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?”

20 Aug

Darby O’Leary

I strayed far away from the old County Down,
Aiming for riches for fame and renown,
I wandered ‘til I came to Galbally town and was hired to Darby O’Leary.

When we entered his kitchen, I entered it first;
It seemed like a kennel or a ruined old church:
Says I to myself, “I am left in the lurch in the house of old Darby O’Leary.”

Two praties he gave me for supper at night,
With a cup of sour milk that would sicken a snipe,
He was stingy and heartless I ne’er saw the light; oh, a hard man was Darby O’Leary.

The silly old miser he sat with a frown,
While straw was brought in for to make my shakedown,
I wish I had never seen Galbally town or the sky over Darby O’Leary.

I worked in Tipperary, the Rag, and Rosegreen,
I worked in Knockainey and the Bridge of Aleen,
But such woeful starvation I’ve never yet seen as I got from old Darby O’Leary.

Also known as “The Galbally Farmer,” this song is a fine example of a worker’s complaint song about a bad boss and unpleasant working conditions. Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a broadside version of this (probably from the early 1800s) entitled “The Spalpeen’s Complaint of Darby O’Leary” and another version also appears in P. W. Joyce’s 1909 Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.

The version above takes its melody from New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan. The verses are based on those sung by Dornan (verse 4), New York/New Hampshire singer Lena Bourne Fish (verses 1 and 3) and Tom Lenihan of County Clare (verses 2 and 5). Fish’s opening verse is the only one I have seen that has the protagonist hailing from County Down. Galbally, County Limerick is in the southeastern corner of the county on the border with Tipperary.