> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Ride in the Creel
> Eliza Carthy > Songs > The Keek in the Creel

The Ride in the Creel / The Keek in the Creel / The Wee Toun Clerk

[ Roud 120 ; Child 281 ; G/D 2:317 ; Henry H201 ; Ballad Index C281 ; Bodleian Roud 120 ; trad.]

Michael Gallagher of Beleek, Co. Fermanagh sang The Keach in the Creel to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle on 20 July 1953. This BBC recording was included on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

Jimmy McBeath of Elgin, Banffshire, sang The Keach in the Creel in a Hamish Henderson recording on the anthology The Muckle Sangs (Scottish Tradition Volume 5; Tangent 1975; Greentrax 1992).

Ewan MacColl sang The Keach in the Creel in 1951 on Topic's 78 rpm record TRC46. This track was also included in 1954 on Topic's first 12" album. He recorded it again in 1956 for his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume II. Like most of his tracks from this series it was reissued in 2009 on his Topic anthology Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the Riverside album's booklet:

This delightful piece of ribaldry deserves to be better known. It is a recent ballad when compared to the antiquity of some of Child's ballads, and does not appear to have been known in Britain before the first half of the 19th century. The ballad tale, however, is considerably older and was the subject to various 13th and 14th century fabliaux.

It was known in England in the last half of the 19th century, but has not been reported there from tradition in this century. In Scotland, it has continued to be popular, and Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs] reported twelve texts collected in the first quarter of the 20th century. Extremely rare in the United Stated, only a single complete text has been collected (in the Catskill Mountains of New York State). MacColl's version was learned from the singing of Jimmy McBeath of Elgin.

Ewan MacColl also sang The Keach in the Creel in 1961 on his Folkways album Bothy Ballads of Scotland where he noted:

The first printed version of this ballad did not appear until early in the nineteenth century although the theme has been part of European literature since the middle ages. Professor Child concludes his notes on the ballad with a peculiarly prim comment: “No one looks for decorum in pieces of this description but a passage in this ballad, which need not be particularized, is brutal and shameless almost beyond description.”

These are harsh words for a scholar whose stock-in-trade was stories dealing with mayhem in all its forms and it is difficult to imagine what prompted them. It is, of course, possible that Child was shocked by the use of the word ‘keach” on which considerable play is made in the song. Used as a noun the word denotes bustle or fluster, when used as a verb, however, it can mean ‘lift’ or ‘hoi t’ or alternatively it can mean to void excrement.

The ballad is widespread throughout N.E. Scotland and was a favourite in the bothies where it was generally known as The Wee Toon Clerk.

Learned from the singing of Jimmy McBeath of Elgin.

Jean Redpath sang Wee Toon Clerk in 1962 on her Folk-Legacy album Scottish Ballad Book. She noted:

“A thoroughly debased and dingy affair” was one writer's rather prudish dismissal of this delightful piece of ribaldry! The prototype of the story included in Child as The Keach in the Creel appeared in French jest books of the 13th century. Although the ballad form was not discovered in Britain until the 19th century, its great popularity would indicate much greater antiquity. Unreported from oral tradition in England this century, the ballad continues to be widespread throughout Scotland, particularly popular in the North East, where it is generally known under the title used here. Only one complete text has been recovered in the U S.A. (Catskills), yet I find American audiences as susceptible to this situation comedy—almost Chaucerian in its humour—as any in Scotland, despite the language difficulties.

Alec Foster of Belfast sang The Creel to Hugh Shields on 13 October 1968. This recording was included in 1975 on the Leader album Folk Ballads from Donegal and Derry.

Jim Nixon sang The Keach in the Creel at the Crown and Thistle, Rockcliffe, or at the Plough Inn, Wreay, Cumberland, in August to October 1953. This recording was included in 1982 on the Reynard Records album Pass the Jug Round.

Tom Gilfellon sang The Keech i' the Kreel in 1972 on his Trailer album Loving Mad Tom.

Packie Manus Byrne sang The Creel in a recording made by Tony Engle and Mike Yates in London in 1974. It was released in 1977 on his Topic album Songs of a Donegal Man. Mike Yates commented in the sleeve notes:

The Keach in the Creel, to use its full title, was known in 14th-century France as Du Chevalier à la Corbeille and belongs to that class of balladry so so beloved by Boccaccio and Chaucer. Sadly, Professor Child couldn’t see the joke. “No one looks for decorum in pieces of this description”, he wrote, adding that “a passage … is brutal and shameless almost beyond example.” In Scotland the tale is known as The Wee Toon Clerk and during the last 20 or so years the School of Scottish Studies have collected several good versions. The ballad was no doubt taken to Northern Ireland by Scottish settlers, and a version from County Fermanagh appears in the album The Child Ballads 2. Packie had his version from Jim Doody, a farm labourer who worked around Corkermore some 40 years ago.

Martin Carthy sang The Ride in the Creel on his and Dave Swarbrick's 1992 album Skin and Bone. They also played this as The Keesh and the Creel on their 1992 video 100 Not Out. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Francis James Child wrote in his notes to The Ride in the Creel, “no-one looks for decorum in pieces of this sort, but a passage in this ballad, which need not be particularised, is brutal and shameless almost beyond example.” He didn't relish the prospect of nosy parents being treated with such a lack of respect. Noses put well out of joint—and a few other things beside.

The Keek in the Creel is also on Eliza Carthy & Nancy Kerr's 1995 album Shape of Scape and on their 2002 compilation On Reflection. Eliza Carthy commented in their sleeve notes:

The Keek (or Ride) in the Creel comes from the delicious Packie Manus Byrne and the almost as delicious Paul Brady.

Duncan Williamson of Ladybank, Fife, sang The Creel in a recording made by Mike Yates in 2001. Yates included it in 2006 in his EFDSS book and CD of songs of English and Scottish travellers and gypsies, Traveller's Joy.

Jon Loomes sang The Ride in the Creel in 2005 on his Fellside CD Fearful Symmetry. Later he joined Pilgrims' Way who recorded this song with Lucy Ward singing for their 2016 Fellside CD Red Diesel. Loomes recommended in his album's notes:

Here we observe the correct method for obtaining access to the charming Natalie who lives with her doting but insomniac parents. Rope, a ladder and some sort of basket may be easily obtained from any hardware store or fetish shop. In the event of a emergency, get an accomplice to frighten the living daylights out of the strumpet's fragile old mother.

and in Pilgrims' Way's notes:

A Playford tune [Mount Hills] dovetails with a story of parents, sex, and window cleaning equipment, in an eerie foreshadowing of 1970s British erotica.

Gordeanna McCulloch sang The Wee Toun Clerk at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2007. This recording was included a year later on the festival anthology Nick-Knack on the Waa (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 4).

This old ballad is still to be found in the repertoire of Scottish traditional singers and was a favourite in the bothies. Gordeanna has had the song since her early days with The Clutha. The first printed version did not appear until early in the nineteenth century although the theme has been part of European literature since the middle ages. It is included in Francis J Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads under the title The Keach in the Creel.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings The Keach in the Creel

O, a fair young maid went up the street
Some fresh fish for to buy
And a bonnie clerk's fall'n in love wi' her
And followed her by and by,

Chorus (after each verse):
Ricky doo dum da, doo dum da,
Ricky dicky doo dum day.

“O whaur live ye, my bonnie lass,
I pray ye tell to me?
And though the nicht were never sae mirk
I would try and win in to thee.”

“My Faither he aye locks the door
And my mither keeps the key.
And though the nicht were never sae mirk,
Ye could na win in tae me.”

Now the clerk he had a true brother
And a wily wicht was he,
And he has made a lang ladder
Wi' thirty steps and three.

He has made a pin but and a creel,
A creel but and a pin,
And he has gane to the chimley-top
To let'n the bonnie clerk in.

Now, the old wife she lay wide awake
Though late, late was the hour,
“ I'll lay my life,” quo' the silly old wife,
“There's a man in our dochter's bower.”

The old man he gat oot o' the bed
To see gin the thing was true,
She's ta'en the bonnie clerk in her airms
And covered him ower wi' blue.

“What are ye daeing, my ain dochter,
What are ye daeing, my doo?”
“I'm praying on the muckle book
For my silly old mammie and you.”

“Pray on, pray on, my ain dochter,
And see that ye dae it richt,
For atween you and your auld mither
I hanna aince gotten my rest.”

“O, wife, O wife, ye silly old wife,
An ill deith may ye dee.
She's gotten the muckle book in her airms
And she's praying for you and me.”

The old wife she lay wide awake,
No' anither word was said,
“I'l l lay my life,” said the silly old wife,
“There's a man in our dochter's bed.”

“Get up, get up, my old guid man,
And see if the thing be true.”
“Get up yoursel', you silly old wife,
I'll no be fashed wi' you.

“Get up yoursel', you silly old wife
And may the deil tak' ye,
For atween you and your ae dochter,
I hanna aince blinkit an ee.”

The old wife she gat ower the bed
To see gin the thing be true,
But she slippit her foot and fell into the creel
And up the tow he drew.

The man that was at the chimley-top,
Finding the creel was fu',
He wrappit the rope his shouther roond
And up the tow he drew.

“O help me noo, my auld good man,
O help me noo, my doo.
For he that ye wished me wi' this nicht,
I fear he's gotten me noo.”

“Gin he has got ye, I wish he may haud ye,
I wish he may haud ye fast,
For atween you and your ae dochter,
1 hanna aince gotten my rest.”

O, hey the blue and the bonnie bonnie blue,
And I wish the blue richt weel,
And for ilka old wife that wakes at nicht,
May she get a guid keach in the creel!

Martin Carthy sings The Ride in the Creel

Young girl's down to the market,
Fresh fish for to buy;
Her young squire he followed her down
That night with her be nigh,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

“Oh how can I get in your chamber love?
Tell me how could I get in your bed?
When your father he locks your door at night
The keys lie under his head.”
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus:
Tum lum lay rigadoo-a-diddle-day
Tolly-rigadoo te-dum-day

“Go get you a ladder thirty foot,
Thirty foot and three,
And you climb up to the chimney top
Come down in the creel to me.”
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Now this young fellow he had two brothers,
Brothers bold were they,
And the three of them got them a long long ladder,
It was thirty foot and three,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Yes they got them a ladder was thirty foot,
It was thirty foot and three,
And the three of them climbed to the chimney top
And down in the creel came he,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus

Now the old couple woke in the middle of the night
With something that was said,
“Oh I swear to my life,” says the old, old wife,
“There's a man in my daughter's bed.”
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

So the old fellow rose in the middle of the night
For to see if it was true,
And she grabbed her darling round his neck
And under the cover he flew,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

“Oh what do you do my daughter dear?
Oh daughter tell me do.”
“Oh I'm here with a bible in my hand,
I'm praying for just you two.”
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus

No sleep, no sleep could the old couple get
For the thoughts that run in their head,
“Oh I swear to my life,” says the old old wife,
“There's a man in my daughter's bed.”
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

”Oh get up get up you silly old fool,
Go and see if it be true!”
“You're a fool yourself, you can get up yourself
And the devil may go with you!”
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus

So the two of them rose in the middle of the night
And up to the roof went they,
But they tripped up on the chimney pot
And into the creel fell they,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus

Now the boys they were up at the chimney top
And they thought the creel was full,
So they put their shoulders to the rope
And up the creel they drew,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus

“Oh help help husband dear,
Oh husband help me do!
For the devil that you have wished me to
I fear he's got me now.”
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

And then they rocked them up and they rocked them down,
They give them the good down-haul,
Till every bone in their two sides
Went tolly-rigadoo down the hall,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus

Oh the broom the bonny broom
And may the broom do well,
And may every old couple who do do so
Go rock in the creel to hell,
Rigadoo, tum lum lay rigadoo

Chorus

Gordeanna McCulloch sings The Wee Toun Clerk

As Maisry she gaed up the street,
The white fish for tae buy;
The wee toun clerk he heard of it,
An he's followed her on the fly.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Ellie ellie ridum, didum daddie,
Ellie ellie ridum dee;
O ellie ellie ridum, didum daddie
Fal the ral the diddle I dee.

Says he, “I'm bound for Glesga toun,
And it's hoping ye'll gyang wi me;
I'll meet ye the nicht by the licht o the moon,
An syne we'll mairrit be.”

Says she, “Ma faither locks the door,
An ma mither keeps the key;
An gin there were e'er sae willin a lass,
I couldna win oot tae ye.”

But says he, “I'll mak a ladder lang,
An a creel o basketry;
An wi a rope fae the chimley top,
I'll lower the creel tae ye.”

Noo the auld wife couldna sleep that nicht,
Though late it was the oor;
“I'll lay ma life,” quo the silly auld wife,
“There's a man in oor dochter's bower.”

Sae the auld wife she gaed oot o the bed,
Tae speir for her ain sel;
But fit a lark when she trippit on the rope,
And intae the creel she fell.

Noo the wee toun clerk at the chimley top,
When he fund that the creel wis fu;
He's wrapped the rope his elbow roun,
And fast the tow he drew.

He's heist her up an he's drapped her doun,
An he's let the creel doun fa;
Till ilka rib in the auld wife's back,
Played nick-knack on the waa.

Last chorus:
Played nick-knack, nick-knack on the waa,
An it served the job richt weel
May ilka silly speirin auldwife,
Be rockit in the same auld creel.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.