ll wander and swim through sea.

O No, John!

On yonder hill there stands a creature;
Who she is I do not know.
I’ll go and court her for her beauty;
She must answer Yes or No.
Oh No, John! No, John! No John, No!
My father was a Spanish Captain,
Went to sea a month ago.
First he kissed me, then he left me,
Bid me always answer No.
Oh No, John! No, John! No John, No!
O Madam, in your face is beauty,
On your lips red roses grow.
Will you take me for your lover?
Madam, answer Yes or No.
Oh No, John! No, John! No John, No!
O Madam I will give you jewels,
I will make you rich and free,
I will give you silken dresses,
Madam, will you marry me?
Oh No, John! No, John! No John, No!
O Madam, since you are so cruel
And that you do scorn me so,
If I may not be your lover,
Madam, will you let me go?
Oh No, John! No, John! No John, No!
Then I will stay with you for ever,
If you will not be unkind,
Madam, I have vowed to love you,
Would you have me change my mind?
Oh No, John! No, John! No John, No!
O hark! I hear the church bells ringing,
Will you come and be my wife?
Or, dear Madam, have you settled
To live single all your life?
Oh No, John! No, John! No John, No!