Would you believe it? Thirteen short steps from Senegal takes you to Scotland! This week we’ve got the Scottish border ballad, The Wife of Usher’s Well. The story tells of the return of the ghosts of three sons to their mother at Martinmas. (The feast of St. Martin was held on November the eleventh, one of the Scottish quarter days. It is usually referred to as Martinmas but pronounced Martimas. It was the same day as Hallowe’en in the old calendar.)
The song has been been recorded by many artists over the years: Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, Karine Polwart and Bellowhead to name just a few. This unaccompanied version is by Scots singer Heather Heywood from her Greentrax album By Yon Castle Wa’. It is widely available and if you enjoy your ballads sung without over the top arrangements / production, the album is well worth investigating. But don’t just take my word for it; Bob Walton, reviewing the album for FRoots magazine, said Heather Heywood has one of those glorious voices that demand your attention and is considered by many as one of the finest of today’s Scottish singers, especially when it comes to singing the big traditional ballads.