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.

22 Nov

The Gallant Brigantine

As I rode ashore last Sunday from my gallant brigantine,
In the island of Jamaica where I have lately been,
And carelessly I wandered, not caring where I went,
And toward a rich plantation my steps I slowly bent.

And the orange trees decorate the field with green and yellow buds,
And occasionally my mind is filled with melancholy thoughts,
That when I get tired of rambling I would sit me down and rest,
And I was thinking of the little ones at home, the land that I love best

Now my parents live in harmony, they are laboring at their ease,
But I am doing my foolishness to plough the raging seas,
And I am doing my foolishness to ramble night and day,
Now I’ll sing a song of old Ireland for to drive dull care away.

And when my song was at an end, I was a-feeling at my ease
I arose to pick some oranges that grew upon the trees,
And there a female form I spied that filled me with delight,
She wore the robes of innocence, her dress was snowy white.

Her dress was snowy white, my boys, bound round and trimmed with green,
And a silken scarf around her neck her shoulders for to screen,
Her hair hung o’er her shoulders as black as any sloes,
And her rolling eye attracted me, her cheeks were like the rose.

I modestly saluted her saying, “Good morning, my pretty fair maid,”
And with a kind reception, “Good morning sir,” she said,
I told her I was a sailor that lately came from sea,
And that I belonged to that brigantine that laid anchored in the Bay.

And we both got down together and we chatted for a while,
And I told her many a hard old yarn which caused her for to smile,
But when I arose to leave her, she gave me this address,
“You call in and see my husband, he will treat you to the best.”

Then I was kindly introduced to a noble-looking man,
Who kindly saluted me and took me by the hand,
And the wine was on the table and the dinner was served up soon,
And we all sat down together, spent a jovial afternoon.

The “Old Songs That Men Have Sung” column that ran in the October 20, 1922 issue of the pulp magazine Adventure (pictured) included the following request sent in by one of the column’s many avid readers:

Michael Dean (the same Irish-Minnesotan featured often in this column) was one of hundreds of American and Canadian readers of “Old Songs” who sang and pursued traditional folksongs with the help of the far-flung community of singers and amateur collectors brought together by the column and its enthusiastic editors. Dean corresponded by letter with “Old Songs” editors Robert Frothingham and Robert Winslow Gordon as well as other “Old Songs” readers and contributors (the column ran song texts sent in by readers responding to published requests). In addition to published requests and contributions, Dean swapped songs with these people directly by mail. It was this correspondence that ultimately led to Gordon travelling by train with his wax cylinder recording machine to record Dean’s singing in 1924.

We do not know if Dean ever tracked down a complete version of “The Gallant Brigantine” (he did manage to get a version of “Paul Jones, the Privateer” and sing it for collector Franz Rickaby the following summer). The version above is transcribed primarily from Alan Lomax’s 1938 recording of Beaver Island, Michigan singer Johnny W. Green with a few tweaks inspired by other versions found in the Canadian Maritimes. It is a peculiar song with an almost punchline-like ending. Not the typical conclusion to a story like this!

20 Nov

Sweet Mary Jane

My true love’s name was Mary Jane,
Her epitaph reveals the same,
Her grace and charm I will proclaim,
Through all my days moreover,
Where could you find a fairer dame,
And search this wide world over.

“My love and I we did agree,
That when I would return from sea,
We’d go straightway and married be,
And live a life of leisure,
No more to face the stormy sea,
In quest of gold and treasure.

“But I had not gone across the main,
When cruel death had my companion slain,
The pride and beauty of the plain,
In her cold grave lay moldering,
And our fond plan was all in vain,
Amid the ruins smoldering.

“I am distressed what shall I do,
I’ll roam this wide world through and through,
I’ll sigh and sing for sake of you,
My days I’ll spend in mourning,
And in my dreams I’ll wander through,
The lane that knows no turning.

A sad and beautiful song this month that was collected from several singers in eastern Canada and that was also in the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Dean. In most Canadian versions, the lost lover’s name is “Phoebe” (or “Bright Phoebe”). In Maine, singer Carrie Grover learned it as “Sweet Caroline” while in Minnesota, Dean sang “Mary Jane” and printed it as “Sweet Mary Jane” in his 1922 songster The Flying Cloud.

The above melody is my best effort to transcribe the richly ornamented version sung by New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan. We do not know what melody Dean used but most collected melodies, including Dornan’s, show a resemblance to the famous “Greensleeves” melody. Dornan’s striking twists and turns make his air refreshingly unique. For text, I subbed in Dean’s first line and made a couple small changes of my own but otherwise stayed close to Dornan’s version including its unique six-line poetic structure (most other versions have four-line stanzas). Dornan sang two additional verses to what appears here and a transcription of his full version appears in Helen Creighton’s Maritime Folk Songs.