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Lass on the Quay / Sally Gee

[James Weams]

Lass on the Quay is a song from James Weams’ No. 1 James Weams’ Tyneside Song Book (1887). The Folk Archive Resource North East has an online copy of this chapbook; they comment:

This is a very popular local song, relating the unfortunate effects of love! An extra verse was anonymously added to the song a number of years after its publication.

This song is taken from perhaps the only surviving copy of the small songbook written by late nineteenth century music hall artist, James Weams. The book was published in 1887 by John Barnes of the Groat Market, Newcastle, and is numbered ‘no.1’. Presumably there were to be more of these small publications, but how many followed and what form they took is not possible to say. The book contains what would become some of the most famous and popular ‘Geordie’ songs to be written. In particular ‘Neibors belaw’ struck a chord with the thousands of inhabitants of ‘Tyneside flats’ across the region and has become one of the Newcastle’s most well known songs.

At the time this book was printed, music halls had become the chief form of indoor entertainment for the working class. Theatres like the Gaiety Theatre of Varieties, the New Tyne Concert Hall and the Percy Hall and Cirque provided the venue for entertainers such as Joe Wilson, Rowland Harrison and others. Although this is only a small publication, like William Thompson’s songbook of twenty years earlier, the book is invaluable as a rare example of a working musician’s repertoire at the height of Music Hall’s popularity.

Tom Gilfellon sang The Lass Doon on the Quay in 1976 on the High Level Ranters’ Topic album Ranting Lads. This was also the B-side of their Topic single Dance to Your Daddy, and it was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Along the Coaly Tyne. They noted on the original album:

A music hall song which we have not yet found in print. It appears to be widely known in the North-East in fragmentary form. The version here is from the singing of James Boyles of Sunderland.

Jim Mageean sang Sally Gee on the 1981 Greenwich Village anthology of songs about the women of Tyneside over the past two centuries, Aall Tegithor Like the Foaks o’ Shields.

Bob Fox and Stu Luckley sang Sally Gee (The Lass Down on the Quay) in 1982 on their Black Crow LP Wish We Never Had Parted and in a new recording on their 1997 Fellside CD Box of Gold. Bob noted:

Sally Gee is another Tyneside Music Hall song sometimes known as The Lass Down on the Quay. Inside its jovial exterior is quite a sad tale, and contrary to some people’s perceptions the chorus is a celebration of the girl’s inner beauty!

This video shows Geoff Lewis singing Sally Gee or The Lass Doon By the Quay in a 2012 folk club gig:


Bob Fox and Stu Luckley sing Sally Gee (The Lass Down on the Quay)

I’ll tell youse of a nice young lass and her name is Sally Gee,
Well, I met her in the pub one night, it was down by the quay.
I says to her, well I know your face but I divvent naa from where
So I asked her whereabouts she lived, and she said down Carlisle Square.

Chorus (after each verse):
Never mind, the lass she’s kind and I naa she is good-hearted
And the cast in her eye makes her look shy and I wish we never had parted.
She’s got a hump and she walks with a stick and she’s always good to me,
I’m fond of the lass that none can pass, the lass down on the quay.

Well, every night I used to meet with Sally on the quay,
And I asked her if she’d marry me, if she’d be good to me.
How long it is since she washed herself, well I really divvent naa,
Cause she’s got a face like an old spice cake, it’s as black as any craa.

She catched us walking out one night with her sister Mary Jane,
She fetched her such a clout on the lug that she never saw straight again.
Then she turned on me with a look that could kill and she telled us where to gang,
But before I could tell her that I loved her still she was off with another man.

It was all through her I went on the drink, I went headlong to the bad.
Well, I pawned me watch and I pawned me chain, that was everything I had.
Then next morn the landlord appeared and he hoyed us through the doors
And I spent six months in Durham Gaol with me clathes put into store.