"Scarborough Fair" (Roud 12) is a traditional English ballad. The song lists a number of impossible tasks given to a former lover who lives in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. The melody is in Dorian mode and is very typical of the middle English period. It was recorded by a number of musicians in the twentieth century.
The lyrics of "Scarborough Fair" appear to have something in common with a Scottish ballad titled "The Elfin Knight" (Child Ballad #2), collected by Francis James Child, which has been traced as far back as 1670. In this ballad, an elf threatens to abduct a young woman to be his lover unless she can perform an impossible task ("For thou must shape a sark to me / Without any cut or heme, quoth he"); she responds with a list of tasks that he must first perform ("I have an aiker of good ley-land / Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand").
Dozens of versions existed by the end of the 18th century. A number of older versions refer to locations other than Scarborough Fair, including Wittingham Fair, Cape Ann, "twixt Berwik and Lyne", etc. Many versions do not mention a place-name and are often generically titled ("The Lovers' Tasks", "My Father Gave Me an Acre of Land", etc.).
The references to the traditional English fair, "Scarborough Fair" and the refrain "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" date to 19th century versions and the refrain may have been borrowed from the ballad Riddles Wisely Expounded, (Child Ballad #1), which has a similar plot.
The lyrics, as published by Frank Kidson, begin:
"O, where are you going?" "To Scarborough fair,"
Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme;
"Remember me to a lass who lives there,
For once she was a true love of mine.
"And tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Without any seam or needlework,
And then she shall be a true love of mine.
"And tell her to wash it in yonder dry well,
Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Where no water sprung, nor a drop of rain fell,
And then she shall be a true love of mine."— Stanzas 1-3
The oldest versions of "The Elfin Knight" (circa 1650) contain the refrain "my plaid away, my plaid away, the wind shall not blow my plaid away". Slightly more recent versions often contain one of a group of related refrains:
- Sober and grave grows merry in time
- Every rose grows merry with time
- There's never a rose grows fairer with time
- Yesterday holds memories in time
These are usually paired with "Once (s)he was a true love of mine" or some variant. "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" may simply be an alternate rhyming refrain to the original based on a corruption of "grows merry in time" into "rosemary and thyme".
The earliest commercial recording of the ballad was by actor/singers Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, Americans who ran a cafe and nightclub, L'Abbaye, on the Rive Gauche in Paris. They recorded the song on the Elektra album Encores From The Abbaye in 1955.
The song was also included on A. L. Lloyd's 1955 album The English And Scottish Popular Ballads, using Kidson's melody. The version using the melody later used by Simon & Garfunkel in "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" was first recorded on a 1956 album, English Folk Songs, by Audrey Coppard. It was included by Ewan MacColl on Matching Songs For The British Isles And America (1957), by MacColl and Peggy Seeger on The Singing Island (1960), and by Shirley Collins on the album False True Lovers (1959). It is likely that both Coppard and Collins learned it from MacColl, who claimed to have collected it "in part" from a Scottish miner. According to the Teesdale Mercury and Martin Carthy's daughter, it emerged that researcher-musician MacColl wrote a book of Teesdale folk songs after hearing Mark Anderson sing in the late 1940s. The book included Anderson's rendition of a little-known song called "Scarborough Fair".
In April 1966, Marianne Faithfull recorded and released her own take on "Scarborough Fair" on her album North Country Maid about six months prior to Simon & Garfunkel's release of their single version of the song in October 1966.[user-generated source?]
Simon & Garfunkel version
Paul Simon learned the song in London in 1965 from Martin Carthy, who had picked up the tune from the songbook by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger and included it on his eponymous 1965 album. Simon & Garfunkel set it in counterpoint with "Canticle" – a reworking of the lyrics from Simon's 1963 anti-war song, "The Side of a Hill", set to a new melody composed mainly by Art Garfunkel. "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" was the lead track of the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, and was released as a single after being featured on the soundtrack to The Graduate in 1968. The copyright credited only Simon and Garfunkel as the authors, causing ill-feeling on the part of Carthy, who felt the "traditional" source should have been credited. This rift remained until Simon invited Carthy to perform the song with him as a duet at a London concert in 2000. Simon performed this song with The Muppets when he guest starred on The Muppet Show.
Before Simon had learned the song, Bob Dylan had borrowed the melody and several lines from Carthy's arrangement to create his song, "Girl from the North Country", which featured on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), Nashville Skyline (1969) (together with Johnny Cash), Real Live (1984) and The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993).
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List of recordings
- Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66 recorded this song in 1968, in their album Fool on the Hill, and again in 1970, in their album .
- In 1969, Jean-Luc Ponty released this song in his album Electric Connection.
- In 1970, Paul Desmond recorded this song in his album Bridge Over Troubled Water.
- Also in 1970, Enoch Light released a version of this song in his album .
- In 1973, it was featured in Ralph Bakshi's second animated feature film Heavy Traffic.
- Aoi Tada sang a version of "Scarborough Fair" in the eighth episode of Gunslinger Girl.
- A version of “Scarborough Fair” appears on Empire & Love (2010), the second studio album of the Imagined Village collective, which included Martin Carthy. The vocals were sung by Chris Wood. An instrumental version appears at the end of the album.
- In 2011, Alísio Saraiva played an instrumental version of this song on his viola beiroa [a portuguese guitar with five double strings], for the TV Show "A música portuguesa a gostar dela própria" [The portuguese music liking itself].
- Still in 2011, Nicola Conte released a version of this song in his album
- In the video game Phantasy Star Nova, two instances of "Scarborough Fair" appear, an instrumental version and an ending theme sung by Juno (Saori Hayami).
- The song and the history of variations is a major plot point in the 2014 BBC One series Remember Me.
- In 2017, Tamaru Yamada sang a version of "Scarborough Fair" for the opening episode of WorldEnd: What Do You Do at the End of the World? Are You Busy? Will You Save Us?.
- In 2017, Norwegian singer Aurora was invited by Brazilian TV channel Rede Globo to sing a version of "Scarborough Fair" for the opening theme of telenovela Deus Salve o Rei.
- In 2018, the singer Valen covered the song for a series of commercials promoting HLN's original programming.
- In late 2019, HLN had John Mark McMillan cover the song to promote new seasons of its programming that would debut in early 2020.
- The Israeli poet and songwriter Yaakov Shabtai created a Hebrew-language adaptation, named "Be'Simtat Ha'Tutim" (בסמטת התותים "On Strawberry Lane") which named no specific geographical location but retained the original dialogue of the lovers and their impossible demands of each other. Sung by Dani Litani and Sandra Johnson, it had considerable success in Israel.
- "The Elfin Knight / Scarborough Fair / Whittingham Fair". Retrieved 7 May 2020.
- Child, Francis James (1894). The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Part 9. 9. Boston / Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and company / The Riverside Press. p. 206.
- Kidson, Frank (1891). Traditional Tunes. Oxford: Chas. Taphouse & Son. p. 43.
- "Smithsonian Folkways". Folkways.SI.edu. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. 20 March 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
- Unterberger, Richie. "North Country Maid - Marianne Faithfull | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 September 2016.[user-generated source?]
- "Sold on Song - Song Library - Scarborough Fair". bbc.co.uk/radio2. BBC. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
- Humphries, Patrick (2003). "Scarborough Fair". Sold on Song. BBC. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- "Song and Lyrics, Scarborough Fair/Canticle". PaulSimon.com. Sony Music Entertainment. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
- Bennighof, James (2007). The Words and Music of Paul Simon. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 21–24. ISBN 9780275991630. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
- JK. ""...She Once Was A True Love Of Mine" - Some Notes About Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country"". www.justanothertune.com. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
- "Official Charts Company - Simon And Garfunkel". Archive.is. 21 July 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
- "WWCE-31357~9 | Phantasy Star Nova Original Soundtrack - VGMdb". vgmdb.net. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
- "'Deus Salve o Rei': confira o clipe da música de abertura da nova novela das sete". Gshow (in Portuguese). Rio de Janeiro: Grupo Globo. 10 December 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
- Online Hebrew lyrics of "Be'Simtat Ha'Tutim" 
- Youtube recording of "Be'Simtat Ha'Tutim"