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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!


Wild Rover

Sound Sample:
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I’ve been a wild rover for many a year
I’ve spent all my money on whiskey and beer.
And now I’m returning with gold in great store
I never will play the wild rover no more.

And it’s no, nay, never
No nay never, no more,
Will I play the wild rover,
No never, no more.

I went to an ale-house I used to frequent
And I told the landlady me money was spent.
I asked her for credit, she answered me “nay,
Such custom as yours I could have any day.”


Took up from my pocket ten sovereigns bright,
The landlady’s eyes opened wide with delight.
She says “I have whiskeys and wines of the best
And the words that I told you were only in jest.”

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


I’ll go home to my parents, confessed what I’ve done
And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son.
And when they’ve caressed me as oft times before,
I never will play the wild rover no more.

3 x Chorus

No nay never, no more
No more.

Origin and meaning of Wild Rover

Well, this song certainly lives up to its name - at least, the “rover” bit. The first printed version appears in broadsheets in the middle of the 1800s. It then spread by print or orally until it was found in Scotland, Ireland, America, even as far as Australia and all alehouses between.

A rover indeed. Ironically, although it is now known very much as a drinking song, it originated in the Temperance Movement as an awful warning against the demon drink and how all good boys should repent and go home to their parents.

Actually, it is all too easy to sneer at Temperance workers as over-earnest kill-joys. The movement was sorely needed at the time when industrialised England resulted in appalling slums where men spent their wages on gin to make their lives bearable. This resulted in their families’ lives being worse than ever. A mother was considered lucky if she managed to keep a child alive until it was five. It was the Temperance Movement which started the tradition of inner city allotment gardens: maybe if the poor workers could grow some of their own food it would keep them out of the public houses.

These origins may explain the slightly bland feeling of the words. It’s as if they have been firmly edited. Nothing that the black sheep does is very dreadful, or if it is, no details are given. Where he got the money to spend on whiskey and beer is never explained nor are we told how he got the “gold in great store” with which he came home. Honest labour might earn pennies but not gold. Highway robbery? Piracy? Smuggling? The Slave-Trade? Nothing is explained. It may be detailed with great gory relish in some of the wilder versions that are bound to exist, but not in the usual pub words that we have here which are oddly polite.

As a pub song it does get in a dig at pub landladies but a fairly gentle one. Nor are we told what caused the conversion. Maybe in the original Temperance song a heavenly vision came into it somewhere which has been lost on the song’s journey to the alehouse.

The tune is in a rousing triple-time with a convenient gap for audience participation at the end of the first line of the chorus. This consists of four handclaps or table thumps, mercifully absent in this recording. A sing-a-long is fine but I reckon you have to be there. Recordings are different.

So - our hero has returned to his loving parents with his pockets well lined and the heartfelt promise “I never will be the wild rover no more”.

I wonder how long he will be able to keep it up.

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


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