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The Oggie Man

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Cyril Tawney wrote this song about a Cornish pasty seller in 1959. His own recordings of The Oggie Man can be found on the Elektra LP A Cold Wind Blows: Songs in Traditional Styles (1966), on the Argo LP A Mayflower Garland (1970) and anthology The World of Folk (1971), and on his Neptune cassette Sally Free and Easy (1989); the latter was reissued on the CD Navy Cuts: The Songs of Cyril Tawney. He also sang it on the Hullabaloo ABC Television programme broadcast on 4 January 1964. Another live recording from Holsteins folk club in Chicago on 31 May 1981 was published in 2007 on his CD Live at Holsteins.

Cyril Tawney wrote on his now defunct own website about his song:

First of all, what is meant by ‘oggie’? Well it’s a slang term for a Cornish pasty. The full term is ‘tiddy oggie’ and I’d say that its native use is confined mainly to Cornwall itself, and to South West Devon, around the Naval port of Plymouth. I’ve tried asking for an oggie in South East Devon, at Exeter St. David’s Station, only to be met with a blank stare and a slack jaw (**see footnote). In the old days, you could buy oggies at many places in Plymouth, but sailors coming back to the Dockyard last thing at night were most likely to patronise the man who sold them from a box outside the Albert Gate. I first heard his vendor’s cry on the radio during the war, long before I went West myself. A Plymouth sailor serving overseas had written in to a ‘Sounds From Home’ slot requesting the Oggie Man’s cry. That’s how famous he was. The Oggie Man was a permanent institution synonymous with the Royal Navy itself, or so everyone thought.

Before the war the Oggie Man had no competition, simply because there was no room for any. The Blitz, however, cleared a space right opposite his pitch, and in the late Forties first one, then two or three, caravan snack bars appeared on this bomb site, selling a variety of snacks, not just oggies. It was only a matter of time before the Oggie Man, as such, disappeared, either to retire from business or to get his own caravan and join the others. In the song, this change has taken place while the sailor has been away.

The idea of the Oggie Man as a subject for a song had been in my mind for some time, though only as a valedictory lament for something that had passed. If that were how it had turned out The Oggie Man would have merely become part of a great mass of such songs that the Folk Revival has produced, but that wasn’t the case. The human catalyst who brought the song about was a BBC producer called Brian Patten, the man mainly responsible for developing my broadcasting career both before I left the Royal Navy and for many years after I turned professional folk singer. He was both my producer and close friend and advisor. Brian was based in Bristol, but often came to Plymouth to hold auditions, and on one of theses occasions in 1959 we arranged to meet one evening for a drink at the Blue Monkey, in St. Budeaux. Brian had himself served on the lower deck during the war, and I clearly remember my surprise as we stood at the bar when he suddenly said: “Cyril, don’t you think there ought to be a song about that chap who used to sell oggies outside the Dockyard Gate?” I told him I’d had that very idea in mind for quite a while. Whether he believed me or not, I don’t know. For my part it seemed more than just a coincidence. I reckoned it was a kind of sign from Heaven that the song should be written. We said goodbye at closing time, and I set off to walk back to my lodgings in Beacon Park. As I walked along it started to drizzle with rain. If it hadn’t been for that, I doubt if the song would have started: “Well, the rain’s softly falling”.

On the way home that night I wrote what I knew would be the first verse and what I thought would be a later verse, perhaps the last, but not necessarily. I assumed I’d be writing other verses at a later date. I’d recently been studying Cecil Sharp’s Appalachian Folk Song Collection. These songs were published exactly in the form that they were sung to him, with no editorial interference. Often there were several versions of a song and in some cases it was clear that one or more verses had been forgotten, leaving a gap in the narrative. What struck me was that some of these gaps turned out to be very potent, a bit like silence in a piece of orchestral music. Listeners were forced to hurriedly work out what had happened on the basis of the evidence at their disposal. Any other songwriter, looking at those two verses of The Oggie Man next day would, have recognised that there was an obvious need for at least one intermediate verse. Instead, being heavily into the Sharp collection, I said to myself: “Why not leave things as they are? There’s enough evidence in verse two to reveal the whole story, if the listener works at it. A sailor said goodbye to his girl at the Albert Gate. She promised to be faithful and said her love would last as long as the Oggie Man, who at the time seemed almost as permanent as the Rock of Gibraltar. When he returns home from his tour overseas, the first thing he discovers is that the Oggie Man has been displaced by the hot dog stands. Going in search of his girl he discovers the second change: she hasn’t kept her promise to stay faithful. After a night drowning his sorrows he arrives back at the Albert Gate. Then he realises that, quite unknowingly, she’d been telling the truth when they parted. Her love could be compared with the Oggie Man after all.”

So, under the influence of real folk songs, I decided to let the song stand exactly as it was written on my way home from the Blue Monkey in the drizzling rain, unfinished, with a ’missing’ second verse that was never written.

The style of the song was suggested by a recent performance I’d heard by Shirley Collins of an American song about a mining disaster, Pay Day at Coal Creek. I’ve an idea that the slow, drawn-out rendering was Shirley’s own idea, but against her fast frailing banjo it was extremely effective, and that was the atmosphere I was trying to re-create in The Oggie Man.

© Cyril Tawney 2002

** In 2004 a franchise chain called “The Oggy Oggy Pasty Shop” opened. Based in Cornwall and run by a Cornishman, it is spreading throughout Britain.

Alex Campbell sang The Oggie Man at a concert on 16 August 1965 in Copenhagen, which was recorded and released in the same year on his Storyville album Alex Campbell in Copenhagen.

Martyn Wyndham-Read, Danny Spooner, and Gordon McIntyre sang The Oggie Man (No More) in 1966 on their album A Wench, a Whale and a Pint of Good Ale.

Brenda Wootton sang The Oggie Man on her 1981 Cornish album Pasties and Cream.

Maureen Jelks sang The Oggie Man on her 1988 album First Time Ever.

Jiig sang Chicken on a Raft in 2005 on their eponymous album Jiig. They noted:

If food be the music of love, play on… An oggie is a Cornish pasty, at one time the staple diet of the Cornish tin miner, and sold on the street in southwestern England by the supposedly eternal oggie man. Oggie men and their wares have mostly given way to the dreck served by the “big boys” of the fast food industry. May they all choke on their own whoppers. And may Cyril Tawney write songs for ever.

Jon Boden sang The Oggie Man as the 20 August 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

June Tabor sang The Oggie Man in 2011 on her Topic album Ashore. She commented in her liner notes:

Plymouth Docks were heavily bombed during the Second World War, and the waste land that remained in the 1950 allowed the motorised hot dog vans to move in and put the old-fashioned pasty sellers (oggie men) out of business.


Cyril Tawney sings The Oggie Man

Well the rain’s softly falling and the Oggie Man’s no more;
I can’t hear him calling like I used to before.
I came through the gateway and I heard the sergeant say,
“The big boys are coming, see their stand across the way.”
Yes the rain’s softly falling and the Oggie Man’s no more.

It was there that she told me when she bade me good bye,
“There’s no one will miss you one half as much as I
My love will endure, dear, like a beacon in the squall
Eternal as that Oggie Man beneath the dockyard wall.”
Well the rain’s softly falling and the Oggie Man’s no more.