You are here:

Folk Music/Traditional folk son to scare children!


I am hoping to find and learn a traditional folk song to sing at a campfire. I would prefer Celtic and in English, but the older the better, & Gaelic would be okay if you have the English translation. I am looking for something really creepy and or morbid-- muhaaaaha!

Strange lullaby or nursery rhyme might also work.

Thanks for your help!

Hi Caitlin

Hmm. First of all, certainly on my side of the pond, there's not much use of the word 'Celtic' - it just isn't specific enough. I am also slightly  confused by the "Gaelic would be okay if you have the English translation'. The point being there that in translation part of the essence of the song would be lost - plus the words would probably not fit the tune - and if you then change the tune, you have nothing left of the original - if you have no Gaelic (like me), best to leave Gaelic alone. Anyway, there's plenty muhaaaahas to be had in Scots/ English.

I'm thinking that you're not a traditional singer - (otherwise I reckon the question wouldn't exist) - but  if you're willing to have the patience to learn something really   creepy,  I have the pleasure in presenting the ballad Lamkin to you. Lamkin (in the Scottish singing tradition) and Long Lankyn (in the English singing tradition) is a ballad which has been used to scare children for centuries. In my opinion, it's the forerunner of dozens of horror movies. - there was blood all in the kitchen, there was blood all in the hall - goes one of the lines.

We know from Scottish writers - such as Walter Scott - that family members or nurses sang Lamkin to them when they were young - and it scared them half to death!

In the Lamkin versions, he is a mason, who builds a castle for a lord, who does not pay him, but mocks him in some versions. He wreaks a terrible revenge on the household.
In the Long Lankyn versions, he is an 'outlyer' - someone outside the bounds of society, at the best an outlaw, but probably something much worse, as he is feared from the outset of the ballad

If you have Spotify, try listening to the following tracks if you can -

Lamkin by Megson on the album The Smoke of Home
Long Lankin by ALasdair Roberts and Friends on the album Too Long in this Condition
Lamkin by Findlay Napier and the Bar Room Mountaineers on the album Out All Night
Lambkin by John Wesley Harding
Long Lankin by Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick

Moving away from 'the murder in the kitchen and the slaughter in the hall", what about King Henrie?
This has links with the Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady tales, so it could be around 400 years+ old (but it is definitely a good couple of hundred of years old in this form at least)

King Henry (NOT any specific English king) goes hunting, kills a fine deer and find shelter (sometimes alone and sometimes with his companions) in a haunted / enchanted hunting lodge. When he (or they) are inside, a giant, monstrous woman appears. (here the other guys run away, leaving the king alone). She demands meat - he has to kill his horse, his hounds, his hawks. She demands drink - he has to sew the bloodied hide of the horse and fills it with wine / water and she drinks it down entirely - there's not one drop left inside the hide. She demands a bed - he has to make her one. She demands that he sleeps with her that night. He's in despair, but does so - and she lies next t the wall. In the morning, the most beautiful woman lies beside him - he has broken a spell upon her. He has broken it by doing everything she asks of him - this comes from a time when it was unheard of any man to acede to a woman's will.

This isn't too common these days, but I was part of a music festival in August and one of our singers sang this - it got a great response.

King Henry by Mat Williams - I like this one the best, as it gets faster as the horror unfolds
King Henry by Martin Carthy

These are 2 of the most creepy songs I have ever come across - but there will be supernatural ones on my event team's Vimeo site - Reiving and Bereaving - although we've just got reiving ones up there at the moment - but King Henry would be the one with most  'spooky' impact on younger people.

I hope this helps - and good luck with your muhaaahas!


Folk Music

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Kaye McAlpine


My main field of expertise in in traditional ballads - those commonly known as the Child ballads. Those containing executions are my particular speciality, but I am also interested in ballad structure formula, functions and narrative constructs. However, I also have interest in - and academic knowledge of - bothy ballads, and the singing tradition of Scotland - although not Gaelic song. This includes Jacobite song, political song, songs about the trades, and so on. I'm pretty au fait with traditional singers and bands too. And while I enjoy singing the songs, I'm not so sure others might enjoy listening!


I studied ballads academically, as well as Scottish literature. This extended into Scottish social customs and social history. I was the traditional music reviewer for the Edinburgh Evening News for 4 years, and have several publications to my name. I have been a freelance tutor in outreach courses from Edinburgh University on Scottish Culture and Tradition, including lifecycle customs, broadsheet ballads in Scotland, the traditional ballad and history. I am a freelance writer, have been a guest presenter on Ch4 History Hunters programme, and was a contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's 'Songlines' series on 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow', and have advised BBC Radio Scotland researchers regarding Scottish songs and ballads from the Borders.

Books: Forthcoming: The Gallows and The Stake. Published: Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10 'Oral Literature and Performance Culture', chapter on The Traditional and the Border Ballad; The Harris Repertoire (Scottish Text Society, co-editor), The Ballad in History (chapter on Border ballads). Journals include Folklore, The Review of Scottish Culture, Scottish Studies, and The Scottish Literary Journal. Music reviews appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News

Ph D, M. Phil, BA (Hons)

©2016 All rights reserved.