The Wandering Ballad – Song no. 4: Binnoorie
This is the forth in a series of blogs about the songs on our new CD “The Wandering Ballad”.
Most ballads are not telling nice stories. They often touch on very strong emotions. Love, sex, hatred, revenge. In that respect they remind me of soap operas. In the fashion of the soap opera they portray intrigues and conflicts. The narration does not follow a neat curve of beginning, middle and end. Often the ending of ballads give me the impression that the singer just wanted to finish off the song. – Everybody dies…
Maybe the show was cancelled, maybe it was getting late, the singer was hungry and had enough…
The third ballad on our CD, also known as “The Cruel Sister”, tells a kind of ghost story.
A fiddler finds a pile of bones and strands of hair on a river bank. From the bones and hair he builds a beautiful instrument. He is invited to play at the king’s court. But as he is about to begin, suddenly, the instrument starts to play by itself. And then – a disembodied voice is heard singing:
O yonder sits my father the King – Binnorie o Binnorie And yonder sits my mother, the queen. – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
And yonder, my William, sweet and true. – Binnorie o Binnorie But with him my sister, the false Helen – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
Sweet William courted Helen with glove and ring – Binnorie o Binnorie But he loved me above all things. – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
My sister said to me one day: – Binnorie o Binnorie “Shall we go and see our father’s ships come in” – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
She took me by my lily hand – Binnorie o Binnorie And led me down to the river strand – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
And as I stood upon a stane – Binnorie o Binnorie She came and pushed me in. – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
“Oh sister, sister reach me your hand – Binnorie o Binnorie And you shall be heir of half my land” – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
“Oh sister, I’ll not reach you my hand – Binnorie o Binnorie And I’ll be heir of all your land.” – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
“Oh sister, reach me but your glove – Binnorie o Binnorie And sweet William shall be your love.” – By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
“Sink on, nor hope for hand or glove – Binnorie o Binnorie And sweet William shall better be my love.” By the bonny milldams of Binnorie
It turns out the bones belonged to one of the king’s daughters. The king’s two daughters were rivals competing for the attention of the same young man. “Sweet William”
The “False Helen” lures her sister to the river then proceeds to push her into the water and watches her drown.
After the ghost of the drowned sister sings her accusation, the fiddler smashes the instrument against a rock, and in its place the drowned girl appears, restored to life.
There are many versions of this ballad and the ending varies. Usually, as in many ballads, it all ends very badly for everyone involved.