> Tim Hart & Maddy Prior > Songs > The Rambling Sailor

The Rambling Sailor/Soldier / Young Johnson

[ Roud 518 ; G/D 7:1477 ; Ballad Index ShH43 ; VWML RVW2/3/215 , GG/1/5/216 ; Bodleian Roud 518 ; Wiltshire 441 ; Mudcat 108324 ; trad.]

Sabine Baring-Gould Songs of the West Katherine Campbell Songs from North-East Scotland Karl Dallas The Cruel Wars Michael Downey The Ploughboy's Glory Fred Hamer Garners Gay William Henry Long A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect John Ord Bothy Songs and Ballads Roy Palmer A Touch on the Times Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams The Rambling Soldier James Reeves The Everlasting Circle Steve Roud, Julia Bishop The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Cecil Sharp One Hundred English Folksongs

Ralph Vaughan Williams recorded Peter Verrall of Monks Gate, Horsham, Sussex, singing The Rambling Sailor on 2 May 1907 [VWML RVW2/3/215] . This phonograph recording was included in 1986 on the album An Hour with Cecil Sharp and Ashley Hutchings and in 1998 on the EFDSS anthology A Century of Song.

Chris Willett sang The Rambling Sailor in a recording made by Bill Leader and Paul Carter in a pub near Paddock Wood, Kent in 1962 on the Willett Family's Topic album of “English traditional songs sung by traditional singers”, The Roving Journeymen. This track was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology We've Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Series Volume 12). Another recording made by Ken Stubbs in ca. 1960 was included in 2013 both on the Willett Family's Forest Tracks anthology A-Swinging Down the Lane and on their Musical Traditions anthology Adieu to Old England. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

Of broadside origin, the song deals with the free and easy dealings of the sailor Young Johnson with women—an attitude popularly supposed to be typical of sailors and soldiers.

Chris Willett learnt all his songs from his father. The text here is a little jumbled but surely of broadside origin. Whether old Mr Willett got it directly from a broadside or obtained it from a singer who had learnt the song from print is not clear. A similar text, noted by Baring-Gould at Widdecombe, Devon, is in James Reeves's Everlasting Circle.

The tune used here is practically identical with that collected by Cecil Sharp from George Wyatt of West Harptree, Somerset. The song has several tunes, nearly all of them Mixolydian, like this one, and mostly excellent. According to Baring-Gould, this melody was used as a West Country hornpipe. An Irish variant of it, called The Roving Soldier, is in Joyce's Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909).

Jon Raven sang The Rambling Soldier in 1968 on his eponymous album with The Halliard, The Halliard : Jon Raven.

Danny Spooner sang The Rambling Soldier on the 1968 album Soldiers and Sailors (Folksingers of Australia Volume 2). He noted:

This version was collected by Gardiner from George Digweed of Hampshire (1904) [VWML GG/1/5/216] . Although Parliament never passed an act stopping the use of press-gangs in England the practice gradually faded out, and the ‘Recruiting Sargeant’ with his ‘gift’ of the ‘King's or Queen's Shilling’ became once more the method of acquiring men for the Services. Looking very resplendent in his uniform he would roam the countryside telling fine tales of adventure and great deeds with the object of enticing the young men to enlist. However, it seems in this song at least his job wasn't ‘all work and no play’. Mike [Ball]'s accompaniment to this boastful song is appropriately playful.

Davy Graham played “the shanty-inspired rhythms“ of Ramblin' Sailor in 1970 on his Decca album The Holly Kaleidoscope. This track was included in 1999 on the Topic compilation Fire in the Soul.

Gordon McIntyre sang The Rambling Sailor in 1978 on his and Danny Spooner's Larrikin album Revived and Relieved!.

Tim Hart sang The Rambling Sailor in 1968 on his and Maddy Prior's first duo album Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1. They noted:

Existing in many variations, this song is closely related to the Rambling Soldier and it is pure conjecture as to which came first. Here the sailor obtains money from the first girl, spends it on the second girl and resumes his rambles without remorse.

Roy Harris sang The Rambling Soldier as the title track of his 1979 Fellside album of “life in the lower ranks 1750-1900 through soldier songs”, The Rambling Soldier which accompanied his book of the same name.

Oyster Ceilidh Band sang The Rambling Soldier in 1980 on their Dingle's album Jack's Alive.

Tundra sang The Rambling Sailor in 1981 on their Greenwich Village album Songs from Greenwich. They noted:

A broadside version of the song from A Garland of Sea Songs printed by one of the most successful broadside vendors, Jemmy Catnach. The song was probably noted down from an unsuspecting singer by one of Catnach’s “agents” who sought out already popular songs which would sell well in the printed form.

Cyril Tawney sang The Rambling Sailor on his 1992 Neptune cassette In Every Port; this was also included in 2003 on his CD Nautical Tawney: Songs of the Old Seafarers. He noted:

The concept of the sailor's role is firmly established in the popular imagination as that of a heartless, roving philanderer. Largely fiction, many a Jack would claim, but the idea persists. The protagonist in our song even decides to take things one step further. He leaves the sea and takes up philandering as a full-time occupation.

Dave Burland sang The Rambling Sailor in 1996 on his CD Benchmark; this was also included in 2009 on the Folk for M.S. charity album Generosity. He noted:

The Rambling Sailor determines to have a good time on land, a case of Hullo/Goodbye Sailor.

John Tams and Barry Coope sang The Rambling Soldier, with additional lyrics by Tams, ion the 1996 soundtrack album Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Sharpe.

Chipolata 5 played the tune of Rambling Sailor on their 1997 album Skinless.

John Spiers and Jon Boden recorded Rambling Sailor in 2001 on their Fellside CD Through & Through, and with Bellowhead in 2005 on E.P.onymous. Jon also sang it as the 13 July 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted on the original CD:

One of the lesser-known royal appointments. Moralists may take comfort from the fact that the protagonist gets his comeuppance eventually—albeit in a different version of the song (see Trim-Rigged Doxy). This is based on the version sung by Tim Hart.

This is an early Bellowhead performing Rambling Sailor at Celtic Connections in 2005:

Jiig sang The Rambling Sailor in 2005 on their eponymous album Jiig. They noted:

A classic representation of the 18th or 19th century British sailor which places him at some evolutionary distance from the 20th or 21st century sensitive new-age man. Learned by osmosis, mostly from Louis Killen.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Rambling Sailor in 2005 on his and Chris Parkinson's Fledg'ling album The Sultans of Squeeze. They noted:

John learned this from on of the first LPs devoted to traditional English performers, The Roving Journeymen, featuring the singing of the Willett Family, issued by Topic Records in 1962. Unfortunately, the rest of the world was thrashing away at the song at a much faster lick, so this more lollopy version was kept under wraps for the odd forty years or so, until the moment was ripe to unleash it. One of several items in the Sultans' repertoire that unashamedly rejoice in the glorious din made by two Hohner pokerwork melodeons fighting for supremacy.

The Dollymops sang The Rambling Sailor in 2011 on their CD of traditional songs from the Isle of Wight collected by W.H. Long, Long Songs. All songs on this CD are from Long's 1886 book A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect.

Andy Turner sang The Rambling Sailor as the 24 March 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

George Digweed sings The Rambling Soldier

I an a soldier. blithe and gay that rambled for promotion,
I've laid the French and the Spanish low some miles across the ocean.
I travelled England and Ireland too, traversed bonny Scotland through,
I caused some pretty girls to rue I'm a gay and roving soldier.

When I was young and in my prime twelve years I vent recruiting
Through England, Ireland, Scotland too, wherever I was suiting.
With a lady gay and a spendful life and every town a different wife,
Seldom was there any strife with a gay and roving soldier.

At Woolwich town I courted Jane, her sister and her mother,
And in meantime when I was there they was jealous of each other.
Our orders came, we had to start, I left poor Jane with a broken heart,
From Woolwich town we soon did part with a gay young roving soldier.

The queen she has commanded me to range the country over,
From Woolwich down to Liverpool, from Plymouth back to Dover,
In whatever town I went to court all damsels I was bent
And to marry none was my intent but still be a roving soldier.

Now the wars they're at an end, I am not shamed to mention,
The queen has given me my discharge and granted me a pension.
No doubt some lasses will me blame, none of them can tell my name,
But if you want to know my name, 'tis Bill the roving soldier.

Tom Willett sings The Rambling Sailor

I am a sailor stout and bold,
Many times I have ploughed the ocean.
Now I says: “Brother sailors,now I’ll bid you all adieu,
No more to the sea I will go with you.
I’ll travel this country far and near,
Oh, and still be the rambling sailor.”

Oh, and then to a village town I went,
Oh, where I saw lasses plenty.
I boldlye steppèd up to one of them
For to court her for her money.
Now I says; “My girl,oh, what do you choose?
Ale or wine or the rum-punch too,
Oh, besides a fine pair of silken shoes
For to travel with your rambling sailor.”

Oh, it’s when I woke it was in the morn
Then I left my girl a-sleeping.
I left her for an hour or two
While some other girl I went a-courting.
Then if she stays there, oh, ‘til I return,
She might stop there ‘til the day of doom.
I’ll court some other girl in her room
Oh, and still be the rambling sailor.

Then it’s on to a village town I went
Where I saw lasses plenty;
I boldly stepped up to one of them;
For to court her for her beauty;
I says: “My girl, be with all good cheer,;
I’ll leave you not, so you need not fear.;
I will travel the country both far and near;
And still be the rambling sailor.”

Now it’s if you want to know my name,
Oh, my name it is Young Johnson.
I’ve got commission from the King
For to court all girls that’s handsome.
Oh, with my false heart,oh, and flattering tongue
I’ll court them all both old and young.
I’ll court them all and I’ll marry none,
Oh, and still be the rambling sailor.

Tim Hart sings The Rambling SailorBellowhead sing Rambling Sailor

Oh, I am a sailor brisk and bold
That oft have sailed the ocean,
I've travelled the country far and near
For honour and promotion.
My shipmates all, I'll bid you adieu;
I may no longer go along with you.
I'll travel the country through and through
And they call me the rambling sailor.

I am a sailor brisk and bold
Long time I've sailed the ocean.
I travelled the country through and through
For honour and promotion.
Oh, my shipmates all, I'll bid you adieu;
I may no longer go along with you.
I'll travel the country through and through
And I'll be the rambling sailor.

And if you want to know my name,
My name it is Young Johnson.
I've got a commission from the King
To court all girls as handsome.
With my false heart and flattering tongue
I'll court them all both old and young;
I'll court them all but I marry none
And they call me the rambling sailor.

And if you want to know my name,
My name it is Young Johnson.
I've got a commission from the King
To court all girls as handsome.
With my false heart and flattering tongue
I'll court them all both old and young;
I'll court them all but I marry none
And I'll be the rambling sailor.

Well first I come to Plymouth town
And there were lasses many.
I boldly stepped unto a one
To court her for her money.
Says I, “My dear, be of good cheer,
I will not leave you, do not fear.
I'll travel the country far and near
And they call me the rambling sailor.”

Well first I came to Portsmouth town
And there were lasses many.
I boldly stepped unto one
To court her for her money.
I says, “My gal, be of good cheer,
I will not leave you, do not fear.
I'll travel the country far and near
And I'll be the rambling sailor.”

And next I come to Portsmouth town
And there were lasses plenty.
I boldly stepped unto a one
To court her for her beauty.
Says I, “My dear, what do you choose
Here's ale and a wine and a rum punch too.
Besides a pair of silks I ensure
If you travel with the rambling sailor.”

And then I come to Plymouth town
And there were lasses many.
I boldly stepped unto one
To court her for her beauty.
I says, “My gal, what do you choose?
Here's ale and a wine and a rum punch too.
Besides a pair of silks I ensure
If you travel with the rambling sailor.”

And then I rose up with the dawn
Just as the day was peeping.
On tiptoe down the stairs I went
And I left my love a-sleeping.
And if she waits until I come
She may lie there till the day of her doom;
I'll court some other girl in their room
And they call me the rambling sailor.

And then I rose up with the dawn
Just as the day was peeping.
On tiptoe down the stairs I went
And I left my love a-sleeping.
And if she waits until I come
She may lie there till the day of her doom;
I'll court some other girl in their room
And I'll be the rambling sailor.

Tundra sang The Rambling Sailor

I am a sailor stout and bold
Long time I’ve ploughed the ocean
To fight for my King and country too
For honour and promotion
I said brother sailors I’ll bid you adieu
I’ll go no more to the seas with you
But I will travel the country through
And still be a rambling sailor

When I came to Greenwich town
There were lasses plenty
I boldly stepped up to one
To court her for her beauty
I said my dear be of good cheer
I will not leave you need not fear
I’ll travel the country through and through
And still be a rambling sailor

When I came to Woolwich town
There were lasses plenty
I boldly stepped up to one
To court her for her money
I said my dear what do you choose
There is ale and wine and rumpunch too
Besides a pair of new silk shoes
To travel with a rambling sailor

In Greenwich town I courted Jane
Her sister and her mother
I left her for an hour or two
Whilst I go court some other
But if she stays till I return
She may stay there till the day of doom
I’ll court some other girl in her room
And still be a rambling sailor

And if you want to know my name
My name it is young Johnson
I have got a commission from the King
To court all girls that are handsome
With my false heart and flattering tongue
I’ll court the girls both old and young
Will court them all and marry none
And still be a rambling sailor

John Tams and Barry Coope sing The Rambling Soldier

I am a soldier I shall say
That rambles for promotion,
I’ve laid the French and Spaniards low
Some miles across the ocean.
But now my jolly boys, I bid you all adieu,
No more to the wars will I go with you.
But I’ll ramble this country through and through
And I'll be a rambling soldier.

The King he has commanded me
To range this country over,
From Warwick up to Liverpool,
From Plymouth back to Dover.
A-courting all the girls
Both old and young
With my ramrod in my hand
And my flattery tongue.
To court them all but marry none
And I'll be a rambling soldier.

And when these wars are at an end
I’m not afraid to mention,
The King will give me my discharge,
A guinea and a pension.
No doubt some lasses will me blame
But none of them will know my name.
And if you want to know the same
It's — the rambling soldier.

Acknowledgements

Garry Gillard transcribed Martin Carthy's singing, with thanks to Wolfgang Hell and Neil Spurgeon.