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Banjo tablatures for Pretty Polly

The Stanley Brothers

Recomended level: Intermediate

Tags: #bluesy, #vocal song, #murder ballad

"Pretty Polly", "The Gosport Tragedy" or "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" is a popular English-language folk song located among other areas in the British Isles, Canada, and North America's Appalachian region. The album is a ballad of suicide, telling about a young woman drawn into the forest. There she is murdered and buried in a shallow grave. Some versions of the plot have the protagonist as the carpenter of a boat who wants to marry Polly but murders her once she gets pregnant. If he sails back to sea, either he is visited by her spirit, confesses to the assassination, goes mad and disappears, or the boat will not run, refuses the assassination, and her ghost rips him to pieces. There is a number of existing broadside versions of the earliest known edition of "The Gosport Tragedy." It is a long ballad of rhymed sets, seventeen verses of eight lines each. A print has an estimated date from 1760 to 1765 at the Lewis Walpole Library. D.C. Fowler argued in "The Gosport Tragedy: Story of a Ballad" that the events described in the song might have occurred in 1726. The boat, sometimes known as "laying at Portsmouth," as in the song as the Bedford. Fowler found evidence that on September 25, 1726, a ship's carpenter on the Bedford was killed at sea by the name of John Billson, and that at the point there was a Charles Stewart among the crew members, as stated in some accounts. The unfortunate heroine, "Molly," seems not to have been found in St. Mary's Alverstoke's Parish Church, the supposed "Gosford Chapel," as the album says. While not convincing, the situation of Fowler was found probable by a variety of later commentators.

  • Banjo Pretty Polly Stanley Style

    Stanley Style

    This is the exact arrangement of Pretty Polly that Ralph Stanley played on the original recording of this song. Play close to the bridge for maximum Stanley tone.

    Banjo Pretty Polly Stanley Style
  • Banjo Pretty Polly Bluesy Style

    Bluesy Style

    Based on the Stanley-style version of Pretty Polly, this has a lot more bluesy licks thrown in to give it some spice.

    Banjo Pretty Polly Bluesy Style
  • Banjo Pretty Polly Backup


    A bluesy backup version of Pretty Polly with lots of forward rolls in the style of Ralph Stanley. Try to sing the lyrics while you're playing!

    Banjo Pretty Polly Backup