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The Astrologer / The Bold Astrologer

[ Roud 1598 ; Master title: The Astrologer ; Ballad Index KinBB10 ; VWML HAM/4/26/15 , HAM/5/32/36 ; Bodleian Roud 1598 ; DT ASTROLGR ; trad.]

H.E.D. Hammond collected The Astrologer in October 1906 from J. Penny of Poole, Dorset [VWML HAM/4/26/15] and in January or February 1907 from Mrs. Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset [VWML HAM/5/32/36] . Frank Purslow printed this version in his 1965 E.F.D.S. book Marrow Bones, and he and John Pearse sang it on their 1960 album Rap-a-Tap-Tap.

George Deacon sang The Astrologer in 1973 on his and Marion Ross’ Transatlantic album Sweet William’s Ghost. The album’s liner notes commented:

This song is from the Hammond and Gardiner manuscripts. It is a rare dig at a trade that is not seen to figure in many songs.

Gryphon sang The Astrologer in 1973 on their eponymous Transatlantic album Gryphon. They noted:

A funky folk-song concerning an astrologer who tells fortunes. The harpsichord supplies the funk. By the end of the second verse the maid is about to be seduced when suddenly a three part recorder break swirls in, allowing the astrologer time to alter his strategy. The song ends with the maid being discovered for what she is, and the astrologer becoming one crown piece the richer. A moral tale.

Heather Wood learned The Bold Astrologer from Frank Smythe and sang it in 1977 on Royston Wood’s and her Transatlantic album No Relation.

Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham sang The Bold Astrologer on the 2007 WildGoose anthology Songs of Witchcraft and Magic. The anthology’s booklet noted:

Collected by Henry and Robert Hammond in 1906. The deceptively simple song is an intriguing snapshot of the world of 19th century urban cunning folk. It exploits to the full the irony of the collision between the uncanny and the mundane. It gives the cunning man a certain glamour—a hint at contact with the Otherworld—even while it humorously makes the point that he specialises in telling young women’s fortunes, with all that implies.

The song also reflects the fact that many young women were interested in divination. There are numerous records of folk-magic practices that enabled them to predict their romantic prospects.

Interestingly, there is an account of the famous Cornish wise woman Tamsin Blight knowing about a coin in someone’s pocket.


Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham sing The Bold Astrologer

It’s of a bold astrologer in London town did dwell,
At telling maidens’ fortunes, there’s none could him excel,
There was a nice young serving girl a-living there close by,
She came one day to the astrologer all for to have a try.

“I hear that you tell fortunes, sir, would you tell me mine?” said she,
“Of course, my dear, without a doubt, if you’ll walk upstairs with me.”
“To walk upstairs with you, kind sir, I’m sure I am afraid!”
She spoke it in such modesty as though she were a maid.

“To walk upstairs with me, my dear, you need not be afraid,
Knowing it was but the other day you with your master laid.”
Then she began to curse and swear she would her master bring,
As witness for both him and her that it was no such thing.

“My pretty maid, don’t swear and curse, you’ll make the deed the worse!
For the crown piece that he gave to you, you’ve got it in your purse.”
“Oh, indeed you can tell fortunes, sir! You’ve told me mine,” said she,
Then she pulled out the crown piece--“Good morning, sir!” said she.