Declining with Thanks

Ian Robb & James Stephens

Ian's song notes and lyrics

1. Save Your Money While You're Young (Trad.)

Edith Fowke recorded Jim Doherty singing this song and included it on the 1961 Folkways album, Lumbering Songs From the Ontario Shanties. Being an admirer of bold women, I just can’t bring myself to sing Mr Doherty’s line, “just court some pretty young girl that is not overbold”, so I’ve done a little tinkering. Martin Carthy assures us that you can’t hurt a folk song. I hope he’s right.

Come all you jolly good fellows, I'll sing to you a song,

It's all about them shanty boys and it won't take me long,

For it's now that I regret the day, while I'm working out in the cold;

Save your money while you're young, me boys, you'll need it when you're old.

For once I was a shanty boy, now wasn't I a lad?

And the way I spent me money, oh, wasn't it too bad?

But it's now that I regret the day, while I'm working out in the cold;

Save your money while you're young, me boys, you'll need it when you're old.

And if you are a married man, I'll tell you what to do,

Be good to your wife and family, as you have sworn to do.

Stay away from all grog shops where liquor is bought and sold;

Save your money while you’re young, me boys, you'll need it when you're old.

Ah, but if you are a single man, I'll tell you what to do,

Just find yourself a pretty young girl that to you will prove true;

Just find yourself a likely lass, both beautiful and bold;

That will stick to you through life and be a comfort when you're old.

For once I was a shanty boy, now wasn't I a lad?

And the way I spent me money, oh, wasn't it too bad?

But it's now that I regret the day, while I'm working out in the cold;

Save your money while you're young, me boys, you'll need it when you're old.

2. Fare Thee Well Dearest Nancy (Trad.)

From the folk song category, "All men are jerks, and particularly sailors". I learned a version of this song some years ago, from an Old Swan Band album. Ian Bell, creator and curator of the on-line Ontario Traditional Music Library, told me about a song called “Lovely Nancy”, which was collected in 1960 by George Proctor from Mr Joseph Chisholm, of St Raphael’s, Ontario. It turned out to be the very same story with somewhat different words and a completely different tune. Not wishing to tax my declining brain with two very similar sets of words, I decided to set “my” existing words to Mr Chisholm’s lovely tune.

Fare thee well dearest Nancy for now I must leave you;

To the burning West Indies my course for to steer,

And I know very well that this parting will grieve you,

But love, I'll return in the spring of the year.

Oh don't talk of leaving, my own dearest jewel;

Oh, don't talk of leaving me here on this shore,

For it is your sweet company that I do desire, love;

I'll sigh till I die, if I ne'er see you more.

In sailor's apparel I'll dress and go with you;

In the midst of all danger I will be your friend,

And when that the cold stormy winds are a-blowing,

My love I'll be with you, to wait on you then.

Your lily-white hands cannot handle a cable;

Your neat little feet to the topmast can't go;

Your delicate form the cruel gales can't endure, dear;

Therefore dearest Nancy, to the ocean don't go.

As she stood a-wailing, the ship set a-sailing,

And the tears down her fair cheeks in torrents did flow;

Her lily-white hands she in sorrow was wringing,

Crying, "Oh, my dear jewel, will I ne'er see you more?"

Come all you young maidens, I pray take a warning,

And ne'er trust a sailor but heed what I say,

For first he will court you, then love you and leave you,

Forever lamenting in sorrow and pain.

3. Daft Annie (Ian Robb)

Inspired by someone I remember from long childhood summer holidays in Aberdeenshire, this fake folk ballad is my imagined story behind one woman’s apparent mental illness, and perhaps a mea culpa for my insensitive behaviour as a young lad. I have no idea who she really was, or why she roamed the river bank, but this is for her.

There was a lass of Ellen town and oh, but she was fair;

Of all the flowers in nature's bloom no beauty shone more rare.

She was courted by a gentleman with gold and silver bright,

But she loved a lad, a farmer's son, who was her heart's delight.

Now Jimmy was this young man's name and he loved his Annie dear,

And they walked down by the river in the springtime of the year.

This grieved the gentleman full sore for a jealous man was he,

Saying, “If I can't have young Annie, then no other man she'll see.”

This gentleman, being a clever man, to a sergeant he did go,

Saying, “If you'll recruit young Jimmy then my riches you will know.”

So the sergeant took two of his men; brought Jimmy to an inn,

Saying, “Jimmy, you're a canny lad, this night you'll dine within.”

And they gave him beer; they gave him wine, 'til his head was thick and sore,

Then they gave to him the shilling and they sent him off to war.

When Annie found that he was gone, she wept and tore her hair,

And she swore she'd have no other but the willow she would wear.

When six long months were past and gone no word from him she'd read,

Then a letter came, all edged in black, and it said that he was dead.

From that day forth she walked alone down by the waters black,

And for forty years she wished to God that her Jimmy would come back.

For forty years she walked each day down by that riverside,

And the children called her “Daftie”, though they knew not why she cried.

'Twas on one April morning as she walked down by the strand,

Her clothes were white, by morning light, and a red rose in her hand.

And she walked down upon the bank, with her face turned to the sky,

Then she walked into the water and she bade this world goodbye.

And the church bells rang, all nature sang, no wedding was more gay,

As she went unto her Jimmy at the dawning of the day.

4. All Things are Quite Silent (Trad.)

Another song of forced recruitment, learned from the late, great English singer and concertina player Louis (later Louisa Jo) Killen, who was probably to blame for my choosing the concertina as my singing companion. It is the first song in the first edition of The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and deserves to be there for more than alphabetical reasons.

All things are quite silent, each mortal at rest,

When me and my true love got snug in one nest;

When a bold set of ruffians they entered our cave,

And they called my dear true love to plough the salt wave.

I begged hard for my true love as though I begged for life;

They’d not listen to me although a fond wife,

Saying, "The King he needs sailors; to the sea he must go,"

And they left me lamenting in sorrow and woe.

Through green fields and meadows we oft-times did walk,

And sweet conversations of love we have talked,

And the small birds in the woodlands so sweetly did sing,

And the young thrushes’ voices in the valley did ring.

Although my love’s gone I will not be cast down;

Who knows when my true love may someday return,

And will make me amends for all sorrow and strife,

And my true love and I will live happy for life.

5. The Volunteer (Words: Robert W. Service. Melody: David Parry)

My late Friends of Fiddler’s Green bandmate David Parry was a big fan of Scots-Canadian ballad poet Robert W. Service, and he set a fair number of Service’s poems to music, releasing them on a wonderful CD entitled "The Man from Eldorado." This is one of those, and describes the excruciating dilemma faced by a poor family man who is shamed into volunteering to fight in WW1, a war he doesn’t believe in.

Sez I: My Country calls? Well, let it call!

I grins perlitely and declines wiv thanks.

Go let 'em plaster every blighted wall;

'Ere's one they won't stampede into the ranks.

Them politicians with their greasy ways,

Them empire-grabbers, fight for them? No fear!

I've seen this mess a-coming from the days

Of Algyserious and Aggydear.

I've felt my passion rise and swell,

But...wot the 'ell, Bill? Wot the hell?

Sez I: My Country? Mine? I likes their cheek

Me mud-bespattered by the cars they drive,

Wot makes me measly thirty bob a week

And sweats red blood to keep meself alive!

Fight for the right to slave that they might spend?

Them in their mansions, me 'ere in me slum?

No, let 'em fight wot's something to defend:

But me, I've nothing—let the Kaiser come.

And so I cusses hard and well,

But...wot the 'ell, Bill? Wot the hell?

Sez I: If they would do the decent thing,

And shield the missus and the little uns,

Why even I might shout “God save the King”

And take me chances wiv them 'ungry guns.

But we've got three, another on the way;

It's that what makes me scowl and set me jaw

The wife and nippers, wot of them, I say,

If I get's knocked out in this blasted war?

Get's proper busted by a shell,

But...wot the 'ell, Bill? Wot the hell?

Ah, wot the 'ell's the use of all this talk?

Today some boys in blue was passin' me,

And some of them they 'ad no legs to walk,

And some of them they 'ad no eyes to see.

And—well, I couldn't look 'em in the face,

And so I'm goin', goin' to declare

I'm under forty-one, and take me place

To face the music with the lads out there.

A fool you say? Well, perhaps you're right.

I'll get no peace until I fight.

I've ceased to think; I only know

I've gotta go, Bill, gotta go.

6. Campbell the Drover (Trad.)

The first song on the first recording I ever made, with Margaret Christl and Grit Laskin, for Folk Legacy Records in 1976. I’ve since compressed the song a little, I think without spoiling the great April fool’s day story. Collected in Elgin, New Brunswick by Helen Creighton, from one of her most prolific sources of great songs, Mr Angelo Dornan.

The first day of April, I'll never forget,

Three English lassies together they met;

They mounted their horses and swore solemnly

That they would play a trick on the first man they see.

Well, Campbell, the drover, was riding that day,

And soon he encountered those lassies so gay.

They reined in their horses and he did the same,

And in close conversation together they came.

And sing fol de rol laddy,

Fol de rol laddy,

Fol de rol laddy,

Sing fol de rol day.

They asked him to show them the way to the inn,

And would he drink whiskey or would he drink gin?

Then Campbell made answer and said with a smile,

"Sure, I long for to taste the strong ale of Carlisle"

Well they called in the servants and started a dance;

They ordered the landlord to spare no expense;

They danced the next morning, 'til 'twixt eight and nine,

And they called for their breakfast, and afterwards wine.

They mounted their horses, alas and alack,

It dawned on the landlord they weren't coming back.

He said, "My dear Irishman, I am afraid

That those three English jokers a trick on you played".

"Never mind," says old Campbell, "If they've gone away,

I've plenty of money, the reckoning to pay.

Just sit down beside me, and before that I go,

I will show you a trick that perhaps you don't know”.

"I'll show you a trick that's contrary to law:

Two kinds of whiskey from one cask to draw".

The landlord, being eager to learn of the plan,

Straightway to the cellar, with Paddy, he ran.

He soon bore a hole in a very short space,

And he bade the landlord stick his thumb on the place.

He then bored another, "Place your other thumb there,

While I for a tumbler must run up the stairs"

When Campbell was mounted, and well out of sight,

The 'ostler come in in a terrible fright.

He hunted the house, high up and low down;

Half dead in the cellar, his master he found.

"Go and find that bold Irishman!" loudly he cried;

"I fear he has vanished", the 'ostler replied.

He said, "My dear landlord, I am afraid

That Campbell the drover a trick on you played."

7. The Misfit (Ian Robb)

Anyone who has emigrated for more than a few years will probably understand at least some of this song. Even the most integrated of us can miss our native land and its people from time to time. Fortunately, most get over these bouts of nostalgia, and become content. But some forget that time has passed, and much of what they remember and pine for, is no longer there.

The emigrant who lives his life as exile, gazing back

On moor and mountain left behind, on beer and barroom craic,

He never makes himself at home, he never sees the good,

He’ll always look for what he’s lost, and pine for where he stood.

Where he stood;

He’ll always look for what he’s lost, and pine for where he stood.

“Not like back home”, he’s apt to say, for nothing is so fine

As when he roamed his native land way back in sixty-nine.

For forty years he’s struggled in “this godforsaken land”

Where he’s the only one in step, oblivious to the band.

To the band;

Where he’s the only one in step, oblivious to the band.

His family, born and grown up here, three daughters and a son,

All children of this land he roams his name to carry on.

Yet still he lives for times before no time for those ahead;

His heart remains where he was born, his future with the dead.

With the dead;

His heart remains where he was born, his future with the dead.

You wonder why he came at all, this man of home denied.

A better life, some peace and quiet some land, some space, some pride?

Whatever greener grass he saw has withered in his eyes,

This emigrant forever lost in search of Canaan’s prize.

Canaan's prize;

This emigrant forever lost in search of Canaan’s prize.

And yet were he to go back home, a strange land would he find;

A different tongue, and different ways from those he left behind.

For years make change as sure as miles, and nothing stands so still

As the bitter man who knows no home, and surely never will.

Never will;

As the bitter man who knows no home, and surely never will.

Yet many come, and many stay, and many make their home

In places strange, on open range across the raging foam;

And happiness is theirs, because when push it leads to shove,

It matters less the place they live, and more the ones they love.

Ones they love;

It matters less the place they live, and more the ones they love.

8. Charming Molly (Trad.)

From England’s legendary Copper family, but learned in the 1970s from an American, Sally Killen. Sally wrote that the song—for her at least—was a celebration of women in general, rather than one in particular. I concur.

Charming Molly, fair and brisk and gay, like nightingales in May

All round her eyelids young Cupids play,

She has eyes so bright they shine

Black as any berry, cheeks like any cherry.

Charming Molly with sparkling eyes.

See how the swain do admire and desire such a pretty woman,

To hold her hand it burns like sparkling fire,

In her eyes these things are seen,

Violets, roses, lilies and daffadown-dillies.

Charming Molly she is all divine.

Surely there's no one loves a pretty woman if she be not common

And surely such beauty most men admire,

Surely no one can them despise,

Because they are so pretty, and they talk so witty,

Charming Molly with sparkling eyes.

Charming Molly with sparkling eyes.

9. God and The Orange Clown (Ian Robb)

Some might feel that this song is no longer relevant in the post-Trump years, but the ravages of climate change are ever present, and many of those who put the Orange Clown in power are still around, hypocrites all, with their warped and self-serving mutation of Christianity. So here it is again.

When your forests turn to ash, when your fields all turn to dust,

When your islands are awash, how will you choose? Who will you trust?

And when the mudslides hurtle down, who will you turn to for recourse?

When your greens all fade to brown, who will you blame? Who will you curse?

And will you go to church to pray,

Leaving your children to atone?

This world you’ve left in disarray

Is not God’s work; it is your own.

When tornados wreck your town, when the tempest scours your coast,

Will you still heed the orange clown? Will you still cheer his every boast?

And when it’s time to make your choice, whose truth, whose lies will you believe?

Will you ignore the braying voice? Will you refuse to be deceived?

Or will you go to church to pray,

Leaving your children to atone?

This world you’ve left in disarray

Is not God’s work; it is your own.

So good Christians all awake! fight the tide or surely drown!

For your blessed children’s sake, drive away the orange clown,

For when at last the seas run dry, and when rocks melt in the sun,

And when you can no more deny, then you’ll see what you have done.

Then will you go to church to pray,

Leaving your children to atone?

This world you’ve left in disarray

Is not God’s work; it is your own.

It's not God's work; it is your own.

10. Dead Funny (Brian Pearson)

I’m a firm believer in laughter as a way to ease some of life’s darker realities, so when this song appeared on a Facebook video, written and sung by my old friend Brian Pearson, I couldn’t resist. As a non-believer in such things as God, heaven, hell, and the afterlife, I find this strangely comforting.

There’s a lot to be said for ending up dead

No need to fear that long sleep, for

One thing's for sure, your woes will be yore,

Courtesy of the grim reaper.

You’ll no longer be here in this sad vale of tears;

No need to keep up your resistance,

For you won’t be there, or indeed anywhere,

Unaware of your own non-existence

So rattle your bones, and join in the chorus,

Death’s round the corner and he’s coming for us.

Eat drink and be merry, while you’re alive,

‘cos we’ve all got a date with the guy with the scythe.

You’ll just vanish your way by organic decay;

There’s really no reason to cry a tear;

It’s all part of the game; you go back whence you came,

Your remains reabsorbed by the biosphere.

So new life can rely on your carbon and iron,

Your calcium and sulphur and phosphorus;

You’ll be part of the trees, and the birds, and the bees,

From the high Arctic seas to the Bosphorus.

It’s true, I once read that some guru once said,

“Relax folks, for everything passes”,

And that’s sure to be true, for me and for you,

So cheer up and fill up your glasses.

For we come and we go, with the ebb and the flow

Of the tides of the earth and her story;

Bright creatures of chance, briefly part of the dance,

So be glad that you’ve shared in life’s glory.

11. Bold Riley (Trad.)

This well-known sailor’s farewell, with its many versions, seems to have become a favourite memorial song in recent years. The last verse is borrowed from the Georgia Sea Islands version, "Good-Bye My Riley-O." In fond memory of Stewart Cameron, David Parry, Steve Adams, Tam Kearney, Louisa Jo Killen, Will Fielding, Jon Naar, Mick Peat, and Kate Murphy.

Oh the rain it rains all day long

Bold Riley-o, bold Riley

And the northern wind, it blows so strong

Bold Riley-o has gone away

Goodbye my darling, goodbye my dear-o

Bold Riley-o, bold Riley

Goodbye my darling, goodbye my dear-o

Bold Riley-o has gone away

We're outward bound for the Bengal Bay

Crack on my lads, it's a hell of a way

Now Mary, Mary, don't look so glum

Come white stocking day you'll be drinkin' rum

Oh Riley, Riley, where are you?

Oh Riley's gone, and I'm going too.

Ian Robb, August 2021.