Scarborough Fair (ballad)

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"Scarborough Fair" (Roud 12, Child 2) is a traditional English ballad.[1] The song lists a number of impossible tasks given to a former lover who lives in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. The "Scarborough/Whittingham Fair" variant was most common in Yorkshire and Northumbria, where it was sung to various melodies, often using Dorian mode, with refrains resembling "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" and "Then she'll be a true love of mine."[2] It appears in Traditional Tunes by Frank Kidson published in 1891, who claims to have collected it from Whitby.[3]

The famous melody was collected from Mark Anderson (1874–1953), a retired lead miner from Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham, England, by Ewan MacColl in 1947. This version was recorded by a number of musicians in the 20th century, including the most iconic version by the 1960s folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, who learned it from Martin Carthy. However, a slightly different version (referred to as "The Cambric Shirt", or "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme") was recorded by John Lomax several years earlier in 1939, in the United States.


The lyrics of "Scarborough Fair" appear to have something in common with a Scottish ballad titled "The Elfin Knight",[4] collected by Francis James Child as Child Ballad #2,[5] 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.).[citation needed]

The references to the traditional English fair "Scarborough Fair", and the refrain "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme", date to 19th-century versions, and may have been borrowed from the ballad Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child Ballad #1), which has a similar plot.[citation needed]


The lyrics, as published by Frank Kidson,[4] 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."[6]

— Stanzas 1–3

Alternative refrains[edit]

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" (written by Joseph Vargo for the 2012 album Winter's Majesty by Nox Arcana)[7][8]

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."[citation needed]


Field recordings[edit]

Authentic recordings of the ballad include the following examples:

Commercial recordings[edit]

The earliest commercial recording of the ballad was made by actor/singers Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, Americans who ran a café and nightclub, L'Abbaye, on the Rive Gauche in Paris. The recording appeared on the 1955 Elektra album Encores from the Abbaye.[13] The song was also included on the 1956 album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads vol IV by A. L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, using Kidson's melody.[14]

The version using the melody later used by Simon & Garfunkel in "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" was first sung by Mark Anderson (1874–1953), a retired lead miner from Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham, England to Ewan MacColl in 1947.[15][16][17] MacColl recorded the lyrics and melody in a book of Teesdale folk songs, and later included it on his and Peggy Seeger's The Singing Island (1960).[16] An audio recording of Anderson's version was never made, although Alan Lomax recorded Anderson singing other songs in 1951.[18]

The first recorded version using the best-known melody was performed by Audrey Coppard on the 1956 album English Folk Songs.[19] A decade after collecting the song, MacColl released his own version, accompanied by Peggy Seeger on guitar, on the 1957 LP Matching Songs of the British Isles and America[20] and an a capella rendition another decade later on The Long Harvest (1967).[21]

In 1965, Martin Carthy sang "Scarborough Fair" on his eponymous debut album after having picked up the tune from the songbook by MacColl and Seeger.[22]

Marianne Faithfull recorded the song for her album North Country Maid, released in April 1966.[23]

In 1969, Vicky Leandros recorded the song in several versions for release throughout Europe, Canada and Japan, singing in English, German, French ("Chèvrefeuille que tu es loin") and Greek ("Νά Θυμάσαι Πώς Μ' αγαπάς").[citation needed]

Celtic Woman recorded a version of the song for their third album A New Journey, released in January 2007.[24]

Nox Arcana recorded a ghost-story version with all original lyrics by Joseph Vargo for the 2012 album Winter's Majesty.[7][8]

It has also been recorded by Seattle based progressive rock band Queensryche.[25] At first released on a stand alone CD, it was later included on the remastered version of their album Empire.

Soundtrack recordings[edit]

Instrumental versions of Scarborough Fair were arranged by Geoff Knorr for use in the video game Civilization VI as the main theme of the English civilization.[26][27] As the themes of each civilization are played as different variations of the same song as the game progresses, four different variations of the song are included in the game's soundtrack, with Phill Boucher assisting Knorr in the arrangement of the Atomic Era version of the song.[28][29]

Simon & Garfunkel version[edit]

"Scarborough Fair/Canticle"
Side-A label of the 1968 US vinyl single
Single by Simon & Garfunkel
from the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
B-side"April Come She Will"
ReleasedFebruary 1968 (1968-02) (single)
10 October 1966 (1966-10-10) (album)
Recorded26 July 1966
Songwriter(s)"Scarborough Fair": Traditional
"Canticle": Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel
Producer(s)Bob Johnston
Simon & Garfunkel singles chronology
"Fakin' It"
"Scarborough Fair/Canticle"
"Mrs. Robinson"
Music video
"Scarborough Fair / Canticle" (audio) on YouTube

In London in 1965, Paul Simon learned the song from Martin Carthy,[30][31] who had picked up the song from the songbook by MacColl and Seeger[32] 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",[33] set to a new melody composed mainly by Art Garfunkel.[32][34] "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" appeared as the lead track on the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, and was released as a single after it had been featured on the soundtrack to The Graduate in 1968.[32] The copyright credited only Simon and Garfunkel as the authors, which upset Carthy, who felt that the "traditional" source should have been credited.[32] The rift persisted until Simon invited Carthy to perform the song with him as a duet in a concert at London's Hammersmith Apollo in October 2000.[32][35] Simon performed the song with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show (S5E11 - October 18, 1980).

Before Simon 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",[36] which is featured on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), Nashville Skyline (1969) (with Johnny Cash), Real Live (1984) and The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993).

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1968) Peak
Australian Kent Music Report 49
Canada RPM[37] 5
Irish Singles Chart 5
US Billboard Hot 100[38] 11


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[39] Silver 200,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Cover versions[edit]

In 2020, Dan Avidan collaborated with musical group Super Guitar Bros to record a cover version of the song, including the "Canticle" counterpoint, for the album Dan Avidan & Super Guitar Bros that was released in April of that year.[40]

The Stone Roses set their own words to the melody for "Elizabeth My Dear", a track on their eponymous debut album (1989).


  1. ^ "The Elfin Knight / Scarborough Fair / Whittingham Fair". Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Search: Scarborough Fair RN12". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.
  3. ^ Kidson, Frank (1891). "Scarborough Fair". Traditional tunes. Oxford: Chas. Taphouse & Son. pp. 42–44. hdl:2027/umn.31951001728562y. OCLC 47625906 – via HathiTrust. Republished in 1999: ISBN 9781861430816
  4. ^ a b Kidson, Frank (1891). Traditional Tunes : a collection of ballad airs, chiefly obtained in Yorkshire and the south of Scotland ; together with their appropriate words from broadsides and from oral tradition. Oxford, UK: Chas. Taphouse & Son. pp. 42–44. OCLC 866568452 – via HathiTrust.
  5. ^ Child, Francis James (1894). The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Part 9. Vol. 9. Boston / Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and company / The Riverside Press. p. 206.
  6. ^ Kidson, Frank (1891). Traditional Tunes. Oxford: Chas. Taphouse & Son. p. 46.
  7. ^ a b "Scarborough Fair by Nox Arcana with original lyrics". Retrieved 22 June 2022 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ a b "Winter's Majesty by Nox Arcana". Discogs. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  9. ^ "The Cambric Shirt (Roud Folksong Index S230643)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Rosemary and Thyme (child No. 2) (Roud Folksong Index S407682)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  11. ^ "Every Rose Grows Merry in Time (Roud Folksong Index S204527)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Rosemary Lane (Roud Folksong Index S189118)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  13. ^ Heath, Gordon. "Encores from the Abbaye". Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  14. ^ LLoyd, A.L. "Ewan MacColl's Discography". ewan-maccoll.Info. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  15. ^ "Famous song has roots in Dale folk". The Northern Echo. 3 December 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  16. ^ a b "Scarborough Fair (Roud Folksong Index S160453)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  17. ^ Harvey, Todd (2001). The Formative Dylan: Transmission and Stylistic Influences, 1961–1963. Scarecrow Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8108-4115-4.
  18. ^ "Mark Anderson". The Lomax Digital Archive. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  19. ^ "Scarborough Fair". Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  20. ^ "Matching Songs of the British Isles and America : Ewan MacColl at theBalladeers". Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  21. ^ totsie. "The Long Harvest traditional English and Scottish ballads sung by Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl". Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  22. ^ Humphries, Patrick (2003). "Sold on Song – Song Library – Scarborough Fair". Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  23. ^ "Marianne Faithfull – North Country Maid". Discogs. 26 November 1966. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  24. ^ Digital, Granite. "Celtic Woman Story".
  25. ^ Honigmann, David (9 August 2020). "Scarborough Fair — the ancient ballad that sparked a modern-day grudge". Retrieved 23 November 2023.
  26. ^ England Theme - Industrial (Civilization 6 OST) | Scarborough Fair, retrieved 4 August 2022
  27. ^ "Civilization VI to feature an orchestral soundtrack led by Knorr and Tin". VGMO -Video Game Music Online-. 22 July 2016. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  28. ^ Tom Marks (30 September 2016). "Civ 6's music evolves alongside your cities, and it's one of its best features". PC Gamer. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  29. ^ CIVILIZATION VI Official Game Soundtrack, retrieved 4 August 2022
  30. ^ "Sold on Song - Song Library - Scarborough Fair". BBC. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  31. ^ "Simon & Garfunkel - Scarborough Fair (Chords)" – via
  32. ^ a b c d e Humphries, Patrick (2003). "Scarborough Fair". Sold on Song. BBC. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  33. ^ "Song and Lyrics, Scarborough Fair/Canticle". Sony Music Entertainment. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  34. ^ Bennighof, James (2007). The Words and Music of Paul Simon. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 21–24. ISBN 9780275991630. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  35. ^ "Paul Simon Setlist at Hammersmith Apollo, London".
  36. ^ JK. ""...She Once Was A True Love of Mine" - Some Notes About Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country"". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  37. ^ "RPM Top 100 - April 27, 1968" (PDF).
  38. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles, 14th Edition: 1955–2012. Record Research. p. 767.
  39. ^ "British single certifications – Simon & Garfunekl – Scarborough Fair Canticle". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 7 July 2023.
  40. ^ "Scarborough Fair by Dan Avidan & Super Guitar Bros". YouTube. Retrieved 22 June 2022.

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