1 John Barleycorn sung by Fred Jordan, rec. Altringham, Cheshire, 1966. Roud 164, Greig/Duncan 559, Sharp 247.
Once described as a song devoted to the ancient Corn God. Modern belief has been summarized by the historian Stephen Wilson, ‘We may abandon the corn spirit but not the ethic of fecundity which it stood for’ (The Magical Universe, 2000, p.xxx). A blackletter version, printed by Henry Gosson (1607-41) can be found in the Pepys Collection and several 18th century broadsides are known. English Edwardian collectors noted many versions (Cecil Sharp collected 16 versions), although it appears to be less well-known in Scotland. Burns knew a fragment, which he rewrote - and a set collected by Gavin Greig is, basically, the Burns text. Of Roud's 133 instances, the great majority are from England.
Other Recordings: Bob Hart (Suffolk) - Musical Traditions MT CD 301-2. Austin Flanagan (Co Clare) - Topic TSCD 664. Duncan Williamson (Fife) - Kyloe CD K101. Roy Last (Suffolk) - Veteran VT130CD. Bob Blake (Sussex) - Veteran VTC2CD. Tom Smith (Suffolk) - Veteran VTC2CD. Sam Friend (Suffolk) - Neil Lanham NL02.
2 Two Hundred Years of Brewing sung by Margaret Barry with Michael Gorman (fiddle), rec. Chicago, Illinois, 1961. Roud 12930.
A modern commercial? piece. This appeared in a US radio broadcast by WFMT (Chicago), so we wonder if Margaret was paid for singing it.
3 The Merchant’s Son sung by Davie Stewart, Edinburgh, 1955. Roud 2153.
Greig/Duncan 303 The Merchant and the Beggar Wench (7 versions). According to one of Greig’s informants, this was highly popular in the middle of the 19th century and appeared on local broadsides. ‘The air', he adds, 'was a canty (lively/cheerful) one, as one might judge from the refrain’.
All the sound recordings cited in Roud are by Davie Stewart, except for one by his friend Jimmy McBeath (Topic 12T 173).
4 My Old Hat that I Got On sung by Tom Newman, Clanfield, Oxfordshire, 1972. Roud 475.
Until recently it was a custom in some southern English pubs to perform My Old Hat that I Got On as an ‘action’ song; the singer removing his clothes as the song progressed! The collector Alfred Williams did not appear to have witnessed such an event when, in 1923, he wrote, ‘An old song, though not a particularly inspiring one. Nevertheless, in spite of the poet’s poverty, he could be optimistic, though I fear such optimism was rather feigned than real.’ All the 35 Roud examples are from England, except for a single Greig/Duncan Scottish one and five from Australia.
Other Recordings: Walter Pardon (Norfolk) - Musical Traditions CD 305-6. George Collinson (Yorkshire) - Veteran VT 121.
5 The Real Old Mountain Dew sung and played on flute by John Griffin, with Ed Geoghegan (piano), New York, 1927. Roud 938.
According to Colm O’Lochlainn, this was written by one Phil O’Neill of Kinsale, sometime prior to 1916 (Colm O’Lochlainn Irish Street Ballads, 1939, pp.128-29). Belle and Sheila Stewart also knew it, perhaps from their Irish travels. Appalachian singer Bascom Lamar Lunsford wrote a different song, though with the same title, c.1920. Lunsford recorded his song in 1928 and claimed that any other similar-titled song was but a version of his. Clearly, this was not the case with John Griffin’s song, which was recorded a year before Lunsford issued his song. Lunsford can be heard singing his song on Smithsonian-Folkways CD 40082.
6 Coming Home Late sung by George Spicer, Selsfield, Sussex, 1972. Roud 114, Child 274.
The ballad of Our Goodman was first printed in 1776 when David Herd included a set in his Ancient and Modern Songs. If one includes the bawdy versions, well known if not well published, then this must surely stand as the best known traditional ballad sung in Britain today - there are 261 Roud entries! On the surface there is little to explain this popularity. The simpleton cuckold, rationalised as a drunkard in many versions, being outwitted by wife and lover was a common theme in a number of early songs, many of which are now forgotten, and it is only recently that some folklorists have begun to suggest a deeper interpretation, linking the ballad with tales from Asia in which a Mongol warrior discovers his wife in the act of adultery with his foe. There is no certainty that such a connection does exist - although stranger things have previously emerged from the intrcate and complicated web that is traditional balladry. George’s final spoken comment was learnt verbatim from his father who first taught him the song.
Other Recordings: Cameron Turriff (Aberdeenshire) - Springthyme SPR 1001. Harry Cox (Norfolk), Mary Connors (Belfast) & Colm Keane (Galway) - Rounder CD 1776. Fred Welfare (Sussex) - Veteran cassette VT107. J E Mainer (North Carolina) - Rounder CD 1701. Earl Johnson (Georgia) - Document DOCD-8005.
7 Piper O’Neill sung by Willie Scott, London, 1967. Roud 5125.
Known also as The Whisky’s Guid. Willie got this song from another shepherd who was also a piper and fiddler, and who worked at Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire. The melody belongs to that sizeable Scots/Irish tune-family of which The Garden Where the Praties Grow and Ten Green Bottles are, perhaps, the best known members.
8 Bold Doherty sung by Mary Ann Carolan, Hill O’Rath, Co Louth, 1978. Roud 2992.
Set in the Donegal/Fermanagh area, this seems to be a part of a longer song. The air is taken from the jig The Connachtman’s Rambles (O’Neill 1003), and, in parts, it resembles the tune used for the Scottish song Oh, Johnny My Man. Herbert Hughes collected a version of the song, titled Molly of Cushendall, in North Antrim in 1903.
9 The Bottom of the Punchbowl / The Teetotaller played on the accordion and dulcimer by Donald Cummings and Eddie Holmes, Boston, Mass. 1934.
The Bottom of the Punchbown shows some similarity to the better-known Sailor’s Hornpipe (at least in the A part of the tune). See Vol 9(13).
Other Recordings: The Teetotaller. Michael J Grogan & John Howard (Dublin) - Topic TSCD602.
10 When I Was a Young Man sung by Wiggy Smith, Elmstone Hardwick, Gloucestershire, 1995. Roud 1165.
Alfred Williams noted a version, which he called The Poor Drunkard, from Charles Messenger of Cerney Wick, Gloucestershire and E J Moeran found it being sung in Norfolk (JFSS 8, 276). In the 1960s Ken Stubbs collected three versions from different members of one Kentish Gypsy family (see, The Life of a Man, EFDSS, 1971).
Other Recordings: Wisdom Smith (Gloucestershire) - Musical Traditions MTCD 307.
11 I’m Often Drunk and I’m Seldom Sober sung by Davie Stewart, Dundee or Edinburgh, 1955. Roud 3135.
A lovely night-visiting song, related to the ballad The Grey Cock (Child 248). Jeannie Robertson (Aberdeen) had a very similar version, although it was one of the songs that she seldom sang in public. Please see Vol 3(21), Vol 6(2) & Vol 10(8) for notes and further versions.
12 When Mursheen Went to Bunnan sung by Micho Russell, Doolin, Co Clare, 1974. Roud 8145.
An unsual song - and Micho's is the only known version - which tells of a man's regret at the loss of his loved one as a direct consequence of his having stayed out too many nights drinking. And her father, with whom the singer had previously shared "many the full saucepan of beer" - wonderful image! - has also now turned "quare and severe" since his daughter moved away.
13 When Jones’s Ale Was New sung by Fred Jordan, Aston Munslow, Shropshire, 1974. Roud 139.
Fred, I think, picked this one up from one of the Headington Morris Dancers, when they were performing together in London. It is quite an old song, one version appears in Tom D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy, and was known in the late 17th century. Robert Bell has suggested that it may be a lampoon, originally levelled at Cromwell and his wife, whom the Royalist party nick-named ‘Joan’.
Other Recordings: Harry Green (Essex) - Veteran cassette VT135. Charlie Stringer (Suffolk) - Veteran VT 102. George Fradley (Derbyshire) - Veteran cassette VT114.
14 The Bonnie Wee Lassie Who Never Said No sung by Jeannie Roberston, Aberdeen, 1953. Roud 2903.
Most people seem to think that this is, originally, an Irish song, one sung to the air Bundle and Go that John Doherty of Donegal used to play. Both Ford (1899) and Ord (1933) print Scottish versions. Robin Morton also found it being sung in County Fermanagh (Come Day, Go Day, God Bless Sunday 1973, pp.72-74).
15 The Tinkler’s Wedding sung by Willie Kemp, with Curley MacKay (piano-accordion), Edinburgh, c.1938. Roud 5408.
The tune is that used for the song The Day We Went tae Rothsay O. The words are believed to have been written by a weaver, William Watt (born 1792) of West Linton, Peebleshire.
Other Recordings: John Strachan (Aberdeenshire) - Rounder 1743.
16 The Cow that Drank the Poteen sung by Paddy Tunney, London, 1965. Roud 5170.
There is also a fine Irish song titled The Cow that Ate the Piper. What is it with Irish cows?
17 Young Maria sung by Louie Fuller, Lingfield, Surrey, 1975. Roud 218, Laws P30.
For notes to this song, please see Vol 3(4).
18 The Drunken Piper / Highland Whisky / The High Road to Linton played on the accordion by Will Powrie, Perth, 1932.
Davie Stewart used to play a fine version of The Drunken Piper, which included a monologue about the piper being awarded the Victoria Cross - ‘A wee, wee medal, wi a big, big pension!’. There are a number of ‘Whisky’ tunes: J Scott Skinner wrote Glenlivet Whisky Highland Strathspey; while the Northumbrian fiddler/publican John Hall of Spittal (1866 - 1939) used to play Talisker Whisky Bagpipe Strathspey and Ferintosh Whisky Strathspey. No doubt the whisky companies were only too happy to encourage such tunes.
19 My Little Grey Horse sung by George Dunn, Quarry Bank, Staffordshire, 1971. Roud 393.
AKA The Penny Wager. For notes to this, please see Vol 11(8).
20 Paddy’s Panacea sung by Tom Lenihan, Knockbrack, Co Clare, 1977. Roud 3079.
According to Tom Munnelly, Tom Lenihan received a present of a song book, 617 Irish Songs and Ballads, when he was a young man from his sister. The text for Paddy’s Panacea was included without a tune and, as the words appealed to him, Tom set it to the jig tune Larry O’Gaff. Tom Munnelly has also found the words in The Emerald Isle Song Book, printed by Gill & Son, Dublin, in 1899, where it is attributed to one Joseph Lunn. A tune Ireland So Frisky is recommended to go with the words. It really is a wonderful song which, to again quote Tom Munnelly, ‘displays an unbridled love of language for its own sake’ - however, this appears to be the only time it's been found in the oral tradition..
21 The Broken Pledge played on the fiddle by Michael Gorman, rec. Manchester, 1970.
22 Jock Gheddes and the Soo sung by Willie Scott, London, 1967. Roud 5130, Greig/Duncan 573.
The words were included in Middleton’s Selection of Humorous Scotch Songs (Charles Middleton, Aberdeen n.d.) with the note that it was a ‘People’s Friend prize song’. It was also published in the Greig-Duncan Collection 3 p.388, having been collected from one D Lawson in 1908.
Willie first heard a gamekeeper sing this at a dipping contest in 1905. Years later, he found the words printed in a local paper, and so added the song to his repertoire. The tune is a variant of Roy’s Wife of Aldivalloch.
23 Wassail All Over the Town sung by Drayton Wassailers, Drayton, Somerset, 1973. Roud 209.
Come fill up our bowl and we’ll be gone from hereOh? Really? How things change! Please see Vol 16(14), for further notes.
‘Here is another set of wassailing verses, in which the old magical invocation of abundance and fertility shows even clearer. The begging motive in songs of this kind is important, not gratuitous, for it is simply a recollection of the sacrificial offerings that were thought obligatory if the magic was to do its work’.
A L Lloyd Folk Song in England 1967, p.102.
24 The Barley Mow sung by George Spicer, Balcombe, Sussex, 1962. Roud 944.
This song probably began life as a test of sobriety! Traditionally, it was sung at the end of a sing-song. The text can be found in Dixon’s Ancient Poems, Ballads & Songs of the Peasantry in England (1846), while the tune appears in Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time (1859).
Other Recordings: Harry Chambers (Suffolk) - Veteran VTC2CD. George Fradley (Derbyshire) - Veteran cassette VT114.
Volume 14: Troubles They Are But Few - Dance Tunes & Ditties (Topic TSCD 664) Review
1 Bonny Kate / Jenny’s Chickens played by Eddie Corcoran on the whistle and Seamus Tansey on the tambourine, London, 1967.
The combination of Bonny Kate and Jenny’s Chickens was ‘set’ by Michael Coleman on his seminal recording made for Decca Records in November, 1934 (Decca 12015).
Other Recordings: Michael Coleman (Gael-Linn CEFCD 161).
2 The Herring sung by Mikeen McCarthy, London, 1976. Roud 128.
Please refer to the notes to Vol 7(1).
3 Old Johnny Booger sung by Jack Elliott, Birtley, Co Durham, 1960s. Roud 1329.
When I first came across this song, from a singer in Oxfordshire, the title was Old Johnny Bigger, the final word rhyming with the now unacceptable word ‘nigger’. I presume that the song comes from the American Minstrel stage of the mid -19th century.
4 MacKenzie Highlanders / The Inverness Gathering played by Willie Kemp on the ocarina and Curly MacKay on the piano-accordeon, Edinburgh, 1938.
Another superb pair of pipe-tunes from Willie Kemp and his brother-in-law. Inverness Gathering is also playefd by Donald Davidson on track 25 below.
5 The Leprechaun sung by Margaret Barry, with Michael Gorman (fiddle), London, 1968. Roud 5274.
Reg Hall rightly describes this as, ‘a...piece of drawing-room whimsy’, in this case composed by the Irish collector P W Joyce in 1873.
6 The Derby Miller sung by Jumbo Brightwell, Leiston, Suffolk, 1975. Roud 138, Laws Q21.
Another song that appeared on blackletter broadsides, and on later sheets by Pitts, Catnach and other Victorian printers. It is well-known throughout England and it also appears in the Greig/Duncan collection (Greig/Duncan 703). Cecil Sharp, and others, have reported it from various regions of America.
Other Recordings: Eunice Yeatts MacAlexander (Virginia) - Musical Traditions MTCD 321-2. Carson Brothers and Sprinkle (America) - Yazoo CD 2028.
7 Tell Her I Am / Teviot Brig played on the mouth-organ by Will Atkinson, near Alnwick, Northumberland, 1974.
The first is a fairly well-known Irish tune; Teviot Brig presumably refers to the bridge on the A7 a few miles south of Hawick in Teviotdale.
Other Recordings: Tell Her I Am. Michael Coleman (Sligo) - Gael-Linn CEFCD 161.
8 The Hungry Army sung by Walter Pardon, Knapton, Norfolk, 1978. Roud 1746.
Walter recalled his uncle Billy singing this, but until he saw the words printed in Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier (London, 1977) had been unable to remember the complete song. As Roy Palmer points out, the reference to the town of Balarat, in the Australian State of Victoria, possibly dates the song to the 1854 rebellion at Eureka Stockade, an event suppressed by the military.
The song was published on a broadside by William Fortey of Seven Dials, London, c.1860 and only a handful of collected sets exist. Both Lucy Boadwood and Tony Wales found versions in Sussex and Paul Brewster noted a solitary American set in Posey County, Indiana, in the 1930’s (Southern Folklore Quarterly vol.4 no.4 (1940) p.179).
Although the words to the song might be somewhat obscure, the same cannot be said for the tune which is known throughout Britain under any number of names. Stephen Baldwin - Vol 9(10 & 20), Vol 15(19) & Vol 16(11) on this series - called it Cabbages and Onions, whilst William Kimber - Vol 9(16), Vol 15(1) & Vol 16(8) on this series - called it Hilly-Go, Filly-Go, All the Way. Other names are Phillebelulah, King of the Canibal Isles, Double-dee-Doubt, Double-lead-out and Cumberland Reel. The Geordie poet Tommy Armstrong used the tune for his song The Ghost that Haunted Barney and in America it became attached to The Handcart Song, the ‘official national anthem of the Mormons’.
9 Hieland Rory sung by Jimmy McBeath, Scotland, 1971. Roud 5146.
Fred Palmer of Witney in Oxfordshire used to sing a piece, titled An Song, which only made sense when you realized that each line came from a different song. Highland Rory is a bit like that, in that the lines contain the titles of several other songs.
10 Old Joe the Boat is Going Over / Untitled Polka played on the melodeon by Percy Brown, with The Pigeon on the Gate played on the melodeon by Font Watling, with Wattie Wright stepping, Worlingworth, Suffolk, 1975.
For Old Joe the Boat is Going Over see Vol 9(29). For Pigeon on the Gate see Vol 7(29).
11 The Barley Grain sung by Austin Flanagan, Luogh, Co Clare, 1974. Roud 164.
Please see notes for Vol 13(3).
12 The Heel and Toe Polka / The Morpeth Rant played on the fiddle by Ned Pearson, Cambo, Northumberland, 1954.
The Heel & Toe Polka is, perhaps, just as well-known today as a children’s song One, Two, Three, Four, Five/Once I caught a fish alive. Morpeth Rant, quite an old tune, is named after the Northumberland town of that name.
13 Sing Ivy sung by Charlie Potter, Horsham, Sussex, 1956. Roud 12, Child 2.
Sing Ivy is an offshoot of the song Can You Make Me A Cambric Shirt? which, in turn, is related to the old ballad of The Elfin Knight. In 1794 Joseph Ritson described it as ‘a little English song sung by children and maids’. Interestingly, when I recorded a version from 89 year old Tom Newman in the early 1970s, Tom referred to it as being a children’s song. (Tom can be heard singing on volume 13 of this series). The earliest known set of words was printed c.1670 as The Wind hath blown my Plaid away, or, A Discourse betwix a young Woman and the Elphin Knight, although the song’s basic theme had previously been included in the 14th century collection of folk tales called Gesta Romanorum.
Other Recordings: Jim & Bob Copper (Sussex) - Topic TSCD534. Thomas Moran (Leitrim) - Rounder CD 1775.
14 I Am a Donkey Driver sung by Harry Upton, Balcombe, Sussex, 1975. Roud 1147.
Albert Chevalier, the great Music Hall singer, popularised a song Jerusalem’s Dead concerning the death of a costermonger’s moke. The name, incidentally, derives from cockney rhyming slang (Jerusalem artichoke = moke). Harry’s song belongs to the same tradition, although I am unable to trace it to any printed source. For some reason the song appears to have best survived in Sussex, where Clive Carey found it at the beginning of the 20th century.
Other Recordings: Murty Rabbett and Dan Sullivan (a 1920s recording reissued on Ballinasloe Fair - Traditional Crossroads CD4284). Charlie Pitman & Tommy Morrissey (Cornwall) - Veteran cassette VT122.
15 The Queen of the Fair / The Lark in the Morning played on the accordion by Michael Grogan, Dublin, 1937.
For The Lark in the Morning, please see note to Vol 5(15).
16 The Ball O’Kerriemeer sung by Willie Kemp, with Curly MacKay on accordion, Edinburgh, c.1938. Roud 4828.
Please refer to the notes to Vol 7(9).
17 The Pigeon on the Gate / Stepdance / The Next Song on the Programme sung and played on the jew’s harp by Albert Smith, Butley, Suffolk, 1977. Tiddliewink Old Man sung by Jasper Smith, Epsom, Surrey, 1974. Derby, Derby sung by Minty Smith, Epsom, Surrey, 1974. We Are the Peckham Boys sung by Ray Driscoll, London, 1993. Yonder Comes the Devil sung by Joe Jones, Orpington, Kent, 1973. Old Brown Sat in the Rose and Crown sung by Albert Smith, Butley, Suffolk, 1977. Climbing Up My Old Apple Tree / St Patrick’s Day sung by Jasper Smith, Epsom, Surrey, 1974.
For Pigeon on the Gate see Vol 7(29). Tiddlewink Old Man is sung to the tune of The Sailor’s Hornpipe. I came across the words to Yonder Comes the Devil in a Manchester collection of local folklore, from c.1880, though the reference dissapeared many years ago.
Other Recordings: St.Patrick’s Day. George Woolnough (Suffolk) - Veteran cassette VTVS 05/06.
18 Off To California / The Greencastle Hornpipe played by Willy Taylor (fiddle), Joe Hutton (Northumbrian small-pipes) & Will Atkinson (mouth-organ), rec. Sutton Bonnington, Leicestershire, 1991.
Off to California is the air to the song Off to California in the Morning. Peter Guinan (1875 - 1949) recorded it in Dublin in 1937 on the tin whistle (reissued on Rounder CD1087). For another recording of Greencastle Hornpipe, by the same players, see Vol 19(6).
19 It’s Nowt To Do With Me sung by Martin Gorman, London, 1966. Roud 5315.
Clearly a Music Hall composition, though I have been unable to trace its origin. Ginette Dunn lists the song as once being sung by Ruby Ling of Blaxhall, Suffolk. (The Fellowship of Song, 1980).
Other Recordings: George Fradley (Derbyshire) - Veteran cassette VT114.
20 The Four-Hand Reel sung by Phil Tanner, London, 1936.
Phil Tanner’s lilted Four-Hand Reel is yet another version of the well-known Pigeon on the Gate - for which, see Vol 7(29).
21 Johnny McIndoe sung by Jimmy McBeath, London, 1966 or ‘67. Roud 3390.
Also known as The Spree. Some singers, though not Jimmy, deliberately raise the song’s pitch at the beginning of each successive verse (Canadian singer Tom Brandon, for example, on the now out-of-print LP Ontario Ballads & Folksongs Prestige/International 25014).
22 Old John Wallis sung by Bob Brader, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, 1967. Roud 294.
Bob Brader sings this to a tune usually associated with the song Richard of Taunton Dene. The chorus phrase ‘Rumble dum dairy, flare away, Mary’, also occurs in other songs, including the Copper Family’s The Threshing Song (Roud 874) - Topic TSCD 534..
23 Ballydesmond / Knocknabowl played on the fiddle by Julia Clifford, London, 1964.
A justly famous pair of Sliabh Luachra polkas.
24 I Wish There Was No Prisons sung by George Spicer, Selsfield, Sussex, 1973. Roud 1708.
This is a fragment of a longer song which George, to his regret, never managed to learn in full. The only other set that I know of was collected by the American James M Carpenter who worked in England in the late 1920s. Some writers have suggested that the song pre-dates the Music Halls, on account of the reference to the treadmill, the first of which was installed in Brixton Female Prison in 1740. As the tune, and the structure of the verse, is based on a minstrel song of the 1850s, much parodied, called I Wish I Was in Dixie this seems to be a rather long shot.
25 The Inverness Gathering / Dornoch Links played on the mouth-organ by Donald Davidson, London, 1931.
Donald Davidson was something of an ‘unknown’ to Reg Hall when he compiled the performer’s notes for this CD. Davidson was, in fact, born on 2 April, 1910, in Ballater, and died in Aberdeen on 21, June, 1987. A subsequent article and complete discography Donald Davidson - the Banchory Moothie can be found here.
26 I’m Going to be Mother Today sung by Johnny Doughty, Camber Sands, Sussex, 1976. Roud 8093.
Equinoxial swore by the green leaves on the tree,So runs one old song. Johnny’s song is by no means as old - a late music-hall song I suspect, although I have been unable to trace it to a printed source - but its sentiment has long echoed through the corridors of history. It was one of Johnny’s favourite pieces, and his timing is immaculate.
That he could do more work in a day
Than Phoebe could do in three...
27 A Parody sung by an unidentified man, with Margaret Barry (banjo), London, 1957 or ‘58. Roud 12926.
Reg Hall suggests that this may date from the 1950s when Irish showbands were flogging the tune Galway Bay to death. Mention of Topic (Records), The Bedford Arms and Camden Town suggest that it was composed in that part of London.
28 The Soldier’s Joy played on the melodeon and drums by Sonny & Paddy Gallagher (known as ‘Gargan’s Athlone Accordeon Band’), Dublin, 1937.
Some scholars have suggested a Scandinavian origin for this much-travelled and widely-loved tune. In America it is known as either Pay Day in the Army or else Love Somebody (from the lines I love somebody, yes I do/I love somebody but I won’t say who).
Other Recordings: The Camp Creek Boys (Virginia) - County CD-2719. The Skillet Lickers (Georgia) - County CD-3509. Ramond Thomas (Missouri) - Rounder CD 0436.