Finally discovered! Bryan Ferry sings The Butcher Boy

Bryan Ferry

When Bryan Ferry sang the desolate old ballad ‘The Butcher Boy’ at the South Bank Centre in London, he did so alone at the piano, with a hushed abandon that reduced me and my wife to tears.

Was it the unearthly performance of the song? Or was it’s the songs devastating lyric? Or was it the diabolical combination of the two? I cannot say, but something unaccountable and premonitory happened at that moment as if the very song took up residence inside us, possessed us, and the course of lives together was changed forever.

At that moment in time, alone at the piano, Bryan Ferry became a true god, bestowing destinies, with the most beautiful voice in the world.

From The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave

Yesterday, a dear friend sent my husband this audience recording of a one off performance of The Butcher Boy by Bryan Ferry. We are huge fans of Bryan Ferry here at The Vampire’s Wife ever since he drove my young self and Lucy, his former wife, from London to his manor house in Sussex. He didn’t say a word to either of us, rather he whistled expertly to the radio, all the way home. His whistling had a kind of trill or warble. What girl isn’t impressed by a man that whistles?

Bryan Ferry performed The Butcher Boy at the Meltdown Festival in London on July 2nd 1999. Bryan was on piano. The version my husband refers to in above excerpt from The Sick Bag Song was from the soundcheck where he played it solo at the piano. This is the actual performance played that evening, accompanied by banjo, string bass and guitar. It is such a beautiful, haunted thing.


The Butcher Boy

In London town
here I did dwell
a butcher boy
I loved so well
He courted me
my life away
and now with me
he will not stay

I wish I wish
but I wish in vain
I wish I was
a maid again
But a maid again
I ne’er can be
till apples grow
on an ivy tree

She went upstairs
to go to bed
and calling to
her mother said
Bring me a chair
till I sit down
and a pen and ink
till I write down

I wish I wish
but I wish in vain
I wish I was
a maid again
But a maid again
I ne’er can be
till apples grow
on an ivy tree

He went upstairs
and the door he broke
and found her hanging
from her rope
He took his knife
and cut her down
and in her pocket
these words he found

Oh, make my grave
large, wide and deep
put a marble stone
at my head and feet
and in the middle
a turtle dove
so the world may know
I died of love