Courting Days

c Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (American, 1850-1936) Love's Young Dream.jpg

I’m not sure where I found the words. ‘Twas a long time ago. The paintings is from

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I Wish I Was A Tree



I heard the song at my first visit to a folk club in 1965 but never found out who wrote it.

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Long Grey Beard

old man.jpg

A traditional English song with a better than usual ending, and one of Robert Pauly‘s fine paintings.

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Jeannie Gallacher

Fifty years ago (*gulp*!) I went up to London to see Matt McGinn. It was a great evening and I particularly liked the Glaswegian’s jaunty love song.  (Lums are chimney pots by the way.)

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This song, frequently heard in the mid sixties English folk clubs, was written by Bob Gibson, Lester Brown & John D Loudermilk in 1963. Abilene, Kansas, now a big city, was the railhead town at the end of the Chisholm Trail. Whether it was pretty or not depends on your taste, but the song’s a good ‘un. The painting is by H C Zachry.

On the recording – a demo for my guitar classes – I’m playing my 1979 Martin M38 (see ‘About’ under the header photo.)

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Sweet Thames Flow Softly


Ewan MacColl wrote Sweet Thames Flow Softly for a production by the Critics Group, based on Romeo and Juliet, and broadcast to schools in May 1966.

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Charlie In The Meadow

By request, this poignant, timely song written by John Connolly.

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Green Holly & Ivy


A familiar theme in traditional story and song. I’ve forgotten where I heard this version.

Click a pic to see them all larger. The ‘quirky tweed’ wedding  photos are from

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In Bed With The Major

I went to sing at an army base, knocked on the door of a hut and was greeted by a man dressed as a rather revolting woman. My agent hadn’t told me I was booked to entertain at an officers’ party and was expected to tell funny stories and organise games far into the night. With considerable anxiety I sang In Bed With The Major whilst trying to think of things to do for the next four hours.

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P Stands For Paddy

In my imagination the lady with no shortage of suitors looks like the one in Chris Saper‘s lovely painting.

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Brave Dudley Boys

Brave Dudley Boys dates from about 1830, a time of unrest following the Napoleonic Wars with ever-lower workers’ pay, longer hours and miserable housing. Pam Bishop’s perfect tune breathes fire into the broadside.

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I Wish There Were No Prisons


This version of the song has a fuller storyline than the abbreviated one usually heard. It may have started life as a 19th century music hall song. I recorded it for my large collection of mainly traditional songs not previously published, which I gathered as I travelled about the country during my professional folk club days in the sixties and seventies.

The alarmingly realistic Seven Dials Rapscallions are well worth seeing! Take a look at their webpages and the superb photographs by Patricia Jacobs.

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She Moved Through The Fair

Surely the most moving of Irish songs. You may imagine why his truelove’s footstep made no sound when she came to see him in the night.

The painting ‘An Irish Fair’ was by Frank McKelvey.

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Tarry Wool


Ralph Vaughan Williams collected this song in Yorkshire in 1904 but it was known all over the north of England and the Scottish Borders. I like the praise of the faithful sheep dogs in the final verse.

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The Coasts Of High Barbary

Sung by Joseph Laver of Bridgwater, Somerset, to Cecil Sharp on the 13th August 1906, and first published in Novello’s School Songs, 1908, this was one of many in our 1950s songbook I hoped we’d sing, but never did, so I make up for it now.

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Oily Rigs

I heard Oily Rigs at the Hoy At Anchor Folk Club in South Benfleet in the 1970s. Written in about 1960 by Bob Roberts, a Thames barge sailor, it was a splendid find and I exchanged my song Pay Me The Money Down for it by post as we had no time to write out the words that night.

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Chickens In The Garden

Meeting up with Anita and her brother Scrumpy Pete way back in 1965, set me off on the road to becoming a professional folk singer. Their father, John, had a large collection of Irish songs and music, which included Chickens In The Garden. There are several versions found in various parts of England especially, for some reason, Yorkshire. Our dear old hen, Sussex, is pictured helping with the gardening.

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Get A Little Table


A lesser-known song which I had from Sue Ashby in the 1970s.  

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Hearty Good Fellow

Clare Leighton November-jpg

The sight, sound and smell of ploughing is my earliest memory. Nowadays there’s not a working horse in sight and the furrows are as precise as computer and satellite can make them, though we’ve not quite dispensed with the ploughman or woman.

Claire Leighton captured the image of a very different era with ‘November Ploughing’ in her celebrated 1933 book ‘The Farmer’s Year’.

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Greenland Bound

Tall Ships Race Lerwick 2011

A L Lloyd had this song from whaleman Frederick Clausen in 1938. The photo is tall ship Alexander Von Humboldt taken by the energetic and adventurous Richard Sibley. The vessel’s a long way from being a whaler, but it is green, like the one in our song.

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Bryan A-Lynn


I gathered fragments this rare song bit by bit over many years and finally recorded it in 2010.

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Rocking The Cradle

The photo is from Unlike the song Kerryn and Stephen Longmuir’s story is heart-warming and full of hope.

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The Ratcatcher’s Daughter

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter was one of two songs that made Victorian actor and music hall singer Sam Cowell famous.

The white sand mentioned in the song was sold as an abrasive cleaner. You may also like to know that there’s an Anglo-Latin legal pun near the end of the story: “Not guilty of fell in the sea” (felo de se) which means felon of himself. Now you know. This folk singing business is an education.

The photograph of two of The Seven Dials Rapscallions, that brilliant band of street players, is one of many by the superb Patricia Jacobs Photography. The website tells all.

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Marry-i-ed To A Mermai-ed


Marry-i-ed To A Mermai-ed is a music hall song which I once heard a workmate sing. He said he enjoyed singing because it helped to while away the time between tea-breaks.

Full marks to Mike Levy (on Etsy) for linking mermaid and bicycle.

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The Stuttering Lovers


I don’t recall where or when I came across this Irish song. Incidentally the people in the photo aren’t in the cornfield for the same reason as the people in the song. At least I don’t think they are.

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Spanish Ladies

A very well-known and well-liked song in both merchant and Royal Navy ships, not to mention the folk clubs of the 60’s & 70’s, this was sung to Cecil Sharp by Captain Lewis (aged 70) at Minehead, Somerset, 4th April 1906.

In case you want to know!
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The Penny Wager


The young man in our song has good reason to be sanguine if his life always runs as smoothly and carefree as this. Free lodgings and a kiss from the landlady!

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I forget the details, but I was asked to write a poaching song for part of a night-time activity about country life in the old days. Thirty or forty parents and children with lanterns, and a tiny band of guitar and concertina, met in the wilds of North Hertfordshire and set off down a narrow, winding path into a very dark wood, quietly singing this song.

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Proud Maisrie


On one of my earliest visits to a folk club, in 1965, I heard a Scot sing this song but I didn’t record it until 2010. The photos are of some English country gardens and some from further afield in Prince Edward Island and Vermont. Proud Maisrie originated in Scotland but, like the gardens, gathered variations as it passed from one person to another.

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Bonny Kate

The downfall of lawyers is inevitable in English traditional song, due mainly to inherent dim-wittedness and towns being full of girls like Bonny Kate.

The Young Barmaid was painted by Charles Sillem Lidderdale.

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Our Old Cat

I had this song from Pete Clark at the Lyons’ Den in Stevenage, 1966 and sang it at all my early folk club appearances when I began my career. It’s really called The Body In The Bag, but I didn’t want to draw unwanted interest to my website. Ha!

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All Jolly Fellows

Good-natured, naïve humour, this song was popular with Victorian ballad printers. Versions were often heard in the 60s & 70s folk clubs.

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Jimmy Sailing

I don’t remember where I found Jimmy Sailing. It’s a pleasing tale of a determined couple, and I like happy endings. To complete the story I’ve attached a fragment of a different song, it’s all I have, and suits the time of celebration.

The photo of Eye Of The Wind at anchor is from the excellent Classic Sailing which is well worth a visit and a sailing adventure…

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A Brisk Young Sailor

English folk song seems populated with seafarers, and none more blessed than the Brisk Young Sailor, with his kind and devoted true love. I’m particularly fond of this lovely song.

The photo of the last training ship Belem is courtesy of

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Hyssop And Sage


Although this wistful traditional song from my large collection has familiar elements, such as looking from a window and the symbolism of herbs, this is the only version I found. Hyssop stands for purity and sage for wisdom, so we can be sure the lady has done the right thing.

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Lord Franklin

Sir John Franklin’s wife, Jane, really did offer £10,000 to whoever found her husband and crew, last seen in 1845. But it was only in the 1980s that some graves in the ice were discovered and perfectly preserved bodies examined. Franklin himself has not been found. Only in 2014 was the wreck of HMS Erebus located, and in 2016 the wreck of HMS Terror. £10,000 in 1850 is £1,355,000 ($1,772,184 US) in today’s money.

This song was first recorded and popularised by A L Lloyd in the 1950s. I recorded a less-known version:

– The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: AMC
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Jumbo The Elephant


One evening in 1975 at The Village Pump folk club at the Lamb Inn, Trowbridge, I sang Leon Rosselson’s ‘Jumbo The Elephant’ to a rapt audience. On reaching the Mayor’s downfall a lady in the front row gave an involuntary cheer. She was embarrassed, but it was a perfect response that made the whole room whoop.

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The Ant And The Grasshopper

The Ant And The Grasshopper is Leon Rosselson’s revisiting of Proverbs 6:6-8, “Go to the ant, you sluggard, and consider her ways.”

The illustration is by Milo Winter for a book of Aesop’s fables, 1919.

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The Haymaker’s Song / God Speed The Plough


Alfred Austin wrote the poem The Haymakers’ Song, to which I added a tune. God Speed The Plough is traditional. I don’t recall where I heard this version, but the words are well-known enough to be printed on a tea-towel.

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The Hawthorn Bush

Seasons HJKnowles.jpg

I found this lovely and rather mysterious song in the sound library at Cecil Sharp House, London, where I helped for a year at the apparently endless work of cataloguing in 1967. All four seasons are included in Horace Knowles’  beautiful drawing, but English rural folksong lives in a perpetual Spring.

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When A Man’s In Love


A song from Ireland, with universal relevance.

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A Young Man Came Courting


There are a great many archives of song, stories and rhyme in US universities, much of it from community or family tradition.  Three years ago I found the poem A Young Man Came Courting and added a tune. 

Photo by Scott-Wood.

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Fair Helen

11 Hawthorn

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Brigg Fair

Joseph Taylor summoned up his courage and sang Brigg Fair at the end of a song competition in 1908. Percy Grainger, who later wrote his orchestrated version, wrote: Mr. Joseph Taylor is in many respects the most exceptional folksinger I have yet heard. Although he is 75 years of age, his lovely tenor voice is as fresh as a young man’s, while the ease and ring of the high notes, the freshness of his rhythmic attack, his clear intonation of modal intervals, and his finished execution of ornamental turns and twiddles (in which so many folk-singers abound) are typical of all that is best in the vocal art of the peasant traditional-singers of these islands.

I thank the anonymous photographer of the Lincolnshire Wolds for the superbly atmospheric picture.

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Let No Man Steal Your Thyme


thyme.jpegThe aromatic herb thyme has long been used in folk lore and English folk song as an obvious metaphor, along with that other evocative herb, rue. Thyme stands for courage and strength; and rue for regret. The hand print was made and photographed by Anita Sanchez. Click on a pic to see them all larger.

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Mr Punch & Judy Man

Punch&Judy Reuters:StefanWermuthpg

I enjoyed Punch & Judy as a boy at St Leonards-on-Sea but the photo is of Professor Mark Poulton’s show on Weymouth Beach. See more on the Weymouth P&J FB page. Thankyou Mark! Long live live theatre!

Punch & Judy Man
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Over The Hills And Far Away


This was a well-known Redcoat song. The fine tune was popular from nursery to alehouse, with suitably adjusted words of course. Click a photo to see them all larger. The impossibly steep hill in one photo is topped by a pillar to Admiral Rodney, the nation’s darling until Lord Nelson came along.

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What Did Your Sailor Leave You?

There are several copies of this song in the Reverend Sabine Baring Gould manuscripts and I suppose this version originated there. The remarkable statue, Les Voyageurs, is by French artist Bruno Catalano, in Marseilles, France.

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The Handsome Cabin Boy

The chances of discovering a secret female among the crew of a ship may seem remote but it did happen, so we read in old accounts. Whatever the odds The Handsome Cabin Boy was a popular song on land and sea and was printed by every press in London. Thank you very much indeed Blueberry-Tale for the excellent photograph.

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