Volume 11: My Father's the King of the Gypsies - English and Welsh Travellers & Gypsies (Topic TSCD 661)  Review

The Yellow Handkerchief sung by Phoebe Smith, Melton, Suffolk, 1969.  Roud 954.

A song that seems to be especially popular with Travellers, and in East Anglia.  Vaughan Williams collected a set, titled The Myrtle Tree, from a Mr Powell of Weobly, Herefordshire, in 1909.  Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger use this title for a three verse set collected from another Gypsy, Nelson Ridley (Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland - 1977), although only one verse is directly related to our present song.

Other Recordings:  Mary Ann Haynes (Sussex) - EFDSS CD02.  Geoff Ling (Suffolk) - Veteran VTC2CD.  Cyril Poacher (Suffolk) - Musical Traditions MTCD 303.  Pop Maynard (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MTCD 400.

Sally Morrow sung by Harry Brazil, Gloucester, 1978.  Roud 526, Laws K11, Greig/Duncan 23 (10 versions).

Another classic example of a broadside ballad.  Writing of the song, Gavin Greig had this to say: ‘In none of our ballads is the note of sincerity more strong and convincing’.  Although cast in an Ulster setting, at least fourteen 19th century English broadside printers listed the song in their respective catalogues.

God Killed the Devil played on the melodeon by Lemmie Brazil, Gloucester, 1978.

This tune has entered the Folk Revival via an arrangement by June Tabor - Against the Stream Cook CD 071.

There Was a Rich Farmer at Sheffield sung by Wiggy Smith, rec. Postlip, Gloucestershire, 1995.  Roud 2638, Laws L2.

There Was a Rich Farmer at Sheffield, or The Farmer of Chester, or The Lincolnshire Farmer’s Daughter to used the title given to the song by Henry Parker Such on his mid-19th century broadside, in common with another ballad, The Boy and the Highwayman, is related to the ballad of The Crafty Farmer (Child 283) in which a farmer outwits a would-be robber.  The precise relationship between these three 18th century ballads has never been successfully established.  Some scholars believe that as the central characters of the plot are different, then so too are the ballads.  Others, however, believe them to be basically identical because all three ballads are sung to the same 17th century tune The Rant which, in 17th century ballad operas, was better known as Give Ear to a Frolicksome Ditty.

Other Recordings:  Betsy Renals (Cornwall) - Veteran Tapes VT119.  Jimmy McBeath (Dundee) - Musical Traditions CD 311-12.  Charlie Stringer (Suffolk) - Veteran VTC2CD.  Further recordings by Wiggy Smith can be heard on the Smith Family CD (Musical Traditions CD307).

Father Had a Knife sung by Jasper Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1974.  Roud 850.

Versions of Father Had a Knife were issued on broadsides by Such and Fortney in London, Pearson in Manchester and Walker in Durham ( it’s listed in his late 1830s catalogue) and one such text is included in W Henderson’s Victorian Street Ballads published in 1937.  Collectors such as Cecil Sharp, George Gardiner, the Hammond Brothers and Alfred Williams all noted the song but it is only recently that collected sets have been seen in print.

Jasper’s Anglo-Romani word Jub - v.3 line 3 - stems from the Sanskrit word Yuka which means a flea.

Other Recordings:  Harry Cox (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD 512D.

Sweet William sung by Phoebe Smith, Melton, Suffolk, 1976.  Roud 273, Laws K12.

Versions of Sweet William have turned up repeatedly from singers throughout the English speaking world, suggesting that at one time it enjoyed a widespread popularity - Roud has 231 entries.  On the surface it seems an innocent enough story.  However, in some versions William’s ghost appears as a warning to his over-faithful sweetheart - rather like the ghost in the ballad of The Unquiet Grave (Child 78) - and it would seem that the ballad has become linked with Irish forms of another supernatural tale, The Grey Cock (Child 248), three versions of which can be heard on the Voice of the People series - Vol 3(21), Vol 6(2) & Vol 10(8).  Phoebe Smith’s version, in common with most English sets, omits this element.

Other Recordings:  Liz Jeffries (Somerset/Ireland) - Topic TSCD 653.  Harry Cox (Norfolk) - Rounder CD 1839

The Haymakers sung by Levi Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1974.  Roud 153.

The Haymakers stems from a long blackletter broadside, The countrey peoples Felicitie, or, A brief Description of Pleasures, first licenced to the printer Francis Grove on March 12th 1656.  It has lasted well in tradition, having been noted by most collectors in southern England.  Levi Smith has the song in a somewhat fragmentary form, although he insists that his version is complete.  Grove’s broadside includes the following lines:

Sweet jug, jug, jug, jug, jug, jug, jug
The nightingale did sing,
Whose noble voice, made all rejoyce;
As they were making hay.
which explains that the jug is the song of the nightingale and not the beer receptacle of Levi’s song.

Other Recordings:  Sam Larner (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD 655

One Penny sung by Levi Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1974.  Roud 393.

Here Levi sings a fragment of a song that can be heard in full, sung by George Dunn, as Little Grey Oss, on Vol 13(19).  There are late 17th century blackletter broadsides, titled The Jovial Companions, or, The Three Merry Travellers, and its a song that has remained especially popular with Gypsy singers.  A L Lloyd has suggested that its popularity in southern and western England was based on a broadside issued by John Pitts in London, whereas a broadside issued by Kendrew of York kept the song alive in the midlands and the north of the country - a good idea, except that none of Roud's 29 English examples are from anywhere which is nearer to York than to London.

Over Yonder’s Hill sung by Amy Birch, Exebridge, Devon, 1976.  Roud 60, Laws P25.

Amy’s song begins with a couple of verses from The Butcher’s Boy/Died for Love and then continues with a number of so-called ‘floating verses’ (as does Jasper Smith’s Down in the Meadow on track 15).  This ‘rearrangement’ of floating verses seems to be commonplace amongst Travellers, although it is not necessarily confined to them and other country singers do this at times.

For whatever reason, it was once extremely popular throughout the Anglophone world, with 252 entries in Roud's Index.

Other Recordings:  Sarah Porter (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MT CD 309-10.  Geoff Ling (Suffolk) - Topic TSCD 660.  Emma Vickers (Lancashire) - EFDSS CD 002.  May Bradley (Shropshire) - Topic TSCD 662.  Son Townsend (Oxfordshire) - Veteran VT 108.

10  The Moon Shines Bright sung by Jasper Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1975.  Roud 702.

During the period 1907-09 Ralph Vaughan Williams collected a number of traditional carols in Herefordshire, along the Welsh/English border.  Many of them were sung by Gypsy singers - including Eliza Smith, mother of May Bradley who can be heard on three of the Voice of the People recordings (Vol 8(22), Vol 11(32) & Vol 12(10) - and the Gypsies were no doubt steeped in a well-established local carol-singing tradition.  Broadside printers such as Bloomer, Pratt and Russell of Birmingham, and Rann and Walters of Dudley specialised in ornate carol sheets - it was Walters, incidentally, who produced A Good Christmas Box (1847), an influential chapbook that contained 58 carols including The Moon Shines Bright - whilst in London John Pitts and Jemmy Catnach issued large carol sheets in the month preceding Christmas.

Jasper Smith learnt The Moon Shines Bright as a child and remembers singing it at Christmas time, when he would go from door to door trying to raise a few coppers to give to his mother.

11  The Basket of Eggs sung by Minty Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, c.1974.  Roud 377.

This song dates from the latter half of the 18th century.  Gavin Greig, the assiduous Scottish song collector, called it The Foundling Baby, although singers throughout England and Scotland have preferred to use the broadside title The Basket of Eggs.  In the late 1950s Ken Stubbs collected a version from Frank Smith, Minty’s husband, which, understandably, was very similar in form.  (See The Life of a Man London, 1970).

Other Recordings:  Bob Blake (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MT CD 311-2.

12  Will You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender? sung by Bill Ellson, Broomsmead, Kent, c.1975.  Roud 854.

Let none despise the merry, merry cries
Of famous London Town. 
So runs one blackletter broadside in the Roxburghe collection.  At one time merchants and labourers would advertise their wares and services by singing their respective cries in the streets.  It was a practice that lasted from the reign of Elizabeth 1st.  until the early years of the last century, when the street cries began to wain.  (Though there is a record of a Gypsy lavender seller singing in London - outside Broadcasting House, as late as 1951 - and some sellers continued in south London until the early 1960s).  Bill Ellson learnt the song from his father who would cross the Thames from his camp site on Mitcham Common to sell lavender in the more affluent streets of Chelsea.

Other Recordings:  Joe Smith (Suffolk) - Veteran VT136CD.  Janet Penfold (London) - Saydisc CD-SDL 407.  Gordon Hall (Sussex) - Veteran VT 115.

13  Little Dunn Dee sung by Mary Ann Haynes, Brighton, Sussex, 1974.  Roud 176.

This appeared on several 19th century broadsides as The Little Dun Mare or, sometimes, L’Anson’s Racehorse after a well-known Yorkshire family of horse breeders.  The version printed in the 1850s by Henry Parker Such of London begins:

On the twenty-fourth day of August last,
A horse race at Newmarket was,
And many fine gentlemen did there resort,
All for to see such lively sport.

There was a gentleman of fame,
Charles Anson, Esq, and that was his name,
And he had got a kinsman who had got a mare,
Called Little Dun with her two cropt ears.

This recording of Mary Ann Haynes is the first time this song has been found in the oral tradition since Sharp recorded it from Shepherd Haden, of Bampton, in 1909.

14  The Breakdown / The Flowers of Edinburgh played on the fiddle by Harry Lee, Borough Green, Kent, 1962.

The first tune bears a very strong resemblance to the Blakeney Hornpipe, although Harry's second part doesn't resolve fully into the subdominant key - as one might expect it to.  His Flowers of Edinburgh also doesn't do what you'd expect, melodically - although it's still spot-on as a stepdance tune.  In a way, this performance is very like the way Gypsies will often sing songs ... the 'audience' will be completely familiar with the story, so there's no need to include all the details in the correct order, so long as the basic shape is still there and familiar landmarks are picked out along the way.

For Flowers of Edinburgh please see Vol 9(2).

15  The American Stranger sung by Chris Willett, Paddock Wood, Kent, 1978.  Roud 1081.

Once highly popular - there are a dozen Scottish sets in the Greig/Duncan collection (Greig/Duncan 1469) for example, and Sharp noted five versions in southern England.  According to Greig, ‘The hero of this song is a somewhat queer character.  He disclaims being rakish, but from the list of flames to which he confesses one would at least take him to be a fairly miscellaneous lover.  Then from the versions of the ditty which one now gets it is not easy saying where exactly his true darling is.  In the original version no doubt the account which the hero gave of himself had been at least consistent, but subsequent singers have evidently mixed him up a bit.  The popularity of the song would seem to be due in considerable measure to its excellent tune, which, as far as records show, varies much less than the words.’

Despite the fact that many versions give Ireland as the original home of the Stranger, not one of Roud's 93 entries is from that country.  Looking at his list of 40 or so named singers, one can guess that the great majority of them were Gypsies or Travellers.

16  The High-Low Well sung by Wiggy Smith, Elmstone Hardwicke, Gloucestershire, 1995.  Roud 1697.

Cecil Sharp collected six versions of this song in Cornwall and one in Gloucestershire in 1919.  Usually titled The Holy Well it was frequently printed on Christmas songs sheets by Victorian broadside printers in the Midlands.  Many collected sets came from Gypsy singers and there is also a recording of the closely related Bitter Withy sung by a Sussex Gypsy, Sarah Porter (Musical Traditions MTCD 309-10).

17  Cock o’ the North / Garryowen / The Flowers of Edinburgh / Step it Away / The Girl I Left Behind Me played on the mouth-organ & voice by Jasper Smith and the drum by Levi Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1975.

For Garryowen, please see Vol 9(18).  For Flowers of Edinburgh, please see Vol 9(2).

Other Recordings: Cock o the North.  Walter Geary (Norfolk) - Veteran cassette VTVS 07/08.  Willie Kemp (Aberdeenshire) - Ythan Music Trust YCD03.  Garryowen.  Bill Fell (Birmingham) - Veteran cassette VTVS 07/08.  The Girl I Left Behind Me.  Bill Fell (Birmingham) - Veteran cassette VTVS 07/08.  Billy Cooper (Norfolk) - Veteran cassette VTVS 07/08.

18  Down in the Meadow sung by Jasper Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1975.  Roud 60, Laws P25.

Please see the note to track 9 on this CD.

19  The Tan Yard Side sung by Phoebe Smith, Melton, Suffolk, 1969.  Roud 1021, Laws M28.

For notes to this song, please see Vol 10(14).

20  Mandi Went to Poove the Gri / Untitled Stepdance Tune / Can You Rocker Romany?  sung by Peter Ingram, Selborne, Hampshire, 1991.  Roud 852

A stepdance tune, plus a couple of songs sung in Anglo-Romani, both of which are quite well-known today among English Gypsies.  Mary Ann Haynes knew both of them, and there is a transcription of Caroline Hughes’ version of Mandi in Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger’s book Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland (1977), pp.359-61.

21  A Blacksmith Courted Me sung by Harry Brazil, Gloucester, 1978.  Roud 816.

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger have identified a verse from this song as being a part of a 17th century broadside, A Dialogue Between a Town Spark and His Miss, which Tom D’Urfey included in his Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719).  Harry’s tune, as is usual, is similar to that found in Sussex by Ralph Vaughan Williams (to the related song Our Captain Calls All Hands) and subsequently used by him for his setting of the Bunyan hymn To Be a Pilgrim.

It's extremely unusual to find the every single one of Roud's 45 entries is from the southern half of England.  Again, most of the named singers may well be Gypsies.

Other Recordings:  Phoebe Smith (Suffolk) - Veteran VT136CD.

22  The Small Birds Whistle sung by Jasper Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1975.  Roud 199, Child 106.

The Small Birds Whistle is a fragment of the ballad The Famous Flower of Serving Men, or, the Lady turn’d Servingman which was first licenced to Jno. Andrews - a London printer - on 14 July 1656.  Andrew’s ballad has the following introduction:

Her Lord being slain, her Father dead,
Her bower robb’d, her Servants fled;
She drest her self in Mans attire:
She trimm’d her Locks, she cut her Hair,
And elsewithal she chang’d her Name,
From Faie ELISE to Sweet WILLIAM.
To a delicate new Tune, Or, Flora Farewell.  Summertime.  Or, Loves Tide.
Jasper’s tune, and third verse, belong to the Irish Croppy Boy family of tunes and, as Frank Purslow has noted, this version of the ballad would appear to have come to England from Ireland (The Constant Lovers pp.34-35, 1972).  However, only one of Roud's 73 entries is from Ireland; the majority are from Scotland.  A version collected by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger from Caroline Hughes is clearly related to the one sung by Jasper.  (Bertrand Bronson The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads - volume 4, Princeton, 1974, pp.484 - 85).

Other Recordings:  Caroline Hughes (Dorset) - Rounder CD 1775

23  The Female Drummer sung by Mary Ann Haynes, Brighton, Sussex, 1974.  Roud 226.

Variants of The Female Drummer appeared on both black and white-letter broadsides.  Titles such as The Gallant She-Souldier (sic), The Famous Woman Drummer and The Female Warrior appeared on English sheets that date from c.1655 to 1689.  In the early 1740s Hannah Snell, the daughter of a Worester draper, joined the British Army to search for her husband, a Dutch seaman, who she felt may have been pressed into the service of the King.  As Private Snell, Hannah fought against the French in the Battle of Pondicherry and, following her retirement from the army, gained fame as the landlady of ‘The Female Warrior’ in Wapping, and, incidentally, became the recipient of a £30 annual government grant following a petition to the King by the then Duke of Cumberland.

Roy Palmer, a writer who has researched this type of song, notes that one version of Mary’s song mentions the siege of Valenciennes, which occurred in the year 1793, and there was indeed a female drummer at Valenciennes by the name of Mary Ann Talbot (1778 - 1808).  In 1809 Talbot was the subject of a book The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Ann Talbot.  Snell and Talbot, however, were not alone in joining the army and it seems, at this late date, that we will never know just who inspired the composer of The Female Drummer.

Other Recordings:  Walter Pardon (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD514. Harry Cox (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD512D.

24  Once I Was a Servant sung by Chris Willett, Paddock Wood, Kent, 1978.  Roud 269, Laws K43.

For notes to this, please see Vol 2 (21).

25  The Colour of Amber sung by Mary Ann Haynes, Bright, Sussex, 1974.  Roud 1716.

Yet another collection of ‘floating’ verses.  See John Ashton’s Real Sailor Songs 1891 (reprinted 1973) for The Sailor Boy (no page number given).  I'm sure that Amy Birch also recorded this song, but can't find any reference to it.

26  The Squire and the Gypsy sung by Jasper Smith, Biggin Hill, Kent, 1973.  Roud 229, Laws O6.

The Gypsy’s Wedding Day appeared on a broadside during the early 1700s.  It was reprinted frequently up to the 1880s when the Such family of south London included it in their series of songsters.  A version of the song was recorded in the 1920s by the American singer Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers.

Other Recordings:  Joseph Taylor (Lincolnshire) - Topic TSCD 651.  Percy Webb (Suffolk) - Neil Lanham CD NLCD3.

27  Untitled Stepdance Tunes sung and played on the melodeon by Tom Orchard and stepped by Tommy Orchard, Clawton, Devon, 1975.

The melodeon tune is the Cliffe Hornpipe.

28  The Game of Cards sung by Levi Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1974.  Roud 232.

According to Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger, ‘The game of All Fours is listed in Hoyles Rules of the Games as an ancient one.  It is still played in a few parts of Britain though it is not as popular as it was at the turn of the century.  It is one of a large family of card games in which the ace is high and the jack low.  The object is to win High, Low, Jack and (therefore) the Game.  Although All Fours went to America under various titles (Seven-up, Old Sledge, High-Low-Jack, Pitch), the song does not appear to have followed it’.  Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland (1977.  p.148).

Just in case the above leads to any confusion, it should be stressed that this song has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the card game.

Other Recordings:  Sam Larner (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD511.  Phoebe Smith (Suffolk) - Veteran VT136CD.  Sarah Porter (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MTCD 309-10.

29  Royal Comrade sung by Amy Birch, Exbridge, Devon, 1976.  Roud 189, Laws Q33.

AKA The Lakes of Cold Finn or Willie Leonard.  For notes to this song, please see Vol 3(20).

30  Geordie sung by Levi Smith, near Epsom, Surrey, 1974.  Roud 90, Child 209.

Scholars have long argued over the origin of this ballad.  It exists in two basic forms, one, from Scotland is apocryphally ascribed to an incident involving George Gordon, fourth Earl of Huntley, who fell from Royal favour in 1554, while the other possibly stems from two English 17th century blackletter broadsides which, between them, supplied most of the verses used by later printers such as Henry Parker Such of London.  It has certainly been popular, with 232 Roud entries from England, Scotland and North America.

Other Recordings:  Harry Cox (Norfolk) - Rounder 1776 and Topic TSCD 512D.  Gaither Carlton (North Carolina) - as a fiddle tune only - Rounder 0129.

31  The Young Officer sung by Mary Ann Haynes, Brighton, Sussex, 1972.  Roud 21, Child 4.

AKA The Outlandish Knight or Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight, to use Professor Child’s title, has often been collected from Gypsies.  Most versions stem from the broadside issued in the early 1800s by John Pitts of London, although the story was old when Pitts first issued his sheet.  Roud's Index has an astonishing 583 entries for this ballad, the majority of which are from North America.

Recent research links it with Saint Ladislas, an 11th century King of Hungary, who is depicted in medieval church frescoes lying asleep beneath a tree in whose branches hang the severed heads of his previous victims.  His would-be victim, who is depicted delousing his hair, is forewarned of her impending fate when she glances upwards seeing not only the severed heads, but also the King’s concealed weapons.  Elsewhere in Europe representations show not Ladislas but a Tartar or Scythian warrior, suggesting that the ballad’s origin is buried even deeper in ancient history.

Other Recordings:  Fred Jordan (Shropshire) - who learnt the song from a Gypsy - Topic TSCD 600 and Rounder 1775.  Charlotte Renals (Cornwall) - Veteran Tapes VT119.  Sarah Porter (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MTCD 309-10.  Jumbo Brightwell (Suffolk) - Veteran VT140CD and Rounder 1741.  Lena Bourne Fish (New Hampshire) - Appleseed APR CD 1035.

32  Under the Leaves sung by May Bradley, Ludlow, Shropshire, 1966.  Roud 127.

Also known as The Seven Virgins or The Leaves of Life, A L Lloyd had this to say about it:

‘However, an excellent Passion song has survived until today, chiefly among gipsies, who have proved over the last half-century or so to be the preservers of several of our best folk carols.  The Seven Virgins has not the emotional intensity of Oh, my heart is woe or Suddenly afraid, but it attracts the singers’ imagination by its mysterious opening, virgins amid the foliage of the Tree of Life, that most powerful, most universal of all vegetal symbols known to popular piety.  The opening recalls the dazzlingly beautiful illuminations in the Arundel Psalter.  This psalter, in the British Museum, shows the Tree of Death very sombrely, with dismal birds in its branches.  The Tree of Life is gleaming gold, with iridescent vine-shaped leaves.  On the boughs are discs inscribed with the Seven Virtues, and in the shade of the leaves, four of these virtues stand as handsome girls.  Perhaps the unknown maker of the carol had this piece of fourteenth century symbolism in mind.’ Folk Song in England (1967) p.127.
Both Sharp and Vaughan Williams collected sets from Gypsy singers, who were probably indirectly influenced by the text printed in Dudley in 1847, in a collection of carols called A Good Christmas Box (1847).  Certainly, all Roud's instances of collection from the oral tradition are from the Shropshire/Herefordshire area.  Additional notes to the carol may be found in Journal of the Folk Song Society 30, 283-6.

Volume 12: We've Received Orders to Sail - Jackie Tar at Sea & on Shore (Topic TSCD 662)  Review

The Loss of the Ramilly sung by Jumbo Brightwell, Leiston, Suffolk, 1975.  Roud 523, Laws K1.

The Loss of the Ramilly tells of the wrecking of HMS Ramillies off the coast of Devon on 15 February, 1760, with the loss of over seven hundred lives.  Strange, then, to find that, while all of Roud's instances of the song are from ports or areas where seafaring is an important part of the local economy - and as most versions specify the town of Plymouth - not one has been collected in Devon!

Other Recordings:  Walter Pardon (Topic TSCD 514).

Captain Coulson sung by Paddy Tunney, rec. London, 1975.  Roud 1695.

According to Cathol Ó Baoill, ‘This song is particularly interesting because of the most unseamanlike reference to teetotalism in the second verse ...  The Father Mathew referred to in that verse was leader of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart, whose purpose was to combat, by example and self-sacrifice, the drunkenness which was so infamous in 19th century Ireland’.

It is quite well-known in Ireland (Sam Henry H562, for example) and was sung in Canada by O J Abbott (Folkways FM4051), and most versions - even Brigid Tunney's - give the Captain's name as Colston.

Other Recordings:  Joe Heaney (Connemara) - Topic TSCD518D.

A Sailor in the North Country sung by Pop Maynard, Copthorne, Sussex, 1955.  Roud 1504.

Not the most commonly encountered song these days.  Vaughan Williams collected a set in 1904 from Mrs Verrall, of Monksgate, near Horsham in Sussex, and Cecil Sharp found it being sung by a Mrs Smithers, of Tewkesbury, four years later, in 1908.  Pop sings it to a lovely tune, just the sort of thing that Vaughan Williams and Sharp liked to find.

Just As the Tide Was A-Flowing sung by Harry Cox, Sutton, Norfolk, 1945.  Roud 1105.

According to Frank Kidson, ‘This is another old sailor’s favourite ...  The air is old and much resembles The Peacock - an Irish tune seldom met with, but included in R A Smith’s Irish Minstrel c.1826, and in one of Holden’s collections of Irish Airs, c.1800.  The air has much of the characteristics of Scotch melody’ Traditional Tunes (1891), p.108.  Cecil Sharp noted four Somerset versions in 1904-8, and the odd version or two has been seen on the Maritime coast of Eastern America.

Other Recordings:  Jim & Mrs Sampson (Cambridgeshire) - Helions Bumpstead NLCD 6.

The Rambling Sailor sung by Chris Willett, Paddock Wood, Kent, 1962.  Roud 518.

Sharp had seven versions of this song (Sharp 298), which Baring Gould also noted in the west country.  In some versions, the sailor has been replaced by a soldier.  Practically all Roud's 114 instances are from southern England, but the song has travelled to North America, and the lovely Sally Sloane sang it in Australia.

Other Recordings:  Peter Verrall (Sussex) - EFDSS CD 002.

The Sailor’s Alphabet sung by Sam Larner, Winterton, Norfolk, 1958 or ‘59.  Roud 159.

Alphabet songs of all kinds abound.  Soldiers, sailors, bargemen, even lumberjacks have their own version of this type of song.  They may, originally, stem from a children’s alphabet rhyme (A was an apple-pie/B bit it/C cut it/D dealt it/ E eat it etc) that was known from the reign of Charles II (1660 - 85).  Usually we find four letters per verse, but a sailor’s alphabet that I came across recently, from a fisherman on Holy Island in Northumberland, has a verse for each letter of the alphabet!

Most of Roud's 107 instances are from North America, but there are 26 English ones and - a real rarity - one from Wales!  And it's not Phil Tanner either, but William Fender, of Barry, Glamorgan, collected by James M Carpenter.

Other Recordings:  Johnny Doughty (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MTCD 311-2.  Harold Smy (Suffolk) - Veteran VTC5CD.  Clifford Jenkins (Cornwall) - Saydisc CD-SDL 405.  Percy Webb (Suffolk) - Neil Lanham CD NLCD3.

Coil the Hawser / Lord McDonald played on the dulcimer by John Rea, Dublin, 1970.

Other Recordings:  Lord McDonald.  Michael Coleman (Sligo) - Gael-Linn CEFCD 161.

Nancy of Yarmouth sung by Cyril Poacher, Blaxhall, Suffolk, 1974.  Roud 407.

Cecil Sharp noted three versions of a song titled Nancy of Yarmouth.  But this is a different song to the one sung here by Cyril Poacher.  Sharp’s song originally ran to some 56 verses and was titled The Yarmouth Tragedy or Nancy of Yarmouth.  It probably dates from the 18th century.  Cyril’s song was printed later by John Pitts, sometime during the first quarter of the 19th century, and was titled Nancy of London, presumably to distinguish it from the earlier song.  Somewhere along the line, the two titles became confused, leaving us with the song that Cyril sings here.  Cyril learnt the song from a distant relative, Fred Ling, a retired sailor who lived in nearby Snape.

Other Recordings:  Cyril Poacher can also be heard singing the song twice on Musical Traditions MTCD 303.  George Townshend (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MT CD 304.  Percy Webb (Suffolk) - Neil Lanham CD NLCD3.

Baltimore sung by Johnny Doughty, Camber Sands, Sussex, 1976.  Roud 4690.

According to that master of sea lore, Stan Hugill - Shanties of the Seven Seas(1961), p.418 - Baltimore was a once well-known shore song in Britain.  Although it was sung as a capstan shanty on board German sailing ships, it was not, he believes, sung that way on British ships.  Johnny had the song from his grandmother who possibly sang it at a slower pace.

10  The Willow Tree sung by May Bradley, Ludlow, Shropshire, 1965.  Roud 60, Laws P25.

I first heard this sung by Fred Jordan, who had learnt it from May.  It turns up all over the place under a range of different titles, Change the Old Love for the New, The Sailor Boy, Bring Me Back the One I Love, for example, and Roud has 252 instances of it.  May’s verse 3, ‘I wish your bosom were of glass’ also turns up in the Appalachians, in songs such as The Truelover’s Farewell (Evelyn Ramsey [North Carolina] - Musical Traditions MTCD 322) or The Time Draws Near (Doug Wallin [North Carolina] - Musical Traditions MTCD 323).

Other Recordings:  Geoff Ling (Suffolk) - Veteran VTC1CD and Topic TSCD 660.  Jasper Smith (Surrey) and Amy Birch (Devon) - Topic TSCD 661.  Son Townsend (Oxfordshire) - Veteran VT 108.  Emma Vickers (Lancashire) - EFDSS CD 002.  Sarah Porter (Sussex) - Musical Traditions MT CD 309-10.

11  Come All You Men Throughout the Nation sung by Harry Cox, rec. Bourne, Cambridgeshire, 1959.  Roud 835.

Vaughan Williams, who collected a set of this from James Carter, a fisherman of King’s Lynn, in January, 1905, called this The Captain’s Apprentice and believed that the events described took place in King’s Lynn.  However, a broadside in the St Bride’s Printing Library (the only known English broadside) places it in Bristol.  Elizabeth James has written a study - The Captain’s Apprentice and the Death of Young Robert Eastick of King’s Lynn: a Study in the Development of a Folk Song - which gives a detailed account (Folk Music Journal 1999, vol.7 no.5, pp.578 -594).  Harry Cox is the only English singer to have recorded the song.

12  My Mother’s Last Goodbye sung by James McDermott, Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh, 1980.  Roud 9705.

Similar in sentiment to the Carter Family’s 1929 recording A Distant Land to Roam.  Seamus Ennis also recorded it for the BBC in London, 1954, from Michael Cronin.

13  The Female Cabin Boy sung by Bob Hart, Snape, Suffolk, 1972.  Roud 239, Laws N13.

A well-known and widely distributed song, that clearly appealed to many singers.  There are three versions in the Greig/Duncan collection (Greig/Duncan 181) and Superintendent Ord had another Scottish text, though most of Roud's 83 examples are from southern England.  Bob’s tune is related to the one used for the ballad The Banks of Sweet Dundee and the Irish song Johnson’s Motor Car.

Other Recordings:  Walter Pardon (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD514.  Jeannie Robertson (Aberdeen) - Rounder 1720.

14  The Sailor Cut Down in His Prime played on the fiddle by Walter Bulwer, Shipdham, Norfolk, 1959.

Please refer to the notes for track 24 on this CD.

15  Up the Channel sung by Johnny Doughty, Camber Sands, Sussex, 1976.  Roud 687.

Johnny learned this version of the song Spanish Ladies as a boy in the Brighton net arches from elderly fishermen.  Like The Mermaid it has become rather standardised through the influence of late 19th century broadside texts.  The text printed by John Pitts in the first quarter of the 19th century is also similar to Johnny’s version.

Other Recordings:  Walter Pardon (Norfolk) - Veteran cassette VT108.  Tom Morrissey (Cornwall) - Veteran VT122.

16  Jolly Jack the Sailor sung by George Ling, Croydon, 1975.  Roud 1785.

Also known as She’s As Pretty as a Picture, it probably comes from the Victorian Music Hall stage.  Sharp collected it from William Porter, of Ely, Cambridgeshire, in 1911.

Other Recordings:  Bob Hart (Suffolk) - Musical Traditions MTCD 301-2.

17  Farewell, Lovely Mary sung by Nora Cleary, Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, 1976.  Roud 527, Laws K14.

A version of the well-known Fare Ye Well, my Dearest Nancy which used to be pretty common in England; Merrick, Sharp, Hammond and Vaughan Williams all found it here in the first ten years of the 20th century.  However, it would seem that it has only been remembered in recent years in Ireland, as all the sound recordings shown in Roud are from there.

18  Stowborough Town sung by Frank Verrill, Staithes, Yorkshire, 1988.  Roud 185, Laws K18.

For notes to this, please see Vol 2(6).

19  Ships are Sailing / The Heather Breeze played on the whistle by Gerry Wimsey, Collooney, Co Sligo, 1972.

Michael Gorman also played these two tunes together, suggesting that a (recorded?) source had ‘set’ them this way.

Other Recordings:  Michael Gorman (Sligo) - Topic TSCD 525D.

20  Will You Marry Me? sung by Johnny Doughty, Camber Sands, Sussex, 1976.  Roud 573.

Although versions of Will You Marry Me? only appeared at the beginning of the 19th century - with titles such as The Keys of Heaven/Canterbury, Madam Will You Walk? or The Little Row of Pins - it would seem certain that the song is based on an earlier pattern, namely the Elizabethan Stage Jig, a short dialogue song and dance performed by two or three characters.  A version collected in 1905 by Henry Hammond, from Mrs Gulliver of Combe Florey, in Somerset, would seem to confirm this.  Hammond’s version is included by Frank Purslow in the book The Wanton Seed (London, 1968) and Mr Purslow notes, ‘This version is essentially intended for performance.  It was sung, presumably, by three characters.  At intervals throughout the song...dancing...took place.’

In the shameful interest of ‘political correctness’ Reg Hall, or Topic Records, have edited out two verses from Johnny’s performance.  Originally, these were verses 5 and 6 of the song:

Now if I was to buy you a nice buck nigger,
To wait upon you and to cook your dinner.
Will you marry, marry, marry, marry,
Will you marry me?

Now if you was to buy me a nice buck nigger,
To wait upon me and cook my dinner.
Then I won’t marry, marry, marry, marry,
I won’t marry you.

21  Windy Old Weather sung by Tom Brown, Worksop, Nottinghamshire, 1989.  Roud 472.

Sam Larner called this Up Jumped the Herring, whilst American singers prefer the title The Boston Come All Ye.  Early broadside printers, such as John Pitts, called it The Fish’s Lamentation - A New Song, although later printers, including Armstrong of Liverpool and Morren of Edinburgh called it The King of the Sea.

Other Recordings:  Johnny Doughty (Sussex) - Veteran VTC5CD.  Sam Larner (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD511.

22  The Bold Princess Royal sung by Harry Cox, Sutton, Norfolk, 1945.  Roud 528, Laws K29.

Colcord dates this song to the beginning of the American War of Independence.  The seaports mentioned in the numerous versions vary considerably, and range from Callao and Peru to Rio and Cairo.  It has turned up along the eastern American seaboard, but seems to be especially well-known in East-Anglia.  The tune associated with this song is often one related to Villikins and His Dinah.

Other Recordings:  Sam Larner (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD511.  Jamie Taylor (Scotland) - Greentrax CDTRAX 9001.  Walter Pardon (Norfolk) - Topic TSCD514.  Bob Hart (Suffolk) - Musical Traditions MTCD 301-2.

23  Plenty of Thyme sung by Cyril Poacher, Blaxhall, Suffolk, 1974.  Roud 3.

A version of the song The Seeds of Love, for which, see Vol 10(19).

24  The Streets of Port Arthur sung by Johnny Doughty, Camber Sands, Sussex, 1976.  Roud 2, Laws Q26 / B1.

When Frank Kidson printed a version of this song, which he called The Unfortunate Lad in volume 1 of the Folk Song Society’s Journal he added this note, ‘The Unfortunate Lad is a ballad that will scarcely bare reprinting in its entirety’.  Kidson believed The Unfortunate Lad to be an English version of the Irish song The Unfortunate Rake in which a young man is dying from venereal disease.  Henry Parker Such printed The Unfortunate Lad in the 1850s, possibly using an 18th century song The Buck’s Elegy as a basis, and the following verse, which mentions some then common forms of medicinal remedy for venerial disease, was no doubt considered offensive by Kidson.

Had she but told me when she disordered me
Had she but told me of it in time.
I might have got salts and pills of white mercury
But now I’m cut down in the height of my prime.

Such’s sheet is further explicit in placing the young man outside London’s Lock Hospital which offered treatment for such diseases.

Versions of this ballad (253 Roud entries) have spread throughout the English speaking world.  These include the black American song St James Infirmary and the cowboy Tom Sherman’s Barroom (The Dying Cowboy) sometimes called The Streets of Laredo.  Port Arthur, incidentally, may refer to the Texas Gulf port of that name, or to the Chinese port of Lu-shun, which was known as Port Arthur to 19th century European sailors.

Other Recordings:  Bob Hart (Suffolk) - MT CD 301-2.  Fred Whiting (Suffolk) - Veteran VT 102.  Harry Holman (Sussex) - MT CD 309-10.  Almeda Riddle & Doc Watson sing two American versions on the CD A New World Root & Branch CD 1.  Texas Gladden (Virginia) - Rounder CD 1800 and CD 1500.  Moses 'Clear Rock' Platt (Texas) - Rounder CD 1821.  Vera Smelser (Indiana) - Folk Legacy CD-125.  James 'Ironhead' Baker (Texas) - Rounder CD 1821.

25  The Lofty Tall Ship sung by Sam Larner, Winterton, Norfolk, 1958 or ‘59.  Roud 104, Child 167 / 250.

AKA Young/Bold Henry Martyn.  For notes to this song, please see Vol 2(18).

26  Polly on the Shore sung by Pop Maynard, West Hoathly, Sussex, 1956.  Roud 811.

This was said to be Pop's favourite song, and at least three other recordings of him singing it are currently available on CD - Topic TSCD 600 and 706, and Musical Traditions MTCD 400.  Also known as The Valiant Sailor, there is a broadside text in John Ashton’s Real Sailor Songs (1891).  Cecil Sharp had a set from a Cambridgeshire singer in 1911 and the song was also known to Jumbo Brightwell (Suffolk).

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