> Folk Music > Songs > I Am a Donkey Driver / Jerusalem Cuckoo

I Am a Donkey Driver / Jerusalem Cuckoo

[ Roud 1147 ; Ballad Index RcThDonk ; Bodleian Roud 1147 ; Mudcat 40167 ; trad.]

George Belton sang I Am a Donkey Driver at Madehurst, Arundel, Sussex on 29 January 1967 to Sean Davies and Tony Wales. This recording was included in the same year on his EFDSS album All Jolly Fellows….

Harry Upton sang I Am a Donkey Driver in c. 1975 at home in Balcombe, Sussex in a recording made by Mike Yates. This recording was included in 1976 on the Topic album Green Grow the Laurels: Country Singers From the South and in 1998 on the Topic anthology Troubles They Are But Few (The Voice of the People Volume 14).

Charlie Pitman of Cornwall sang I Am an Old Donkey Driver on a Veteran Tapes cassette published in 1987/89. This was reissued in 2004 on the Veteran CD Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and All: Folk Songs Sung in the West Country. John Howson noted:

This song was published as Jerusalem Cuckoo on a broadside in Manchester by Pearson and is in the G.R. Axon collection in Manchester. It has not often been recorded from traditional singers. Peter Kennedy recorded Derek Cripps singing in 1957. He was the landlord of the Farmer’s Arms in St Merryn, which is probably where Charlie got the song and the mention of Harlyn (the nearest beach to St Merryn) shows the song has been localised. The only other recordings are from Sussex singers George Belton and Harry Upton who both have Brighton as the beach location.

Den Giddens sang this song as Jerusalem Cuckoo live an the White Lion folk club in Wherwell, Hampshire, in 2001. A recording of this concert was released in 2003 on his WildGoose CD A Little Bit Off the Top. He noted:

This was sung, as far as I can remember, by an old Sussex singer called Harry Upton. Jerusalem is an old Cockney name for a donkey or moke (moke = artichoke); it makes some sort of sense.

David Gibb and Elly Lucas recorded Jerusalem Cuckoo in 2012 for their debut CD Old Chairs to Mend. David Gibb noted:

I first heard this song being sung by Harry Upton on one of the Voice of the People CDs. There’s an alternative ending where the donkey in question comes to an unfortunate end in the form of a leather bridle for his owner… I went with the sentimental version!

David Gibb and Elly Lucas with Lucy Ward sang Jerusalem Cuckoo at Derby Folk Festival 2011:

Andy Turner got I Am a Donkey Driver from the singing of Harry Upton and sang it as the 25 September 2023 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Harry Upton sings I Am a Donkey Driver

I am a donkey driver, I’m the best one on the line,
There’s no other donkey driver that can come up to mine.
I travelled all over England and other countries, too,
But no donkey on the line can beat Jerusalem* Cuckoo.

Chorus (after each verse):
(Then) shout, boys, arose, for troubles they are few,
But ne’er a donkey on the line can beat Jerusalem Cuckoo.

I took my donkey to Brighton for a week at The Grand Hussar,
And there a fat lady came up to me; she wanted a tuppenny ride.
She started off quite easily till the German band struck up,
Then the donkey threw the lady off and turned her the wrong way up.

I thought my donkey was good enough to go into a race;
I took him to the Derby ad there I found a place.
The signal was given for starting and away my donkey flew,
And the first one at the winning post it was Jerusalem Cuckoo.

I’m always contented; not an angry word I say.
As long as I gets a drop of beer, my donkey gets his hay.
And if he kicks the bucket, I’ll tell you what I do:
I’ll have a sealskin jacket made out of my Cuckoo.

* Cockney rhyming slang: Jerusalem artichoke = moke = donkey.

Charlie Pitman sings I Am an Old Donkey Driver

Now I’m an old donkey driver, I’m the best one on the line.
There ain’t another donkey that come up to mine.
I have a little whistle, which my donkey knew.
Oh a devil a donk for music was a-huley-eye-honky-hoo

Chorus (after each verse):
Wow, she back, she wow, she neddy, come here,
And we all shout hurray, trig a ne honeky who
There aint a donkey on the road that can beat Jeruley-eye-honky-hoo.

Now I entered my donkey in the derby and I backed him for a place.
I knew my old donkey could run a goodish pace,
For I had my little whistle, and off the donkey flew.
And the first one past the winning post was huley-eye-honky-hoo.

Now I take my old donkey down as far as Harlyn on the sand,
To earn a little money and to hear St Merryn band.
A fat lady got on his back and over her head he flew,
Oh a devil a donk for music was Jeruley-eye-honky-hoo.