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Betsy Bell

[ Roud 5211 ; Ballad Index DTbetsyb ; trad.]

Lizzie Higgins sang Betsy Bell in a recording made by Rod Stradling at the King's Head Folk Club, Islington, on March 11, 1970. It was published in 2006 on her Musical Traditions album In Memory of Lizzie Higgins and in 2012 on the Musical Traditions anthology King's Head Folk Club: Traditional performers at this London Folk Club 1968-1970.

Belle Stewart sang Betsy Bell in a recording made by Fred Kent in Blairgowrie, Perthshire in May 1976. It was released in 1977 on the Topic album Queen Among the Heather and included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Volume 10). Her daughter Sheila Stewart sang Betsy Bell in a recording made by Doc Rowe in Blairgowrie in 1999 on her CD And Time Goes On. She also sang it at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2010 which was published a year later on the festival CD Hurrah Boys Hurrah! (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 7). The latter album's notes commented:

A Dundee song that presumable derives from the music hall era and, no doubt, often printed on single sheets by the Dundee Poet's Box. One of the Stewart Family favourites, it was also in the repertoire of Dundee singer Annie Watkins (on SPR 1017: Coorse and Fine) and published in Nigel Gatherer: Songs and Ballads of Dundee with versions both from Belle Stewart and Annie Watkins.

Ray Fisher sang Betsy Bell in 1982 on her Folk-Legacy album Willie's Lady. She commented in the accompanying booklet:

I learned this song from Jeannie Robertson. She would sing “Fit's a dae” in her Aberdeenshire tongue, meaning directly in English “What is to do”. This phrase is translated as “What is the matter?”. In this case she is condemning the local male population for their lack of attention to her. Whenever Jeannie sang this wee song, she'd pick out some poor, innocent male listener and sing directly to him, and he would blush with embarrassment.

The Unthanks sang Betsy Bell in 2009 on their album Here's the Tender Coming. This video shows them at BBC4 Folk at Christmas in 2010:

Kirsty Potts sang Betsy Belle on her 2015 album The Seeds of Life. She commented in her liner notes:

This comic song, on the well-worked theme of old maid left “hingin' on the nail” is from the singing of Belle Stewart of Blairgowrie. Belle learnt the text from a penny broadsheet in 1912 and set the words to a popular music hall tune sung by Harry Lauder, We Parted on the Shore. It's a wee cracker!

Lyrics

Sheila Stewart sings Betsy Bell

Oh ma name is Betsy Belle in the Overgate I dwell,
Nae doot ye'll wonder what I'm daein here;
But if ye wait a wee, sure ma tale I'll tell tae thee,
It's a tale nae doot ye'll think it's very queer.

For I'm lookin for a lad an he may be good or bad,
I'm gaun tae tak the first yin that I see;
He may be young or auld or grey heidit, freens, or bauld,
It's onything that wears the breeks for me.

Noo, as I gaed oot last nicht, sure I met wi Sandy Wricht,
An he hauled me in as I wis passin by;
He asked if I'd wed and this is what I said,
“Man, if you are quite agreeable so am I.”

Noo as was sae prood o the chance, sure, wi joy it made me dance,
The mairriage it wis tae be right there and then;
But when I got ma mairriage frock, ach! he said it wis aa a joke,
So I wonder what's a-dae wi aa the men.

Ah! but o lads I've had ma share, sure, I've had a score or mair,
But hoo they threw me up I dinna ken;
For I'm neither prood nor shy that the lads should pass me by,
Oh I wonder what's a-dae wi aa the men.

Noo as I gaed oot yestreen, man, I could scarce believe ma een,
For I met auld Janet Cooke wi a lad;
An as for husbands, she's had three, and there's no a chance for me,
Oh I wonder what's a-dae wi aa the men.

For I ken auld Janet Cooke and she drinks just like a duke,
Her age it runs aboot three score an ten;
An as for husbands she's had three and there's no a chance for me,
Oh I wonder what's a-dae wi aa the men.

Ah! but o lads I've had ma share, sure, I've had a score or mair,
But hoo they threw me up I dinna ken;
For I'm neither prood nor shy that the lads should pass me by,
Oh I wonder what's a-dae wi aa the men.

But if there's ony laddie here that wad like a little dear,
A widdow or a bachelor though he be;
If on mairriage he is bent, then I'll gie him my consent,
It's no every day you'll get a chance like me.

For I can weave an I can wark, I can wash an mend a sark,
I'm as thrifty as ony lass I ken;
But on the nail I'll hing an I'll aye get leave tae sing,
I wonder what's a-dae wi aa the men.

Ray Fisher sings Betsy Bell

O, my name is Betsy Bell, in the Gallowgate I dwell,
Nae doot ye'll wonder whit I'm daein' here.
Well, I'm lookin' for a man, be he old or be he young,
And onything in breeks will dae wi' me.

Well, 'twas on last Friday nicht I met auld Sandy Wright,
And he asked me for tae be his lovin' bride.
But I couldnae let him see I was desperate as can be,
So I tellt him for tae come awa' inside.

Well, he jumpit at the chance, aye, it fairly made me dance,
And I gied tae him my answer there and then.
But when I'd bought my wedding frock, he said, “Lord, it's all a joke!”
O, I wonder fit's a dae wi' a' the men.

So if there's onybody here that would like a nice wee dear
Although I'm only three-score and ten,
Be he young or be he auld, curly-heided, fringed, or bald,
O, I wonder fit's a dae wi' a' the men.

For of lads I've had my share; I've had a score or mair,
But why they threw me up I dinna ken.
For I'm neither prude nor shy, that the lads should pass me by.
O, I wonder fit's a dae wi' a' the men.

(repeat first verse)