Saturday, 22 October 2016

"Keep me from the gallows pole..."

Here's a song with a long and fascinating history that's is kind of hard to pin down. Versions of it date back centuries and can be traced across Europe from Finland and Sweden to Lithuania and Hungary. They follow the same theme though - a condemned person (male or female) about to hang pleading with family members or spouses to bring money to bribe the executioner.

It's been done in numerous different ways over the years and as such is known by numerous different titles in English alone. An early version was called The Maid Freed From The Gallows, while other titles include The Prickly Bush and The Streets Of Derry. Lead Belly named it Gallis Pole in the '30s, from which later versions derived the name Gallows Pole (a la Led Zeppelin). In the 60s, Judy Collins recorded a version called Anathea, while Bob Dylan dubbed it Seven Curses.

I love Lead Belly's version most, but then I love Lead Belly full stop! He recorded it two or three times. The first time it appeared on 'Negro Sinful Songs' an album released in 1939 on 10" shellac. Those very early albums consisted of a number of discs contained in a bound book with a hard cover, like a photograph album. A later version by Leadbelly was recorded by Alan Lomax sometime during the 40s. I have difficulty deciding which of them I like best.

Here's a few versions of the story, including a breathtaking rendition by American folk singer John Jacob Niles which comes pretty damn close to Lead Belly's take.



  1. A great selection, Robster, but zippyshare is now loaded with malware!

    1. I use AdBlock, Malwarebytes and anything else that stops the nasties getting through, so never had a problem with Zippy myself. However, maybe I'll look at some alternatives.

  2. Good stuff Robster
    Another version for you from Th Pine Valley Cosmonauts The Executioners Last Songs Vol 2 by Tim Rutili with Sally Timms, Rebecca Gates, Jo Walston & Jon Langford

  3. Fabulous post Robster, particularly pleasing to see a nod for the under-rated and oft overlooked Oyster Band. I could be risking ostracisation here, but I prefer Page & Plant's reworking of 'Gallows Pole' to Led Zep's version.