> Folk Music > Songs > Farewell to Whisky / Johnny My Man

Farewell to Whisky / Johnny My Man

[ Roud 845 ; G/D 3:587 ; Henry H807 ; Ballad Index K272 ; Bodleian Roud 845 ; Mudcat 2144 ; trad.]

Gale Huntington: Sam Henry’s Songs of the People John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads Roy Palmer: Everyman’s Book of British Ballads

Jessie Murray of Buckie sang Farewell to Whisky to Alan Lomax at the Edinburgh People’s Festival in 1951. This recording was included on the anthology Jack of All Trades (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 3; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968). It was also included as The Ale House in 2006 on the Rounder CD 1951 Edinburgh People’s Festival Ceilidh.

Lizzie Higgins sang Johnnie My Man to Bill Leader in Scotland in 1967. This recording was included a year later on the Topic album The Travelling Stewarts. Another recording made by Peter Hall in the 1970s was included in 2006 on her Musical Traditions anthology In Memory of Lizzie Higgins. Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

Roud has 31 instances of this song, all from Scotland except Eddie Butcher’s version from Magilligan, Londonderry. Isla St Clair has a fine version in Tatties & Herrin: The Sea.

As Greig and Duncan assembled their great pre-Great War collection they noted to their great surprise that —unlike what was taken to be ‘’Scottish Song’ as per Burns and co— genuine Scottish traditional song was not swaggering, maudlin, or pseudo-patriotic, nor did it celebrate drink and drunkenness. Instead, temperance songs such as this one, composed around 1850, were popular, for both on the farms and on the fishing boats inebriation was seen as not only as an occupational danger, but also an insidious destroyer of men and their families. Lizzie learned this as a child—one of her ‘pipe’ songs, which moved her greatly—from her father. The music of Lizzie’s version is examined in Tocher 1, (1971), p.16-17.

Norman Kennedy sang Johnny, My Man, Dae Ye Nae Think o’ Rising? in 1968 on his Folk-Legacy album Ballads & Songs of Scotland. Peter Hall noted:

This is a song which owes its considerable popularity to circulation as a broadside. Ford notes its popularity a hundred years ago and that the customers for the penny sheets on which it was printed were “chiefly among those who required most its pointed moral lesson”. Ord prints a version in his Bothy Songs and Ballads, as does Gavin Greig in Folk-Song of the North-East. Norman has his version from Lizzy Higgins, daughter of the famous Jeannie Robertson, who is a fine ballad singer in her own right.

Isla St Clair sang Johnny My Man on the 1971 Tangent album Folk Songs of North-East Scotland.

The Boys of the Lough sang Farewell to Whisky in 1973 on their eponymous Trailer album The Boys of the Lough. Dick Gaughan noted:

If memory serves, I believe I learned this from the singing of Christine Hendry who was one of the residents at the St Andrews Folk Club.

Jean Redpath sang Johnny My Man on her 1977 album Song of the Seals. She noted:

Most of the major collections of Scottish song carry at least one version of this song which is also known as Farewell to Whisky. The same Robert Ford (Vagabond Songs and Ballads, publ. Alex Gardner, Paisley, 1904) remarked of it… “a common street song in various parts of Scotland and (it) found ready sale always in penny-sheet form chiefly among those who required most its pointed moral lesson”!

Graham Shaw sang Farewell to Whisky in 1978 on his Traditional Sound album I Am the Minstrel.

Battlefield Band sang Fare Thee Well Whisky on their 1989 live album Home Ground.

Ray Fisher sang Johnny My Man on her 1991 Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Scotland. She noted:

Few and far between are Scottish songs that portray the evils of hard drinking. The case for the prosecution is listed here; the luckless wife says it’s a waste of money, the house is falling down; the children are starving and everyone suffers. Johnny relents and vows to give up drinking, forthwith. This is known as a fairy story!

I got this song from Lizzie Higgins, the daughter of Jeannie Robertson.

Cyril Tawney sang Farewell to the Whisky on his 1994 Neptune Tapes cassette of songs about drinks and drinkers, Down the Hatch. This track was also included in 2007 on his posthumous anthology The Song Goes On.

Gordeanna McCulloch sang Johnny My Lad in 1997 on her Greentrax album In Freenship’s Name. She noted:

In the early part of 1995 the late Peter Hall invited me to sing alongside himself and Arthur Watson as part of an illustrated lecture given, in Edinburgh, by Dr. Ian Olson and Peter himself. Peter suggested Johnny, My Man as a song which would be useful for the purposes of the lecture. I did not confirm with him which version would be most suitable and opted for this set of words, from the singing of Annie Shirer. Peter’s introduction concentrated on the versions most usually sung, which adopt, a rather helpless, pleading tone and take the form of a dialogue between Johnny and his wife. Annie Shirer’s text, however, is from the standpoint of the woman alone and to me, a stronger more forceful woman than portrayed in other versions. My faux-pas provided some amusement on the night and Peter, being Peter, coped beautifully. This song has become a ‘regular’ in my performances and I remain grateful to Peter for encouraging me to sing it. The fiddle accompaniment lends a harder edge which I feel suits this particular set of words.

Heather Heywood sang Farewell to Whisky in 2000 on her Tradition Bearers album of Scots songs and ballads, Lassies Fair and Laddies Braw. She noted:

I got this song from Dick Gaughan. Drink has been a cause of many broken relationships. The song ends on an optimistic note with a promise to give up the drink. It may sound like a sad song but taking an optimistic view of the outcome, it is really a cheery little number by my standards!

Maureen Jelks sang Johnny My Man in 2000 on her album Eence Upon a Time. She noted:

Lizzie Higgins’ version, which I picked from Ailie Munro’s book The Folk Music Revival in Scotland. It was a long time before I could sing this song, my mother’s name was Jeanie and my wicked stepfather was called Johnnie! I’ll say no more!

Barbara Dickson sang Farewell to Whisky on her 2001 CD For the Record.

Stanley Robertson sang Johnny Ma Man on his posthumous 2009 Elphinstone Institute album The College Boy.

Alasdair Roberts of The Furrow Collective sang Johnny My Man on their 2014 album At Our Next Meeting. He noted:

A sombre song about that timeless issue—the perils of drink. This version comes from a couple of Aberdeenshire singers: Lizzie Higgins (who learned the song from her father Donald) and Norman Kennedy. Sometimes called Farewell to Whisky, it originally dates from around 1850; it was first published in Robert Ford’s Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland in 1899 and later in Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads (1930). Ord tells us that it was a favourite street song all over Scotland in the 1860s and 1870s.

Janice Burns and Jon Doran sang Johnny My Man on their 2022 CD No More the Green Hills. They noted:

We found this Scottish temperance song from the singing of Lizzie Higgins. Some versions include a “where are they now” style happy ending, but what we love about Lizzie’s version is the ambiguity, leaving it up to the listener’s imagination where the story goes next.

This video shows them in a concert at University of Leeds on 7 October 2022:


Lizzie Higgins sings Johnny My Man

“Johnny, ma man, dae ye no think o risin?
The nicht it’s weel spent and the time’s wearin on.
Yer siller’s aa deen an your stoup’s teem before you.
Arise up, my Johnny, an come awa hame.”

“Oh wha is that I hear, speakin sae kindly?
For I ken it’s the voice o my ain wifie, Jean.
Syne come by me, dearie and sit doon beside me;
There is room in this taivern for mair than een.”

“But Johnny, my man, oor bairns is aa greetin.
Nae meal in the barrel tae fill their wee wames.
While sittin here drinkin, ye leave me lamentin.
Arise up, my Johnny, an come awa hame.”

But Johnnie he’s raised and he has got the door open,
Saying, “Cursed be the taivern that e’er let me in,
And cursed be the whisky that mak’s me sae thirsty.
Fareweel tae ye, whisky, for I’ll awa hame.”

Norman Kennedy sings Johnny, My Man, Dae Ye Nae Think o’ Rising?

“Johnny, my man, dae ye nae think o’ rising?
The day is far spent an’ the night’s comin’ on.
Your siller’s a’ done an’ your stoup’s teem afore ye.
Rise up my man Johnny, an’ come awa’ hame.”

“Who is that I hear speakin’ sae kindly?
I ken it’s the voice o’ my ain wifie Jean.
Come in by me dearie, an’ sit doon aside me;
There’s room in this tavern for mair for by’s me.”

“Johnny, my man, our bairns is a’ greetin’,
Nae meal in the barrel tae fill their wee wains.
While ye sit here drinkin’, ye leave me lamentin.
Rise up, my man Johnny, an’ come awa’ hame.”

“Dae ye nae remeber the 1st days we courted?
On a bed o’ priroses we baithdid set doon,
A’ pickin’ the flowers in each other’s company;
Ye ne’er thocht it lang, then, nor sought tae gae hame.”

“Weel dae I mind on the days that ye mention
But those times they are past an’ they’ll ne’er come again.
Just think on the present, an’ try tae amend it;
Rise up my man, Johnny, an’ come awa’ hame.”

Johnny rase up an’ he flung the door open.
“My curse on the tavern that 1st let me in,
My curse on the whisky that mak’s me aye frisky.
Sae fare thee wee’, whisky, an’ I’m awa’ hame.”

Boys of the Lough sing Farewell to Whisky

“Oh Johnnie, ma man, dae ye no think o risin?
For the day is weill spent an the nicht’s comin on
The siller’s aa deen an the gill-stoup is empty
Sae rise up, ma Johnnie, an come awa hame

“The bairns at hame are aa roarin an greetin
Nae meal in the barrel tae fill thair wee wames
While ye sit here drinkin ye leave us lamentin
Sae rise up, ma Johnnie, an come awa hame”

“Wha’s that at the door that is speakin sae kindly?
It’s the voice o ma wee wifie, Maggie by name
Come in ma dear lassie an sit doun aside me
Thair’s room in this alehous for mair nor me”

“Oh Johnnie, ma man, dae ye no mind o courtin?
Whan thae lang simmers days we ne’er thocht wad end
We’d spen thae lang days mang the sweet scentit roses
An ne’er gied a thocht upon gaun awa hame”

“Weill dae A min o thae times that ye speak o
Bit thae days thae are gane an will ne’er come again
Bit as for the present, we will try for tae mend it
Sae gie’s yer haun Maggie an A’ll awa hame”

An Johnnie arose an he banged the door open
Cryin “Curst be the alehous that ere lat me in
An curst be the whisky that made me aye thirsty
An fare ye weill whisky for A’m awa hame”