09 Mar

Black-Eyed Susan

Source Recording from archive.org (song starts at 19:21)

All in the Downs the fleet lay moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came on board,
Saying “Where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me you jovial sailors, tell me true,
Does my sweet Willy, does my sweet Willy sail among your crew?”

Willy who high upon the yard,
Rocked by the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sighed and cast his eyes below.
The cord glides slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning, and quick as lightning on the deck he stands.

 “Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows will ever true remain,
Let me kiss off those falling tears,
We only part to meet again,
The noblest captain of all that British fleet,
Might envy Willy, might envy Willy’s lips those kisses sweet.

Believe not what the landsmen say,
They’ll tempt with thee thy constant mind,
They’ll say that sailors, when away,
In every port a mistress find,
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present, for thou art present whereso’er I go.”

“If to fair India’s coast I sail,
Thine eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
Thy breath is Africa’s spicy gale,
Your skin is ivory so white,
The pleasant breezes whereso’er they blow,
They bring me memories, they bring me memories of my lovely Sue.”

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer could she stay on board,
He turned, she sighed, and hung her head.
Her little boat unwilling rowed to land,
“Adieu”, she cried, “Adieu”, she cried and waved her lily hand.

We have another fascinating song from the repertoire of Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater, Maine this month. Again, Finnemore’s 1943 singing of this song is available online here via the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org. The above is my own transcription of Finnemore’s melody and words. The timing in the transcription is only an approximation so listening to the actual recording online is advised.

Black-Eyed Susan began as a poem by English poet and playwright John Gay (1685-1732) who wrote the famous Beggar’s Opera and was a friend of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Gay’s poem was put to music by English singer and composer Richard Leveridge and printed (complete with sheet music) in 1750. It became a much-printed and quite popular song in England.

The song has a long history in Ireland as well where Leveridge’s melody was reworked and popular as an instrumental air. Cork-born collector William Forde took down a version played on the uilleann pipes in 1846 by Hugh O’Beirne of Mohill, Co. Leitrim. Perhaps concerned about the melody’s origins, Forde wrote that “O’Beirne swears that this is Irish.” When Scottish-born musicologist Alfred E. Moffat used the air for a song in his 1898 Minstrelsy of Ireland he commented that “a century’s residence in the Emerald Isle has by no means proved a drawback to it.” Indeed, an additional century in the north woods of Maine and New Brunswick may have made it even better! Finnemore’s air, though certainly a variant of the 270-year-old original, is unique and quite compelling.

09 Mar

To Cork Once I Did Go

Source Recording from archive.org (song starts at 2:52):

To Cork once I did go, to view that ancient city,
It’s boats and ships also, as they set forth in beauty,
As through the town I went to view those ancient lassies,
The old maids with a frown they peeked at me through their glasses.

Chorus: Tau to the tau rah lau, tau ruh lau ruh laddie
Tau to the tau rah lau, whack fuh loh ruh laddie

Bill Morrisey for to have the sport, now he played both well and jolly,
He played some charming notes to banish melancholy,
When he put on the pipes he played Sweet Highland Mary,
You’d have laughed until you’d cried if you’d seen poor Paddy Carey.

Chorus

He played Noreen on the Road, and Maureen na Glanna,
Junior and Senior too and the Songs of Alabama,
He played Chief Moneymusk and Katie on to Glory,
The old Foxhunter’s Jig and a Sprig of the Sweet Shilleligh.

This month we have a fascinating song recorded in Bridgewater, Maine in 1942 for the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection (click to hear the recording!). The singer, Charles Finnemore, was born in western New Brunswick and moved across the border to Bridgewater as a child. He contributed dozens of songs to the Flanders collection which are now available to listen to online (CLICK HERE!) thanks to Middlebury College where the collection is housed.

Finnemore’s “To Cork Once I Did Go” is a variant of the song “The Piper’s Tunes” which appears in Colm O Lochlainn’s Irish Street Ballads (1960). An English version, “The Sporting Irish Piper” was printed as a broadside in London in the 1850s. Another Irish version is attributed to the famed Kerry uilleann piper James Gandsey (1767-1857) who personalized the song to himself and performed it for Thomas Crofton Croker who published it in 1831.

All variants name an impressive bagpipe player and list the tunes he plays. O Lochlainn’s piper is John Blake of Cobh, County Cork. The English version has piper John Murphy of Liverpool and Gandsey sings about himself in Killarney. The version that surfaced with Finnemore in Maine names the piper Bill Morrissey of Cork (possibly a relation of Cork Piper Molly Morrissey who was active around 1900?) Each variant lists various tune titles which are intriguing to those of us interested in Irish dance tunes. Fitting that the American version has the piper playing the “Songs of Alabama” along with the “Foxhunter’s Jig.” Finnemore’s melody for the song is similar to “The Rocky Road to Dublin” and its relative “Cam Ye O’er Frae France?”

09 Mar

George Riley

When I arrived in the County Antrim,
To view the banks of sweet harmony,
I espied a damsel so fair and handsome,
You would really have thought she was the queen of May.

I stepped up to her, I did salute her,
I gently asked her to be my wife,
Most modestly she made me an answer,
“Kind sir, I choose a sweet single life.”

“You fair young creature, you pride of nature,
What makes you differ from all female kind?
Your cherry cheeks, your eyes like amber,
It seems to marry you must incline.”

“’Tis youth and folly makes young folks marry,
And when you’re married, then you must obey,
Since what can’t be cured must be endured,
So farewell, Riley, I am going away.”

We have another song this month from the fascinating repertoire of Carrie Grover (1879-1959) of Maine. Grover learned this song from her Irish-Canadian mother while growing up in Nova Scotia. The above transcription is my own based on a recording of Grover made in 1941 by Sidney Robertson-Cowell that is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Grover’s “George Riley” is a pared down variant of a relatively common Irish song “O’Reilly from the County Leitrim/Kerry/Cavan” (the county changes from version to version just as Grover’s version moves it to County Antrim). Most Irish versions include the man’s wish to have his beloved “in Phoenix Island” or to sail her “over to Pennsylvania.” The only other North American version I have tracked down is one from a remote fishing village in Labrador which is similar to the Irish texts. Grover’s is short and to the point and she uses a melody unique from what I found in Irish collections.