> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Derby Ram
> The Watersons > Songs > The Derby Ram / The Yorkshire Tup
> Shirley Collins > Songs > The Ram of Derbish Town

The Derby Ram / The Ram of Derbish Town / The Yorkshire Tup

[ Roud 126 ; G/D 3:645 ; TYG 59 ; AFS 28 ; Ballad Index R106 ; Bodleian Roud 126 ; Wiltshire Roud 126 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd recorded The Derby Ram in the 1950's on the LPs English Drinking Songs and The Banks of the Condamine and Other Bush Songs. Like all tracks of the latter album this was reissued in 1960 on the Topic LP Outback Ballads. It was also included in 1994 on the Australian CD The Old Bush Songs. Lloyd sang The Derby Ram also in 1957 with singers from the Princess Louise Folksong Club in the live Christmas Day broadcast on BBC Radio, Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year.

Lloyd commented in the first album's liner notes:

Here are a pack of lies and a cloud of marvels to beat any; a song as tough and as indestructible as the hoary old tup that it celebrates. Back in ancient days, when animals were worshipped on hill-tops, they sang the ballad of the wonderful ram. Black faced guisers going the rounds of Midland villages at midwinter, with a man in a sheepskin, sang this outside the cottages for “luck”. Nowadays, trainloads of British soldiers coming home on leave may be heard bawling their unbuttoned version to the flying countryside. When the beer has a good head, the potent old Derby Ram is never far away. Some say that he represents the Devil himself.

… and added an Australian favour in the notes of his album The Old Bush Songs:

This hoary old rogue of a song used to be sung in the English Midlands when village youths banded together and went from house to house at midwinter, with one of their gang dressed in a sheepskin to represent the old Tup. The Tup, so the story went, had the power to confer or withhold good luck for the coming year. Notable, he was supposed to give beasts and humans encouragement to breed. If you gave the gang money, you were set for the year; if you refused you were in for a thin time. Some say The Derby Ram is a distinct relative of the Greek god Pan. Others say he represents the Devil himself. Whatever the case, he is remembered with gusto by students, soldiers, shearers and such like bachelors. I have heard of Queenslanders who think it should be called The Dalby Ram, but they're a minority. The song has many sets of words, not all fit for recording. Likewise it has many tunes. This is the best I know.

Mike Waterson sang The Derby Ram in 1965 on the Watersons' first album, Frost and Fire. It is also on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Once, gods were worshipped in the form of animals (Christians still sing Glory to the Lamb). To this day wherever the luck-visit custom survives, a man in animal guise, as a horse, deer, goat, may accompany the carollers. In the English Midlands the great totem beast was the tup, the ram, of huge capacities and dauntless potency. As belief in his magic faded, his ceremony became mere horse-play (is the term not apt? it has its ritual undertone) and his song a burlesque. Yet like the mighty beast himself, the song proved hard to kill. Michael Waterson sings the solo.

Bob Hudson notes:

According to scholar Roy Palmer, this song, No. 145 in his collection, was usually sung on New Year's Eve and “was already commonplace by 1739, when the vicar of St. Allemund's Church, Derby, wrote at the end of a letter to his son, ‘And thus I conclude this long story; almost as long a tale as that of the Derby Ram,’” Everyman's Book of English Country Songs, p. 237.

A year later, Mike Waterson sang the related The Yorkshire Tup on the Watersons' 1966 album A Yorkshire Garland . It was also included in 1999 on the CD reissue of Mike Waterson's album Mike Waterson. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

The Midlands and South Yorkshire comprised the most intense area for the survival of the old mid winter ram-ritual, but other districts further north knew the custom too. Originally the central rite consisted of a singing dancing procession of young heroes accompanying a figure representing the life-giving, seed-proliferating god who was personified by a sacred animal, often a goat or a ram. In the course of time, the holiness faded but the jollification remained. The ram procession became a boisterous means of raising beer-money. The version of the song here was recorded from Jackie Beresford of Buckden, a barman who plays accordion for the village barn dances. He comes from a line of country musicians and his family is mentioned in the Tour of the Dales song. The tune to this version of the Tup, and its chorus, derive from the old whaling song Blow ye Winds in the Morning.

Compare to this song The Derby Tup by John Kirkpatrick et al. on the 1998 Fellside CD Wassail! A Traditional Celebration of an English Midwinter.

Brian Peters sang The Derby Ram in 2001 on his CD Lines. He noted:

My version of The Derby Ram turned up in Roll and Go, a book on American sailors' songs I found on my good friend Jeff Davis's bookshelves. The concept of a maritime rewrite for what was once a ritual song from my home county was too surreal to be resisted.

This video shows Brian Peters at the National Folk Festival, Canberra, 2016:

Shirley Collins sang a somewhat different version with the title The Ram of Derbish Town on her 1974 Topic album, Adieu to Old England. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

An unfamiliar tune to this variant of The Derby Ram. A gypsy woman, Kathleen Gentle, sang this on a BBC Archive disc to a chorus of banging doors, restless children and crowing cocks. Shirley Collins fattened out her version with some floating verses, and asked the Suffolk group Bird Lane to help her along in the studio.

Nick Wyke & Becki Driscoll sang The Exmoor Ram in 2014 on their WildGoose CD A Handful of Sky. They commented in their liner notes:

The Exmoor version of this well known song was collected by Paul Wilson from Wren Music in the 1970s. A jolly sing-alongy chorus song to end the album!

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Derby Ram on English Drinking Songs

As I was going to Derby all on a market day,
I met the biggest ram, my boys, that ever was fed on hay.

Chorus (after each verse but the last):
And indeed, my lads, it's true, my lads, I never was known to lie,
And if you'd been in Derby, you'd seen him the same as I.

He had four feet to walk upon, he had four feet to stand,
And every foot that he sat down, it covered an acre of land.

The horns that grew on this ram's head, they grew so very long,
And every time he shook his head they rattled against the sun.

The wool on this ram's back, my boys, it grew so very high,
The eagles came and built their nests and I heard the young 'uns cry.

The man that fed this ram, my lads, he fed him twice a day,
And every time he opened his mouth, he swallowed a rick of hay.

This ram he had two horns, my lads, that reached up to the moon,
A little boy went up in January and he didn't get back till June.

Now this old ram, he had a tail that reached right down to hell,
And every time he waggled it he rung the old church bell.

The butcher that stuck this ram, my lads, was up to knees in blood,
And the little boy who held the bowl was carried away by the flood.

Now all the men in Derby came a-begging for his eyes,
To pound up and down the Derby streets for they were of a football's size.

Took all the boys in Derby to carry away his bones,
Took all the girls in Derby to roll away his … that's a lie.

Now the man that fattened this ram, my boys, he must have been very rich,
And the man who sung this song must be a lying son of a …

So now my song is ended, I've nothing more to say,
But give us another pint of beer and we'll all of us go away.

A.L. Lloyd's sings The Derby Ram on The Banks of the Condamine

As I was going to Derby all on a market day,
I met the biggest ram, my boys, that ever was fed on hay.
And indeed, my lads, it's true, my lads, I never was known to lie,
And if you'd been in Derby, you'd seen him the same as I.

The wool on this ram's belly, well, it grew into the ground,
Cut off and sent to the Sydney sales it fetched a thousand pound.
The wool on this ram's back, my boys, grew so very high,
The eagles came and built their nests and I heard the young 'uns cry.

The horns that grew on this ram's head, they reached up to the moon,
A little boy went up in January and he didn't get back till June.
And indeed, my lads, it's true, my lads, I never was known to lie,
And if you'd been in Derby, you'd seen him the same as I.

The man that fed this ram, my boys, he fed him twice a day,
And every time he opened his mouth, he swallowed a bale of lucerne hay.
The man that watered this ram, my boys, watered him twice a day,
And every time he opened his mouth, he drunk the river dry.

Now this old ram, he had a tail that reached right down to hell,
And every time he waggled it he rung the fireman's bell.
And indeed, my lads, it's true, my lads, I never was known to lie,
And if you'd been in Derby, you'd seen him the same as I.

Now the butcher that stuck this ram, my boys, was up to knees in blood,
And the little boy who held the bowl was carried away by the flood.
Took all the boys in Derby to roll away his bones,
Took all the girls in Derby to roll away his stone the crows.

Now the man that fattened this ram, my boys, he must have been very rich,
And the man who sung this song must be a lying son of a … so he is.
Well now my song is ended I've got no more to say,
So give us another pint of beer and we'll all of us go away.

Mike Waterson sings The Derby Ram

As I was going to Derby, all on a market day
I've spied the biggest ram, sir, that ever was fed on hay

Chorus (after each verse):
La lum lay lum people lay lum lay

This tup was fat behind, sir, this tup was fat before
This tup was nine feet round, sir, if not a little more

And the horns upon this tup they grew, well they reached up to the sky
The eagles made their nests within, you could hear the young ones cry

Yes the horns that on this tup they grew, well they reached up to the moon
A little boy went up in January and he never got back till June

And all the men of Derby come begging for his tail
To ring St George's passing bell from the top of Derby Gaol

And all the women of Derby come begging for his ears
To make 'em leather aprons to last 'em forty years

And all the boys of Derby come begging for his eyes
To make themselves some footballs cause they were of football size

Took all the men of Derby to carry away his bones
Took all the women of Derby to roll away his stones

And now my story is over, and I have no more to say
Please give us all a New Year's box and we will go away

Mike Waterson sings The Yorkshire Tup

As I was going to Skipton, 'twas on a market day
I've spied the finest baa lamb that ever was fed on hay

Chorus (after each verse):
(Singing) clear the road this morning
Clear the road I O
Clear the road ye foggy guys
And blow boys blow

This ram he had four feet, sir, four feet on which to stand
And every one of these four feet, why they covered an acre of land

And the horns upon this ram, sir, well they reached up to the sky
And the eagles made their nests atop, you could hear the young 'uns cry

And the man that killed this ram, sir, well he feared for his life
So he sent away to Sheffield to get him a longer knife

Took all the men in Buckden to carry away his bones
Took all the women in Grassington to roll away his stones

Shirley Collins sings The Ram of Derbish Town

I ever you go to our Derbish town upon a midsummer's day,
You'll keep one of the finest rams, sir, that ever was fed upon hay.

He had four feet for to go upon, four feet for to stand upon,
And every foot the ram had would cover an acre of ground.

Chorus:
Oh but he was a thundering tup, a fighting tup was he,
He was one of the rarest rams, sir, that ever was fed upon hay.

The tail that grew on this ram, sir, it grew so very long,
They sent it to our Derbish town to ring the old church bell.

The backbone of this ram made the main mast of a ship,
And that did carry the finest sail in all the British fleet.

The wool that grew on its side, sir, made fifty packs complete,
And it was sent to Rutherford to cloth the Emperor's feet.

(Chorus)

All the old women of Derbish town came begging for his ears,
To make them leather aprons to last them forty years.

And all the old women of Derbish town came begging for his bones,
To suck the marrow out of them to nourish their old bones.

All the lads in Derbish town came begging for his leather(?),
To punch up and down on Derbish streets since there the punching heather(?).

(Chorus)

The man that killed the ram, sir, he was up to his knees in blood,
But the poor boy that held the basin, he was carried away in the flood.

(Chorus)

But the man that made this song, sir, was a bigger liar than me.

Acknowledgements

The Watersons' lyrics transcribed by Garry Gillard. A.L. Lloyd's Outback Ballads lyrics copied from Mark Gregory's Australian Folk Songs.