Thursday, March 19, 2009

Green: Down by the Greenwood Side

Kerfuffle: Down by the Greenwood Side

[purchase from Amazon UK, not available on the US site. Pricing in pounds sterling]

Down by the Greenwood Side is a variant on the Child Ballad Cruel Mother. Either way you sing it, the song tells the tale of a woman who becomes pregnant with twin sons. The pregnancy is unwanted, and she kills the boys at birth. Some time later, she comes upon two boys playing, and muses aloud about all the wonderful things she would do if they were her children. When the boys respond, it is clear that they are the ghosts of the children she slew, and they denounce her hypocrisy. There follows a ritualized recitation of the punishments she will have endure. This is a series of four transformations, each lasting seven years, concluding with “seven years in the flames of Hell“. The motifs of transformations and seven-year cycles are common to English traditional songs and tales, and can be traced back to pagan times. There is a good chance that, if you hear a Child Ballad with a crime that goes unpunished, it is because the singer has omitted the last few verses.

Kerfuffle is a young British folk group. Despite the fact that their youngest members are only just finishing college, they are already on their fourth album. Kerfuffle started winning youth folk awards in England before some of them started high school, and it seems likely that their commitments to their education have kept them from considering touring outside of England. I found this song on the sampler that came with the subscription copy of the latest issue of Dirty Linen magazine.

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