Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lord Franklin

Aaron's post yesterday about the fabled Northwest Passage, and Stan Rogers' song about it, brought to my mind a common folk song about one of the men who went searching for it: Sir John Franklin.

Lord Franklin set sail from England on May 19, 1845. After sailing past Greenland, they become ice-bound somewhere past Baffin Bay. None of the crew, including Lord Franklin, was seen alive again. A note, however, was later found on Beechey Island, stating that Lord Franklin died on June 11, 1847.

After no word after a couple of years, a search party was sent out, but none of the crew--besides a few graves--was found. The mystery surrounding the voyage to the Northwest Passage captured the public's imagination, and within a few years an anonymous musician wrote a song about it, describing the fear that Lady Franklin must have felt waiting for news about her husband.

The first version of this song comes from the English folk-rock band Pentangle, which at the time featured two superb guitarists: John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Their version of this song contains a very restrained, and very tasteful, guitar solo.

The second version comes from Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, the late Irish singer best known for his work with the Bothy Band. He was (I have heard) a great admirer of Renbourn and Jansch's work with Pentangle, and I suspect it was the above version that inspired him to do something unusual for him: sing in English. He recorded it with fiddler Kevin Burke on their 1979 duet album Promenade.

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