Tam Lin

“Tam Lin” is a very old Scottish folk ballad that I was first introduced to on Fairport Convention’s groundbreaking British folk-rock album, “Liege And Leif[1]“, way back when I was a teenager. I can thank my friend Mark Judd again for this one – he was exploring folk music well before I developed an interest in it.

The Fairport Convention version is a dramatic rock-ballad rendition, with full electric guitar and electric fiddle, and is one of the best vehicles extant for the late-lamented Sandy Denny. She is easily my favorite female folk singer.

But, in what appears to a rather remarkable premonition, a few months ago I felt the desire to hear alternative recordings of this song, and I found a very different recording by the New England folk singer, Rick Lee[2].


In marked contrast to the dramatic approach taken by Fairport, Rick Lee adopts a gentle piano accompaniment to the ballad and puts the words up front. Corporeal music through and through here.


I then came across this very same ballad printed in the Quiller-Couch “Oxford Book Of English Verse[3]” (although why “English”!) and, lo, I have the material for one Kingman’s project questions – “Find an example of a traditional ballad sung by a present-day professional singer and compare it with a version in a printed collection…”. I’ll have to transcribe Rick Lee’s words from the recording, but there we have it. Plus it is a very good ballad.

Now if that isn’t serendipity, I don’t know what is.

I might even feel compelled to compare Lee’s version to Fairport’s, as the printed version of “Tam Lin” is very long (52 verses to be precise), and it will be interesting to see which verses the two versions share and which are unique.

Interestingly, in the Quiller-Couch, “Tam Lin” is followed immediately by “Sir Patrick Spens” – another song recorded by Fairport Convention and another of my favorite folk ballads. Also within is “Barbara Allen’s Cruelty”, more of which later.


[1] Fairport Convention Leige & Lief 2002 Island Records IMCD 291/586 929-2

[2] Rick Lee Natick 1995 Waterbug Records WBG0016

[3] Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch ed. The Oxford Book Of English Verse 1250-1918 Oxford University Press 1979 Edition.

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