> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Maggie May
> Cyril Tawney > Songs > Maggie May

Maggie May

[ Roud 1757 ; Ballad Index FaE030 ; Wiltshire 374 ; Mudcat 61609 ; trad.]

Geoff Ling used to sing Maggie May at The Ship Inn in Blaxhall. A recording made by Peter Kennedy on 10 October 1953 was included in 2014 on the Topic anthology The Barley Mow (The Voice of the People Series Volume 26). A Keith Summers recording from 1972 was included in 2007 on the Musical Tradition anthology of Keith Summers recordings, A Story to Tell. Another third recording made by Adam Skeaping on 16 November 1973 was released a year later on the Transatlantic album The Larks They Sang Melodious: Sing-Song in a Suffolk Pub.

A.L. Lloyd sang Maggie May in 1956 on the Riverside album English Drinking Songs, which was reissued on CD on the Topic label in 1998. He commented in the liner notes:

This is perhaps the last fling of sailor balladry. It is a song that has found its way into every ship but none of the songbooks. The hardbitten text, with its reference to Botany Bay transportation, is older than the melody, which is the familiar 19th century tear-jerker, Darling Nellie Gray, a melody well suited to singing when hearts are suddenly maudlin and beer mugs momentarily empty.

Stan Kelly sang Maggie May in 1958 on his Topic EP Liverpool Packet: Songs of the Great Seaport. This track was also included in 1971 on the anthology Sea Songs and Shanties (Topic Sampler No 7) and in 1984 on the French anthology Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais.

Bob Roberts sang Maggie May on a recording made by Peter Kennedy which was published in 1960 on the HMV anthology, A Pinch of Salt: British Sea Songs Old and New and in 1994 on the Saydisc CD Sea Songs and Shanties: Traditional English Sea Songs and Shanties From the Last Days of Sail.

Stan Walters of Stanstead, Essex, sang Maggie May, recorded by Sam Richards and Tish Stubb in between 1974 and 1980, on the 1981 Folkways album An English Folk Music Anthology.

Cyril Tawney sang Maggie May on his 1990 cassette, Sailor’s Delight: Songs of Seafarers and the Fairer Sex.

Hughie Jones sang Maggie May in 1999 on his Fellside CD Seascape.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Maggie May in 2000 on their CD Across the Western Ocean: Songs of the North Atlantic Sailing Packets. They noted:

Often referred to as Liverpool’s unofficial national anthem, this rollicking song must be known to every Liverpudlian who recognises the phrase “folk music” (a fragment of it was, after all, recorded by the Beatles). Those familiar with the song maintain adamantly that there exist a number of obscene verses which serve to fill out the missing episodes of the tale; unfortunately, none of them actually know these apocryphal lyrics. The piece is much rarer in print than in oral tradition. [Stan] Hugill expresses surprise that it is not mentioned by other collectors, but redresses the imbalance somewhat by including several sets himself.

The Exmouth Shanty Man sang Maggie May in 2022 on their WildGoose album Tall Ships and Tavern Tales. They noted:

There is much debate about the origins of this well known song, which was used as a shanty. It bears a resemblance to the music hall song Darling Nelly Gray—but which was a parody of which?


Geoff Ling sings Maggie May

Now come all you soldiers bold, come listen to my plea
When you’ve heard my tale, you’ll pity me.
For I was a darned damn fool at the port of Liverpool
The first time that I came home on leave.

I was paid out at the hold with the boys of Merrybold
Three-pound-ten a week was all my pay.
When she mingled with my tin I was very much taken in
By a little girl whose name was Maggie May.

Too well do I remember when I first met Maggie May
She was cruising up and down old Canning Town.
Oh she wore her clothes divine, like a figure on the line
So I being a soldier I gave chase.

In the morning I awoke with my heart all sore and broke
No trousers, jacket, waistcoat could I find.
When I asked her where they were, she said to me, “Kind sir,
They’re down in Stanley’s pawnshop, number nine.”

To the pawnshop I did go no trousers, jacket, waistcoat could I find
And a policeman came and took that girl away.
Oh she robbed so many a sailor and many a Yankee whaler
She won’t waltz down Lime Street anymore.

Oh Maggie, Maggie May, they have taken her away
To slave like a nigger in the corner of Berkley Square.
The judge he guilty found her for robbing a homeward bounder
And he paid her passage back to Monte Bay.

A.L. Lloyd sings Maggie May

Now come all you young sailors and listen to my plea
And when you’ve heard my tale you’ll pity me.
For I was a goddamn fool in the port of Liverpool,
The very first time I came home from sea.

Now I’ve paid off at the Home, from the port of Sierra Leone;
Three-pound-ten a month it was my pay.
But I wasted all my tin whilst drinking up the gin
With a little girl whose name was Maggie May.

Now well do I remember where I first met Maggie May,
She was cruising up and down in Canning Place,
She was dressed up mighty fine, like a frigate of the line,
So being a ranting sailor I gave chase.

I kept right on her track, she went on the other tack,
But I caught her and I broke her mizzen line.
Next morning I awoke with a head more bent and broke,
No coat, no vest, no trousers could I find.

I asked her where they were, she said, “My good kind sir,
They’re down at Park Lane pawn shop number nine.
Now, you’ve had your cake and bun, and it’s time for you to run
Or you’ll never make the dockside, lad, in time.”

To the pawnshop I did go, but no trousers could I find,
And the police came and took that girl away.
And the judge he found her guilty of robbing a homeward-bounder;
So now she’s doing time in Botany Bay.

Oh Maggie, Maggie May, they’ve taken you away,
Never more to roam alone down Canning Place
For you robbed too many whalers, and you poxed too many sailors
Now you’ll never see old Lime Street anymore.