The Ballad: The Music

Thomas the Rhymer is based on an old Anglo-Scots Border ballad, listed in J. F. Child’s famous collection as “Thomas Rymer,” Child #37.

Many people know the song from the 70’s British folk-rock group Steeleye Span recording. Here is a version the group recorded in 2002 on Present  The Very Best of Steeleye Span featuring art from the cover painting by Thomas Canty for the original U.S. publication of Thomas the Rhymer.

For Steeleye fans, here’s more.


Me, I still prefer a more traditional sound.  Here is the great folklorist and performer Ewan MacColl, singing a version with the oldest known tune for the ballad:

Here is a version by the French quartet Boann, incorporating a glorious array of art representing Thomas and the Elf Queen through the ages including nearly all of the international cover art for the novel!


For Steeleye fans: Digging around on Wiki, I discovered this interesting fact for U.S. listeners:

The original version of “Thomas the Rhymer” was a 6-minute song that alternated rock and acoustic elements. However, when Now We Are Six was released in America, the band substituted a 3-minute version of the song that was more thoroughly rock-style and which was judged to be more radio friendly. Almost all the subsequent re-releases of Now We Are Six contained the 3-minute version of the song. On this album, however, the band chose to go back to the 6-minute version, which is how they had normally played the song in concert; they offered a variation on the song’s acoustic moments, while keeping the rock moments relatively intact.
Have you found any other amazing Thomas the Rhymer musical renditions? Send me a link!