> Nic Jones > Songs > Canadee-I-O


[ Roud 309 ; Henry H162 ; Ballad Index HHH162 ; Bodleian Roud 309 ; Wiltshire Roud 309 ; trad. arr. Nic Jones]

The ballad Canadee-I-O was printed in Leach, Folk Ballads & Songs of the Lower Labrador Coast.

Harry Upton of Balcombe, Sussex, sang Canadee-I-O to Peter Kennedy on September 5, 1963. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of songs by Southern English singers, You Never Heard So Sweet (The Voice of the People Volume 21), and the song was included in 1970 in Ken Stubb's book of English folk songs from the Home Counties, The Life of a Man. Another recording made by Mike Yates in 1974 was included in 1975 on the Topic collection of traditional songs from Sussex, Sussex Harvest, and in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from the Mike Yates Collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates commented in the latter's booklet:

Canadee-I-O is something of a hybrid folksong, combining, as it does, two separate motifs; namely the girl who follows her truelove abroad, and the myth of the shipboard Jonah. As in many broadsides, however, there is a happy ending.

According to Frank Kidson, Canadee-I-O is a song which first appeared during the 18th century. In form, it is related to the Scots song Caledonia—versions of which were collected by Gavin Greig—although exactly which song came first is one of those ‘chicken and egg’ questions that so frequently beset folkmusic studies.

Harry Upton recalled singing this song in a Balcombe pub in 1940, and remained puzzled as to how a visiting Canadian soldier could join in a song which he believed to be known only to himself and his father. It could be argued that the Canadian might have more reasonably asked the question, since Harry is the sole English singer named among Roud's 28 instances of the song.

Canadee-I-O is arguably Nic Jones' best known song, recorded in 1980 for his Topic album Penguin Eggs. Bob Dylan recorded it also for his 1992 album, Good as I Been to You, John Wesley Harding for his Nic Jones tribute album, Trad Arr Jones, and Éilís Kennedy recorded Canadee-I-O in 2001 for on her debut CD Time to Sail.

Hannah Sanders sang Canadee-I-O in 2013 on her EP Warning Bells. She commented in her liner notes:

A beautiful traditional ballad, about a cross dressing sailor gal. This is how all good stories should begin! I doff my cap to Nic Jones's version here.

Andy Turner sang Canadee-I-O as the September 6, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

The Outside Track sang Canadee-I-O in 2015 on their CD Light Up the Dark. They commented in their liner notes:

No album from a band with this many x-chromosomes in it would be complete without a story about a feisty girl on a mission. Nor only does she avoid walking the plank, but she arrives at her destination triumphant, ascending from stowaway to Captain's Wife! One of the rarer cases where the song doesn't end in death and destruction!

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

A girl escapes being thrown overboard by the ship's crew when the captain falls in love with her. Well that's one way to thwart death… Harry sang this to Mike Yates in the mid 1970s and he remains one of the [few] English traditional singers from whom it has been collected.


Nic Jones sings Canadee-I-O

It's of a fair and handsome girl, she's all in her tender years:
She fell in love with a sailor boy, it's true that she loved him well,
For to go off to sea with him like she did not know how,
She longed to see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O.

So she bargained with a young sailor boy, it's all for a piece of gold.
Straightway then he led her all down into the hold,
Saying, "I'll dress you up in sailor's clothes, your jacket shall be blue,"
You'll see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O.

Now when the other sailors heard the news, well they fell into a rage
And with all the whole ship's company they were willing to engage,
Saying, "We'll tie her hands and feet me boys, overboard we'll throw her.
She'll never see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O."

Now when the captain he's heard the news, well he too fell in a rage
And with all of his whole ship's company he was willing to engage,
Saying, "She'll stay all in sailor's clothes, her collar shall be blue.
She'll see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O."

Now when they came down to Canada, scarcely 'bout half a year
She's married this bold captain who called her his dear.
She's dressed in silks and satins now, and she cuts a gallant show,
She's the finest of the ladies down Canadee-I-O.

Come you fair and tender girls wheresoever you may be,
I'll have you to follow your own true love, when he goes out on the sea.
For if the sailors prove false to you, well the captain he might prove true,
You see the honour that I have gained by the wearing of the blue.

Digital Tradition version

It's of a gallant lady, just in the prime of youth.
She dearly loved a sailor; in fact, she loved to wed,
And how to get to sea with him the way she did not know,
All for to see this pretty place called Canadee-I-O.

She bargained with a sailor all for a purse of gold,
And straightway he had taken her right down into the hold,
“I'll dress you up in sailor suit; your colours shall be blue
And you soon will see that pretty place, called Canadee-I-O,”

When our mate had heard this, he fell into a rage,
Likewise our ship's company was willing to engage:
“I'll tie your hands and feet, my love, and overboard you'll go,
And you'll never see the pretty place called Canadee-I-O.”

And when the captain heard this: “This thing shall never be,
For if you drown that fair maid, hanged sure you'll be;
I'll take her to my cabin, her colours shall be blue,
And she soon will see that pretty place called Canadee-I-O.”

They had not arrived in Canada more than the space of half a year,
Before the Captain married her, and called her his very dear.
She can dress in silk or satin; she caught a gallant show;
She was one of the fairest ladies in Canadee-I-O.

Come all ye, young ladies, whoever you may be,
To be sure and follow your true love, if ever he goes to sea,
And if your mate, he do prove false, you're captain he'll prove true,
And you'll see the honour I have gained by wearing of the blue


Thanks to Garry Gillard for transcribing Nic Jones' lyrics.