A rather lovely love song which I first heard on the long-unavailable Dick Gaughan LP, Kist O’ Gold. I learned it after finding the words in Ord’s Bothy Songs & Ballads. Both LP and book, I should add, were among the resources available in my local public library, circa 1980.
When I was a student in Oxford in the early 80s, Len & Barbara Berry were regular visitors to the Heritage Society, the University folk club. In fact they were regular visitors to pretty much every folk club in the area, as well as running their own monthly club in Kirtlington Village Hall.
Len sadly passed away at the start of the year, and the obituaries give a sense of the affection in which he was held.
Barbara did a lot of work on the songs collected by Alfred Williams, and published in Folk Songs of the Upper Thames. Williams noted only the words, so Barbara found suitable tunes, or simply composed her own – as was the case with this song, which was always my favourite.
Alfred Williams collected the words from Mrs Rowles of Witney, and noted that it was “Formerly sung by her father, W. Barrett, of Marston Meysey.”
A search of the Roud Index reveals that the song was published on a number of broadsides – the example shown is from the English Ballads collection being built up by the National Library of Scotland. A couple of verses were even included in Theodore Hook’s Hungarian melodrama Tekeli
As performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane.
This piece made its first appearance at Drury Lane, on the 24th of November, 1806, and is said to be a translation by Mr Hook, Jun. and by him adapted to the English stage. The interest is supported with much ingenuity through the whole performance, and the music on which the success of this species of drama so much depends, well suited to the action. It abounds in loyal and noble sentiments, calculated for the meridian in which it was produced. It was received with the most unbounded applause, and announced for a second representation amidst repeated bravoes.
[text above corrected by me from the poorly OCR-d version at the Internet Archive]
When I asked Barbara Berry if I might sing this song, she said “yes” – as long as I credited her as my source. I have of course always been very happy to do so. Thank you, Barbara.
I sang this to my daughter once when, as a very little girl, she had fallen over and hurt herself. The song soon had her smiling again – in fact, who can resist smiling at a song which includes the words “bott-um” and “bum”?
Almost certainly the song which I have been singing for the longest time. I first learned this c1968 from the BBC Schools Radio programme Singing Together (or was it Time and Tune?). Then a decade or so later, when I got into folk music, my Mum (a primary school teacher) managed to get hold of a copy of the booklet which accompanied the series, and I relearned the song. It’s stayed in my repertoire ever since.
I know that various other people sing this song, including Keith Kendrick, who says that he learned it from John Adams – who learned it from a Singing Together booklet. On a Mudcat thread Keith writes
I have every reason to believe that it was not a ‘maritime’ song – as such – but a novelty item used in the English Music Halls in the 1800’s, but Johnny found it in a Children’s Radio broadcast support publication called ‘Singing Together for Schools’ in 1970.
There’s actually an index of songs included in Singing Together and this song doesn’t appear to be listed. Be that as it may, I definitely learned it from a schools radio programme, and it was before Autumn 1971, because that’s when I moved up to secondary school.
I’ve always felt, like Keith, that it’s not a “proper traditional song” (and I notice it’s not in the Roud index), but it’s great fun to sing.
And it’s also been great fun this evening finding so many nostalgic references to Singing Together on the web – lists of songs (‘Mango Walk’, ‘The Yellow Sheepskin’, ‘Rio Grande’) and those wonderful front covers (I remember the one pictured here so well – it must surely have included ‘Dance Boatmen Dance’ and ‘Old Dan Tucker’).