Down by Blackwaterside

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Down by Blackwaterside (also known as Blackwaterside, Blackwater Side and Black Waterside) (Roud 312) is a traditional folk song, provenance and author unknown, although it is likely to have originated near the River Blackwater, Ulster.[1] The song has been covered by numerous artists including Isla Cameron, Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch, Sandy Denny, Show of Hands, Oysterband, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, particularly during the folk music boom in Britain in the 1960s.[2] It tells the story of a woman who has her heart broken "down by Blackwaterside" when a suitor breaks his promise of marriage that he made to trick her into having sex with him. The morning after her suitor mocks her for believing that he would marry her and tells her to go back to her father. He tells her she has only herself to blame for having sex before marriage. She realizes he will never return and berates herself for believing his lies.

The best-known version is a 1952 BBC Archive recording by an Irish Traveller, Mary Doran.[3][dubious ] Belfast singer Winnie Ryan also performed a version, and was recorded by folklorists Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle in 1952.[4] Doran's version was taught to the singer Anne Briggs by A.L. Lloyd.;[5] Anne Briggs in turn taught it to singer/guitarist Bert Jansch. It appears on Jansch's 1966 album Jack Orion as "Black Water Side."[6]

Early in 1965, Briggs and Jansch were performing regularly together in folk clubs[7] and spent most of the daytime at a friend's flat, collaborating on new songs and the development of complex guitar accompaniments for traditional songs.[8] Anne Briggs has noted that "Everybody up to that point was accompanying traditional songs in a very [...] three-chord way. [...] It was why I always sang unaccompanied [...] but seeing Bert's freedom from chords, I suddenly realised—this chord stuff, you don't need it."[9] "Blackwaterside" was one of the first songs that they worked on.[8] Briggs belatedly recorded the song on her eponymous 1971 album (by which time she was playing a guitar accompaniment), though Jansch had recorded it 5 years earlier on his 1966 Jack Orion album. It is not known when Jansch started singing the song in the folk clubs, but certainly before the recording of Jack Orion.[7] The story of Jansch learning the tune from Briggs is retold in Ralph McTell's "A Kiss in the Rain."[10]

Comparisons with "Black Mountain Side"[edit]

Main article: Black Mountain Side

Al Stewart, who had arrived in London in early 1965, followed Jansch's gigs closely[11] and learnt what he thought was Jansch's version of "Black Waterside." However, he believed mistakenly that Jansch was using DADGAD tuning whereas he was using in fact 'drop-D' tuning. At the time, Stewart was recording his own debut record and had engaged Jimmy Page as a session musician. According to Stewart's account, it was he (Stewart) who taught Page "Blackwaterside" (the DADGAD version) during a tea-break.[12] This may even have been Page's first acquaintance with DADGAD.[12]

In spite of this difference, Jansch's record company sought legal advice in consultation with two eminent musicologists and John Mummery QC, who was one of the best-known copyright barristers in the United Kingdom, following the release of Led Zeppelin. [6] Ultimately, however, no legal action was ever taken against Led Zeppelin, although it was likely that Page had borrowed from Jansch's piece because it could not be proved that the recording in itself constituted Jansch's own copyright, as the basic melody was traditional. Nevertheless, Jansch said that Page "ripped me off, didn't he? Or let's just say he learned from me."[6]


  1. ^ Peter Kennedy's Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, no. 151, p. 351
  2. ^ Harper, Colin (2006). Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival (2006 edition). Bloomsbury. p. 138. ISBN 0-7475-8725-6.  p.3
  3. ^ Sleeve notes (by A.L. Loyd) to Anne Briggs' 1971 album Ann Briggs.
  4. ^ Kennedy p. 351
  5. ^ Harper, Colin (2006). Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival (2006 edition). Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-8725-6.  p. 4
  6. ^ a b c Mick Wall (2008), When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography Of Led Zeppelin',' London: Orion, p. 56
  7. ^ a b Harper p. 162
  8. ^ a b Harper p.161
  9. ^ Harper p. 161. Part of an interview with Anne Briggs.
  10. ^ "Ralph McTell's "Somewhere Down the Road" review". Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  11. ^ Harper p. 199
  12. ^ a b Harper p. 200