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Johnny Sands

[ Roud 184 ; Master title: Johnny Sands ; Laws Q3 ; G/D 2:319 ; Ballad Index LQ03 ; Bodleian Roud 184 ; GlosTrad Roud 184 ; Wiltshire 153 ; Mudcat 47275 ; trad.]

The Wanton Seed

Bob Copper collected Johnny Sands from a book left by John Johnson (1865-1943) in Fittleworth, Sussex in about 1954: see Chapter Nine, pp. 83-9, of Songs and Southern Breezes for the details and the appendix for the words

Hedy West sang Johnny Sands in 1966 on her Topic album Pretty Saro. She noted:

Johnny Sands and My Good Old Man were first British and then American. Johnny Sands was a stage re-make (c. 1840) by a singer and comedian John Sinclair from the folk ballad called The Wife of Kelso. Both songs here are from the repertory of my great grandmother. [Hedy West's granduncle] Gus had changed the text and the tune of Johnny Sands. I sing Grandma's version.

The Critics Group sang Johnny Sands in 1970 on his on their Italian album Living Folk.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Johnny Sands in 1971 on his eponymous Trailer album Martyn Wyndham-Read.

Martin Carthy sang Johnny Sands live at the St Albans Folk Club, Hertfordshire, in 1973. It was recorded for the BBC and released in 2013 on the digital download album Live in St Albans 1973. Another live performance from the Sunflower Folk Club, Belfast, on 20 October 1978 was published in 2011 on his CD The January Man.

John Kirkpatrick sang Johnny Sands in 1977 on his and Sue Harris' Topic album Shreds and Patches. This track was also included on his Topic anthology A Short History of John Kirkpatrick. The album notes commented:

There are two forms of this song. In the oldest form, the wife has her husband eat marrowbones in the hope of making him blind (She is told that “when he's sucked all the marrow out, he won't see nothing at all”). He professes not to be able to help her when she accidentally falls in the water. In that shape the song circulated for several centuries.

The later form of the song, similar to the one that John sings here, dispenses with the blindness bit. It is probably the work of an American singer-entertainer, John Sinclair, who published it in 1842. So many stage comedians and singing groups took it up that it became extraordinarily current throughout the United States, Britain and Ireland during the remainder of the nineteenth century, and has lingered on in the memory of country singers, alongside the “marrowbones” version. John's version was sung to the blind folk song collector Fred Hamer, by a Shropshire singer named Saunders.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Johnny Sands at a concert live at Holstein's, North Lincoln, Chicago, in November 1982. This track was included on the 2000 CD reissue of their concert album Live at Holsteins!.

Will Noble sang Johnny Sands on his 1992 Veteran Tapes cassette of South West Yorkshire songs, In That Beautiful Dale.

Peter and Barbara Snape sang Johnny Sands in 2019 on their CD All in the Song. Barbara Snape noted:

A broadside printed by Bebbington of Manchester, and a late 19th Century version of The Old Woman of Wexford or Marrowbones. Paul Graney, who collected a wide ranging folk and social archive in Manchester, recalls singing it between the two world wars.


Johnny Sands in Songs and Southern Breezes

Now Betty Miles and Johnny Sands were married hand in hand,
But they lived a most unhappy life, as you will understand.
As you will understand.

He says, My love, I'm tired of life and wish to drown myself.
You silly elf, why don't you then? I've wished it long ago.
I've wished it long ago.

But for fear that I should courage lack and try to save my life,
Pray tie my hands behind my back. I will, replies his wife.
I will, replies his wife.

Now all down the hill this loving bride she runs with all her force,
To push him in - he steps aside and she goes in, of course.
And she goes in of course.

Then splashing, dashing like a fish, Oh save me, Johnny Sands.
I can't my love, though much I'd wish, for you have tied my hands.
For you have tied my hands.

Martin Carthy sings Johnny Sands

Johnny Sands he was a fine young man
And he married a lady gay,
And though she brought him gold and she brought him land
She proved him a terrible plague.
From night till morn she'd curse and moan,
She was full of caprice and whim,
Till he has said he was tired of life
For she was tired of him,
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
For she was tired of him.

Oh says he, “I think I'll drown myself
In the river that runs below.”
She says, “I wish you would you silly old sot,
I've wished it long ago.”
Says he, “I'll stand all on the bank
And you go up the hill,
Then you can come down and push me in.”
She says, “My love, I will,”
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
She says, “My love, I will.”

“Oh but just in case I should lose me courage
And try to save me life
You must tie me hands behind me back.”
“I will,” then says his wife.
So she's tied him fast as fast can be,
And when he's securely bound
Well she goes up to the top of the hill
And she commence to run,
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
And she commence to run.

Down the hill came running his loving bride,
A-rushing with all her force
For to push him in but he jumped aside.
She went in of course
Then splashing, dashing like a fish,
“Come save me Johnny Sands.”
He says, “I would. You surely know I would,
But you have tied me hands,
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
But you have tied me hands.”

John Kirkpatrick sings Johnny Sands

Now there was a man called Johnny Sands
    Who married Betsy Haig;
And though she brought him wealth and land
    She proved a terrible plague,
    She proved a terrible plague.

Says he one day, “ I'll drown myself;
    The river runs below.”
Said she, “Pray do, you silly oaf;
    I wished it long ago,
    I wished it long ago.”

Says he, “Upon the brink I'll stand,
    And you run up the hill
For to push me in with all your might.”
    “Well I will, ” she says, “I will.
    I will, ” she says, “I will.”

“And for fear that I should courage lack
    And try to save my life,
Oh, pray tie my hands behind my back.”
    “Well I will,” replied his wife,
    “I will,” replied his wife.

So she tied them fast as you may think;
    It could not be undone.
And up the hill she went, you know,
    And she prepared to run,
    She prepared to run.

And it's down the hill this lovin' wife,
    She ran with all her force
For to push him in, but he stepped aside
    And she fell in, of course,
    Oh, she fell in, of course.

Oh, splashin', dashin' like a fish,
    “Oh help me, Johnny Sands!”
“Well I can't, my love, for much I wish,
    For you have tied my hands,
    Oh, you have tied my hands.”