The Amethyst Road: The Songs

Most of the songs have been around for a very long time, and exist in many different versions. Folk music is a sort of cultural memory, a handed down folk-lore in song. Here is a run-down of some of the music you can find which appears in The Amethyst Road. Often the full content of the song doesn't connect entirely to the novel, but the part that I have quoted does. If a chapter heading song isn't listed, that's because I wrote the lyric myself!

Chapter 1

Say, Darlin’, Say

This traditional bluegrass song was recorded by Dirk Powell on Hand Me Down. In this song, a ne’er-do-well youth imagines his life as a paradise with a woman who will do all his work for him, while he lives a carefree existence. So even if the house falls down (since he makes no effort to keep it standing), he assured her that “she’ll still be the sweetest baby in town”. Very reassuring.

Chapter 2 and 23

Two sisters walked by the river’s brim, And the older she pushed the younger in.

This is known by many names, including The Bonney Swans and The Wind and the Rain. It’s a very bizarre story of sibling rivalry, in which one sister drowns another over the love of a young man – only to be exposed by the sister's ghost, which manifests itself through a harp made out of her bones. There's a wonderful version of it available on Jody Stecher's Oh, the Wind and the Rain.

Chapter 3

You have two fine beaten swords, And I but a pocket knife.

This is a song called Matty Groves, which chronicles the mad jealousy of a rich lord who discovers that his wife is having an affair with a commoner, Matty Groves. Groves, the commoner, tries to avoid a duel, as commoners spent their time making ends meet rather than learning to fight elegantly with swords. Not too surprisingly, Matty loses the fight, his love and his life.

Chapter 6

Kick off, kick off your high heeled shoes, All made of Yulang leather, Put on, put on some low heeled shoes, And we’ll ride off together.

This song has many names, including Gypsy Davy and Blackjack Davy. It is a Scottish traditional song (also an American Appalachian mountain song), which has been recorded by thousands of people, including Woody Guthrie, Sandy Denny, Jody Stecher, to name a few. It follows a similar story line to Matty Groves: The “castle lady” is entranced by the sound of the gypsies’ singing and runs off with them, falling in love with Davy. She leaves her house and lands, and most poignantly, her baby. Her rich husband pursues her, and she spurns him. In many versions, the story ends with the husband succeeding in tracking her down and getting the gypsies hung. You’ll notice I’ve substituted “Yulang” for the original “Spanish” leather.

Chapter 11

One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret ne’er to be told…

This is an old nursery rhyme, known as the Magpie Counting Song.

Chapter 13

If ever I return, pretty Peggy-O, If ever I return, All your cities I will burn, Destroying all the ladies in the county-o.

This also has several names, most often Peggy O or Fennario. It is set during a war, in which a young soldier of the army which seems to be occupying or terrorizing another land falls in love with a native girl named Peggy. In some versions she falls for him as well, marries him, and he dies in the war. In that case, the words I've quoted come from his comrade who comes to tell her of his death, and notify her that she is once again considered the enemy, since she’s no longer linked to the occupiers through marriage. In other versions, Peggy refuses the love of the conquering soldier, and in a rage, he tells her that when he returns, he won’t be courting, but ravaging. Either way, a sad glimpse of war and how it taints even romantic love.

Chapters 15 and 24

An thou wert my own thing…, I would take thee in my arms, And I’d protect thee from all harms, For above all mortals, thou hast charms, So dearly do I love thee.

You can find this on a CD of raucous carnival music called Hang Up Sorrow and Care by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band. Maddy Prior has in her liner notes that it comes from various sources including Orpheus Caledonius 1700 and A Collection of Old Ballads 1723.

Chapter 20

Abroad as I went walking…

This song is called A Maid in Bedlam, which appears on the CD of the same name by the John Renbourne Group. “Bedlam” was the great mental hospital in London, and the song, clearly, is a song of a woman driven mad by love and loss. However (for once!) it ends happily – her love returns.

Chapter 21

What makes you go abroad, Fighting for strangers?

This was recorded by Steeleye Span a good while ago on an album whose name I can’t find! If anyone knows, tell me!

Chapter 22

All my father’s ships…

Now this is a great song. Sheath and Knife is a traditional song, recorded by Maddie Prior (and others). Another tragic, and somewhat horrific love song.

I Dreamed Last Night…

This comes from She Moves through the Fair – recorded by Van Morrison and The Chieftans, and Sinead O’Conner, among many others.

Chapter 25

Oh, it will not be long, love…

Again this is from She Moves through the Fair.