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Traditional English Folk Songs

A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs Full English - A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs features the amazing talents of Mat Williams who did most of the vocals and also played most of the traditional instruments involved in the recordings, such as Guitar, Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Banjo, Banman, Upright Bass, Piano and many more. Mat invited some fellow folk musicians to share him for this album and add more traditional instruments, such as the Irish Whistle, Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran. Enjoy the music and read along as you listen!


Two Magicians

Sound Sample:
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She looked out of the window as white as any milk,
And he looked in at the window as black as any silk.

Hello, hello, hello, hello you coal black smith,
You have done me no harm,
Though you never shall have my maidenhead
That I have kept so long.
I’d rather die a maid,
Ah, but then she said and be buried all in me grave,
Than to have such a nasty, husky, dusky, fusky, musky
Coal black smith.
A maiden I will die.

She became a duck, a duck all in the stream
And he became a water dog and fetched her back again.


She became a star, a star all in the night
And he became a thundercloud and muffled her out of sight.

Words & Music: Traditional,
arranged & performed by Mat Williams

So she became a rose, a rose all in the wood
And he became a bumble bee and kissed her where she stood.


She became a nun, a nun all dressed in white
And he became a canting priest and prayed for her by night.

She became a trout, a trout all in the brook
And he became a feathered fly and caught her with his hook.


She became a corpse, a corpse all in the ground
And he became the cold clay and smothered her all around.


Origin and meaning of Two Magicians

It is tempting to say this song is an early feminist document entitled “Which Part of the Word “NO” Do You Not Understand? ” but that, I fear, would lack a certain historical authenticity. It is an amalgamation - like most folk songs - of various kinds of myths and legends, in this case involving transformation.

Usually a classical god was pursuing a reluctant mortal maiden. This tale is similar, although the title firmly says that there are two magicians which levels the playing field a bit. It is also partly magical competition - anything you can do, I can do better, a device used by T.H. White in “The Sword and the Stone.” It remains remarkably good-humoured throughout and the smith’s reaction to her transformations is always relevant - he never changes himself into a padlock and chain, for instance, or a prison cell. And no-one could stay cross for long while being called “nasty, husky, dusky, fusky, musky” and it’s fun to sing. Those who can’t sort out the words can always sing “usky, usky, usky, until “coal- black smith” turns up.

The opening two lines set up the expectation of a difference in strength - black is powerful, white is weak - but the contest is fairly even and although the day-job of the female magician is not explained, it is no accident that the male is a smith. Much old magic clings to the blacksmith. He worked in iron which defeated The Old Ones (presumably a folk-memory of the old Bronze Age.) The Old Ones, the Fairies, the People of the Hills could not stand Cold Iron. This is why it was lucky to nail a horse-shoe to a door. It protected the house. Anyone wanting to know more about these superstitions should go to Kipling’s “Puck of Pooks Hill” and read the early stories about Wayland Smith.

Whatever the status of the female magician - is she witch? wise woman? - she copes perfectly well with the smith’s reactions to her changes, wriggling from duck to star to rose, to nun, to trout, to corpse, each time he thinks he has caught her and re-stating more and more firmly that she wants none of it.

The ending is abrupt. I presume that having changed herself into a corpse (which she had always threatened to do) she can’t change herself back again and ditto for the smith becoming cold clay. It’s a bit of an own goal really.

Commentary written by Gillian Goodman,
© ClassicRocks, Mat Williams 2012


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