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The Whirly Whorl

[ Roud 12573 ; Ballad Index RcTWW ; trad.]

Peter Buchan included The Whirly Wha in his 1832 anthology of risqué and convivial songs, Secret Songs of Silence.

Anne Briggs sang an anglicised version of this, The Whirly Whorl, in 1966 on the Topic theme album of traditional erotic songs, The Bird in the Bush. As all of her four tracks from this album it was reissued on her compilations Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Another song on the persistent motif of the sexual incompatibility of old men and young girls. Throughout the world, the theme is taken as the inexhaustible stuff of comedy. Chinese, Eskimos, Arabs, everyone finds it funny and makes songs about it. Generally the situation arises because the old gentleman has property and the girl has only her charms. So perhaps our laughter is but the uneasy recognition of the gulf between security and delight. A “whorl” is the plummet used for spinning yarn by hand, but here it just means “thingamagig”. In Aberdeen, early in the 19th century, Peter Buchan got a set of this song (rather longer than ours), probably from the blind, itinerant singer Jamie Rankin. Buchan believed the song was written by Mary Hay “daughter of one of the Earls of Errol, after she was married to General Scott from whom she eloped for want of …”. Perhaps; but Buchan was given to guesswork.

Eliza Carthy and The Kings of Calicutt (Andi Wells, Barnaby Stradling, Saul Rose and Maclaine Colston) sang this “rude song about getting married” in 1997 on their eponymous album Eliza Carthy and The Kings of Calicutt. It was also included on the Topic anthologies And We'll All Have Tea and English Originals.

Isambarde sang Whirly Whorl in 2004 on their CD on the Whirly Whorl label, Brunel's Kingdom.

Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing sang Whirly Whorl in 2012 on their RootBeat CD The 13th Bedroom.

Lyrics

Anne Briggs sings The Whirly WhorlEliza Carthy sings The Whirly Whorl

The very first wedding I was bridesmaid at
Was on a Saturday.
There was plenty of lively fun
And likewise sporting and play.
The bells they rung and us girls we sung
And to the church we went all.
And the bride's off to bed with the silly old groom
To play at the whirly whorl.

Well, the very first wedding I was bridesmaid at
Was on a Saturday.
There was plenty of lively fun
And likewise sporting and play.
The bells was rung and us girls we sung
And to the church we went all.
Then right up to bed with the silly old groom
To play at the whirly whorl.

Well, first she modestly turned her back
And then she turned her front,
And long she wished for kindliness
But kindness she got none.
So at last she's grabbed him all in her arms
And shoved him against the wall,
Saying, “Are you there, you silly old devil?
You've lost your whirly whorl!”

Well, first she modestly turned her back
And then she turned her front,
And long she wished for kindliness
But kindness she got none.
Till at last she grabbed him all in her arms
And she flung him against the wall,
Saying, “Are you there, you silly old bugger?
You've lost your whirly whorl!”

“Well, woe be to my mother,” she said,
“She's done to me much ill.
She's married me to a silly old devil,
It's all against my will.
But I'll dress myself in my coat of green,
My feathery bonnets and all;
I'll find a young man all of my own
To play at the whirly whorl.”

“Well, woe be to my mother,” she cried,
“She's done to me much ill.
She's married me to a silly old bugger,
It's all against my will.
I'll dress myself in my Sunday best
And in feathery bonnet and all,
And find a young man all of my own
To play at the whirly whorl.”

(Repeat first verse)

Acknowledgements

Eliza Carthy's lyrics sent by Ed Pellow in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Whirly Whorl / Whirlie Wha. Thanks, Ed! Garry Gillard introduced “feathery”. Since then, corrections from Eliza herself in the same thread.