22 Oct

The Hat My Father Wore

I’m Paddy Miles an Irish boy, from far across the sea,
For singing or for dancing, oh, I’m sure I can please ye;
I can sing or dance with any man as I did in days of yore,
And on St. Patrick’s Day I long to wear the hat my father wore.

Oh, it’s old but it’s beautiful and the best you’ve ever seen,
It was worn for more than ninety years on that little isle so green;
From my father’s great ancestors it descended with galore,
It’s the relic of old decency, the hat my father wore.

I bid you all good evening, good luck to you I say,
And when I’m on the ocean, I hope for me you’ll pray;
I am going to my happy home in a place called Ballymoor,
To be welcomed back to Paddy’s land with the hat my father wore.

And when I do return again the boys and girls to see,
I hope that with old Erin’s style you’ll kindly welcome me;
And sing me songs of Ireland to cheer me more and more,
And make my Irish heart feel glad with the hat my father wore.

The sheet music for “The Hat My Father Wore” was printed in New York City in 1876. The cover of that publication lists it as one of the “Popular Songs SUNG BY JOHNNY ROACH THE GREAT FACIAL ARTISTE” with words written by Daniel Macarthy. Vaudevillian Johnny Roach also had a hand in popularizing the song “Dick Darby the Cobbler” (sung by Tommy Makem and countless others) as that song was part of a larger routine he did called, simply, “The Cobbler.” Roach also sang “When McGuiness Gets a Job” which, along with both other songs, went into tradition in the north woods. It is also worth noting that “The Hat My Father Wore” and the Orangeman’s song “The Sash My Father Wore” are directly related in text and tune but it is unclear which came first.

“The Hat” was in the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Dean and many other north woods singers I have researched throughout the Great Lakes and Maritimes. The above melodic transcription comes from the beautiful singing of Maine/Nova Scotia singer Carrie Grover (thanks to two digitized recordings available on the Carrie Grover Project site). Grover’s melody is full of delicious deviations from the much simpler melody printed in the 1876 sheet music. The text above is my own blend of Dean’s and Grover’s.

21 Jun

The Wind Sou’west

You gentlemen of England far and near,
Who live at ease free from all care,
It’s little do you think and it’s little do you know,
What we poor seamen undergo,

Chorus:

With the wind sou’west and a dismal sky,
And the ruffling seas rolled mountains high.

On the second day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When our captain called us all away,
He took us from our native shore,
While the wind sou’west and loud did roar.

On the fifth day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When we spied land on the lo’ward lay,
We saw three ships to the bottom go,
While we, poor souls, tossed to and fro.

On the sixth day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When our capstan and foremast washed away,
Our mast being gone, the ship sprang a leak,
And we thought we should sink in the watery deep.

The second mate and eighteen more,
Got into the longboat and rowed for shore,
But what must have been for their poor wives,
A-losing their husbands’ precious lives?

On the seventh day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When we arrived in Plymouth Bay,
What a dismal tale had we for to tell,
Of how we acted in the gale.

We return this month to the fantastic repertoire of singer Carrie Grover (1879-1959) who grew up in Nova Scotia and lived her adult life in Maine. “The Wind Sou’west” appears in her published songbook “A Heritage of Songs” where she classifies it as one of her father’s songs. Her father, George Craft Spinney, was born in 1837 and spent many years working on merchant vessels where he learned many sea songs. This song appears to be a variant of an English song dating to the late 18th century often titled “You Gentlemen of England” but Grover’s version is pretty unique with a localized New England reference to Plymouth Bay. No English versions I have seen include a chorus.

Thanks to the incredible work of singer and researcher Julie Mainstone Savas, we now have the website The Carrie Grover Project which includes transcriptions of all the songs in “Heritage of Songs” and more plus some audio recordings of Grover. The site is well worth checking out. There you can hear a recording of Grover singing the above (from which I made my own transcription). In it, Grover makes masterful use of the traditional singer’s trick of singing an “in between” third scale degree – somewhere between major and minor – that, to me, gives the song a perfect haunting quality.

20 Jun

Moorlough Mary

When first I saw my dear Moorlough Mary,
 ’Twas in a valley in sweet Strabane,
Her smiling countenance was so enticing,
All other females she would tramp on,
Her smiling glances bruised my senses,
No rest will I find neither night nor day,
In my silent slumber, I’ll wake in wonder,
Crying “Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?”

Was I a man of good education,
Or Erin’s Isle all at my command,
I’d lay my head on your seething bosom,
In bands of wedlock, you’d join my hand,
I’d entertain you both morning and evening,
In robes I’d dress both neat and gay,
With kisses sweet, love, I would embrace you,
Kind Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?

I’ll away, I’ll away to some lonely valley,
Where recreation is in full bloom,
Where the rivers mourning and salmon sporting,
Each sound and echo brings something new,
Where the thrush and blackbird is joined in chorus,
The notes melodious on each stream bound,
I would sit and sing ’til my heart’s contented,
Dear Moorlough Mary, if you was with me now.

I’ll press my cheese while my mules* are teased,
I’ll milk my ewes by the eve of day,
I’ll sit and sleep ‘til my heart’s contented,
Crying “Moorlough Mary, won’t you come away?”

*most Irish versions refer to the teasing of “wools” here

This month we have a north woods version of the well-loved Irish song “Moorlough Mary” that some may know from the singing of Paddy Tunney, Cathal McConnell, Kevin Mitchell or other singers from the north of Ireland.  A version from Co. Tyrone appears in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People with the note that it was composed by Tyrone man James Devine around 1876. If Devine wrote it, it must have gained popularity quickly as it appears in the Bodleian Library’s broadside archive on a London-printed song sheet from before 1885.

New England song collector Helen Hartness Flanders collected two versions in northeastern Maine. Both field recordings are available online via the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org. The above melody is my transcription of what Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater, ME sang for Flanders in 1941.  Finnemore’s text was only a fragment so I transcribed the text based on Flanders’ 1942 recording of Jack McNally or Staceyville, ME. Both singers have wonderful traditional styles. McNally’s singing is more full-throated and intense where Finnemore is light and lilty. They are both great examples of Irish style singing transplanted to the North American woods.