20 Nov

The Lakes of Champlain

It was early in the morning Willie Lambert arose,
Straightway to the chamber of his comrade he goes,
He said “wake up my comrade, let nobody know,
It’s a fine summer’s morning and a-bathing we’ll go.”

The walked and they talked til they came to a lane,
There they met a keeper, a keeper of the game,
He said “Go back Willie Lambert, do not venture in,
These are deep and false waters in the Lakes of Champlain.”

Willie stripped himself off and the lake he swam round,
He swam to an island but not on dry ground,
He said “Go back my comrade, do not venture in,
There’s deep and false water in the Lakes of Champlain

It was early in the morning Willie’s sister arose,
Straightway to the chamber of her mother she goes,
She said “Mother, dear Mother, I had a true dream,
I dreamed I saw Willie in the clear watery stream.

It was early in the morning Willie’s mother was there,
Wringin’ of her hands and a-tearin’ of her hair,
“Oh murder, oh murder was nobody nigh,
For to venture their life for my own darlin’ boy?”

It was early in the morning Willie’s uncle was there,
He swum the lake round like a man in despair,
“Oh was he sure murdered or did he fall in,
These are deep and false waters in the Lakes of Champlain.”

For to see Willie’s funeral ’twill be a great sight,
There’ll be four and twenty young men all dressed up in white,
They’ll take him to the graveyard, lay him in the clay
Sayin’ “Fare you well Willie” and go weepin’ away.

To see Willie’s sister, ’twill grieve your heart sore,
To see Willie’s mother, ’twill grieve your heart more,
To see Willie’s true love, ’twill grieve your heart pain,
There’s deep and false water in the Lakes of Champlain.

I recently had the opportunity to accompany my friend (and sometimes performance partner) Sara Grey for some concerts out in New England and Sara introduced me to this beautiful American version of what in Ireland is usually called “Lakes of Coolfin” or “Willie Leonard.” Sara’s version is a composite of a few collected in Vermont and I transcribed it here from her singing with help from the text she prints in her book Song Migration from Ireland & Scotland to North America.

02 Jul

Heenan and Sayers


MCD_A035 Heenan and Sayers

It was in merry England, the home of Johnnie Bull,
Where Britons fill their glasses, they fill them brimming full,
And of the toast they drank it was to Briton’s brave,
And it is long may our champion bring victories o’er the wave.

Then up jumps Uncle Sammy, and he looks across the main,
Saying, “Is that your English bully I hear bellowing again?
Oh, has he not forgotten, the giant o’er the pond,
Who used to juggle cannon balls when his day’s work was done?

“Remember, Uncle Johnnie, the giant stronger grows,
He is always on his muscle and ready for his foes;
When but a boy at Yorktown I caused you for to sigh,
So when e’er you boast of fighting, Johnnie Bull, mind your eye.”

It was in merry England, all in the blooming spring,
When this burly English champion he stripped off in the ring,
He stripped to fight young Heenan, our gallant son of Troy,
And to try his English muscle on our bold Benicia boy.

There were two brilliant flags, my boys, a-floating o’er the ring,
The British were a lion all ready for a spring,
The Yankee was an eagle, and an awful bird she was,
For she carried a bunch of thunderbolts well fastened in her claws.

The coppers they were tossed, me boys, the fighting did begin,
It was two to one on Sayers the bets came rolling in;
They fought like loyal heroes, until one received a blow,
And the red crimson torrent from our Yankee’s nose did flow.

“First blood, first blood, my Tommy boy,” the English cried with joy,
The English cheer their hero while the bold Benicia boy,
The tiger rose within him, like lightning flared his eye,
Spying, “Mark away, old England, but Tommie, mind your eye.”

The last grand round of all, my boys, this world has ne’er seen beat,
When the son of Uncle Sammy raised the Champion from his feet,
His followers did smile while he held him in the air,
And from his grasp he flung him, which caused the English men to stare.

Come, all you sporting Americans, wherever you have strayed,
Look on this glorious eagle and never be afraid;
May our Union last forever and our Flag the world defy,
So whenever you boast of fighting, Johnnie Bull, mind your eye.

_________________

The 1860 bare knuckle bout between Irish-American boxer John Heenan (1834-1873) and the British champion Tom Sayers in the small town of Farnborough in southern England is regarded as the first world boxing championship. Heenan was born in West Troy, New York to parents who hailed from County Tipperary. He earned the nickname “Benicia Boy” and a reputation as a fighter while working among the rough and tumble Forty-Niners in Benicia, California in his twenties. The fight with Sayers ended in a chaotic draw after 42 rounds with police intervening and spectators rushing into the ring. As the song implies, Heenan’s challenge to the famed Englishman was viewed through the lens of American nationalistic pride.

Heenan’s Irish background no doubt made the fight an especially compelling point of pride among Irish-Americans like Michael Cassius Dean. Dean printed “Heenan and Sayers” in his 1922 songster The Flying Cloud and subsequently sang it for collector Robert Winslow Gordon in 1924. CLICK HERE to hear Gordon’s wax cylinder recording on the Minnesota Folksong Collection site.

The Lost Forty arranged Dean’s version of “Heenan and Sayers” and this month’s video shows us performing it in the Stone Saloon building in St. Paul—a building that housed a lager beer saloon in 1860 that may well have been the site of some post bout analysis.

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

01 Sep

The Bold Privateer

Bold Privateer

Farewell lovely Ellen, it is now we must part,
Must I leave you behind me, the love of my heart,
I must leave you behind me, and all that I hold dear,
Once more to go a-roving, in the Bold Privateer.

The foe they are treacherous, right very well you know,
Did they not kill their own poor king, not so very long ago,
You had better stay at home, with the girl that loves you dear,
Then to roam the wild ocean, in the Bold Privateer.

Our boat lies on the strand, and our ship lies in the bay,
Farewell my dearest jewel, for I can no longer stay,
Our ship she lies awaiting, so fare you well my dear,
I must now go on board of the Bold Privateer.

There is no one can tell, what hazards you may run,
So many have been slain, since this cruel war’s begun,
You had better not go, and leave your Ellen here,
For I dread to see you leaving, in the Bold Privateer.

Fear naught lovely Ellen, I fain would with thee stay,
But gold I must gather, for our wedding day,
We will soon beat down the pride, of the lofty Mounseer,
And will soon let them know, she’s the Bold Privateer.

Then since you are a-going, Good Luck attend to thee,
May kind Heaven protect you, on land or at sea,
May kind Heaven protect you, wherever you may steer,
And send you safe back, in the Bold Privateer.

Now the prizes we have taken, are from France and from Spain,
And my true love at home, she shall share the gain,
And when the war’s are over, I’ll return unto my dear,
And go no more a-roving, in the Bold Privateer.

_____________

 

On Februray 20th, 1927, the New York Times “Queries and Answers” section ran a request from one Joseph F. McGinnis for a full text of the above ballad to which McGinnis knew the melody but only the first two verses. McGinnis (featured in last month’s Northwoods Songs) was born in Kingston, Ontario and learned songs as a sailor on the Great Lakes before settling in New York City. McGinnis’s New York Times request was answered by none other than renowned Derry song collector Sam Henry. Henry supplied McGinnis with the missing verses and went on to correspond with McGinnis over the next few years. Henry even printed two songs contributed by McGinnis (“The Deserter” and “The ‘Crummy’ Cow”) in his “Songs of the People” column that has since been published in book form and is regarded as one of the finest collections of Irish traditional song in the English language.

McGinnis, who traded songs by mail with Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean, also sent Henry a copy of Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud. Irish song scholar John Moulden theorizes that Dean’s songster had a significant influence on Henry’s subsequent “Songs of the People” columns! (see this 2007 talk by Moulden)

The above text comes from a typescript prepared by McGinnis for “Songs of the Dogwatch”—his own collection of songs which was never published. The above melody is also based on the transcription that appears in the McGinnis typescript but I have taken liberties with rhythm and key signature to conform the air to what I believe is more probable.