I first heard this on an Irish compilation LP which I borrowed from my local record library in the late 1970s. I remember little about the album, except that it featured the Sands Family, and Planxty doing ‘Three Drunken Maidens’. But thanks to the wonders of the internet I can now reveal that it must have been The Best Of Irish Folk, and the band doing this song was Aileach (me neither).
I didn’t actually learn the song from the record, but it was probably having heard the recording which prompted me to learn the song when I found it in Peter Kennedy’s massive tome, Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. It must have been around the same time as well that I saw the song being performed by Shirley and Dolly Collins, at a one-day festival at City University, featuring the entire roster of the Oglesby-Winder agency (i.e. pretty much all the top acts on the English folk scene). I’m slightly puzzled, when there is so much trivia, ephemera and nostalgia on the web, that I can’t seem to find any mention of this event. A post on Facebook this morning confirms that I didn’t dream the whole thing, and it turns out that a number of people with whom I am now friends were at the event. Initially noone seemed willing to commit to when it happened, but Chris Foster – who was on the bill – has just stated very confidently that it was in October 1978. He remembers it clearly because he’d just spent a week in the studio recording his second LP, All Things in Common.
Anyway, the version in Peter Kennedy’s book is from the great Harry Cox. You can hear him singing the song on the Topic double CD The Bonny Labouring Boy.
The Bonny Labouring Boy