Origins: The Great Silkie
Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafeawe

Post to this Thread - Printer Friendly - Home
Page: [1] [2]

Origins: The Great Silkie


Related threads:
(origins) Origin: I Come and Stand at Every Door (P Seeger) (22)
Folklore: Selkie/Selchie? & pronunciation (39)
Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister) (12)
Tune Req: The Great Silkie (26)
Lyr Req: The silkie of skule skerry (closed) (9) (closed)
The Great Silkie "earthly norris..." (42)

Barry Finn 10 Mar 09 - 12:52 AM
Langtonian 10 Mar 09 - 02:37 AM
GUEST,Atlanticarc 12 Jun 12 - 11:51 AM
JohnInKansas 12 Jun 12 - 05:00 PM
GUEST,Brian Tyson 11 Mar 13 - 03:56 AM
GUEST,Banjiman 11 Mar 13 - 08:45 AM
Reinhard 17 Nov 16 - 08:43 PM
GUEST,Corwen Broch 21 Nov 18 - 03:58 AM
GUEST,Rigby 21 Nov 18 - 04:49 AM
Mrrzy 14 May 19 - 07:38 PM
Share Thread
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Barry Finn
Date: 10 Mar 09 - 12:52 AM

I did get that, thanks Bill.
I'm not done rolling the tune around but I'm leaning more towards the Waters tune, it's no wonder that so many folks have taken to it over the traditional tune.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Langtonian
Date: 10 Mar 09 - 02:37 AM

I was sent a private email about my recordings of this mentioned above, so just to clarify for anyone else that's interested, and hopefully deflect any further attacks, here's some background.

I originally learned the tune from print, circa 1967, following the publication of it in Bronson where it is attributed to John Sinclair of Orkney.

I learned the tune specifically for a recording project by Argo Records, "Poetry and Song" On that occasion I was accompanied by two fellow members of the Critics Group, John Faulkner and Terry Yarnell, both playing fiddle. My text came from an amalgam of sources and was deliberately not John Sinclairs

Many years later, John Purser added some seal sounds in the background, and as much as I love and admire John's work, I cannot accept any responsibility for the seal sounds. :-) (For those unfamiliar with John's work it is well worth reading his book "Scotland's Music" and if possible listen to the 30 radio programmes that parralled the book)

Over the last 40 years or so since I first learned them, my tune and the text will have no doubt undergone changes, and for that I make no apologies - it is the way of the tradition.

Bob Blair

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Atlanticarc
Date: 12 Jun 12 - 11:51 AM

Good version on Naked Voice by Elspeth Cowie, ex Seannachie and Chantan

mp3 album and trax from

artist website htpp://

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 12 Jun 12 - 05:00 PM

Thread drift - related(?) subject:

A parody on the theme, titled "You picked a fine time to leave me, you Seal" (to the tune of the pop song "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucile") was mentioned in a thread here some time ago, but I didn't find it with a quick search.

Lyrics were published in !Sing Out, and IIRC were posted here.

Info for the the curious (or demented) only. The rest may resume the serious and scholarly discussion.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Brian Tyson
Date: 11 Mar 13 - 03:56 AM

In Archie Fisher's beautiful version of this song, we have the verse:
"My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring,
Wi' a ring, my dear, I'll wed wi' ye;
Now thou may wed with whom thou wilt
For I'm sure we'll never mair atwee."*

I'm quite sure the Fisher version is accurate. Of the hundreds of versions of the lyrics of this ancient ballad, he is the only one who makes sense of this verse. "I'm sure we'll never mair atwee" is a variant of "we'll never mair atwin" (i.e. "separate.") It is akin to the line in the ballad of Clerk Saunders, where May Margret says:
                        "Your faith and troth ye never shall get,
                         Nor our true love shall never twin"
He is saying, in effect,I'll marry you (with a ring)--then, afterwards you can "marry" any human you wish; for I'm sure you and I will never be separated." The other versions make no sense. Their verses begin with the Silkie saying "I'll wed you" and end with his saying "You'll never wed me!"

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Banjiman
Date: 11 Mar 13 - 08:45 AM

Here's a pipes, harp, guitar and vocals version from Wendy Arrowsmith and John & Caroline Bushby.

Great Silkie

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: The Great Silkie
From: Reinhard
Date: 17 Nov 16 - 08:43 PM

Roberto asked in 2005: the John Sinclair noted by Otto Andersson in 1938 and the John Sinclair recorded on Peter Kennedy's anthology Sailormen & Servingmaids (I think in 1961) are the same person?

The booklet of the Caedmon/Topic album "Sailormen and Servingmaids" noted:
A brief version of it appears as no. 113 in Child without a tune, but this is no match for the variant which old John Sinclair of Flotta in the Orkney Isles turned up with in January 1934. He has since been visited by Swedish folklorists [i.e. Otto Anderson] and recorded for the BBC. [which I assume is the version on "Sailormen and Servingmaids"]

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Corwen Broch
Date: 21 Nov 18 - 03:58 AM

We recorded the Play O'de Lathie Odivere version of this recently on our CD Fishe or Fowle, along with various other Selkie pieces (Seal Woman's Lament, Seal Woman's Sea Song etc).

We anglicised the dialect somewhat, singing broad Scots in an English accent just sounds wrong, but we did it in its full length, 93 verses, 25 minutes. We used the Sinclair tune collected by Otto Andersson.

Although its often claimed to be a Victorian forgery, I suspect its not, or at least not just that. The piece is divided into 5 parts, and the dialect of each varies exactly as you would expect if it were collected from various singers in fragments. Dialect is very local in Orkney, and would have been more so in the 19th century, and the piece reflects this.

The piece makes sense, but still follows ballad logic and does not, for instance, include details such as the heroine's name which I suspect a Victorian forger would have added.

There is a tradition of performance called a 'foy' in Orkney, which is defined in the Orkney Dictionary as an entertainment consisting of readings and music. The primary entertainment at a foy is a reading, by several people, of a text somewhat like a play text. It is very like a read through of a play, sometimes containing songs, and occasionally symbolic items of costume, but not acted in any way (the performers usually sitting around on chairs on stage). This is a written literary art-form. The Odivere text bears a great similarity to other foy texts and I suspect was at some point a composed foy which has cross fertilised with oral tradition, inspired by it and inspiring it. One could suspect a distant linkage with ring-dance traditions from Iceland and the Faroe islands as well as earlier forms of entertainment from elsewhere in the UK.

The primary source for Odivere cited by Traill-Dennison, a minister's wife called Mrs Hiddleston, was a real person with a known interest in folklore and quite well known locally for her musical skills. If Odivere was composed, then it was by her, in which case a piece of folk culture composed 170 years ago by someone inside that tradition is still 'genuine' as far as I'm concerned.

Ultimately having read a lot of genuine and Victorian ballads Odivere simply feels authentic, though possible slightly improved, rather than having the heavy fingerprint of Victorian composition upon it.

Anyhow it's simply a masterpiece of both poetry and storytelling, wherever it came from.

You can read our rendering into singable English here:

Or you can hear it here:

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Rigby
Date: 21 Nov 18 - 04:49 AM

For the sake of completeness, I don't think anyone has mentioned the rather good version by the band Trees, which I think is to the Waters tune.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: The Great Silkie
From: Mrrzy
Date: 14 May 19 - 07:38 PM

Our very own Anne Lister did a great version of this. Seems earlier, and the gunner kills the wife, not the silkies.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")

Mudcat time: 16 October 4:18 AM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.