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Riding Down to Portsmouth

[ Roud 1534 ; Ballad Index RcRdDTPo ; Bodleian Roud 1534 ; trad.]

Tom Willett sang Riding Down to Portsmouth in 1962 at the age of 84 on the Willett Family's album The Roving Journeymen. This recording was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean (The Voice of the People Volume 2). The original album's booklet commented:

Apparently not collected previously, this song tells of the sailor who falls foul of a woman, and is wiser for the experience.

Although the present writers can trace no published versions of this song, its theme is , of course, a common one (See e.g. Ratcliffe HighwayPenguin Book of English Folk Songs). It is reported that a correspondent sent a version called Riding Down to Pochemar to Cecil Sharp, but the manuscript is now missing.

The tune, a major one, is sung in a very vagarious manner. The vagaries are consistent, however, and are clearly not the product of tentative semi-improvisations as they might at first seem.

Mary Ann Haynes of Brighton sang Riding Down to Portsmouth in a recording made by Mike Yates in 1972-1975. This was published in 1975 on the Topic anthology Sussex Harvest: A Collection of Traditional Songs from Sussex, and in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology Here's Luck to a Man: Gypsy Songs and Music from South-East England. Rod Stradling commented in the album's booklet:

Cecil Sharp, Percy Grainger and Ralph Vaughan Williams collected versions of this song during the early days of the 20th century. The only known broadside is a Victorian sheet, without printer's imprint, in the Harris Library collection in Preston.

June Tabor sang Riding Down to Portsmouth unaccompanied in 1980 on her and Martin Simpson's LP A Cut Above. She also sang it in a BBC Radio John Peel session that was recorded on July 11, 1977 and first broadcast on July 19, 1977. This version has never been released commercially.

John Kirkpatrick sang Riding Down to Portsmouth on Brass Monkey's 1986 album See How It Runs. This LP was re-released in 1993 as second half of the CD The Complete Brass Monkey. The original album's sleeve notes commented:

Based on Tom Willett's performance on the much-loved LP of the Willett Family's songs, The Roving Journeymen. Words supplemented from other versions.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Riding Down to Portsmouth in 1998 on their CD Heartoutbursts: English Folksongs collected by Percy Grainger.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Riding Down to Portsmouth in 2005 on their album Triple Echo: Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth and Percy Grainger.

Andy Turner learned Riding Down to Portsmouth from the singing of Tom Willett and sang it on August 25, 2011 as the first entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Matt Quinn learned Canadee-I-O from the singing of Mary Ann Haynes and recorded it for his 2017 CD The Brighton Line. He commented:

As much as I enjoy lengthy ballads, there's something pleasing about getting the entire story over in three verses.

Lyrics

Tom Willett sings Riding Down to Portsmouth

Now as I was a-riding along in the heighth* of my glory,
Now as I was riding along, you shall hear of my story.
Then I fell in love with a fair pretty maid
And I asked her if she'd go along with me
Some pleasure and some pastimes to see.
We're a-riding down to Portsmouth.

“Now sailor, if I go along with you, then it's I must be carried,
Now sailor. if I go along with you, then it's I must be married.”
Then she slept all in my arms all that night
And she gave me what was ten time worse;
She left me all the reckonings to pay.
We're a-riding down to Portsmouth.

”Oh landlord, tell me what there is to lay, for I might be missing,
Oh landlord, tell me what there is to lay, for I might be a-jogging.
For she's robbed me of my gold watch and purse
And she gave me what was ten time worse,
Now landlord don't you think I'm under a curse?”
We're a-riding down to Portsmouth.

Saying, “Damn me,” to myself, “now I've paid for my kissing.”
Saying, “Damn me,” to myself, “now I've paid for my learning,
Now my horse I shall leave you in pawn
And I be you through the wars I'll return.
And all gallus** girls I will shun
And I'll ride no more to Portsmouth.”

* heighth = dialect form of height;
** gallus = cursed, mischievous

Mary Ann Haynes sings Riding Down to Portsmouth

As I was a-riding along in the height of my glory.
As I was a-riding along shall I tell you of my story?
Oh, I met in love with a fair, pretty maid,
And I asked her if she'd come along with me
To see some pleasures and some fine company.
'Cause I'm on my way, oh, to Portsmouth.

[She says] “Young man if I comes along with you; I must be married.”
[She says] “Young man if I comes along with you; I must be carried.”
She laid all night all in the farmer's barn
And she robbed me of my gold watch and purse,
But she give to me ten times what it was worth.
I was on me way to Portsmouth.

I said, “Damn, oh damn, oh damn,” all to myself; “ain't I paid for my learnings?”
I said, “Damn, oh damn, oh damn,” all to myself; “and I paid for my teachings?”
Now my old horse, I will leave it right in pawn,
And back into the sea I mean to return.
Oh, don't you think I lays underneath a curse?
Now I'm on my way, oh, to Portsmouth.

June Tabor sings Riding Down to Portsmouth

As I was a-riding along in the height of my glory,
As I was a-riding along shall I tell you my story:
Oh I fell in love with a fair pretty maid
And I asked her for to come along with me
To see some pleasures and some fine company,
Oh, as we was on the way up to Portsmouth.

She said, “Young man, if I come along with you, oh, it's I must be carried,”
She said, “Young man, if I come along with you, oh, it's I must be married.”
Oh we lay all night in the farmer's barn
And she robbed me of my gold watch and my purse,
And she gave to me ten times what it was worth
Oh, as I was on my way up to Portsmouth.

I says, “Damn, oh damn it,” to myself, “and I paid for my learnin',”
I says, “Damn, oh damn it,” to myself, “and I paid for my teachings.”
Now my old horse I must put him right in pawn
And it's back unto the sea I must return.
Oh, don't you think I laid all underneath a curse
Oh, as I was on my way up to Portsmouth.

Brass Monkey sing Riding Down to Portsmouth

Oh, as I was a-riding along in the height of my glory,
Oh, as I was a-riding along come hear my sad story.
A fair and handsome maiden I did see
And I asked her if she d come along with me
Some pleasure and some pastime to see
As we're riding down to Portsmouth

“Oh, sailor, if I come along with you, oh, it's I must be carried,
Oh, sailor, if I come along with you, oh, it's I must be married.”
So it's off we went together straightway
And she rolled all in my arms until next day,
But she left me all the reckonings to pay
As we're riding down to Portsmouth.

Next morning when the lady she awoke, well, she found the sailor snoring,
Next morning, well, the lady up and spoke, “Oh, he'll pay for his whoring.
Well, his money, what he's not spent on wine
Oh, the rest of it, it surely shall be mine
And his gold watch, well, I'll take that too besides
As we're riding down to Portsmouth.”

Saying, “Damn me,” to myself, “oh, the lady's gone missing,”
Saying, “Damn me,” to myself, “oh, I've paid for my kissing.
Well, she's robbed me of my gold watch and purse
And she gave me what was ten times worse,
And don't you think that I'm under a curse?
As we're riding down to Portsmouth.”

“Oh, landlord, tell me what there is to pay, that I might be knowing,
Oh, landlord, tell me what there is to pay, that I might be a-going.
Well, my horse I will leave her all in pawn
Until from the seas I do return,
And all gallus girls I will shun
And I'll ride no more to Portsmouth.”

Acknowledgements

Copied from the See How It Runs LP sleeve notes by Garry Gillard, thanks to Wolfgang Hell. I tried to transcribe June Tabor's version too but it is very hard to understand and probably contains some errors. There is some discussion in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Riding Down to Portsmouth.