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Little Musgrave

from Dark Turn of Mind by Iona Fyfe

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This version is an amalgamation of text from Jeannie Robertson’s Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard and Version A from Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Sharp’s A Version was collected from Mrs Becky Griffin in Big Laurel, North Carolina on 17th August 1916. I got the melody from bothy ballad singer, Moira Stewart, who often sung the Matty Groves at ballad competitions in Scotland.

A classic murder ballad, Lady Darnell, convinces Mattie Groves (or Little Musgrave) to sleep with her. A foot-page is standing by and runs to tell Lord Darnell. Lord Darnell discovers Matty and his wife, and challenges Matty to a duel. Matty is killed, and the Lady states that she likes Matty better than Darnell and all his kin. In some versions, the wife is killed.

Roud 52, the ballad features in Alexander Whitelaw’s 1845 collection ‘Book of Scottish Ballads’ under the title Lord Barnaby. This Scottish version is localised to Angus and mentions Dundee.
Jimmy Hutchison recorded Mattie Groves in 1988 with a melody similar to that of Jeannie’s. (SA1988.112) The antagonist of the ballad goes by several names depending on the ballad variant and region is was collected in. Titles include Barnard, Barnaby, Darlen, Darnell, Danal, Donal, Arnold, Arlen, with ‘Lord Daniel’ appearing in some North American versions,

The Kist o’ Riches archive features two versions sung by Aberdeen singer, Jeannie Robertson from 1960 and 1962, where she sings “Lord Donal ain’t at home”, which is unusual for Jeannie’s vocabulary and more typical of versions collected in America. The ballad can be found in Emily Lyle’s ‘Scottish Ballads’ under the title Wee Messgrove, and was “taken down by Thomas McConechie, Kilmarnock and copied by (William) Motherwell. Although the ballad was widely known in Scotland and has remained current there up to the present, it appears to be of English origin and the lines ‘Ever as the lord Barnet’s horn blew, Away, Musgrave, away!’ are quoted in Beaumont and Fletcher’s play ‘Knight of the Burning Pestle’ dated c. 1611.”

Jean Ritchie sang ‘Little Musgrave” for Alan Lomax on 2nd June 1949. The Roud Folk Song Index features 300 entries of this ballad, with most variants being collected in North America with 113 versions from the USA, 18 versions from Nova Scotia, Canada, 9 versions from Scotland and 2 from England.

Said to be a border ballad likely originating in the North of England, Matty Groves has been recorded by several artists worldwide. The ballad was printed on broadsides as early as the 1660’s, with three copies at the Bodleian Library Broadsides collection. One version, from the collection of Anthony Wood, has a handwritten note stating that “the protagonists were alive in 1543’. ‘A lamentable ballad of the little Musgrove and the lady Barnet’ was printed in London between 1663 and 1674. The ballad features in Volume 3 of Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry in 1845.


One day one day one holyday,
The first one of the year
Little Matty Groves has went to church
The Holy Word to hear, to hear
The Holy Word to hear, to hear

Lord Darnell’s wife was standing by,
She cast her eye on him
Go home with me, little Matty Groves
A wedded wife to be, to be
A wedded wife to be

I can’t come home, and I won’t come home
I cannot spare my life
But by the rings upon your hands
You are Lord Darnell’s wife, his wife
You are Lord Darnell’s wife

It’s if I am Lord Darnell’s wife,
Lord Darnell’s gone today
He’s across the waterside
He’s gone over there to stay, to stay
He’s gone over there to stay

But the little foot-page was standing by
And hearing what was said
He swore Lord Darnell he would know
Before the sun was set, was set
Before the sun was set

He ran till he came to the riverside
He bent his breast and swam
He swam till he came to the other side
And he picked up his heels and ran and ran
Picked up his heels and ran

When he came to Lord Darnell’s haa
He tinkled at the pin
Lord Darnell he was ready there
For to rise and let him in, him in
To rise and let him in

Oh is my bower a falling down,
Or does my castle burn
Or is my lady lighter yet
Of a daughter or a son, a son
A daughter or a son

Oh no your bower’s not fallin’ down
Or does your castle burn
But little Matty Groves he sleeps tonight
Keeping your lady warm, her warm
Keeping your lady warm

Then Lord Darnell took his men
And lined them in a row
The orders that he gave to them
That ne’er a horn should blow, should blow
That ne’er a horn should blow

Matty Groves he was laid down
He took a little sleep
And when he woke Lord Darnell,
He was standing at his feet, his feet
He was standing at his feet

Rise up rise up, Little Matty Groves
Rise up as quick as you can
It shalln’t be said in old Scotland
I slew a naked man, a man
I slew a naked man

Oh, I can’t get up, and I won’t get up
I cannot spare my life
For you have two swords by your side
And I have ne’er a knife, a knife
And I have ne’er a knife

It’s I’ve got two swords by my side
They cost me from my purse
And you can have the very best
And I shall have the worst, the worst
And I shall have the worst

Matty struck the very first blow
He wounded Darnell sore
Lord Darnell struck the very next blow
Little Matty struck no more, no more
Little Matty struck no more

Then Lord Darnell took his wife
He sat her on his knee
Sayin’ who do you like best of all
Little Matty Groves or me, or me?
Little Matty Groves or me?

Very well I like your rosy cheeks,
Very well I like your skin
But better I like little Matty Groves
Than you and all your kin, your kin
Than you and all your kin


from Dark Turn of Mind, released January 1, 2019
Iona Fyfe: Vocals
Aidan Moodie: Guitar, Harmony Vocals
Graham Rorie: Mandolin
Rory Matheson: Piano


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Iona Fyfe Scotland, UK

Aberdeenshire folksinger, Iona Fyfe, has become one of Scotland’s finest young folk singers, rooted in the singing traditions of the North East of Scotland. The first ever singer to win the coveted title of Musician of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2021, Iona has been described as “one of the best Scotland has to offer.” (Global-Music.de)

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