04 November 2011

#7 The Girl in Portland Street

There are few chanties in the total repertoire—relatively speaking—that can be connected back to "old" ballads in the English tradition. The majority of chanties were non-narrative and, at best, had clusters of verses that might cohere to a general, common theme, but which were floaters, clichés, non sequiturs...doggerel...even if, with time, some of that doggerel became customary (read, traditional).

This is one chanty, however, that appears to have a funny and unexpected connection to an old ballad. Yet it's not in the lyrics—which merely followed
the "anatomical progression" theme of "A-Rovin'" —but rather in the fact that one should whistle part of the verse.

This pump chanty, to my knowledge, has only been presented by Hugill and one other, FB Harlow. And I have little to add since the time I first uploaded it to YouTube, so I will just quote from those notes:

...Hugill names this "The Girl in Portland Street", while Harlow, who also gives it, just names it after its nonsense refrain, "A Fa-De-Lal-Day." For mostly intuitive reasons, the tune Hugill gives seems kind of off to me (for one, it is in simple meter) and so I chose to use Harlow's (compound meter) tune.
What Hugill does not note is that this seems to be a distant variant modeled on a common ballad theme, one which Child has (his #278) as "The Farmer's Curst Wife." Cazden et.al in their "Folksongs of the Catskills" cite ealier forms of this ballad, which they call "The Devil and the Farmer's Wife" (#137) in its American variants, from as far back as a 1630 broadside. Hugill does say that there was a shoreside variant of the song called "The Devil's Song," which he claims was especially popular amongst tinkers and Travelers!
Hugill was slightly incredulous about the whistled refrain, given by Harlow, but earlier versions (like Child's) customarilly have it, and it's what helped me make the connection. Harlow writes that, since the men kept cracking up at the song, they could hardly manage to pucker up and whistle! The silliness of course also comes in the nonsense refrain, which does vary greatly in its syllables from version to version (though again, this is an identifying feature)...

Ranzo :{

1 comment:

  1. I always liked this one, because of its ballad connections, and its humor, and the way you do it! And I like all of the pictures! Great stuff. And I am so glad to finally be able to comment directly on your Youtubes without having to join YT myself. J.