23 Dec

The Fellow That Looks Like Me


In sad despair I wander my heart is filled with woe,
Though in my grief I ponder what to do I do not know,
For cruel fate does on me frown and the trouble seems to be,
That there’s a fellow in this town and he just looks like me.

Chorus:
Oh wouldn’t I like to catch him, whoever he may be,
Wouldn’t I give him particular fits, that fellow that looks like me.

One evening I sat speaking to a girl as dear as life,
When a lady who had just dropped in says “Brown how is your wife?”
In vain I said “I’m a single man, ’tis married I wish to be,”
She called me a swindler and kicked me out for the fellow that looks like me.

With a lady fair I started to the Central Park to go,
But was stopped in the street by a man who said “Pay the bill you owe.”
In vain I said “I know you not,” He would not let me free,
’Til a crowd came ’round and the bill I paid for the fellow that looks like me.

Then to a ball one night I went, and was just enjoying the sport,
When a policeman caught me by the arm saying “you’re wanted down in court,
You escaped us twice but this here time we’ll take care you don’t get free,”
They dragged me off and locked me up for the fellow that looks like me.

I was tried next day, found guilty too, was about to be taken down,
When a second policeman then brought in the right criminal Mr. Brown,
They locked him up and set me free wasn’t he a sight to see,
For the ugliest wretch that ever you saw was the fella that looked like me!

This month I chose a light-hearted song that I have been meaning to learn for a while. I came across it via the rich digital archive of MacEdward Leach’s field recordings from Newfoundland made available by that province’s Memorial University. Leach recorded a wonderful, lilty version from Trepassey singer Cyril O’Brien in 1951. “The Fellow That Looked Like Me” was also sung in logging communities in Pennsylvania and Michigan as well as in Appalachia where it eventually made its way into the old time country repertoire by way of recordings by Al Hopkins and his Buckle Busters and others.

The song had its start in the 1860s during the early days of vaudeville in New York where it was written by Dublin-born John F. Poole and performed by the “Father of Vaudeville” Tony Pastor around 1867. Irish composers, melodies and themes were a central part of vaudeville in those years. Poole and Pastor also teamed up on the famous song lamenting anti-Irish job discrimination, “No Irish Need Apply,” as well as the original “Tim Finigan’s Wake” (yes that “Finnegan’s Wake!”).

Of all the versions I’ve found from folk sources, Newfoundlander Cyril O’Brien’s is my favorite and it’s also the closest to Poole’s original composition. The above melodic transcription is from O’Brien and the text is my own blend of O’Brien’s text and the original text published by Poole. Poole’s original is available online here.

07 Apr

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day

Come all of ye true sons of Erin,
Come listen awhile unto me,
You’ll find I’m a poor worn out creature,
Condoling here under a tree.
While the heart from my bosom was torn,
The truth unto you I’ll declare,
Young James was the flower of this island,
And he’s left me in grief and despair.

When first I beheld that young hero,
The hills and the valleys were green,
And the leaves they were all in full blossom,
Most beautiful there to be seen.
As she sat in her lone shady bower,
Those charming sweet notes she did play,
And the blackbird and thrush joined in chorus,
With her on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now my friends and my parents consulted,
And they found l was so well inclined,
False stories they told to my true love,
To banish me out of his mind.
But all that they said was a folly,
Every morning and evening I’ll pray,
I’m in hopes for to meet him with pleasure,
Once more on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now young James is the flower of this island,
The same I will never deny,
And the beautiful words that he told me,
I’ll never forget ‘til I’ll die.
But now he is crossing the ocean,
Every morning and evening I’ll pray,
I’m in hopes for to meet him with pleasure,
Once more on St. Patrick’s Day.

_____________

The Avalon Penninsula, on the rocky southeast coast of the remote Canadian island of Newfoundland, attracted a high concentration of Irish families as far back as the 1700s. Many Irish Newfoundlanders have roots specifically in the southeast of Ireland and, to this day, local accents are reminiscent of the Waterford Irish accent. (I highly recommend RTÉ’s incredible documentary The Forgotten Irish which includes footage from Avalon communities including several singers and is available free online.)

MacEdward Leach was the first song collector to bring recording equipment to Newfoundland. The recordings he made in small fishing communities are a treasure trove of beautiful songs. The above song was sung for Leach in 1951 by Cyril O’Brien of Trepassey, a small village on the Avalon. You can here the first verse of the Cyril O’Brien recording here (scroll down if you don’t see it right away).

Norah Rendell, Randy Gosa and I arranged an accompanied version of this song for Norah’s new album Spinning Yarns (officially launched this month). We based it on a snippet of Leach’s recording of this song and his transcribed text which, along with hundreds of other gems, is available online through the Memorial University of Newfoundland. The text above is Norah’s adaptation of O’Brien’s version and I made the transcription based on the Leach/O’Brien recording.

FUN ST. PATRICK’S DAY FACT: Due to its highly Irish population, Newfoundland is one of the only places outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday!