WILD BOY. I learned this from the singing of Will Duke at a concertina workshop some years ago in the
Suffolk village of Mendlesham. It obviously has common roots with the much better known “Wild Rover”
which is often claimed to be an Irish song (because the Dubliners sung it?) but which also has English
antecedents; the Clancy version came from Louis Killen. You’ll have to make up your own mind as to whether
or not the debtors prison in Newgate is better or worse than having to go home and be a good boy for the
rest of my life!
DICK DARBY or THE COBBLER Our hero tries domesticity, but escapes and goes back to his old ways as a
toper and certainly has no intention of being a ‘good boy’. Published a broadside in 1840 in Preston as “Old
Hewson” it is often sung as “Dick Darling” Again, being sung by the Clancys ensures that the Irish claim it as
one of theirs. I think that I should probably also include this in my ‘Married Bliss’ collection!
ALL FOR ME GROG! The British navy used to give sailors a daily ration of Brandy. That changed in 1655 when
the British captured Jamaica and rum took the place of brandy because it was much cheaper. Sailors used to
stockpile their rum ration until they had enough for a good session and so ship’s captains took to watering
the rum so that it wouldn’t keep - the watered rum was known as grog. The song originated at sea and
quickly became a popular drinking song in bars across the world. It tells of a man who spends all his money
on ‘beer and tobacco’ and sells all his possessions to finance his habit. I love the hangover description.....”I
see centipedes and snakes and I'm full of pains and aches” The song isn’t a shanty but was popular with
sailors and widely collected in England and America.
SEVEN DRUNKEN NIGHTS A version of “Our Goodman” a Child Ballad in which an errant wife attempts to
explain away her infidelity to her soused husband. There is also a version from Sussex and another from
Wiltshire which is similar to mine. The Dubliners sang this in 1967 but only included 5 verses; Saturday and
Sunday were too indelicate!I much prefer my version but I have no recollection as to where I learned the
HEAVEN’S A BAR Written by Tim Laycock and tells of that mystical land to which sailors go when they die.....
rather like Fiddlers Green, the subject of John Conolly's much more famous song!
JUG OF PUNCH Let’s face it - there is a lot of pleasure in the leisurely supping a well crafted beer, ale, cider or
whisky - I love the laid back attitude expressed in this song - as AL Lloyd wrote in his sleeve notes on ‘English
drinking Songs’ ......This is probably an Irish importation, brought to East Anglia by migrant potato-lifters. A
brief song, it opens politely and proceeds on a rapid downhill slide into maudlin defiance, resembling a gent
with sprigged waistcoast and churchwardens pipe striving to shore up his dignity while the world is slipping
out of focus and into a happy haze.
NELLIE AT THE WAKE .... to be excited by alcohol to the point where control is markedly diminished.
Nellie has a great time at the wake - they have ‘beer ale and cake’ but on the way back home she forgets her
mistress’ warning....nothing changes! This version of the song (printed in Marrowbones, compiled by Frank
Purslow in 1965) comes from Dorset but the song is well known in East Anglia.
GET UP JACK Inevitably we are back to sailors for alcohol related songs. This was written for a New York
Vaudeville show but very quickly came into the sailors repertoire and thence travelled the world. It is the
same old story; the sailor home from sea with his pockets full of money was very welcome, but when the
money was gone...... it’s the same old song..... Get up Jack, John (the landsman) sit down!
LIVERPOOL JUDIES Stan Hugill calls this a "very favourite" capstan shanty in Liverpool ships, popular in
Western Ocean Packets from the 1840s. In mid 19th century Liverpool, crimps provided lodgings for sailors
returning from voyages and recruited new crews for departing vessels. The crimps employed "runners" to
go out to meet incoming vessels and entice sailors to lodge at their boarding house, where they would be
provided with accommodation, food, female company, and liquor (often drugged), all at extortionate prices.
This usually meant that the sailor ended up owing the crimp all the pay he had just collected from his recent
voyage and all his advance for his next voyage. Many a sailor enjoying this "hospitality" woke the next day to
find himself aboard an outward bound vessel with a hangover.
NEW YORK GIRLS - Can’t you Dance the Polka! A popular shanty again I can’t remember where I heard
this version which I have noted as from Captain Jesse Schaffer. Anyway, I like the way it ends, turned back
on the singer. Bleecker St is in New York.
THE FIRESHIP The sailor who overimbibed often ended up with more than the loss of his money and a
hangover! This song also belongs in my STD set and came from the Spinners, a very underrated folk group
who did as much for Liverpool music as the Beatles but without the fame and fortune!
RATCLIFF HIGHWAY In many songs the sailors were often the gullible victims, but sometimes they outwitted
the folk on shore and escaped unscathed, uninfected and wealthier! Ratcliff Highway - now know as ‘The
Highway’ is in Wapping, London and in the 19th century had a notorious reputation for vice and crime and
was the location of the infamous Ratcliff Highway murders. This song was published several times as a
broadside before 1830.
FAREWELL TO WHISKY / WHISKY YOU’RE THE DEVIL I seldom play tunes as part of a song set but this one
has to be included. Farewell to Whisky was written by the Scottish fiddler Neil Gow in 1799 to commemorate
(commiserate?) the occasion that the British Government in London banned the making of whisky because of
the poor barley harvest. The tune is sometimes played (especially in Ireland) as a jig, but surely, given its
origin, it has to be a lament!
Neil Gow had a reputation as a prodigious tippler and the story is told of how one evening at the end of a
village dance for which he had played someone asked him if he would be all right walking back to his home in
Dunkeld along the long winding road. Gow, well in his cups, replied “It’s no the length of the road that
troubles me, ma problem is the width!” Whisky You’re the Devil - despite having been recorded by the
Dubliners, Clancys, Pogues and Christy Moore is an American song published in 1873 by Jerry Barrington in
New York, but there's also a publication in 1868 of a very similar set of words for 'Whisky, You're a Villyan',
sung by Frank Drew of Philadelphia. Either way, it’s not Irish!
Whisky, you're the devil, you're leadin' me astray.
Over hills and mountains and to Americae
You're sweeter, stronger, decenter, you're spunkier than tae.
O whisky, you're my darlin' drunk or sober.
..... and finally..... I do love this last song; I just have to be a little careful where I sing it!
FINE TIME TO TRY FOR A FEEL Now this one is Irish - or at least in this version which was written by Seamus
Moore, a London Irish singer who used to keep a pub in Cricklewood. It is a parody of a very well known
maudlin’ country song made famous by Kenny Rogers in around 1977. We all know that drinking and driving
is both wrong and antisocial but even so, the consequence detailed here is very harsh! Seamus Moore also
wrote and recorded ‘The JCB song’ and ‘The cow kicked Nelly in the belly’ which both made the UK charts.