Mudcat Café message #1385243 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #21456   Message #1385243
Posted By: GUEST,Bob Coltman
22-Jan-05 - 11:56 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Railroad Bill
Subject: RE: Help: Railroad Bill
But we haven't been helping out richardw with his question re "English Bill." So I've been researching that. I haven't yet been able to come up with any further lyrics, but here's the story so far.

Despite the title, "English Bill" looks like it must be a Canadian saloon song dating from the Cariboo Gold Rush in British Columbia, 1860s. It would seem to be what Richard Wright was looking for way back in May 2000. (Richard are you still out there?). Clearly this is the Barkerville reference, the actual Billy Barker, and the Skelton reference below may have more of the song??? I hope. The following is from

Sherrill Grace's article "Staging "North" in BC: Two Cariboo Gold Rush Plays," published in Canadian Theatre Review - Issue 101, Winter 2000, discusses a play called The Road Runs North" by Gwen Pharis Ringwood, about the Cariboo Gold Rush in British Columbia ("the west beyond the west") in the 1860s. Quoting:

…the Cariboo is represented as a romantic space for adventure, as a mysterious, dangerous, wild zone, primarily for men, and as a space to be travelled through in search of treasure that is historical and material yet highly symbolic: gold! …..

[Barkerville was a center of the gold rush activity. RC]

"The Road Runs North" celebrates a key foundational moment in the history of British Columbia. It focuses on Billy Barker and the development of the road that runs north as the Cariboo is opened to mining and settlement. Billy functions as a narrator...

[characters in the play are based on the real historical figures of Judge Begbie, Billy Barker, "Frenchy Bill" Ballou, Elizabeth Collyer, Blackie Birdsall, et al. Grace continues:]

Music is used .... as a vehicle for explaining the plot and furthering action. There are solo songs and several choral pieces that function in a recitative manner, and, in one instance, Ringwood draws upon the historical record for her lyrics. At several points, Barker bursts forth with his "signature" song, which, according to Skelton, the real Barker liked to sing in saloons:

I'm English Bill
Never worked, an' never will.
Get away girls,
Or I'll tousle your curls.
(qtd. in Skelton 60)

Although there is no score for this ditty, there are scores and lyrics for seventeen songs.

[The source referenced is: Skelton, Robin. They Call It the Cariboo. Victoria: Sono Nis, 1980.]

I'm continuing the search and may be able to come up with more. Chances are the "English Bill" snatch may derive from a music hall original. The fact that the singer's name was Bill, though, may mean he just plain made it up back in the 1860s. We'll see.   -- Bob