03 Dec

You Rambling Boys of Pleasure

This month we feature a performance of the song of the month, “You Rambling Boys of Pleasure” by Norah Rendell!

Norah’s album Spinning Yarns does not include “You Rambling Boys of Pleasure” but it does feature four other beautiful songs from Angelo Dornan’s repertoire.PrintMusic! 2004 - [Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure]

Oh you rambling boys of pleasure, join in in those few lines I write,
It is true I am a rover, in roving I take great delight,
When infirmity shall overtake me, old age will force me to roam no more,
But til youth and strength forsake me, I will seek adventure on some foreign shore.

What a foolish boy was I, for to get fond of anyone,
Sure I had my choice of twenty, if ever I chose to wed at all,
I placed my mind on a young girl, often times I thought she did me slight,
Yet my mind was never easy, but when that girl was in my sight.

Oh she told me to take love easy, just as the leaves fell from the tree,
And I being young and foolish, to please my love I did agree,
I believed I could gain her favor, but as time went on it was plain to see,
That my love was unrequited, my blind devotion made a fool of me.

Oh must I go away broken hearted, for to court a girl I never knew?
Or must I be transported, kind cupid won’t you set me free?
I wish I were in Dublin, with a flowing bowl on every side,
Hard fortune will never grieve me, for I am young and the world is wide.



My wife Norah Rendell is about to release an album of traditional songs collected in Canada called Spinning Yarns. The recording includes songs collected in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario (with nods to Wisconsin and Maine sources as well)—all material that would fit well in this column. I am thrilled to have played on the recording and I am also delighted that Norah is lending her beautiful voice to the revival of the northwoods branch of the Irish tradition! After the past 8 years of poring over hundreds of recordings and transcriptions of singers from the Maritimes to the Great Lakes, I am still amazed at how many wonderful songs and singers were spread throughout this part of the world. I am also struck by how little-known this fascinating music is. Norah’s album will surely kindle more interest in these rich traditions.

The source singer most represented on Spinning Yarns is Angelo Dornan of Elgin, New Brunswick. For anyone that might question connections between the traditional singing styles of Ireland and that of the northwoods regions, Dornan’s highly-ornamented singing is a revelation. I transcribed this month’s song from a recording made by collector Helen Creighton at Dornan’s home in September 1954.

03 Jan

Lonesome Hours of Winter (Laws H12)


Lonesome Hours of Winter

Oh, the lonesome hours of winter provide both frost and snow,
Dark clouds around us gather, the stormy winds do blow;
You are the girl I have chosen to be my only dear,
But your scornful heart is frozen and fast locked up I fear.

I went one night to see my love, she proved most scornfully,
I asked her if she’d marry me to which she paid no heed;
The night being nearly passed and gone and near the break of day,
I am waiting for my answer, my love, what do you say?

Since you must have an answer, I choose a single life,
I never thought it fitting to ever become your wife;
You may take that for an answer, for myself I will provide,
I have chosen another sweetheart and you I cast aside.

Since you are for a-changing the old one for the new,
Then I will go a-roving, I’ll rove the country through,
Until I find some pretty fair maid so pleasing to my will,
Oh, this world is wide and lonesome, if one don’t, why another will.

I know you have great riches and more you’d like to gain,
You won my young affections which now you do disdain;
Your riches will not last you long, they’ll melt away like snow,
And when poverty will press you, dear, you’ll think of me, I know.

Some folks do seek for pleasure, but I no pleasure find,
The little birds sing sweetly all around on every vine,
The little birds sing sweetly, so pleasing and divine,
And so would my joys be flowing tonight if Nancy was only mine.

I fell in love with this song recently and it seemed a perfect fit for this time of year. Several versions of this wintery ballad of unrequited love were collected in North America and the song likely originated here as never turned up among singers on other continents. The above text is from Minnesota singer Mike Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud. Unfortunately, Dean’s melody was not (as far as I know) preserved by either recording or transcription.

Fortunately, I was able to track down recordings of two of my favorite northwoods singers doing their versions of the song! The first, Angelo Dornan, is perhaps the most “Irish” sounding northwoods singer I have ever encountered (and he was at least two generations removed from Ireland himself). Dornan was born in southern New Brunswick and learned a treasure trove of beautiful songs from his father and other lumbermen in that area. His leisurely, highly-ornamented singing of the come-all-ye ballads popular in lumber camps stands side by side with the singing of great Ulster singers such as Paddy Tunney and Geordie Hanna. Dornan was recorded by collector Helen Creighton. (Listen to Angelo Dornan’s “Stormy Winds of Winter” here)

This fall, I was treated to another version of the song, this time from “Yankee” John Galusha of Minerva, New York. The Galusha recordings and transcriptions (made by Anne and Frank Warner and also by Marjorie Lansing Porter) make an especially appropriate cross reference for Dean’s songs as Galusha (1859-1950) was born one year after Dean (1858-1931) on just the other side of the Adirondack Mountains from Dean’s own birthplace. Unlike Dean and Dornan, Galusha wasn’t recorded until he was in his eighties. Still, he approaches the songs with a style not far removed from Dornan’s (and one can only guess what he sounded like in his younger days!).

The above melody is my own composite based on recordings of Dornan and Galusha who use variants of the same melody.