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Donkey Riding

[ Roud 4540 ; Ballad Index Doe050 ; DT DONKEYRD ; Mudcat 41062 ; trad.]

Stan Hugill described the stow-away shanty Donkey Riding in his book Shanties From the Seven Seas, pp. 119-20:

A shanty with words similar to [Hieland Laddie] and the same or almost identical tune is Donkey Riding. This was also very popular among the timber droghers both in Liverpool and Canadian ports, and was used as both a capstan and runaway song when working cargo. I had my version from an old shipmate called Spike Sennit, who said it was just as popular at sea as in port. The compiler of the Oxford Song Book (II), who gives a version very similar to mine, states that it was “not a shanty … but … a song which helped the ship’s company stow deck cargo.” I’m afraid this is tying the meaning of the word shanty down a bit too tightly! Many work-songs used by seamen and dockers to stow cargo (in particular lumber and cotton) were the same as those used for capstan and other jobs at sea. And vice versa. Both Bullen and Doerflinger tend to show this, as well as do shanty books in Scandinavian languages. Many Scandinavian shanties used at capstan and pumps were sung when stowing timber aboard Baltic barques and timber droghers. Much improvisation was given to this song and many indecent lines found in the regulation verses.

Tony Hall sang Donkey Riding at The Ship Inn, Blaxhall, on 16 November 1973. This recording was included a year later on the Transatlantic album The Larks They Sang Melodious: Sing-Song in a Suffolk Pub. He also recorded Donkey Riding during the sessions for his 1977 Free Reed album Fieldvole Music. The track was left out, however, and had to wait until 2007 to be included onto the album’s CD reissue.

The New Scorpion Band sang Donkey Riding in 2008 on their CD Master Marenghi’s Music Machine. They noted:

According to Stan Hugill, this favourite 19th century capstan shanty was also popular with the stevedores working in the Canadian timber trade, hence the first verse:

Were you ever in Quebec,
Launching timber on the deck
Where you nearly break your neck
Riding on a donkey?

Despite its background in rough and violent seaports, it has become an eternal favourite with children, and it’s one of our most popular songs when we visit schools for concerts and workshops.

Jon Boden sang Donkey Riding as the 16 February 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.


Tony Hall sings Donkey Riding

Wuz you ever in Quebec
Launchin’ timber on the deck?
Where ye’d break yer bleedin’ neck
Riding on a donkey!

Chorus (after each verse):
Way hay an’ away we go,
Donkey riding, donkey riding!
Way hay an’ away we go,
Riding on a donkey!

Wuz you ever in Timbucktoo
Where the gals are black an’ blue?
And they waggle their bustles too,
Riding on a donkey.

Wuz you ever in Vallipo
Where the gals put on a show?
Waggle an’ dance with a roll and go,
Riding on a donkey.

Wuz you ever in Mobile Bay,
Screwin’ cotton all the day?
A dollar a day is a white man’s pay,
Riding on a donkey.

Wuz you ever in London town,
Where the gals they do come down?
See the king in a golden crown,
Riding on a donkey.

Wuz you ever off Cape Horn,
Where the weather’s never warm,
When you wish for the Lord ye’d never bin born?
Riding on a donkey.