> John Kirkpatrick > Songs > The Rambling Comber

The Rambling Comber

[ Roud 1473 ; Master title: The Rambling Comber ; Ballad Index PECS013 ; Bodleian Roud 1473 ; Mudcat 25489 ; trad.]

John Kirkpatrick sang The Rambling Comber in 1972 on his Trailer album Jump at the Sun. and in 1998 on Brass Monkey’s third album, Sound and Rumour. He commented on his album:

Collected by Hammond in Dorset and published in the Dorset Volume of Sharp’s Folk Songs of England.

And Martin Carthy commented in the latter album’s notes:

An Acre of Land has the sort of archaic tune, and The Rambling Comber the sort of loping 5/4 tune that was by no means uncommon among country singers at the turn of the century—but not so common now (except with people like us).

Martin Hall sang The Rambling Comber in 1992 on his Fellside cassette Ringing the Changes. He commented:

Once again from [Roy Palmer’s] A Touch on the Times, this tale of an itinerant wool-comber, the envy of the shackled factory worker, who, was in fact doomed by mechanisation to extinction. The unusual 5/4 rhythm first caught my eye, then to find that the song also has a good narrative and tune, made it an obvious choice.

Carolyn Robson sang Rambling Comber on her 1999 album All the Fine Young Men. She noted:

This song from Sussex has a lovely quirky melody and syncopated accents. The tune was collected by Lucy Broadwood. This one’s from Roy Palmer.

Chris Wood sang The Rambling Comber in 1999 on his and Andy Cutting’s CD Knock John.

Steve Tilston performed The Rambling Comber in 2006 on his DVD Guitar Maestros and sang it in 2008 on his CD Ziggurat.

Eddy O’Dwyer sang Rambling Comber in 2012 on his CD Go and ’List for a Sailor.

The Dovetail Trio sang Rambling Comber in 2015 on their CD Wing of Evening. Matt Quinn commented:

This version is one that I learnt from the singing of John Kirkpatrick on the album Sound and Rumour by Brass Monkey. In 5/4, this timing is considered (by many) to be the most ‘natural sounding’ of all time signatures and it certainly works wonders for a lot of songs in the English tradition.


John Kirkpatrick sings The Rambling Comber

You combers all both great and small, come listen to my ditty,
For it is ye and only ye, regard my form with pity.
For I can write, read, dance and fight, ondeed it’s all my honour,
My failing is, oh I love strong beer, for I’m a rambling comber

Now it’s on the tramp I’m forced to stamp, my shoes are all a-tatter
My hose unbound they trail the ground and I seldom wears a garter
I have a coat scarce worth one groat and I sadly want for another
But it’s oh my dear how I love strong beer, oh I’m a rambling comber

Now I have no watch and I have a patch on both sides of my breeches,
My hat is torn and my wig’s all worn and my health is all my riches.
Would that I had some giggling lass my coat all for to border,
With straps and bows oh I would hold those, I would hold them all in order.*

Now a tailor’s bill I seldom fill and I never do take measure,
I make no debt which doth me let in the taking of my pleasure.
Nor ever will till I grow old when I must give it over,
For then old age will me engage for being a rambling comber

So a pitcher boy I’ll now employ while I have cash or credit,
I’ll rant and roar and I’ll call for the score and I’ll pay them when I have it
For this is always on my mind, let me be drunk or sober:
A bowl of punch my thirst to quench and a quart of old October.
For it’s oh my dear how I love strong beer, I am a rambling comber


Cf. the Bodleian Library document with the broadside version: thanks, Malcolm Douglas!

*The printed version is not concerned with "giggling lasses", as JK’s comber apparently is. In the broadside he is more interested in some gay lace:

Would that I had some gay gold lace my clothes for to embroider,
Tis fops and beaux that do wear those, I hold them all in scorn sir.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard.