But I Love YouThree Birds
Three BirdsThree Birds
SmilerThree Birds
The StrangerThree Birds
FriendsThree Birds
SwansongThree Birds
Wally The WhaleBeneath The Stars
The Foy BoatmanBeneath The Stars
Blowin' KissesBeneath The Stars
Before ForeverBeneath The Stars


Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

Sometimes it’s more difficult to reduce a catalogue of 20 songs to just 10, particularly when each song is unique and the 20 songs represent the recorded history of a trio you knew personally.

When I went to Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry in 1978 and became involved with the Folk Club there, the talk was of a band called Waterfall who were students at the nearby Warwick University. It transpired the band was a trio; Keith Donnelly (guitar, vocals and 18 of the songs), Martyn Oram (fiddle, mandolin, bowed psaltery, guitar, vocals and 2 of the songs) and Gilly Darbey (vocals, guitar & mandolin). We went to see them play at the Warwick University Folk Club and they played at the Poly too. Gilly Darbey has a stunning voice and brings life to Keith Donnelly’s intelligent and carefully crafted lyrics. They released two albums together and I have both, duly signed by the band. I’m not aware they have ever become available on CD and have digitised my vinyl complete with the pops and scratches of age; an internet search reveals the vinyl records fetch unreal prices.

The ten songs here are all Keith’s which is not to say that Martyn’s songs were less good, in fact Mon Couer Est La from Beneath The Stars is a regretted exclusion but I wrote down these ten almost without thinking and even though I listened to both albums twice through, I could not evict any of the incumbents.

But I Love You opens the first album and is such a beautiful love song, recorded with the addition of bass and drums. It could, and maybe should, have been a hit single given a mainstream release and a world not dominated by punk. Three Birds is a nine minute allegorical song using three birds to illustrate the rivalry between three men for the love of a lady; the song opens thus:

Three birds flying over Clifton,
The Sparrow, the Eagle and the Dove,
Each one looking for the Lady,
The Swan-like lady of love.

The Eagle flew so swiftly, and the Dove he flew so well,
But the Sparrow flew so gently that he almost fell.
The Dove he sang so sweetly, and the Eagle sang so clear,
But the Sparrow sang so softly no-one could hear.

The lady loves the Sparrow.

Smiler is a quirky song that opens side two of the album. It could have been the B-side of But I Love You in my retrospective management of the career of Waterfall.

The Stranger is a dark song that opens with a jig written by Martyn Oram that reappears between the second and third verses as a reel. Again, Keith Donnelly’s lyric is full of imagery and allegory. The recorded song is given depth with addition of bass and drums and the full rock band treatment.

Friends is a celebration of the power and value of friendship which ends with a choir of the trio’s friends repeating the chorus to a fade out. The album closes with Swansong which started life as a poem written by Keith Donnelly as The Wind O’er the Lake and I will quote directly from the sleeve notes.

“The Wind O’er the Lake” was written as a poem after hearing how two students had brutally killed a swan. When swans mate they mate for life and so by killing the female swan they also killed the male for he just pined away and died. According to legend the swan is a mute bird although he does give one plaintive song just before he dies. This is the origin of the term swansong.

This swansong is represented by Martyn Oram’s bowed psaltery and Gilly Darbey’s vocal. Geoff March (of Decameron) provides a counterpoint cello. 33 years later, this song still brings a lump to my throat.

Beneath The Stars opens with an anti-whaling song. Wally The Whale has an upbeat tune and a chorus to join in with Hey, save Wally the Whale he’s my friend but the message is there.

Keith Donnelly grew up in South Shields on Tyneside in the North-east of England, and The Foy Boatman is a tribute to his father and a little boat he built for his son. I believe, although I’ve not been able to verify, that Foy is a dialect for Ferry. The penultimate line of the song is so true: sometimes a song is a boat on a river of rhymes and memories.

Blowin’ Kisses is a minute and a half of pure joy, sung a capella with the beat kept by a trio of finger clicking (see clip below). A love song in its purest form and one that takes me back to the lady who re-introduced me to Dire Straits. An old fashioned term but, our first date was to see Waterfall play at the Half Moon in Putney on bank holiday Monday in 1980.

We finish with the closing track on that second album. Before Forever has just eight lines repeated, punctuated by Keith’s guitar and Martyn’s violin:

The winds that blow
And carry me from you
The waves that bear me
Far far away
Carry my love
And bear my heart’s promise
That before forever
I’ll see you again.

Martyn Oram’s website

Keith Donnelly’s website

“Friends” by Waterfall on YouTube

“Blowin’Kisses” by Waterfall on YouTube

Waterfall biography

TopperPost #345


  1. Ernst Jensma
    Jan 24, 2015

    This morning, after 34 years, I heard the beautiful LP “Three Birds” from Waterfall again … it was like going back in time when we invited Waterfall to play in our student bar in Leeuwarden Holland. We were then inspired, and very enthusiastic … a lovely performance and musical atmosphere. Make love not war! And now after all these years I even think it is better than before: a lovely sound and great music. My daughters, 21 and 24, love the music and want to digitalise the LP. Where is Waterfall now???

    • Helen Fothergill
      Mar 17, 2015

      Where can I hear Three Birds please…? I heard and was present at Waterfall’s performance in Looe, Cornwall, back in 1980-somthing … I bought their album, I love their music. Her voice is so pure …

      As Ian writes in his piece on Waterfall, we don’t think Three Birds has ever been available on CD. You should be able to listen to all of the tracks on YouTube, and at a quick check you can buy a secondhand copy of the LP for a price on Amazon and eBay and at a more reasonable price on vinyl at Discogs – click here… Anyone got any better ideas? Ed.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.