Another song learned from the Willett Family LP, The Roving Journeymen, where it is sung by Chris Willett. The song was also included on Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land, Volume 4 in Topic’s Voice of the People series.
I don’t exactly rush the song, but I’ve just listened to Chris Willett singing the song and was struck by how much slower he takes it – over six and a half minutes, compared with my insubstantial three minutes 54 seconds.
Ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection; printed by H. Such between 1863 and 1885
Next weekend I will be appearing – in what seems to have become a bit of a tradition – at the Frittenden Festival in Kent. The theme for the afternoon session this year is “Sea, ships and sailors”. Now I don’t sing many songs about life at sea; but I do seem to have a lot of songs about sailors on shore, making a nuisance of themselves with members of the opposite sex. Here’s an example which I’ve known for years, although I’m not sure that I’ve ever sung it in public – can’t think why though, and I certainly intend to rectify that next week.
I first heard the song back in the late seventies, sung by Tim Hart on the LP Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1; then Cathy Lesurf sang a version on the Oyster Ceilidh Band album Jack’s Alive. And more recently, of course, it has been popularised once again by Spiers & Boden / Bellowhead with their stomping version. The way I sing it is based on the recording of Chris Willett on the old Topic LP The Roving Journeymen (now also available on We’ve Received Orders to Sail, Volume 12 of the Voice of the People set).
As well as the fine tune, I’m very taken with Young Johnson’s boast that he has “received commission from the King, to court all girls is handsome”. A likely story, but no doubt the dream job of many a tar.
If you’re after a less well-known version of the song, you could do much worse than investigate the way it was sung by the wonderful Australian singer and musician Sally Sloane – that’s on an excellent 2 CD set of Australian field recordings called Sharing the Harvest: highly recommended.
The title track from the 1963 Topic LP The Roving Journeymen featuring members of the Willett family. On the LP it is sung in slightly different versions by both 84 year old Tom, and his son Chris. Tom’s version was included on volume 20 of The Voice of the People where it is titled ‘The Roaming Journeyman’ – quite rightly, since that’s what both father and son actually sang. What I sing is a bit of an amalgam of the two versions – influenced very largely, I suspect, by the words printed in Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain & Ireland.
I’m always surprised that the Willetts’ songs are not more widely sung on the folk scene. But John Kirkpatrick has recorded this song, and ‘Riding Down to Portsmouth’; while there’s a striking arrangement of ‘The Roving Journeyman’ on the recent CD by the Woodbine & Ivy Band – sung with great gusto by James Raynard (at the time of writing, if you follow that last link, you can in fact listen to the track).