Black is the Colour

Black is the Colour is one of my favourite folk songs, with it’s haunting melody and sense of longing…and Strong Ale recorded it (with a lovely slide guitar part from Brian Armstrong) on the “The Beaten Track” album. When I was playing duo gigs with Jim Fox, this was a song that he used to sing, and it was inspired by Jim’s version that I decided to learn it. I have been introducing it for years as a “Scottish love song” – and usually I do a deal of research before committing to folk songs – it tends to be quite an interesting pastime for a nerd like me…for some reason I didn’t research this one very thoroughly until now.

It turns out that it IS of Scottish origin – I always thought it was based on a Burns poem but that isn’t so, and I’ve no idea where I got that from – but that when collected by Cecil Sharp it was in America, presumably brought over by Scottish immigrants (although Sharp has it as part of his collection of English folk songs of the Southern Appalachians).  The first version I remember hearing is the Nina Simone one – a very different  melody from the one I sing.  This American melody was introduced to the song by John Jacob Niles in 1941 (or at least, that is when it was first released), and is the melody that all the jazz versions and the many country versions have stuck to.

The other melody – the one I sing – I know through Christy Moore, who in turn learned it from Hamish Imlach.  Hamish’s version is the earliest released version of this tune that I know of.  If anyone knows more about its origins I’d love to hear.  I assume that this is the traditional tune that predates Niles’ American version.

The words are sweet but without being cheesy (apart from maybe the line “I love the ground whereupon she stands”).  Songs about missing those one loves somehow seem to resonate better than most romantic composition…this one gets me every time:

Here’s me performing it..

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and here’s Strong Ale’s version (on Spotify)

 

The lyrics as I sing them are:

Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,

Her lips are like some roses fair,

She’s the sweetest smile, And the tenderest hands,

I love the ground, Whereon she stands.

I love my love and well she knows,

I love the ground, whereon she goes,

I hope the day, it won’t be long,

Til she & I could be as one.

I’ll go to the Clyde and I mourn and weep,

For satisfied, I ne’er can be,

I wrote a letter, just a few short lines,

And suffer death, a thousand times.

Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,

Her lips are like some roses fair,

She’s the sweetest smile, And the gentlest hands,

I love the ground, Whereon she stands.