Week 298 – The Unfortunate Tailor

I learned this, of course, from John Kirkptarick’s superlative performance of the song on Morris On. That was a real eye-opener in terms of what the anglo-concertina can do (if you’re as gifted as John Kirkpatrick).

I’d be very surprised if John didn’t learn the song from Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones. Purslow gives two Hampshire sources: George Lovett from Winchester, and Alfred Oliver from Basingstoke, collected by George Gardiner in 1906 and 1907 respectively. Their very similar versions can be viewed – words and music – on the VWML site. Alfred Williams also took down a set of verses from John Webley of Arlington in Gloucestershire.

The song was in fact written by Music Hall entertainer Harry Clifton, and published in 1868 by Hopwood and Crew (nineteenth century attitudes to musical copyright might be inferred from this broadside print on the Bodleian site, from Glasgow publisher the Poet’s Box, which also dates from 1868). Harry Clifton wrote some really well-known songs including ‘Polly Perkins of Paddington Green’ and ‘My Barney (Bonnie) lies over the ocean’ – and numerous others which will be familiar to those of us interested in traditional song and dance, such as ‘Dark girl dress’d in blue’, ‘The Watercress girl’ and ‘The Calico Printer’s Clerk’.

You’ll find Clifton’s words on John Baxter’s excellent site, Folk Song and Music Hall. It seems the “Oh! why did my Sarah serve me so?” verse was in fact originally a chorus.

On this Mudcat thread you’ll find both words and music, in ABC format. Copying the code into ABC Explorer reveals that, in the hands of country singers and musicians, both the song and related morris tune had departed some way from Clifton’s tune (which, in turn, reminds me of various older sailor-themed dance tunes). Here it is, in case you fancy learning a different version from that usually sung on the folk scene.

I'll Go and Enlist for a Sailor, Harry Clifton, 1868. From the transcription by Artful Codger on Mudcat.

I’ll Go and Enlist for a Sailor, Harry Clifton, 1868. From the transcription by Artful Codger on Mudcat.

The Unfortunate Tailor

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