21 Nov

Learning McFadden to Waltz

Clarence McFadden he wanted to waltz,
But his feet were not gaited that way,
So he saw a professor and stated his case,
And said he was willing to pay;
The professor looked down in alarm at his feet,
And he viewed their enormous expanse,
So he tucked on a five to his regular price,
For learning McFadden to dance.

One, two, three, just balance like me,
You’re quite a fairy, but you have your faults,
While your left foot is lazy, your right foot is crazy,
Now don’t be unaisy, I’ll learn you to waltz.


He took out McFadden before the whole class,
And he showed him the step once or twice,
But McFadden’s two feet they got tied in a knot,
Sure he thought he was standing on ice;
At last he got loose and struck out with a will,
Never looking behind or before,
But his head got so dizzy, he fell on his face,
And chewed all the wax off the floor.

When Clarence had practiced the step for awhile,
Sure, he thought he had got it down fine,
He went to a girl and asked her to dance,
And he wheeled her out into line;
He walked on her feet and he fractured her toes,
And vowed that her movements were false,
Poor girl went around for two weeks on a crutch,
For learning McFadden to waltz.

McFadden soon got the step into his head,
But it would not go into his feet,
He hummed “Maggie Murphy” from morning to night,
And he counted his steps on the street;
One night he went home to his room to retire,
After painting the town a bright red,
He dreamed he was waltzing and let out his leg,
And kicked the footboards off the bed.

Song collector Margaret MacArthur extended the amazing work of Helen Flanders with her collecting work in Vermont in the 1960s. I came upon this Irish music hall gem in amongst the digitized MacArthur recordings available through the Vermont Folklife Center. She recorded it from Winfred Landman of Brattleboro in 1963. Another more complete version (without its melody) appears in Ballads and Songs of Southern Michigan from the singing of Mrs. John Lambertson of Belding, Michigan just northeast of Grand Rapids who sang it for collectors Gardner and Chickering in 1931.

The earliest printing of the music hall original from 1890 lists M.F. Carey as its composer and is viewable online through the New York Public Library digital collection. In addition to entering into folk tradition, the song was recorded by several artists and was even sung by child star Shirley Temple in the 1939 film Susannah and the Mounties as she tries to teach a mountie to dance with a book balanced on his head!

My transcription above is a blend of the Lambertson text, the original song sheet and a rousing recording of Irish entertainer Patrick Kavanagh (no relation to the author?) who recorded it on a 78rpm record in the 30s.

01 Dec

The Apple Praties

My name is Cal O’Mannon l was born in sweet Killarney,
I can fight, dance or sing. I can plough, reap or mow,
And if I meet a pretty girl I never practice blarney,
There’s something more alluring which perhaps you’d like to know.

I am not of your mountebanks or any shabby family,
I sprung from ancient history, I’ll prove it to be so,
For I am of the Os and Macs, the darling sons of Paddy Whack,
That live and toil in Ireland where the apple praties grow,

I could tell a great deal more, if I could trace my pedigree
My mother was a Hogan and my father I don’t know,
I’ve got ninety-nine relations in a place they call Rosscarbery,
And each unto his name has a “Mac” or an “O.”

My uncle was O’Callaghan, my Aunt she was O’Brannagan,
And as to my own character sure I can plainly show,
I am a ranting roving blade that never was afraid,
For I was born in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

May the heavens still protect our hospitable counteree,
Where first I drew my living breath to hear its cocks to crow,
There fine scenes I did enjoy as a gay unthinking boy,
With the lads that lived in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

St. Patrick was our saint and a blessed man in truth was he,
Great gifts unto our counteree he freely did bestow,
He banished all the frogs and toads that sheltered in our counteree,
And unto other regions he ordered them to go.

Another fact undoubtedly that cannot contradicted be,
Just trace the Irish history and it will plainly show,
Search the universe all round, braver fellows can’t be found,
Than the boys that lived in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

This month we have a song of Irish pride from the repertoire of Cyril O’Brien of Trepassey on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. You can hear the first verse of O’Brien’s performance on the wonderful Songs of Atlantic Canada website hosted by Memorial University in Newfoundland. O’Brien’s version is the only evidence I have found of it being sung in tradition though it was printed several times as a broadside in Scotland, England and New York City. I used the broadside versions to fill in some blanks left by Leach’s transcription of O’Brien.

A note at the top of the New York printing (by Marsan) indicates that the song was composed and performed by Belfast-born actor James “The Irish Comedian” Seymour as part of his role in “The Duke’s Motto.” This was a play by Dublin-born playwright John Brougham which had a long successful run at Niblo’s Garden theater in New York City in the 1860s. Brougham’s plays were performed on both sides of the Atlantic so it is possible that Seymour authored the song and that it was then printed (and sung) internationally though such claims of composition are not always true. In any case, the song was popular enough to be parodied in Washington, DC as the “Song of the Civil Service Man” in 1887. Other newspapers from the period even use the phrase “where the apple praties grow” as a euphemism for Ireland.

22 Nov

Riley and I Were Chums

One day as I went out for a walk, myself and my chum Johnny Riley,
The air it being kind of damp and the weather rather dryly,
Just then the cop caught me by the ear he says, “Young man there’s a warrant here,”
And I took the warrant with the greatest of fear and I handed it over to Riley. -Chorus

One day I picked up a watch and chain going out with my chum Johnny Riley,
Riley always looked for his share, he was so awfully wily,
But as by a lamp we chanced to pass, it’s then I saw by the glimmer of the glass,
That the watch was gold but the chain was brass so the chain went over to Riley. -Chorus

Last Saturday night I married a wife and my best man there was Riley,
I thought she’d be the joy of my life, she looked so very shyly,
But soon I found it was no fun, one day she chased me with a gun,
I said, “Now madam, with you I’ve done” and I handed her over to Riley. -Chorus

After an inspiring week of music at the All Ireland Fleadh this past month, I had the chance to spend a day at the amazing Irish Traditional Music Archive on Merrion Square in Dublin. There, I dove into the ITMA’s incredible collection of field recordings from Newfoundland made in the 1970s by Aidan O’Hara. The ITMA recently launched a digital exhibition of O’Hara’s Newfoundland material on its website that I highly recommend checking out. This month’s song is one that you can listen to directly from their website—easier (though less fun) than a trip to Dublin!

I was delighted to come upon O’Hara’s recording of Newfoundlander Frankie Nash giving a spirited rendition of this comic song! I encountered it first several years ago as performed by Crandon, Wisconsin traditional singer Robert Walker who was recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in 1937. Walker’s version (available here) is nice but to me it is Nash really brings “Riley” to life. Digging around online, I was also happy to discover that the New York Public Library has unearthed and digitized an 1892 song sheet version titled “I Handed it Over to Riley” which you can also access online. In Newfoundland, the song is attributed to local songsmith Johnny Burke. NYPL’s song sheet, and the style of the song itself, would seem to suggest that it most likely originated on the stage (the composers are listed as Albert Hall and Felix McGlennon) and was then, like many stage songs, adapted into tradition by others.

Interestingly, the Newfoundland, Wisconsin and song sheet versions of this song all have rather distinct melodies from one another. The above transcription is based on the Newfoundland melody though I drew on all three versions to fill out the text.