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Scarborough Unfair

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Previous page: Silent Night in Open C Next page: Bob Dylan's melodies

Many people still think that Scarborough Fair is a song written by Paul Simon. The song was made famous when it was a big hit by Simon and Garfunkel. But they did not make the song, despite that Paul Simon was credited as author.

The song is an old English folk song. In case you should be interested: Scarborough is a town at the east coast of Northern England, not to far from the old smuggler port Robin Hood's Bay and the fishing town of Whitby – the town where James Cook was born. It used to be a popular holiday resort at the time when people did not travel by air, and places with more sun and a warmer sea were not as accessible as they are now.

If any single person should be credited for the version of Scarborough Fair that everyone knows, it is Martin Carthy. Back in the early 60s, London was the city where the contemporary folk music happened. Many people came by and stayed for a while. One of them was the young Paul Simon. On his visit in 1965 he met many of the most influential figures in modern folk music as it was played at the time, among them Martin Carthy. Paul Simon, as well as many others, learned the tune from him. When Simon and Garfunkel in 1966 recorded the song, it was basically recorded as Paul Simon learned it from Martin Carthy.

It should not come as a surprise that Paul Simon did not become very popular in certain circles when he took the full credit for the song. I will come back to that.

Paul Simon was not the only American that was attracted by the folk scene in London at the time. A young person who called himself Bob Dylan had been there a few years before, in 1962, and learned from the same Martin Carthy. Bob Dylan also learned Scarborough Fair. But he made his own version of the tune and called it The Girl From The North Country. If you compare it with Scarborough Fair, you will discover many similarities. To learn from and be inspired by other artists, that is how art develop. But to copy without giving credit is plagiarism.

Bob Dylan also learned the tune Lord Franklin from Martin Carthy, and used the melody for his own Bob Dylan's Dream. But on the cover of the The Freewheelin' he tells that is is the melody from Lord Franklin and that he learned it from Martin Carthy. It has been said that Bob Dylan could not have made the albums The Freewheelin' and Times They Are A-Changing if he had not met Martin Carthy. (My favorite version of Lord Franklin is the recording by John Renbourn. You can learn it from his Fingerstyle Guitar.)

I am not saying that Bob Dylan always has given full credit when he used melodies made by others. The song With God On Our Side is written to the Irish melody The Patriot's Game. In the days with George W Bush's superpatriotic and religious based rethoric about Iraq, far beyond the border of stupidity, with arguments lifted from UK intelligence, which turned out to be not too intelligent intelligence, I liked the irony of the American song With God On Our Side written to Irish melody The Patriot's Game. (I have later learned that The Patriot's Game was written by Dominic Behan.)

On the detour back to Scarborough Fair, I will mention two other important figure from the early London folk scene: Davey Graham and Bert Jansch. Davey Graham should be more well know than he is for being the inventor of the DADGAD tuning. But here I mention him because he composed the instrumental tune Angi (or Anji as someone prefer to write the title), another tune made more famous by Paul Simon.

Then back to Scarborough Fair. As so often, it turned out that it was the record company and the publisher, and not the young artist who was too blame. Nevertheless, the relation between Paul Simon and Martin Carthy was a bit tense until they reconciled in year 2000. Before a London concert, Paul Simon called Martin Carthy and invited him to sing Scarborough Fair as a duet with him. They sorted everything out, and Martin Carthy joined Paul Simon on stage.



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