Anne Briggs “Lowlands”

Anne Briggs sang Lowlands in 1964 on her Topic Records EP The Hazards of Love. This recording was reissued on her Fellside and Topic compilation CDs ,Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. A.L. Lloyd wrote in the album’s sleeve notes:

The song is a bit of a mystery. It has often been found in tradition in Britain and USA but always as a sailor shanty, usually sung while working at the pumps. Two distinct sets of words accompany the tune: one text tells the present story of the dead lover who returns; the other text concerns the work and pay of cotton-lumbers in the port of Mobile, Alabama. Deceived by the latter version, some specialists declare it to be a Negro song. More likely, it’s a fragment of an Anglo-Scots ballad, full form forgotten, that lived on among British seamen who passed it on to longshoremen in the Gulf ports. The “Lowlands” refrain may be an echo from the old ballad of The Golden Vanity. Captain Whall, best of the pioneer shanty collectors, says that in Liverpool in the old days a crew of merchant seaman was often spoken of as “the Johns” so the term “my John” in the ballad is no more personal than “my lad”. Anne Briggs sings Lowlands not as a shanty but as a ballad, in what is probably something like its original form.