Week 31 – The Rambling Sailor

Ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection; printed by H. Such between 1863 and 1885

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 Rambling Sailor

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