Week 452: Orfeo, trad. arranged by Archie Fisher

This week a good example of the enduring and chameleonic power of story. It all started with the Greek myth of Orpheus, which tells how that matchless singer went down to the Underworld to bring back his lost love Eurydice. At some stage this finds its way into a ballad in Middle Danish and is given a happy ending (in the original story Orpheus cannot resist turning round to look back at Eurydice as they make their way up from Hades, thus breaking a prohibition and losing her again). It then makes its way to Shetland where it appears in a fragmented form in the Norn dialect of those islands. Finally it is taken in hand by the great Scottish folksinger Archie Fisher, who with the help of fellow singer Martin Carthy fills in the gaps and adds a stunning instrumental backing: I think it is his masterwork. Archie notes: ‘The second and fourth lines of each verse are all that remains of what is said to have been its middle Danish origins. Translated they mean “Early greens the wood” and “Where the hart goes yearly”.’

The fairy ride is reminiscent of the ballad ‘Tam Lin’, but the king of the fairies in this poem is less grudging than the vengeful queen in that one.

The word ‘gabber’ is a bit mysterious, but it may be a corrupt form of an old Scots word ‘gamari’, meaning ‘merriment’, and a ‘gabber reel’ is taken to mean ‘a sprightly tune’. Think, perhaps, Steve Earle and Sharon Shannon performing ‘The Galway Girl’…

Orfeo

There lived a king intae the east
Skoven arle grön
There lived a lady in the west
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

The king, he has a-huntin’ gane,
Skoven arle grön
And he left his lady all alane.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘I wish ye’d never gane away
Skoven arle grön
Your lady cold as death doth lay.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

For the King of Fairies wi’ his dert
Skoven arle grön
Has pierced your lady to the hert’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he has called his nobles all
Skoven arle grön
Tae waltz her corpse intae the hall.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he’s set guards three hundred three
Skoven arle grön
To watch her corpse both nicht and day
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

At nicht when they lay fast asleep
Skoven arle grön
Oot o’ the hoos her corpse did sweep
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And the king has gane to the woodward wear
Skoven arle grön
And a band of horsemen him drew near
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And some did ride and some did sing
Skoven arle grön
He spied his lady them amang
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And in yon hill there was a hall
Skoven arle grön
And in went she and the horsemen all
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And after them the king has gaen
Skoven arle grön
But when he cam it was grey stane
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he took oot his pipes to play
Skoven arle grön
But sair his hert with dule and wae
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

But he has played a gabber reel
Skoven arle grön
That would have made a sick heart heal
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘Now come ye in into oor hall
Skoven arle grön
Now come ye in amongst us all’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

Now he’s gone in into their hall
Skoven arle grön
And he’s gone in among them all
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he took oot his pipes to play
Skoven arle grön
But sair his hert with dule and wae
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And first he played the notes o’ noy
Skoven arle grön
And then he played the notes o’ joy
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘Noo tell to us what will ye hae?
Skoven arle grön
What shall we gi’ you for your play?’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘What I will hae I will ye tell
Skoven arle grön
And that’s my lady Isabel’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘Ye take your lady and gang hame
Skoven arle grön
And ye be king o’er all your ain’.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

He’s taen his lady and gane hame
Skoven arle grön
And he is king o’er all his ain.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

Traditional, arr. Archie Fisher