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Origins: Billy Boy

DigiTrad:
BILLY BOY
BILLY BOY 2
BILLY BOY 3


Related thread:
Tune Req: Billy Boy Newcastle Version not in (11)


In Mudcat MIDIs:
My Boy Tammy (Scots Musical Museum, VI, 1803, no.502)
My Boy Willie (from One Hundred English Folksongs, Cecil J. Sharp, 1916)


Steve Gardham 03 Jun 14 - 02:30 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jun 14 - 02:56 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jun 14 - 03:15 PM
Lighter 03 Jun 14 - 03:50 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jun 14 - 05:25 PM
Lighter 03 Jun 14 - 06:19 PM
GUEST 04 Jun 14 - 12:06 AM
Mo the caller 04 Jun 14 - 05:36 AM
mayomick 04 Jun 14 - 07:21 AM
Amos 04 Jun 14 - 01:10 PM
Lighter 04 Jun 14 - 01:29 PM
Steve Gardham 04 Jun 14 - 06:28 PM
Lighter 04 Jun 14 - 06:41 PM
Jim Carroll 05 Jun 14 - 03:10 AM
mayomick 06 Jun 14 - 06:36 AM
Lighter 06 Jun 14 - 08:37 AM
Lighter 06 Jun 14 - 08:39 AM
mayomick 06 Jun 14 - 11:56 AM
Steve Gardham 06 Jun 14 - 04:29 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Jun 14 - 04:41 PM
Lighter 07 Jun 14 - 09:03 AM
Megan L 07 Jun 14 - 10:39 AM
Megan L 07 Jun 14 - 10:59 AM
Lighter 07 Jun 14 - 11:04 AM
Megan L 07 Jun 14 - 11:10 AM
Steve Gardham 07 Jun 14 - 11:43 AM
GUEST,Gerry 11 Aug 19 - 02:40 AM
Gordon Jackson 11 Aug 19 - 04:27 AM
Mrrzy 11 Aug 19 - 10:20 AM
GUEST,Mark 11 Aug 19 - 02:00 PM
Joe_F 11 Aug 19 - 09:28 PM
GUEST,Gerry 11 Aug 19 - 10:24 PM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 12 Aug 19 - 07:40 AM
Gordon Jackson 12 Aug 19 - 09:01 AM
Mrrzy 12 Aug 19 - 09:28 AM
Reinhard 12 Aug 19 - 11:03 AM
GUEST,Gerry 13 Aug 19 - 01:22 AM
GUEST,Mark Mandel 16 Aug 19 - 10:01 PM
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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jun 14 - 02:30 PM

Sadie, a laudable project, but I fear you are being led astray. If there had been a tangible connection, what with all the research that has gone on since the first posting we would have added it by now. I think others would probably agree that if Malcolm couldn't connect it then no-one could.

Some people get great kicks from trying to connect things that in reality have no real connection. The parody/burlesque theory is possible but without concrete proof that's all it is, possible.

If it was a parody of LR then it is more likely to be a parody of one of the many non-English language versions.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jun 14 - 02:56 PM

By the way the reference for McNeil's 'My Boy Tammy' being in Herd and on broadsides in 1776. McNeil was born in 1746 so this could easily still be one of his earlier pieces.

That he based it on an older song closer to Billy Boy is indisputable. Stenhouse in his 'Illustrations of the lyric Poetry and Music of Scotland' 1853 which is in effect a concordance to Johnson's Musical Museum, gives 2 verses of the earlier piece NcNeil based it on.

Is she fit to soop the house, My boy Tammy? x2
She's just as fit to soop the house
As the cat to tak a mouse;
And yet she's but a young thing just come frae her mammy.

How auld's the bonny young thing, my boy Tammy? x2
She's twice six and twice seven,
Twice twenty and eleven
And yet she's but a young thing just come frae her mammy.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jun 14 - 03:15 PM

Another important point to make in connecting it to Lord Randal is that there is no evidence to show that LR in the English language is any older than about 1790 (according to Child) and Burns supplied this version to Johnson. It could well have been translated into English shortly before that time making My Boy Tammy/Billy older in English.

Fowler, Bronson and others have demonstrated quite convincingly (IMHO) that many of the ballads Child included were products/adaptations of the 18thc.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jun 14 - 03:50 PM

A big part of the problem is the notion that "Billy Boy" is somehow a "version" of "Lord Randal."

"Version" suggests a direct genealogical connection - with the poisoning somehow forgotten or elided.

But if "Billy Boy" is indeed a parody, it's still a different song. If it was "inspired" by "LR" well and good, but every song is "inspired" by something. No textual evidence exists that "Billy Boy" is any kind of "version" of "LR." If Steve's dates are correct and definitive, it isn't even a parody.

If it isn't a parody, then it's still a different song.

Either way, the resemblances are merely superficial, whether by design or by accident.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jun 14 - 05:25 PM

Agreed, Jon, and by the same token Earl Brand is not the same song as The Douglas Tragedy despite Child's putting them both together. There are also other examples in ESPB.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jun 14 - 06:19 PM

And presumably the only way to "prove" a connection would be to find an early broadside stating something unequivocal, along the lines of "Billy Boy! A bang-up parody of 'Lord Randall, My Son'!! by Mr. W. RANDALL."

I concur that if anything like that were extant and findable, it would have been found long before now.

Either that or an early version of "Billy" mentioning treachery would be about the only kind of evidence that could make the case.

Very interesting indeed that "Billy" appears to be so much older in English than "Randall." That would effectively rule out any theory of parody.

Unless "Lord Randall" is the "parody." ...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Jun 14 - 12:06 AM

The parody listed above near the beginning of this thread is from the Almanac Singers SONGS FOR JOHN DOE, a recording of anti war songs. I believe that Millard Lampell sings it with Josh White on guitar.


Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mo the caller
Date: 04 Jun 14 - 05:36 AM

I was quite impressed by hearing Vicky Swan & Johny Dyer sing a Scandinavian version, at Chester Folk festival. The emphasis was not on her fitness to be his wife as a Housewife, but what they'd been up to in bed last night.

English speaking mothers obviously have different priorities.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: mayomick
Date: 04 Jun 14 - 07:21 AM

Sam Henry's Songs Of the People has Tom Boy (or perhaps Tamboy?)From what I remember, Tom is a farm labourer hiring to a fine young widow who clearly has her eyes set on him for other things . It seems to be a spin- off from Billy Boy . And re. Lord Randall, it also gets in a mention of eels for dinner


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Amos
Date: 04 Jun 14 - 01:10 PM

The association with Lord Randall is clear conceptually in the opening lines of the two songs, which are so similar as to suggest the one inspired the other, at least as a touchstone for what follows. The substance of the dialogue is of course entirely different.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 04 Jun 14 - 01:29 PM

> The association with Lord Randall is clear conceptually in the opening lines of the two songs, which are so similar as to suggest the one inspired the other.

I acknowledge that the resemblances might be above average, but the weight of the evidence seems to favor coincidence (which often is a "conceptual association").

Not every mother who said, "And where have *you* been all the day?" was inspired by "Lord Randall."

Re "Tam Boy." Eels were a popular dish in fishing communities. They're just fish. That's not why Randy's mother thinks he's poisoned: it's because he wants to lie down, evidently looks like hell, and was fed by his sweetie - whom the mother has presumably long been suspicious of.

I see even less of a resemblance among "Tam Boy" and the other two songs than between "BB" and "LR."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 04 Jun 14 - 06:28 PM

It's also worth pointing out that the earliest versions of LR in English do not have the 'all the day' phrase, so this may be an interloper from BB. 'O where ha you been, Lord Randal, my son?' has more in common with 'Edward' and related ballads. The 'all the day' phrase doesn't creep in until after c1825.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 04 Jun 14 - 06:41 PM

Another big clue for Randall's mom, of course, is that in full texts his hounds "swelled and died" after consuming the buttered eels.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 14 - 03:10 AM

Stories of men or women who poison their lovers are at least as old as literature and almost certainly older.
What little knowledge we have of oral tradition dates largely to the end of the 19th century, when (extremely limited) collecting of folk songs began in earnest.
It is highly speculative to suggest that we will ever be able to pin down any of these ballads to any particular time.
Man, as a species, is a natural song and story maker and probably always has been, and the sooner scholars deal with the implications of that fact, the sooner they will take on board that these songs are just as likely to have been the creations of the unlettered as they are the literate - more likely, in fact.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: mayomick
Date: 06 Jun 14 - 06:36 AM

Of course every mother who ever "said" , "And where have *you* been all the day?" wasn't inspired by Lord Randall.But, if she asks the question in the lyric of an English/ Scots Q&A folk song about uneasy love, and, if she slips in a mention of eating eels, the mother is making a reference to the Lord Randall song .


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 06 Jun 14 - 08:37 AM

But the woman in Henry's "Tam Boy" isn't his mother and there's no uneasy love. She's a prospective employer. And nobody gets poisoned. And the dinner has no sinister significance.

Qeustion: Why do people think it's so important to show that "Billy Boy" (or "Tam Boy") is "really" a folk-processed version of "Lord Randall"?

Are there no clearer, less dubious examples of song mutation?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 06 Jun 14 - 08:39 AM

In other versions, "Tam Boy" bears some resemblance to "Ballocky Bill the Sailor."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: mayomick
Date: 06 Jun 14 - 11:56 AM

You seem to be trying to disprove any L R influence on Tam Boy,Lighter. You see Tam Boy's resemblance to Balocky Bill, but where's the mention of buggery hairs and stairs in Tammboy? Tamboy wasn't a sailor either! Differences abound , but there are interesting similarities between the two songs, surely ? If you heard a sad question and answer type song from the sixteenth century called "Sailor, Sailor won't thou marry me" and if it mentioned a grandfather's chest , you wouldn't make such a big fuss if somebody said that there could possibly be any influence .
are there
While it's true that Tamboy doesn't get poisoned from eating eels, they they are what the widow proposes feeding him on. She is more than a prospective employer, the whole comic point is that that the widow is a prospective lover , who concludes by asking Tam to get married; he is uneasy about this .I believe Tam Boy appears in the "uneasy and unrequited love" section of Henry's book , which I don't have to hand right now .


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jun 14 - 04:29 PM

This conversation is surely pointless. Magherafelt Hiring Fair which has the chorus 'Tam bo' is definitely a version of Roud 366 otherwise known as:
Bargain with me
The Wanton Widow
Billy Boy II
Tom Boy
My Boy Billy II
The Rigwiddy Carlin

It is known in England, Scotland and Ireland in oral tradition though no broadside has surfaced yet. Scottish versions dating back to the early nineteenth century are probably closest to the original. The mention of eels in the NI version is pure coincidence. None of the other versions mentions eels. The English version is much more explicit and comic and nothing at all to do with either LR or BB.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jun 14 - 04:41 PM

See Malcolm's posting 13th Jan 04 12.47 p.m.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jun 14 - 09:03 AM

Really, mm, I wasn't trying to "link" (as they say) "BB" to "TB" (though there *is* the curious 50% correspondence of initials...).

I was suggesting that the "greater" resemblance was clearly coincidental.

In other words, the burden of proof is on those who think something significant must be going on between the songs.

But as I've said many times before, people who want to believe something will insist on it, no matter how shaky or inconclusive the evidence.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Megan L
Date: 07 Jun 14 - 10:39 AM

this song from Shetland is obviously is one I grew up wie Bonnie Tammie Scolla I will get round to transcribing it soon


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Megan L
Date: 07 Jun 14 - 10:59 AM

Hopefully I haven't made to muckle o a mill o it fur hids bin a whiles since ah listened tae the Shetland tongue.


Bonnie Tammie Scolla

Far his do bin aw di day
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
Far his do bin aw di day
Bonnie Tammie Scolla

Up a bank and doon a brae
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
Up a bank and doon a brae
Bonnie Minnie Merrin

What his do bin doin der
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
What his do bin doin der
Bonnie Tammie Scolla

Ahm bin seekin me a wife
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
Ahm bin seekin me a wife
Bonnie Minnie Merrin

Whens do gaan tae merry her
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
Whens do gaan tae merry her
Bonnie Tammie

At the back o Hallimass
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
At the back o Hallimass
Bonnie Minnie Merrin


Whit wey will do get her hame
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
Whit wey will do get her hame
Bonnie Tammie Scolla

Ah'll pit her oan the muckle mare
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
Ah'll pit her oan the muckle mare
Bonnie Minnie Merrin

Whaurs do gaan tae mak her sit
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
Whaurs do gaan tae mak her sit
Bonnie Tammie Scolla

Inbye er(?) the muckle chair
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
Inbye er(?) the muckle chair
Bonnie Minnie Merrin

Whits do gaan tae gier tae et(eat)
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
Whits do gaan tae gier tae et(eat)
Bonnie Tammie Scolla

A corn o meal upon a plate
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
A corn o meal upon a plate
Bonnie Minnie Merrin

That's whit dool gie her tae et
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
That's whit dool gie her tae et
Bonnie Tammie Scolla

Dats whit ah'll gie her tae et
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
Dats whit ah'll gie her tae et
Bonnie Minnie Merrin

Far his do bin aw di day
Bonnie Tammie, Bonnie Tammie
Far his do bin aw di day
Bonnie Tammie Scolla

Up a bank and doon a brae
Bonnie Minnie, bonnie Minnie
Up a bank and doon a brae
Bonnie Minnie Merrin

Last two verses sung together others sung question and answer


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jun 14 - 11:04 AM

Very nice! And so nicely sung.

The song resembles both "Billy Boy" and "Highland Laddie," especially the tune of the latter.)

The song and the interview may also rekindle another familiar discussion: is Scots (even faraway Shetland Scots) a separate language or a form of English?

The necessarily arbitrary answer may matter politically but in no other way I can think of.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Megan L
Date: 07 Jun 14 - 11:10 AM

ah lighter you wish tae stir the wasps nest laddie. Mind you the original language in both Shetland and Orkney was not this it was Norn an old Norse language.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 07 Jun 14 - 11:43 AM

I know you weren't linking any of them, Jon. I was just backing up your statements.

That bit about language can be quite provocative to some people. I think it's safer to say all of these dialects based on Anglo Saxon are just dialects, and that includes Standard English.

Megan's lovely version is pretty closely related to My Boy Tammie though the form may owe something to Highland Laddie.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 11 Aug 19 - 02:40 AM

Here are the lyrics as Eliza Carthy sings them (and pretty much as Martin Carthy sings them). It's a bit different from the other versions that have been posted, with one particular difference that I want to ask about, below.

Eliza Carthy sings Billy Boy
https://mainlynorfolk.info/martin.carthy/songs/billyboy.html

“Where have you been all the day, bonny boy, Billy Boy?
Where have you been all the day, o my dear darling Billy O?”
“I've been out all the day
Walking with a lady gay,
Isn't she a young thing lately from her mummy O?”

“Is she fit for your wife, bonny boy, Billy Boy?
Is she fit for your wife, o my dear darling Billy O?”
“She's as fit to be my wife
As the heart is to the knife,
Isn't she a young thing lately from her mummy O?”

“And did she ask you to sit down, bonny boy, Billy Boy?
Did she ask you to sit down, o my dear darling Billy O?”
“Well she asked me to sit down
Then she curtsied to the ground,
Isn't she a young thing lately from her mummy O?”

“Did she light you up to bed, bonny boy, Billy Boy?
Did she light you up to bed, o my dear darling Billy O?”
“Well she lit me up to bed
With a nodding of her head,
Isn't she a young thing lately from her mummy O?”

“Did she lie close to you, bonny boy, Billy Boy?
Did she lie close to you, o my dear darling Billy O?”
“Well she lay so close to me
As the bark is to the tree,
Isn't she a young thing lately from her mummy O?”

“Do you want to know her age, bonny boy, Billy Boy?
Do you want to know her age, o my dear darling Billy O?”
“She is twice six seven,
She is twice twenty and eleven,
Isn't she a young thing lately from her mummy O?”

There's also a nice recording by Luke Plumb and Kare Burke on their new album.

Now, verse 2, lines 3 and 4: She's as fit to be my wife/As the heart is to the knife.

What is going on there? How is a heart fit to a knife? Other versions have fork and knife, or sheath and knife, which make sense to me. Is heart and knife a mondegreen?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Gordon Jackson
Date: 11 Aug 19 - 04:27 AM

It's not 'heart', Gerry - how is a heart fit to a knife? It's 'haft', i.e. the handle.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mrrzy
Date: 11 Aug 19 - 10:20 AM

I had the Ed McCurdy Billy Boy [cgildren's songs] and Willie Boy (but she is too young to be taken from her mammy) by Jean Richie.
I have to say, given those versions, that I think the first inkling of the unmarriageability of the lady in question should be the final verse, with the advanced age. I personally find that verses where she can't see- or drive, ruin the whole point of the song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Mark
Date: 11 Aug 19 - 02:00 PM

I heard the Carthy lyrics as referring to a "Hart" i.e. a deer...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Joe_F
Date: 11 Aug 19 - 09:28 PM

A long time ago someone told me that the eels in Lord Randall were actually (poisonous) snakes.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 11 Aug 19 - 10:24 PM

Haft! Why didn't I think of that? Thanks, Gordon, I'm convinced that's what the word is supposed to be. And that's how it appears in one version of Billy Boy in Bronson. Now I have to listen more closely to Eliza Carthy's recording to see whether I can decide if she's singing "haft" or "heart". Whoever wrote it up for the Mainly Norfolk site evidently thought she was singing "heart" (or copied it from someone else who thought she was singing "heart").


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 12 Aug 19 - 07:40 AM

Just had a listen - she sings "haft". (with a longish a, like half-t).

Mick


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Gordon Jackson
Date: 12 Aug 19 - 09:01 AM

You're welcome, Gerry.

In the sleeve notes on Sweet Wivelsfield Martin Carthy, for whom I have ENORMOUS respect writes, regarding the last verse: ‘You too can add up the numbers to find that they make three score and ten, or one complete life span’. I always thought this bit was dialogue: Billy saying she’s nineteen and his mum saying, ‘Well, actually no, she’s fifty-one, you doughnut.’ I mean, even if young Bill’s IQ was lower than his shoe size I can’t believe he didn’t realise she was seventy. Surely when she curtsied and took three days to straighten up would have been a bit of a clue?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mrrzy
Date: 12 Aug 19 - 09:28 AM

Green and yaller - them eels was snakes.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Reinhard
Date: 12 Aug 19 - 11:03 AM

Gerry, the 'As the heart is to the knife' was my fault/mishearing. Martin Carthy gives James Reeves as his source and Reeves' words in The Idiom of the People contain the line 'As the haft is to the knife'.

I've fixed this on Mainly Norfolk now.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 13 Aug 19 - 01:22 AM

Mick Pearce, Reinhard, my thanks to you both.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Mark Mandel
Date: 16 Aug 19 - 10:01 PM

I had no idea there was such wide variation in the numbers making up her age.

I haven't been here in quite a while, but some time ago I noticed a peculiarity in the version I learned. (From whom? Who knows?! HOW many years ago?)

In that version the last verse is

How old is she, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
How old is she, charming Billy?
Five times six and four times seven,
Twenty-eight and eleven.
She's a young thing and cannot leave her mother.

(5x6=30) + (4x7=28) = 58
28 + 11 = 39
Both unmarriageable for our Billy Boy, but far from equal.

However, if we change just one word, the operator in the first sub-expression, we can get

Five plus six and four times seven,
Twenty-eight and eleven.

(5 + 6=11) + (4x7=28) = 39
28 + 11 = 39

I have no idea if that was ever in the lyric, and frankly, in this context the word "plus" sounds far too learnèd and technical for the song. But it's a thought.

Mark Mandel
"The Filker With No Nickname"


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