She Moves Through the Fair: Terry Callier

April 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm (Folk, Music, She Moves Through the Fair) (, , , )

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Terry Callier, “It Will Not Be Long Love, ‘Til Our Wedding Day”

Terry Callier, an American singer, made his mark with his debut album, The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier, but this recording – Live at Mother Blues 1964 – was made before that, although it was not released until much later (2000). Callier subsequently moved into a more soulful, disco-tinged vein – and after that, was ‘rediscovered’ by the UK trip hop pioneers, Massive Attack – but here we have Callier in the raw. His rich, mellow voice hovers above the simple guitar figures in the background, and imbues the song with the a hint of jazz.

I’m not sure why the song is listed under a line from the chorus, instead of its usual title (or a variant thereof); perhaps Callier, the sound recordist, or the record label were unfamiliar with the song and failed to place it in context. Or perhaps they wished to divorce it from its origins – who knows?

There is another song on the same album, “Lizzy Mae”, that caught my ear. This, too, is a traditional song, but it took a bit of effort to link it (correctly, I think) to the traditional English song “Lucy Wan” (here sung by Jim Moray, in a not particularly traditional arrangement), not least because of the variance in lyrics (Callier omits all the gumpf about greyhound’s blood etc., instead sending the inscestuous, murderous brother off on a ship – presumably in exile). Anyway, the fact of the variation in this song’s title, as well as the lyrical variations, uggests to me that Callier was working within an oral tradition, and would have learnt these songs by hearing them; thus it is not surprising that titles and lyrics have become altered.

In fact, it may well be significant that Callier’s version of “She Moves Through the Fair” follows Colum’s lyrics as closely as it does, possibly standing testimony to the strength and resilience of those lyrics.

The following is my own transcription of the lyrics as sung by Callier:

My young love said to me, “My mother won’t mind,
And my father won’t spite thee for thy lack of kind”.
And she lays her hand on me and I hear her say,
“It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day”

Then she stepped away from me, and she moved through the fair.
And so fondly I watched her move here and move there.
And she turned to go homeward, with one star awake,
as the swan of an evening moves over the lake.

Last night she come to me, my dead love come in.
And so softly her feet moved, oh they scarce made a din.
And she lays her hand on me, and again I hear her say,
“It will not be long love, ’til our wedding day”

He follows the majority of singers in singing only three of the verses (1, 2 and 4). In verse 1, he follows common variations by omitting the brothers and using the word ‘spite’ insead of ‘slight’. Another common variation is the laying on of hands, as it were, instead of Colum’s original stepping away and coming close.

Variations that seem to be unique to this version include the changes of tense (“lays her hand on me”; “she come to me”), which are probably due to Callier’s own (presumed) speech patterns, and the phrase “I hear her say” instead of Colum’s “this she did say”. There are a few extra monosyllables – “so” and “oh” – that seem to have been introduced to fill in perceived spaces. Oh, and while Callier uses Colum’s “As” for the swan (rather than “Like”), he seems to introduce an indefinite article for the evening itself (I can’t quite make out if it’s “a” or “an”, but I’ve written it as “an”).

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