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Fathom the Bowl

[ Roud 880 ; Master title: Fathom the Bowl ; Ballad Index K268 ; VWML SBG/2/2/40 , SBG/3/1/95 ; Bodleian Roud 880 ; Wiltshire 584 , 791 ; Mudcat 15756 ; trad.]

Everyman's Book of English Country Songs The Wanton Seed The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs The Folk Handbook

The Watersons sang Fathom the Bowl in 1966 on their eponymous album The Watersons. Like all but one tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also reissued in 2003 on The Definitive Collection. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

This rousing and convivial song may be found in the collection of English songs made by William Alexander Barrett and published in 1891. Barrett noted his budget of songs at harvest homes, sheep shearings, ploughing matches and from itinerant ballad-singers (like the ones interviewed by Mayhew and his team of early sociologists in mid-Victorian times) who still lifted up their cracked voices in the city streets.

Alfred Williams collected in the countryside around the Upper Thames in the early part of this century and found Fathom the Bowl sung all the way from Malmesbury to Oxford. His singers usually followed it with a spoken toast, a pithy and familiar bit of folk wisdom:

Here's to the large bee that flies so high!
The small bee gathers the honey,
The poor man he does all the work,
The rich man pockets the money.

Cyril Tawney sang Fathom the Bowl on his 1994 cassette on his Neptune label, Down the Hatch.

Community choirs from the Test Valley sang Fathom the Bowl in 2001 on their WildGoose album Beneath Our Changing Sky. The liner notes commented:

In the 19th century, broadside song sheets, often comprising text only, spread many songs to a wider and increasingly literate rural public. The Labouring Man printed by Henry Such, shortly after the Napoleonic wars, was often set to adaptations of dance tunes, the Morris dance melody here being in that spirit. Fathom the Bowl, often heard with this Irish-based tune, is another example of this genre which was collected in Hampshire.

John C. Reilly sang Fathom the Bowl in 2006 on Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.

Jon Boden learned Fathom the Bowl at Forest School Camps and sang it as the 12 September 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He also sang it on Stick in the Wheel's 2017 anthology of English folk field recordings, From Here.

Andy Turner learned Fathom the Bowl from the Watersons' album. He sang it as the 14 July 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Fathom the Bold was collected by Sabine Baring-Gould from Robert Hard in South Brent, Devon, in October 1888 [VWML SBG/2/2/40, SBG/3/1/95] , which was printed in 2012 in Steve Roud's The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, This video shows the Liberty to Choose Band singing it with Jackie Oates in lead, in July 2017 or earlier:


The Watersons sing Fathom the Bowl

Come all you bold heroes, give an ear to me song;
I will sing in the praise of good brandy and rum:
There's a clear crystal fountain near England shall roll.
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
I'll fathom the bowl, I'll fathom the bowl,
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.

From France we do get brandy, from Jamaica comes rum;
Sweet oranges and apples from Portugal come.
But stout and strong cider are England's control.
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.

My wife she do disturb me when I'm laid at my ease,
For she does as she likes and she says as she please.
My wife she's a devil, she's black as the coal.
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.

My father he do lie in the depths of the sea
With no stone at his head by, what matters for he?
There's a clear crystal fountain near England shall roll.
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.