Themes and tunes of ballads may differ but they are all songs which have been created for the purpose of telling a story.
Some ballads consist purely of dialogues, and folksong scholars believe that they are the oldest form of balladry in existence. One example is 'Lord Randall' which has been collected in every European language.
Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn sings a version of it as Gaeilge, 'Táim Breoite Go Leor', which is a conversation between Lord Randall and his mother. She asks where he has been that day, and in his reply he tells her that he is feeling unwell,
Agus cóirigh mo leaba, táim breoite go leor.
The mother's question is always the same, and Randall's answer also has its own format, revealing information bit by bit, which is known as incremental repetition,
The story unfolds very slowly and gradually.
At the end of the song, the listener comes to the sudden realisation that Randall has been poisoned by his sweetheart.
This episode of 'Make Music: I'll Sing You A Story’ was broadcast on 26 February 1976. The presenter is Bill Williams.