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Origins: Billy Boy

12 Jan 04 - 07:15 PM (#1091501)
Subject: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Joe Offer

I guess this is a song I've known forever. Let's see what I remember without looking in a book:

    Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
    Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?
    I have been to seek a wife, she's the joy of my life,
    She's a young thing and cannot leave her mother.

    Can she bake a cherry pie? ...quick as you can blink an eye

    How old is she? Six times six and four times seven, forty-eight and eleven.. or something like that.

I see we have at least three versions in the Digital Tradition. I wonder what else we can find out about this song. I see it's sometimes linked with Child #12, Lord Randall, but I don't know that I can buy that. If the guy doesn't get poisoned, what's the link to Randall?

I've always thought of "Billy Boy" as an Appalachian song. Are there European versions (other than the Lord Randall series)?


Here's the entry from the Traditonal Ballad Index:

Billy Boy

DESCRIPTION: Asked where he has been, Billy says he has been courting, and has found a girl, "but she's a young thing and cannot leave her mother." In response to other questions, he describes her many virtues, always returning to his refrain
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1914 (Brown)
KEYWORDS: courting age youth
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Britain(England(North,South)) Canada(Mar,Ont)
REFERENCES (15 citations):
Bronson (12), 29 versions (though Bronson omits a higher fraction than usual of the versions known to him)
Belden, pp. 499-501, "Billy Boy" (2 texts)
Randolph 104, "Billy Boy" (1 text plus a fragment and 5 excerpts, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 131-133, "Billy Boy" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 104A)
BrownIII 121, "Billy Boy" (2 texts plus an excerpt; the headnotes mention 47 texts in the Brown collection)
Hudson 133, pp. 278-280, "Billy Boy" (4 texts, condensed, plus mention of "at least" 8 more)
Eddy 38, "Billy Boy" (5 texts, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior, pp. 246-248, "Billy Boy" (2 texts plus 2 fragments, 1 tune) {Bronson's #20}
Wyman-Brockway I, p. 14, "Billie Boy" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #26}
Sharp-100E 58, "My Boy Willie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 320-322, "Billy Boy" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #28}
LPound-ABS, 113, pp. 231-232, "Billy Boy" (1 text)
JHCox 168, "Billy Boy" (4 texts)
Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 267, "Billy Boy" (1 text)
DT (12), BILLYBOY BLLYBOY2* BLLYBOY3*

Roud #326
RECORDINGS:
Ray Covert, "Billy Boy" (Herwin 75564, c. 1927)
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Lord Randal" [Child 12]
Notes: A number of scholars have linked this simple little song with the classic ballad "Lord Randall." Since they only have two things in common, however (the courting theme and certain metrical traits), in the Ballad Index at least we keep them separate. - RBW
File: R104

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions

The Ballad Index Copyright 2003 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


12 Jan 04 - 07:32 PM (#1091516)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Well, we know it from the 19th c, from a broadside printed in Baltimore by T. G. Doyle (American Memory).
We know it from sheet music, 1847: "Billy Boy, A Curious Legend," by Edward L. White, pub. by Ditson, Boston.


12 Jan 04 - 07:41 PM (#1091528)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Joe Offer

Hmmm. Neither one sounds Appalachian, does it? Is it from the Tin Pan Alley of the mid-19th Century? In the crosslinked thread (click), Conrad speaks of a Newcastle version, but he did not post lyrics. Could it be that UK versions stem from the U.S.?
-Joe Offer-


12 Jan 04 - 07:49 PM (#1091532)
Subject: Lyr Add: BILLY BOY (Edward L. White, 1847)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Broadside and sheet music identical. here goes:

Lyr. Add: BILLY BOY
Comp. Edward L. White, 1847

Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife;
She's the joy of my life,
She's a young thing and cannot leave her mother.

Did she bid you to come in, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she bid you to come in, charming billy?
Yes, she bade me to come in,
There's a dimple in her chin,
She's a young thing, etc.

Did she set for you a chair,Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she set for you a chair, charming Billy?
Yes, she set for me a chair,
She has ringlets in her hair,
She's etc.

Can she make a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she make a chery pie, charming Billy?
She can make a cherry pie,
Quick as a cat can wink her eye;
She's etc.

Is she often seen at church, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Is she often seen at church, charming Billy?
Yes, she's often seen at church,
With a bonnet white as birch;
She's etc.

How tall is she, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
How tall is she, charming Billy?
She's tall as any pine,
And straight as a pumpkin vine,
She's etc.

Are her eyes very bright, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Are her eyes very bright, charming Billy?
Yes, her eyes are very bright,
But alas, they're minus sight,
She's etc.

How old is she, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
How old is she, charming Billy?
She's three times six, four times seven,
Twenty-eitht and eleven,
She's etc.


12 Jan 04 - 08:01 PM (#1091540)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Kittridge (JAFL 1913) called it a british import and Sharp thought it was a comic version of "Lord Randall." Neither had the sheet music from 1847, nor did V. Randolph when he wrote up a 'folk' version in his Ozark Folksongs, vol. 1, pp. 391-393.
Clifford Johnson, What they Say in New England," 1897, was the first to print an American variant on the sheet music.

Yep, Sharp tried to steal this one for the Brits, but he was wrong.

I will check to see what else E. L. White wrote.


12 Jan 04 - 08:11 PM (#1091545)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Malcolm Douglas

It's certainly been reported very widely in America, but has been common enough in England (My Boy Billy/Willie or Billy Boy, usually) and in Scotland (My Boy Tammy).

There are a few broadside editions of the Scottish form (which is a re-write made by the poet Hector MacNeill, first published in 1791) at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:

My Boy Tammy

There is useful information in Iona and Peter Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, under no. 44 (Billy My Son/Lord Randal) and no. 45 (My Boy Billy). The Opies don't seem entirely convinced about the Randal connection. Bronson considers it a "spirited parody" of Randal. James Orchard Halliwell found versions in Suffolk and Yorkshire prior to 1844: the Opies quote the Yorkshire text. The Broadside set quoted above reads a little like a parody of the parody, so to speak, though the last verse at any rate has been found in oral currency.


12 Jan 04 - 08:13 PM (#1091548)
Subject: ADD Version: My Boy Willie
From: Joe Offer

Well, I guess this is English.
-Joe Offer-

MY BOY WILLIE

O where have you been all the day
My boy Willie?
O where have you been all the day?
Willie won't you tell me now?
I've been all the day courting of a lady gay
But she is too young to be taken from her mammy.

O can she brew and can she bake
My boy Willie?
O can she brew and can she bake?
Willie won't you tell me now?
She can brew and she can bake
And she can make a wedding cake
But she is too young to be taken from her mammy.

O can she knit and can she spin
My boy Willie?
O can she knit and can she spin
Willie won't you tell me now?
She can knit and she can spin
She can do most anything
But she is too young to be taken from her mammy.

O how old is she now
My boy Willie
O how old is she now?
Willie won't you tell me now?
Twice six, twice seven
Twice twenty and eleven
But she is too young to be taken from her mammy.

Source: One Hundred English Folk Songs, edited by Cecil J. Sharp, 1916 (Dover edition)

Notes: A Yorkshire version of the words given by Halliwell in his Popular Rhymes (p. 328); and a Scottish variant in Herd's Scottish Songs (volume ii, p. 1). See also Baring-Gould's A book of Nursery Songs and Rhymes (No. 24).
The song, I imagine, is a comic derivative, or burlesque, of "Lord Rendel."

Click to play



There's a very similar version at The Contemplator.


The First Digital Tradition Version also follows this pattern - it's from the Burl Ives Songbook.
    Where have you been all the day, my boy Willie?
    Where have you been all the day, Willie won't you tell me now?
    I have been all the day courting of a lady gay
    But she's too young to be taken from her mother
The Burl Ives tune is very similar to that in Sharp, but I don't think it's as interesting.

Click to Play Burl Ives Tune


The Second DT Version is a parody:
    Don't you want to go to war, Billy Boy, Billy Boy,
    Don't you want to win a silver medal?
    No desire do I feel
    To defend Republic Steel
    I'm a young thing, and cannot leave my mother.

The Third DT Version is from American Ballads and Folk Songs (Lomax):
    Where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
    Where have you been, charming Billy?
    I've been down the lane to see Miss Betsy Jane,
    She's a young thing and cannot leave her mammy!
I guess the DT does not have the version I grew up with, which is very close to the broadside/sheet music Q posted above. Guess I'd better harvest Q's version. -Joe Offer-


12 Jan 04 - 08:15 PM (#1091550)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Cruiser

My favorite verse that I learned in the mid 50s is:

Can she drive a model T Billy boy, Billy boy
Can she drive a model T charmin' Billy
Yes, she can drive a model T
Down a ditch and up a tree
She's a young thang that can not leave her mother.


12 Jan 04 - 08:27 PM (#1091554)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

"The Modern Harp," Edward L. White, 1846; "Harmonia Sacra," 1851, "The Wreath of School Songs," 1847, "The Tyrolean Lyre," 1847, etc. same authors. The same E. L. W.?
He composed "Grand Triumphal Quick Step," 1847; The Morning Flowers Display Their Sweets," Wesleyan hymn.
Can find very little about him.


12 Jan 04 - 08:32 PM (#1091559)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: curmudgeon

The High Level Ranters have a nice version on vinyl; can't remember the title.

Terry includes a Tyneside seafaring setting in The Shanty Book, Vol. I.

Joe's text goes with the tune that is the march of the Royal Tank Corps. The first tanks in WWI were part of the Navy (division of land ships) and were fondly known as Big Willie and Little Willie after the Kaiser and his son.


12 Jan 04 - 08:49 PM (#1091572)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Ah, weel, I have to recant. A British Isles song revised by White.
"My Boy Tammy," linked by Malcolm Douglas, above, is certainly similar, so have to agree with Malcolm's comments. Should have checked my Bronson (Billy Boy, Child No. 12, Appendix) where he says the first appearance was in "The Bee," 1791, and gives several versions.


12 Jan 04 - 09:47 PM (#1091615)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: cobber

Shucks! I thought this was a Jerry Lee Lewis original. He was the first person I heard singing it even before my fifth grade music teacher taught us a different version (which may have been a 1940's pop version). Instead of young lasses and their mothers it went
Where have you been all the day, Billy Boy, Billy Boy
Where have you been all the day my Billy Boy
I've been walking all the day with my darling Nancy Gray
Singing Nancy tickle my fancy, oh my darling Billy Boy.
Is she fit to be your wife? etc
She's as fit to be my wife as a fork is to a knife singing...etc


13 Jan 04 - 09:16 AM (#1091754)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Hamish

I do a composite version of Billy Boy which uses various sources ranging from Gloucestershire to Northumbria. The Northumbrian bit comes through particularly in the "And me Nancy kittled me fancy" and the "Can she make an Irish stew?/Aye, an' singin' hinnies* too" lines...

Unfortunately I've lost track of where these came from. But I got the "She is twice six and seven/She is twice twenty and eleven" and the general groove from Eliza Carthy's version.

*a kind of tea cake or scone.


13 Jan 04 - 11:04 AM (#1091815)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Hugh Jampton

Spot on Cobber. We were all singing that version down here in SE England in schools as youngsters. I`ve always regarded it as an English country song by its terminology and sentiments.


13 Jan 04 - 11:13 AM (#1091823)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Stilly River Sage

There's a nice version of Billie Boy on one of Ed McCurdy's albums. Banjo accompaniment. I'll look it up later.

SRS


13 Jan 04 - 11:19 AM (#1091836)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Malcolm Douglas

I should think that Eliza had that from her dad. He recorded a set using tune and one verse (the final one above) from Marina Russell of Upwey in Dorset (Journal of the Folk Song Society, VIII (34) 1930 210-11), most of the rest of the words coming from Mrs Lizzie Welch, Hambridge, 1904 (James Reeves, Idiom of the People, 1958, 75). I don't know where the common "school" set that everybody over a certain age in the UK remembers came from; it was just there. Normally I'd think Sharp, but perhaps not on this occasion.

In notes to Mrs Russell's set (Journal of the Folk Song Society, VIII (34) 1930 211) Anne Gilchrist refers to Hector MacNeill's re-write, and quotes from G. F. Graham a verse of the "despised original" on which MacNeill based his My Boy Tammy:

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

The final verse ("Twice six, twice seven...") turns out to be quite common. It was the only verse Mrs Russell remembered, and Miss Gilchrist also quotes a form of it from Herd's MS:

I am to court a wife
And I'll love her as my life
But she is a young thing
And new come frae her Minnie
She's twice six, etc.

There are two examples of MacNeill's Tammy at Levy, with music; neither mention him, however. Another look through Roud suggests that there is scarcely a part of Britain or America where the song hasn't turned up in one form or another. It was also transmitted through print, of course.


13 Jan 04 - 11:23 AM (#1091839)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: MartinRyan

As I read the lines, I hear a Geordie voice, or therabouts, in my head. Wonder who it was?

Regards


13 Jan 04 - 11:29 AM (#1091847)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: TheBigPinkLad

Until I grew up I never dreamt it was anything other than Northumbrian. One of the few folk songs we were taught at school, we used to giggle at the 'kittled me fancy' line as we thought it very rude.

Was there a version of it in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?


13 Jan 04 - 11:40 AM (#1091862)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,JOHN OF ELSIES`S BAND

Here is an English West Country version we sang when I was in "Four Square Circle". We learned this and many others from Ken Penny and "The Journeymen"
    Where be going to my boy Billy boy,
    Where be going to Billy me boy.
    Where be going for evermore here Billo
    Down in the meadow so gay, so gay.

    (Spoken) I be seeking service missus.

    Then bargain with me oh my boy Billy boy
    Bargain with me oh Billy me boy
    Bargain with me for evermore here Billo
    Down in the meadow so gay, so gay

    (Spoken) `ow much will `e pay I missus.

    `Bout three pound and ten, oh my boy Billy boy
    Three pound and ten, oh billy me boy
    Three pound and ten, for evermore here Billo
    Down in the meadow so gay, so gay.
    etc.etc.
The tale goes on discover the missus is looking for a replacement for her husband who died " seven long days ago".
If anyone is interested in the complete recording drop me a line on
johnh.hills@virgin.net


13 Jan 04 - 12:47 PM (#1091935)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Malcolm Douglas

That isn't a version of Billy Boy, for all the similarity of the first verse. It's a form of The Rigwiddy Carlin (various spellings) which has also been found as Tam Booey (various spellings), Magherafelt Hiring Fair, and so on. It's number 366 in the Roud Folk Song Index. From what you quote, I'd think it's the set that Peter Kennedy recorded from Dicky Lashbrook at Kelly, Devon, in the early 1950s. It appears in Folksongs of Britain and Ireland (p 450) as Bargain With Me. More common in Scotland, it seems, where Peter Buchan published a text in 1828.


13 Jan 04 - 01:29 PM (#1091974)
Subject: Lyr Add: MY BOY TAMMY (from Bodleian)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Here is one of the versions in the Bodleian Collection.

Lyr. Add: MY BOY TAMMY

Oh, where hae ye been a' the day, my boy Tammy?
Where hae ye been a' the day, my boy Tammy?
I've been by burn and flowery brae,
Meadow green and mountain grey,
Courting o' this young thing, just come frae her mammy.

And where gat ye that young thing, my boy Tammy?
And where gat ye that young thing, my boy Tammy?
I got her down in yonder bowe,
Smiling on a broomy knowe,
Herding a wee lamb and ewe for her poor mammy.

What said you to the bonny bairn, my boy Tammy?
What said you to the bonny bairn, my boy Tammy?
I praised her een sae lovely blue,
Her dimpled chin and cherry mou',
I pree'd it aft, as ye may trow- she said she'd tell her mammy.

I held her to my beating breast, my young, my smiling lammy,
I held her to my beating breast, my young, my smiling lammy;
I hae a house, it cost me dear,
I've wealth o plenishing and gear,
Ye'll get it a'wer't ten times mair, gin ye will leave your mammy.

The smile gaed aff her bonny face- I munna leave my mammy,
The smile gaed aff her bonny face- I munna leave my mammy;
She's gi'en me meat, she's gi'en me claes,
And been my comfort a' her days;
My father's death brought mony waes- I munna leave my mammy.

We'll tak' her hame and mak' her fain, my ain kind-hearted lammy,
We'll tak' her hame and mak' her fain, my ain kind-hearted lammy;
We'll gie her meat, we'll gie her c'aes,
We'll be her comfort a' her days;
The wee thing gi'es her hand an' says- there, gang and ask my mammy!

Has she been to kirk wi' thee, my boy Tammy?
Has she been to kirk wi' thee, my boy Tammy?
She has ben to kirk wi' me,
And the tear was in her e'e-
But oh! she's but a young thing, just come frae her mammy!

Bodleian Library, Ballads Catalogue, 2806 c.11(142), no date. Firth b.27 (457/458) view 3, essentially the same, also no date. Firth b.27(59 also appears to be the same, T. Pearson, Manchester, no date.
Search

Click to play


13 Jan 04 - 01:43 PM (#1091991)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Malcolm Douglas

They'd all be the same, I expect; that's the MacNeill re-write, of course. He got quite a bit of stick from contemporaries over that; many thought it rather cissy.


13 Jan 04 - 02:48 PM (#1092057)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Malcolm Douglas

Here is the tune for the MacNeill redaction.

X:1
T:My Boy Tammy
C:Words Hector MacNeill, c.1791. Tune traditional.
B:Scots Musical Museum, VI, 1803, no.502
N:SMM prints 3/16 note in 4th bar as 1/8
N:Roud 326, Child 12 (appendix)
L:1/8
Q:1/4=100
M:4/4
K:F
D3/2 E/ F3/2 G/ (A3/2=B/) c2|(G3/2A/) (G3/2F/) E/ C3/2 z|
w:Whaur hae ye been a'_ day, my_ boy_ Tam-my?
D3/2 E/ F3/2 G/ (A3/2=B/) c2|(Af) (ed) A/ d3/2 z d|
w:Whar hae ye been a'_ day, my_ boy_ Tam-my? I've
d3/2 e/ f3/2 d/ c3/2 B/ A2|F3/2 A/ c3/2 A/ G3/2 E/ C2|
w:been by burn and flow'r-y brae, Mea-dow green and moun-tain grey,
d3/2 f/ e3/2 f/ d2 A2|F3/2 G/ A3/2 G/ F/ D3z/|]
w:Court-ing o' this young thing, just come frae her mam-my.

Click to play

To play or display ABC tunes, try concertina.net


13 Jan 04 - 08:01 PM (#1092296)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Joe Offer

Malcolm, in the DT entry for Billy Boy 3, Dick Greenhaus says Professor Child groups "Billy Boy" with "Lord Randall," Child 12. I see you mark "My Boy Tammy" as "Child 12 appendix." I couldn't find the connection stated in Child - where does Child indicate this?

-Joe Offer-


13 Jan 04 - 08:21 PM (#1092318)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Bronson has a discussion and songs under Billie Boy, Appendix to 12. I think this is what Malcolm was referring to. The Appendix to Lord Randall in Child just has more fragments of Lord Randall in my copy.


14 Jan 04 - 12:44 AM (#1092430)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Malcolm Douglas

Just so: Roud follows Bronson in this.


14 Jan 04 - 12:49 AM (#1092436)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: dick greenhaus

Similarities between songs lie oft in the ear of the behearer (to quote Mr Thiemw). Child's logic isn't always transparent, but I'd guess that the similarity lies in the question-from-parent/answer-from-offspring structure, rather than any similarity in plot.


14 Jan 04 - 12:55 AM (#1092439)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Joe Offer

I was tempted to conclude that "Billy Boy" was a truly American song - until Q posted "My boy Tammy" and Malcolm dated it at 1791. Maybe we didn't come up with anything original until the Beach Boys, huh?
-Joe Offer-


14 Jan 04 - 02:29 AM (#1092465)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: rich-joy

Well, Guest, John of Elsies's Band - I haven't heard that song (whatever its lineage) in years - and I would like a copy, so I will email you, as suggested!

Cheers! R-J


30 Dec 05 - 04:32 PM (#1637601)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST

came across this thread looking for the lyrics for the Geordie song.
I latter found the geordie one here


30 Dec 05 - 08:57 PM (#1637821)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: shepherdlass

The Northumbrian version (according to the Northumbria Anthology CD notes) was apparently collected in a 1921 volume, "The Shanty Book" edited by Walter Runciman. It's such a prevalent song in the NE that I was actually stunned to look through all 4 volumes of the famous Catcheside-Warrington Tyneside songbooks and realize it wasn't included in them.


30 Dec 05 - 11:08 PM (#1637920)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Arkie

I read somewhere that in the Scottish lowlands and the English borderlands "billy" was once a common term for friend or buddy. Hence, a close friend might be referred to as "billy boy".   Would this have any bearing on the song Billy Boy?


31 Dec 05 - 03:26 AM (#1638055)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: cptsnapper

Frank Crumit also recorded it: he used quite a few folk songs & wrote one or two in " folk " style.


31 Dec 05 - 10:14 AM (#1638073)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Lighter

Stan Hugill has this as a shanty, observing that later verses were "mainly bawdy." Has anyone heard any of these (or other) "bawdy" verses ?


31 Dec 05 - 11:09 AM (#1638106)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Bob the Postman

I always thought that Billy Boy was a topical satire about some Prince William or other for whom a marriage or engagement to a very young noblewoman was arranged. (At the same time I also picked up the notions that Georgie Porgie is a topical song about another royal courtship and that Little Jack Horner is a satire about a certain courtier who schemed to secure himself a "plum".) Having read this thread, I postulate that the nursery rhyme as we know it today is a satirical reworking of the Tammy/Willie versions in light of a notorious dynastic marriage.


09 Jun 11 - 02:24 AM (#3167455)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: MorwenEdhelwen1

This song was apparently reworked into a calypso, "Caroline", according to Gordon Rohlehr. "Tell me where you been last night, Caroline?"


03 Jul 11 - 10:26 AM (#3180675)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Dave (Bridge)

It is in Shanties of the Seven Seas as a Halyard shanty from the North East of England. Stan should know.


03 Jul 11 - 12:35 PM (#3180734)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

"Billy Boy" is widespread in England, not only in the north east but in "London, Liverpool and South Wales" according to Hugill. The versions stem from "similar shore songs, of which there are many."

It seems to have been used as a capstan chantey (Terry), at the windlass (Runciman), and as a question and answer song (Hugill).
All the above from Hugill, Shanties from the Seven Seas.

I doubt and direct connection to "Caroline" since this is a common theme that is not confined to any one locality, and could have developed independently. "Billy Boy" was a common song everywhere English was spoken (still in school songbooks), and undoubtedly was known in English-governed parts of the Caribbean, but there is no evidence that it is related to the Caribbean "Caroline." Thread 32412, with lyrics to the 1927 song by Houdini.
Caroline, Calypso, Houdini


03 Jul 11 - 04:23 PM (#3180859)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Gibb Sahib

re: the Caribbean life of this song, I just wanted to bring attention to the Lomax-recorded song "Willie Boy" in Nevis/St. Kitts:

http://www.amazon.com/Willie-Boy/dp/B0010WFIJK

re: Dave's comment, "Stan should know." Or, I'd say, "Stan read it in a book somewhere." It's quite unclear (I think purposefully so) how this song may have fit into Hugill's direct experiences. I haven't seen it appear under the guise of a shanty until Terry's book (1921) -- that's the first version Hugill prints (though he makes a couple lyrical changes that are suspicious!). Though the song up to that point, as far as I am seeing, had not been documented elsewhere as a shanty, recording artists during the shanty "boom" in the 1920s did recorded it among classics like "Rio Grande." By the time Hugill would have gone to see, even shanty aficionados (home listeners) might have considered "Billy Boy" to be a classic shanty in its own right. However, I am skeptical whether it had ever been much of a chanty or else just another one of many "regular" songs that were haphazardly sung by localized crews in later days.

I don't know where Hugill's second version comes from. He doesn't say. Usually, if he learned it at sea, he says who he learned it from, so I'm leaving open the possibility that he sourced it elsewhere.


03 Jul 11 - 05:34 PM (#3180892)
Subject: Lyr Add: BILLY BOY (Opie & Opie)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Lyr. Add: BILLY BOY
Opie & Opie, The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book

Where have you been al the day, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Where have you been all the day, my boy Billy?
I have been all the day
Courting of a lady gay,
But oh ! she is too young
To be taken from her mammy.
2
Is she fit to be thy love, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Is she fit to be thy love, my boy Billy?
She's as fit to be my love
As my hand is for my glove,
But oh ! she is too young
To be taken from her mammy.
3
Can she brew and can she bake, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Can she brew and can she bake, my boy Billy?
She can brew and she can bake,
And she can make a wedding cake,
But oh ! she is too young
To be taken from her mammy.
4
Is she fit to be thy wife, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Is she fit to be thy wife, my boy Billy?
She's as fit to be my wife
As a sheath is for a knife,
But oh ! she is too young
To be taken from her mammy.
5
How old may she be, Billy boy, Billy boy?
How old may she be, my boy Billy?
Twice six, twice seven,
Twice twenty and eleven,
But oh ! she is too young
To be taken from her mammy.

Iona and Peter Opie, 1955 and reprints, The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book, Oxford University Press.

No date given for the rhyme.


03 Jul 11 - 06:27 PM (#3180911)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Lyr. Add: (MY BOY WILLY)
Halliwell, 1846, CCCXIX without title

Where have you been all the day,
My boy Willy?I've been all the day,
Courting of a lady gay:
But oh ! she's too young
To be taken from her mammy.
2
What work can she do,
My boy Willy?
Can she bake and can she brew,
My boy Willy?
3
She can brew and she can bake,
And she can make our wedding cake:
But oh ! she's too young
To be taken from her mammy.
4
What age may she be?
What age may she be?
My boy Willy?
5
Twice two, twice seven,
Twice ten, twice eleven:
But oh ! she's too young
To be taken from her mammy.

Fourteenth Class, Love and Matrimony.
James Orchard Halliwell, 1846, The Nursery Rhymes of England, 4th edition.
http://www.presscom.co.uk/nursery.html


12 Dec 11 - 11:31 AM (#3272569)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Richie

Although attributed to Hector Macneill in 1791, a nearly identical text was printed in 1776 by David Herd, George Paton in Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, titled "The Lammy." The first verse is repeated throughout:


THE LAMMY.

"Whare hae ye been a' day, my boy, Tammy?
Whare hae ye been a' day, my boy, Tammy?"
"I've been by burn and flow'ry brae,
Meadow green, and mountain gray,
Courting o' this young thing,
Just come frae her mammy."


"And whare got ye that young thing, my boy, Tammy?"
"I gat her down in yonder how,
Smiling on a broomy know,
Herding ae wee lamb and ewe for her poor Mammy."


"What said ye to the bounie bairn, my boy, Tammy?"
"I praised her een, sae bonnie blue,
Her dimpled cheek, and cherry mou';
I pree'd it aft, as ye may trow;— she said she'd tell her Mammy.

"I held her to my beating heart, my young, my smiling Lammie!
"I hae a house, it cost me dear;
I've wealth o' plenLshin' and gear;—
Ye'se get it a' war't ten times mair, gin ye will leave your Mammy.'

"The smile gaed aff her bonnie face, "I manna leave my Mammy;
She's gi'en me meat, she's gi'en me claise,
She's been my comfort a' my days;
"my father's death brought mony waes--"I canna leave my Mammy;

Richie


12 Dec 11 - 03:12 PM (#3272688)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,SteveG

Scottish and English oral versions aside, the Northumbrian chantey could easily be derived from American versions as are many other chanteys.

I'm not sure if Roud numbers still put both songs together, but if that is the case I'll recommend he separates the two, unless anyone has any further proof they are linked in any other way than parody.


12 Dec 11 - 04:54 PM (#3272762)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: radriano

This is one of those songs that went to sea and became a capstan shanty:

Billy Boy        capstan
Stan Hugill, Shanties from the Seven Seas


Where have ye bin all the day, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Where have ye bin all the day, me Billy Boy?
I've bin walin' on the quay, with me charmin' Nancy Lee
An' sweet Nancy tickled me fancy, oh, me charmin' Billy Boy!

Is she fit to be yer wife, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Is she fit to be yer wife, me Billy Boy?
Aye, she's fit to be me wife as the fork is to the knive

Can she cook a bit o' steak, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
She can cook a bit o' steak, aye, an' make a gridle cake

Can she make an Irish stew, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
She can make an Irish stew, aye, an' a Cornish pasty too

Does she sleep close unto thee, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Aye, she sleeps close unto me, like the bark is to the tree

Can she make a feather bed, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
She can make a feather bed, fit for any sailor's head

Can she darn and can she sew, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Aye, she can darn and she can sew, there is nought she cannot do

Can she wash and can she clean, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Aye, she can wash and she can clean, an' she plays the tambourine

Can she heave the dipsy lead, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
[She can heave the dipsy lead an' she loves to roll in bed]

Can she strop a block, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
[Aye, she can strop a block an' she'll be waiting on the dock]



Notes from the book: " … Billy Boy is given by Terry as a Northumbrian capstan shanty, and he gives it in the Northumbrian dialect, but I rather fancy it had a wider field than Northumberland. I have met many seamen from London, Liverpool, and South Wales who also knew this shanty. Like Terry states, it had many unprintable stanzas not lending themselves to easy camouflage. There are two main versions, the well known one and one in a minor key. Of course they have both stemmed from similar shore songs of which there are many. At times two shantymen would sing, one for the questions and one for the answers. Bill Fuller, who had sailed in Sunbeam I, told me that Sir Walter Runciman would often sing it at the windlass aboard that vessel.


12 Dec 11 - 05:48 PM (#3272789)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

Radriano, did you get those bracketed lines from Hugill? Or are they newly "folk-processed"?

"I have met many seamen from London, Liverpool, and South Wales who also knew this shanty. Like Terry states, it had many unprintable stanzas not lending themselves to easy camouflage."

The existence of so many singers and unprintable stanzas suggests that it was rather well known as a shanty.

Perhaps other collectors, aside from Terry, didn't mention it because it was both largely unprintable and, in the clean stanzas, indistinguishable from the shore song. (I.e., "not really a shanty.")


12 Dec 11 - 05:52 PM (#3272795)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,SteveG

Just to be clear on the Roud numbers issue. Whatever was the situation in 2004, Lord Randal is Roud 12 and all versions of 'Billy Boy/My Boy Tammie etc are Roud 326.


12 Dec 11 - 09:56 PM (#3272901)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Richie

Hi,

Here's a shanty version from 1920:

http://bluegrassmessengers.com/billy-boy--terry-northumbrian-1920.aspx

Richie


14 Dec 11 - 04:48 PM (#3273839)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: radriano

Hi Lighter,

Those are my additions. Actually, they are PG versions of bawdy lyrics I had written.


03 Jun 14 - 11:07 AM (#3629947)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Sadie Damascus

Joe and folks,

I am striving to prove the oft-assumed connection between Lord Randall and Billy Boy (or Tammy Boy). I just can't find any version of Billy Boy that even suggests a poisoning or bad blood between Billy and his sweetheart/grandmother/stepmother at all. Has anyone proof? I have read many theories, boiling down to "Well, Billy Boy might be a comic take on the ballad; certainly So-and-So believeds it.

Is there any intermediary song that can hook them for me for once and for all?


03 Jun 14 - 11:51 AM (#3629958)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Mike Yates

That grand old singer Johnny Doughty of Sussex sang a good version, titled "My Boy Billy". You can hear it on the Musical Traditions double CD "Up in the North, Down in the South" (MTCD 311-2).


03 Jun 14 - 02:30 PM (#3630017)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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.


03 Jun 14 - 02:56 PM (#3630026)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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.


03 Jun 14 - 03:15 PM (#3630033)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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.


03 Jun 14 - 03:50 PM (#3630047)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

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.


03 Jun 14 - 05:25 PM (#3630062)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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.


03 Jun 14 - 06:19 PM (#3630079)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

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." ...


04 Jun 14 - 12:06 AM (#3630130)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST

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


04 Jun 14 - 05:36 AM (#3630189)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mo the caller

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.


04 Jun 14 - 07:21 AM (#3630212)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: mayomick

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


04 Jun 14 - 01:10 PM (#3630314)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Amos

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.


04 Jun 14 - 01:29 PM (#3630320)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

> 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."


04 Jun 14 - 06:28 PM (#3630374)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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.


04 Jun 14 - 06:41 PM (#3630377)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

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


05 Jun 14 - 03:10 AM (#3630454)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Jim Carroll

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


06 Jun 14 - 06:36 AM (#3630733)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: mayomick

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 .


06 Jun 14 - 08:37 AM (#3630769)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

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?


06 Jun 14 - 08:39 AM (#3630770)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

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


06 Jun 14 - 11:56 AM (#3630811)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: mayomick

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 .


06 Jun 14 - 04:29 PM (#3630874)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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.


06 Jun 14 - 04:41 PM (#3630878)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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


07 Jun 14 - 09:03 AM (#3631119)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

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.


07 Jun 14 - 10:39 AM (#3631135)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Megan L

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


07 Jun 14 - 10:59 AM (#3631139)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Megan L

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


07 Jun 14 - 11:04 AM (#3631140)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Lighter

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.


07 Jun 14 - 11:10 AM (#3631142)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Megan L

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.


07 Jun 14 - 11:43 AM (#3631144)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Steve Gardham

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.


11 Aug 19 - 02:40 AM (#4004084)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Gerry

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?


11 Aug 19 - 04:27 AM (#4004092)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Gordon Jackson

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


11 Aug 19 - 10:20 AM (#4004132)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mrrzy

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.


11 Aug 19 - 02:00 PM (#4004166)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Mark

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


11 Aug 19 - 09:28 PM (#4004198)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Joe_F

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


11 Aug 19 - 10:24 PM (#4004203)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Gerry

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").


12 Aug 19 - 07:40 AM (#4004228)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

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

Mick


12 Aug 19 - 09:01 AM (#4004242)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Gordon Jackson

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?


12 Aug 19 - 09:28 AM (#4004246)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Mrrzy

Green and yaller - them eels was snakes.


12 Aug 19 - 11:03 AM (#4004268)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: Reinhard

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.


13 Aug 19 - 01:22 AM (#4004371)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Gerry

Mick Pearce, Reinhard, my thanks to you both.


16 Aug 19 - 10:01 PM (#4004799)
Subject: RE: Origins: Billy Boy
From: GUEST,Mark Mandel

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 learnčd and technical for the song. But it's a thought.

Mark Mandel
"The Filker With No Nickname"