> Folk Music > Songs > I’m Often Drunk and I’m Seldom Sober

I’m Often Drunk and I’m Seldom Sober / I’m a Rover and Seldom Sober

[ Roud 3135 ; Ballad Index BdIODASS , DTimarov ; Bodleian Roud 3135 ; trad.]

Norman Buchan and Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger Ewan MacColl: Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland

Andra Stewart sang I’m Aye Drunk, I’m Seldom Sober as part of a diddling medley recorded by Hamish Henderson in the berryfields of Blair in 1954. This recording was included in the early 1960s on the Prestige album Folksongs & Music From the Berryfields of Blair.

Davie Stewart sang I’m Often Drunk and I’m Seldom Sober in a recording made by Hamish Henderson at the home of James Ross, Edinburgh, in probably 1955 but possibly 1962. It was published in 1978 on his eponymous Topic album Davie Stewart, and it was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology They Ordered Their Pints of Beer and Bottles of Sherry (The Voice of the People Volume 13). Hamish Henderson commented in the original album’s liner notes:

When Davie was travelling a through Ireland, he picked up a large number of items—this on is a rather curious composite effusion, a blend of a nostalgic love song and a “night visiting song” (one of the courtship songs which have close and often deceptive links with revenant ballads like The Grey Cock). The girl’s name, Molly Bawn (blonde Molly) bobs up all over the place in Irish popular literature; it is the name commonly associated with the song-type which has at its central theme the hunter who mistakes his love for a swan. On another level, it is the name conscripted by Samuel Lover, a 19th century stage-Irish poetaster-entertainer, for a classic piece of inane doggerel.

Some years ago Tom Munnelly collected from the late John Reilly a version of a night-visiting song in which the name Molly Bawn occurs, and the song may well be related under the covers to Davie’s mixter-maxter. John’s version [Adieu Unto All True Lovers] can be heard on his LP The Bonny Green Tree. The most familiar Scottish version is, of course, I’m a Rover and Seldom Sober, which was collected in 1952 in Davie’s own native Aberdeenshire from the scholar-ploughman Willie Mathieson.

Ewan MacColl sang I’m a Rover in 1961 on his Folkways album Bothy Ballads of Scotland He noted:

This night-visit song is almost certainly related to The Grey Cock (The Lover’s Ghost), a ballad in which a girl is visited by the ghost of her dead lover. As A.L. Lloyd has observed: “Generally the song is found either with the bedroom-window theme or the cockcrow theme but not the two together.” In this version the bedroom-window theme is clearly established and what remains of the cock-crow theme has lost its supernatural significance.

From the singing of James Grant of Aberdour, Banffshire.

Jimmy Hutchison sang Often Drunk and Seldom Sober at he Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2008. This recording was released in the following year on the festival anthology Grand to Be a Working Man (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 5). The album’s booklet commented:

Learned from the singing of Old Davie Stewart (the Galoot) whose rendition of the song was recorded by Hamish Henderson and is on [his album Davie Stewart]. Davie became well known in the Scottish folk revival of the 1960s when he was a regular guest at the St Andrews Folk Club where Jimmy was one of the organisers. Davie was one of Scotland’s travelling people, who sang and played melodeon as he travelled around the country, a well kent face at Scotland’s feeing markets and country fairs and as a busker in the streets of Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow. He probably picked up this song in Ireland—the song certainly seems to contain a mixture of Irish and Scottish elements.

Ye Vagabonds sang I’m a Rover on their 2021 single I’m a Rover. They noted:

This night visiting song is quite well-known, with a lot of different versions sung all over Ireland and Scotland. We learned this one from our mother, Grania, when we were very small kids.

Siobhan Miller sang I’m a Rover on her 2022 CD Bloom.


Davie Stewart sings I’m Often Drunk and I’m Seldom Sober

Chorus (after each verse):

I’m often drunk and I’m seldom sober,
I’m a constant rover from town to town.
And when I’m dead and my days are gone,
Oh, lay me down, my Molly Bann.

The fifth of September I well remember;
One dreary hour at the break of dawn,
I was roving through the county Galway,
When I fell in love with young Molly Bann.

I been wark and I been weary
And tired of foot as I trudged on.
My tapple ho the fair of Galway
Where next morning, sure, I meet Molly Bann.

That night I went to her bedroom window
Noo at dreary hour,
Saying, “Who is that at my bedroom window
Depriving me of my long night’s rest?”

“I am your lover; sure, pray discover.
Oh, open the door now and let me in,
I’m tired after my long long journey,
Oh, I’m soaking, love, unto the skin.”

Ewan MacColl sings I’m a Rover

I’m a rover and seldom sober,
I’m a rover of high degree,
It’s when I’m drinking I’m always thinking
How to gain my love’s company.

There’s ne’er a night I’m going to ramble
There’s ne’er a night I’m going to roam,
There’s ne’er a night I’m going to ramble
Into the arms of my own true love.

Though the night be as dark as dungeon,
Not a star to be be seen above,
I will be guided without a stumble
Into the arms of my own true love.

He stepped up to her bedroom window,
Kneeling gently upon a stone,
He whispered through her bedroom window,
“Darling dear, do you lie alone?”

She raised her head on her snow-white pillow,
Wi’ her arms around her breast,
Says, “Who is that at my bedroom window
Disturbing me at my long night’s rest?”

Says I, “True love, it’s thy true lover,
Open the door and let me in,
For I am come on a long journey
More than near drenched to the skin.”

She opened the door with the greatest pleasure,
She opened the door and let him in:
They both shook hands and embraced each other
Till the morning they lay as one.

The cocks were crawing, the birds were whistling,
The burns they ran free abune the brae,
But remember, lass, I’m a ploughman laddie
And the farmer I must obey.

Noo, my love, I must go and leave thee
To climb the hills they are far above,
But I will climb them, the greatest pleasure
Sin’ I been i’ the airms o’ my love.