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26. Keach in the Creel

This is the classic humorous-but-not-really-bawdy ballad, I think. If you’re searching for it, you might also have to look for “Keach on the Creel”. (Child 281, by the way.)

I heard Jean Redpath perform it at MIT, which was amazing, and in the course of adjusting the words I’ve tried to recapture some of the phrases she used.

026 Keach in the Creel by aliothsan

A fair young maid went down the street
Some white fish for to buy,
And a bonnie clerk’s fallen in love with her
And he’s followed her on the sly

[Refrain]
Ricky doo a day, doo a day,
Ricky ricky doo a day

“O where live you my bonny lass
I pray you tell me true!
And though the night be ne’er so dark
I will come and visit you.”

[Refrain]

“My father locks the door at night
And close he keeps the key,
And though you were ne’er such a roving blade
You canna win in to me.”

[Refrain]

But the clerk he had a young brother
And a wily wight was he
And he has made a long ladder
With thirty steps and three.

[Refrain]

He has made a creel of basketry
And the creel he’s put on a pin
And he’s away to the chimney top
And he’s letten the bonny clerk in

[Refrain]

Now the old wife could not sleep that night
Though late, late was the hour;
“I’ll lay my life,” says the silly old wife,
“There’s a man in our daughter’s bower!”

[Refrain]

The old man he got out of bed
To see if the thing was true
But she’s taken the bonny clerk in her arms
And covered him with the blue

[Refrain]

“O what are you doing, my daughter dear,
What are you doing so late?”
“You stopped me of my evening prayers
And O but they were sweet!”

[Refrain]

“Pray on, pray on, my ae daughter,
And see that you do it right,
For if ever a woman went out of her reason
Your mother’ll go this night.”

[Refrain]

“The devil take you, you silly old wife,
Some ill death may you die!
She has got the mickle book in her arms
And she’s praying for you and me.”

[Refrain]

The old wife still lay waking yet
Then something more was said:
“I’ll lay my life,” says the silly old wife,
“There’s a man in our daughter’s bed!”

[Refrain]

“Rise up again, my old goodman
And see if this be true.”
“If you’re wanting rising, rise yourself
For I wish that the devil had you!”

[Refrain]

Then up she rose and down she goes
To see if the thing be true
And I don’t know what caught the old wife’s foot
But into the creel she flew

[Refrain]

The brother at the chimbley top
He found the creel was fu’
He wrapped the rope round his left shoulder
And fast to him he drew.

[Refrain]

“O help me now, my old goodman
O help, O help me now!
For him that you wished me with this night
I think he’s gotten me now!”

[Refrain]

“If Old Nick he has catched you now,
I wish he may hold you fast,
For between you and your ae daughter
I never get any rest.”

[Refrain]

Her old face gave the brother a fright
And he let the creel down fall,
Till every rib in the old wife’s side
Played nick-nack on the wall.

[Refrain]

O hey the blue the bonny blue
And I wish it may do well
And every old wife that wakes at night
I wish her a keach in a creel

[Refrain]

25. House Carpenter

So, a bit ago, I wrote up The Daemon Lover (Child 243). House Carpenter is approximately the American version, although it’s also popular among UK revival singers (I have no idea if it was ever collected from any UK source singers). The most notable feature, of course, is that there isn’t a demon any more — the ship just sinks out of bad luck.

The first time I heard House Carpenter was on a field recording of Lee Monroe Presnell of North Carolina, and at first I couldn’t make head or tail of it. He has a very interesting way of emitting one word at a time, and as a result, he tends to assign syllables to notes in a counterintuitive way that only really makes sense if you’re consciously imitating his style. If you’re going to sing along, run through the first verse a couple of times, assigning two eighth notes to a single syllable where it feels appropriate.

025 House Carpenter by aliothsan

I’m also fond of Natalie Merchant’s rendering, which uses a modified version of the same tune. I particularly like the instrumentation here, which walks the line between folk and folk-rock, although there’s a moany quality to her voice that I wish wasn’t there.

For this set of lyrics, I mixed elements from both Presnell and Merchant. In particular, the number of ships and mariners seems to be almost totally arbitrary.

Well met, well met, my old true love
Well met, she replied to me
I’m just returning from the salt, salt sea
It’s all for the love of thee

Oh, I could have married the queen’s daughter
And she would have married me,
But I forsook her silver and her gold
And it’s all for the love of thee

If you could have married the queen’s daughter
I’m sure you’d have better been
For I am married to a house carpenter
I think he’s a nice young man.

If you will leave your house carpenter
And come along with me,
I’ll take you across the deep blue sea
To the banks of fair Italy.

Have you anything to maintain me on,
To keep from slavery?
I have seven ships richly laden,
A-floating on the sea.

I have seven ships all on the sea,
The eighth brought me to land,
And I have one hundred good mariners,
They will be at your command.

Oh yes, I will leave my house carpenter
And come along with thee,
If you’ll take me across the deep blue sea
To the banks of fair Italy.

Then she picked up her sweet little babe
And kisses gave it three,
Saying, Stay at home, you sweet little babe,
And keep your papa company.

Then she dressed up in her silk so fine
Most beautiful to be seen.
As she marched out through the town
They took her to be some queen.

Oh, she’d not been a-sailing more than two long weeks,
I’m sure it was not three,
Till this young lady began to weep
And wept most bitterly.

Oh, is it for my silver that you weep, my love,
Or is it for my store?
Or is it for your house carpenter
Who you never will see no more?

Oh, it’s not for your silver that I weep, my love,
Nor neither for your store,
But it’s for my poor sweet little babe,
Who I never will see no more.

Oh, she’d not been a-sailing more than three long weeks,
I’m sure it was not four,
Till there came a leak in her true lover’s ship;
It sank, to rise no more.

A curse, a curse to all sea men,
A curse forever more.
You have robbed me of my sweet little babe
Who I never will see no more.

Now, the five-hundred-dollar question is: do you think the Christ imagery actually means anything, or am I hallucinating? On the one hand, a metaphor like that would be a little strange for a traditional ballad. On the other hand… she marries a carpenter, abandons him and her baby for a man (or devil) who promises her earthly luxuries, and then they die. Does that make any sense at all? I’m not exactly familiar with the parable genre.

24. Oh No, John

Well… I’m behind. But I’ll be catching up.

I swear I decided to write up Oh No, John well before I realized that it could be read as being about the Spanish Lady from last post!

024 Oh No John by aliothsan

On yonder hill there stands a lady
Who she is I do not know;
I shall court her for her beauty,
She must answer yes or no,

cho: Oh no, John,
No, John, No, John, No.

Madam, on thy face is beauty
On thy lips wild roses grow,
Madam, I would be thy lover,
Madam, answer yes or no,

Madam, on thy face is beauty,
At thy bosom lilies grow,
In your bedroom there is pleasure,
Shall I view it? Yes or no.

Madam, I will give you jewels
I will make you rich and free;
I will give you silk and satins
Madam, if you lie with me.

My husband is a Spanish captain,
Went to sea a month ago.
First he kissed me, then he left me,
Bade me always answer “No!”

Madam, may I tie your garter
Just an inch above your knee?
If my hand should slip a little farther,
Would you think it ill of me?

My love and I went to bed together,
There we lay till the cocks did crow;
Open your arms my dearest darling,
Open your arms and let me go.

I just love the tune on this one. It’s bouncy and happy but manages not to be repetitive, which is rather refreshing after a tune like The Spanish Lady that only has two phrases in it.

023 Spanish Lady – Dublin City by aliothsan

As I went out through Dublin City
At the hour of twelve at night
Who should I see but a Spanish lady
Washing her feet by candle light
First she washed them, then she dried them
Over a fire of amber coals
In all my life I never did see
A maid so sweet about the soles

[Chorus]
Whack fol the toora loora laddy
Whack fol the toora loora lay
Whack fol the toora loora laddy
Whack fol the toora loora lay

I stopped to look but the watchman passed
Says he, “Young fellow, the night is late
Along with you home or I will wrestle you
Straight away through the Bridewell gate”
I threw a look to the Spanish lady
Hot as the fire of amber coals
In all my life I never did see
A maid so sweet about the soles

[Chorus]

As I walked back through Dublin City
As the dawn of day was o’er
Who should I see but the Spanish lady
When I was weary and footsore
She had a heart so filled with loving
And her love she longed to share
In all my life I never did see
A maid who had so much to spare

[Chorus]

Now she’s no mot for a puddle swaddy*
With her ivory comb and her mantle fine
But she’d make a wife for the Provost Marshall
Drunk on brandy and claret wine
I got a look from the Spanish lady
Hot as a fire of amber coals
In all my life I never did meet
A maid so sweet about the soles

[Chorus]

I’ve wandered north and I’ve wandered south
By Stoney Batter and Patrick’s Close
Up and around by the Gloucester Diamond
And back by Napper Tandy’s house
Old age has laid her hands upon me
Cold as a fire of ashy coals
But where is the lonely Spanish lady
Neat and sweet about the soles?

[Chorus]

As I was leaving Dublin City
On that morning sad of heart
Lonely was I for the Spanish lady
Now that forever we must part
But still I always will remember
All the hours we did enjoy
But then she left me sad at parting
Gone forever was my joy

[Chorus]

* mot = woman, esp. promiscuous woman; swaddy = soldier

I don’t have much to say about this song, except that the first time I heard it I didn’t think it was a traditional Irish tune — I thought someone had made it up in an attempt to imitate traditional Irish tunes. So I guess I’ve got a lot to learn. But it’s so bouncy and fun!

Here are some variants: a shorter version, Galway City, Wheel of Fortune.

22. The Daemon Lover

The Daemon Lover (Child 243) is a real classic. It’s immensely popular, although it’s got too many titles for its own good. I first heard it sung by Geordie McIntyre, who learned it from A.L. Lloyd…. well, all right, that was the first time I heard this version. I’m going to do another post later about an American variant, The House Carpenter. This may or may not count as cheating, given the degree of similarity: The Daemon Lover and The House Carpenter are pretty much identical except for one crucial element: the “daemon” part fell off the boat when this ballad crossed the Atlantic. Which makes a big difference to the meaning, if not much difference to the text.

022 The Demon Lover by aliothsan

I had a hell of a time with this tune, because I listened to a whole bunch of modern interpretations and then my brain couldn’t make sense of a non-metrical tune. So I threw 6/8 time at it, and it kind of stuck. You are encouraged to play especially fast and loose in order to make all the syllables fit.

Where have you been, my long lost love,
These seven long years or more?
I’ve been seeking gold for you, my love,
And riches in great store.

Now I’ve come for the vow you promised me
Before my journey began.
Well now my vow you must forgive,
For I’ve wed a nice young man.

I could have married the King’s daughter
Far beyond the sea
But I forsook that crown of gold
All for the love of thee

If you had married the King’s daughter
It’s yourself you have to blame
For now I’m wedded to a ship’s carpenter
And to him I have a son

If you’ll forsake your carpenter
And come away with me
I’ll show you where the lilies grow
On the banks of fair Italy.

Have you any ship to put me in
If I go away with thee?
I have seven ships all laden full
A-waiting on the sea

I have seven ships all on the sea
The eighth brought me to land
With four-and-twenty mariners good
And music at every hand

She stepped her foot into yon ship
To hear the music play
The masts were of the bright beaten gold
And the sails of silken grey

They had not sailed a league, a league
A league but barely three
When cold and watery blew the wind
And angry grew the sea

They had not sailed another league
A league but barely three
When she espied his cloven foot
And wept most bitterly.

O hold your tongue, my love, he cried
Why weep you so mournfully?
I said I would show you the lilies growing
On the banks of fair Italy

I said I would show you the lilies growing
On the banks of fair Italy
But now I’ll show you the wee fish swimming
At the bottom of the sea

Then he struck the topmast with his arm
The foremast with his knee
And sank the ship in a flash of fire
To the bottom of the sea.

That’s right, kids: Satan is firmly against baby abandonment.

Here’s a fun American version of Twa Sisters (Child 10), which I think is different enough to merit being posted separately. (I’ll probably do a Scottish version of Twa Sisters at some point.) I first heard this when Jeff Warner came to perform at MIT, and later became fond of Jody Stecher’s recording. This is one of the more gruesome ballads I’ve heard, though by no means exceptionally so — it’s just a little more graphic than usual, although not particularly violent.

Although it isn’t strictly correct, I love to sing this song recursively, in a nod to the Scottish versions in which the fiddle literally sings the words “There is my false sister Jean” and so on, exposing the murder. If you start singing O, the Wind and Rain again at the beginning after the last verse, it’s as if the fiddle itself is singing this very ballad.

021 O The Wind And Rain by aliothsan

Oh, there were two sisters come a-walking down the stream
Oh, the wind and rain
And one of them pushed the other one in
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

Their lover gave the younger one a gay gold ring
Oh, the wind and rain
But he didn’t give the elder one anything
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

She pushed her sister in the river to drown
Oh, the wind and rain
And watched her as she floated down
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

She floated till she came to the miller’s pond
Oh, the wind and rain
And his son cried, Father, there swims a swan
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

Well, the miller laid her out on the banks to dry
Oh, the wind and rain
And the king’s own fiddler come a-passing by
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And he’s made fiddle strings of her long yellow hair
Oh, the wind and rain
Saying these’ll make my fiddle sound fine and rare
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And he’s made fiddle pegs of her long finger bones
Oh, the wind and rain
For to tune the fiddle to the proper tones
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And he’s made a little fiddle body of her breast bone
Oh, the wind and rain
Whose sound would melt a heart of stone
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain

But the only tune that the fiddle could play
Was, Oh, the wind and rain
The only tune that the fiddle could play
Was, Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

alternate last verse:
But when that fiddle he began to play
Oh, the wind and rain
It sang out a song just as clear as day
Crying, oh, the dreadful wind and rain
(after which repeat the whole song recursively)
It sang, Once two sisters come a-walking down the stream…

As usual, I’ve done a bit of tweaking on the words — here, mostly to the section where they’re dismembering the dead sister, so that all three parts are included.

UPDATE: yay, a YouTube video! The words here are again different, but I really like this version, especially the beginning.

So I found another folk-song-a-day poster… Raymond Crooke, who set himself the crazy task of 1001 folk songs in 1001 days. Good grief!

It does give me some comfort, though, that the other folk-song-a-day people I’ve encountered on the internets have both been semi-pro, in the sense of having released multiple albums. Heh. I just took this one class… I really need to learn how to record myself properly.