Going For A Song: ‘Willy O’ Winesbury’

Sam Pulham – Willy O’ Winesbury

It’s a mystery why some music you just fall for; why, even though I’ve listened to numerous musicians with guitars playing old folk songs, when I heard Sam Pulham’s EP The Merry Green Wood last Friday, (maybe it makes a difference when and where you first hear the music? The context? Maybe it made a difference that it was a slightly overcast morning, that I was tired and little hungover?), something in the music resonated with me.

The standout song on the EP is ‘Willy O’ Winesbury’. I don’t know its origins, but I was struck by how the song digs into the same earth of myth and magic as the middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

This is the arrival of the Green Knight to the court of King Arthur:

The fellow in green was in fine fettle.
The hair of his head was green as his horse,
fine flowing locks which fanned across his back,
and his face-hair along with the hair of his head
was lopped in a line at elbow-length
so half his arms were gowned in green growth,
crimped at the collar, like a king’s cape.

[…]

The guests looked on. They gaped and they gawked
and were mute with amazement: what did it mean
that human and horse could develop this hue,
should grow to be grass-green or greener still,
like green enamel emboldened by bright gold?
Some stood and stared then stepped a little closer,
drawn near to the knight to know his next move;
they’d seen some sights, but this was something special,
a miracle or magic, or so they imagined.

[Translation Simon Armitage]

And this is the arrival of Willy to the King’s court, to answer for having lain with the King’s daughter Janet:

When he came the King before / he was clad all in the red silk / his hair was like this strands of gold / his face was pale as the milk / ‘Oh, it is no wonder,’ says the King, ‘that my daughter love you did win / if I was a woman as I am a man / my bed fellow you would have been’.

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