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Traditional English Folk Songs

A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs Full English - A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs features the amazing talents of Mat Williams who did most of the vocals and also played most of the traditional instruments involved in the recordings, such as Guitar, Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Banjo, Banman, Upright Bass, Piano and many more. Mat invited some fellow folk musicians to share him for this album and add more traditional instruments, such as the Irish Whistle, Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran. Enjoy the music and read along as you listen!


The Raggle Taggle Gypsy

Sound Sample:
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There were three old gypsies came to our hall door
They came brave and boldly-o,
The one sang high and the other sang low
The other sang a raggle taggle gypsy-o.

It was upstairs downstairs the lady went
She put on her suit of leather-o,
There was a cry from around the door
“She’s away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o.”

It was late that night when the Lord came in
Enquiring for his lady-o,
The servant girl she said to the Lord
“She’s away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o.”

“Then saddle for me my milk white steed
For my big horse is not speedy-o,
And I will ride till I seek my bride
She’s away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o.”

Now he rode East, he rode West
He rode North and South also,
Till he came to a wide open plain,
There he spied his lady-o.

“How could you leave your goose featherbed
With your blankets strewn so comely-o?
How could you leave your newly wedded Lord
All for the raggle taggle gypsy-o?”

Words & Music: Traditional,
arranged & performed by Mat Williams

“What care I for my goose featherbed
Wi’ ma blankets strewn so comely-o,
Tonight I lie in a wide upon field
In the arms of a raggle taggle gypsy-o.”

“How could you leave your house and your land?
How could you leave your money-o?
How could you leave your only wedded Lord
All for a raggle taggle gypsy-o?”

“What care I for my house and my land?
What care I for my money-o?
I’d rather have a kiss from the yellow gypsy’s lips
I’m away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o.”

Away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o.

Origin and meaning of The Raggle Taggle Gypsy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that children enjoy singing in a minor key, even if they don’t know that’s what they are doing. In the olden days school assembly had a bible reading, a prayer and a hymn. There was always a little buzz when a favourite was announced and favourites were nearly always in a minor key. “We Three Kings” or “Emmanuel” or, for a real rouser, “Hills of the North Rejoice.”

“The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy” is in the minor but like the hymns, not in the least melancholy. The tune is also user-friendly. It spans little more than an octave, comfortable for the trebles and the growlers both, so nobody gets embarrassed. (Compare it with the U.S.A. anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” which covers such a span that nobody can sing it unless they have a highly trained voice.) The words of “Gypsy” are also child-friendly. Quite apart from the story, they fit the mouth beautifully - just singing “raggle-taggle” is fun.

The story is appealing too. Any running away tale is exciting whether it is Sweet Polly Oliver dressing in her brother’s clothes to join the army or boys running away to sea. (Think what a better time Shakespeare’s “breeches” heroines have than their stay-at-home sisters. Admittedly most of them have no choice in the matter having been exiled or shipwrecked, but the high romance is the same.) And high romance, of course, is just what running away songs are - the wind in your hair as you travel the high road or climb the mast to the crow’s nest. There’s no reality to spoil the illusion. No blisters, no hunger, no freezing cold sleet. Of course not. It is pure wish fulfilment and so is the song we have here. (The lady appears to have some common sense in this version - at least she puts on a suit of leather.)

The reaction of the lord is unusual. Most irate husbands chase after missing wives to avenge the insult by running a sword through the wife’s lover. It was, after all, a question of property and lawful inheritance. The wives of the aristocracy were the brood-mares of England, chosen for their dowry or their pedigree. A wife, aristocratic or not, was her husband’s possession, his chattel and no risk could be taken that any children she had might not be legitimate. The line, the family, the blood, the ownership of the land must continue.

This song is a love story. There is no mention of revenge or punishment. The lord wants his bride back again and his incomprehension is moving. He simply cannot understand why all the things he offers are not enough to tempt her. The song becomes call-and-response as he lists one by one the comforts and riches she leaves behind and one by one she refuses them. Most girls do not have much experience in comparing a goose-feather bed with a cold open field, but that is not the point. The point is old-fashioned high romance and most small girls (always excepting those dressed entirely in pink who want to be princesses when they grow up) would make, in their day-dreams, the same choice as the lady. At least, I hope so. It would be a sad day if they didn’t.

P.S. I pinched the first few words of this commentary from Jane Austen. I hope she wouldn’t have minded. I only steal from the best.

Commentary written by Gillian Goodman,
© ClassicRocks, Mat Williams 2012


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