> Folk Music > Songs > High, Jeanie, High

High, Jeanie, High / Haud Yer Tongue, Dear Sally / Oh, It Was My Cruel Parents

[ Roud 2897 ; Master title: High, Jeanie, High ; G/D 7:1362 ; Ballad Index GrD71362 ; Bodleian Roud 2897 ; Wiltshire 602 ; DT JAUNTCAR ; Mudcat 168158 ; trad.]

Jeannie Robertson sang Haud Yer Tongue, Dear Sally on her 1960 Collector album Lord Donald. Hamish Henderson noted:

The young lassie married to an impotent old man, and bewailing her lot, is one of the perennial themes of folksong. O Haud Yer Tongue, Dear Sally gives the story a happy ending, for Sally inherits a sizeable fortune from her husband when the latter is “deid and gone”. Freudians and others will note that the song contains a good deal of fascinating sexual symbolism.

George Dunn of Quarry Bank, Staffordshire sang Oh, It Was My Cruel Parents That Did Me First Trepan [i.e. ‘entrap’] to Roy Palmer on 7 June 1971. This was printed in 1972 in Palmer’s book Songs of the Midlands and in 1979 in Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs. Palmer noted:

There are plenty of songs about the shortcomings of old men as husbands, but this seems to be unique. The tune is in the Manchester Angel family.

A recording of George Dunn made by Bill Leader in December 1971 was included in 1973 on Dunn’s eponymous Leader album George Dunn. Another recording made by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in 1971 titled Oh, It Was My Cruel Father was included in 2002 on Dunn’s Musical Traditions anthology Chainmaker. Rod Stradling noted in the latter’s booklet:

The real and shocking ferocity of this song contrasts with the good humoured treatment of the same theme in Maids When You’re Young, Never Wed an Old Man or Jenny, Lie Close to the Wall.

George Dunn’s words stem ultimately from Sally’s Love for a Young Man, an eighteenth century broadside without printer’s name, and he enthusiastically took his missing three lines [in the last verse] from it when I offered him a copy. […]

Only one other person, Jeannie Robertson, under the title of O Haud Yer Tongue Dear Sally, seems to have carried an oral version similar to this into the late twentieth century, though Sharp noted fragments in its early years in Somerset (1904) and Essex (1912), and Alfred Williams found it in Filkins, Oxfordshire, around the same time. However, Marie McEntee, of Threemilehouse, Co Monaghan, sang Roll Her from the Wall to Len Graham in 1970, while Maggie McGee, in Inishowen, Co Donegal, sang The Old Grey Man to Jimmy McBride 1993.

There is another song, usually called The Dandy Man, which starts like this one, but continues the story; the old man dies and the girl takes up with a ‘dandy man’ or a ‘glamour boy’ who abuses her, crashes the jaunting car the old man had given her, and even kills the little lap-dog. She ends up lamenting that she ever complained about her former husband!

The Clutha sang High, Jeanie, High on their 1977 Topic album The Bonnie Mill Dams. Don Martin commented in the liner notes:

From Dean William Christie’s Traditional Ballad Airs Vol. II (1881). Christie heard the song from his mother who in turn got it from her father, Christie’s grandfather. Christie was unable to state from what source his grandfather obtained it but claimed that it was printed “note for note as he sung it”. This makes a welcome change from Christie’s usual practice of editing his material out of all recognition. The song is yet another on the ubiquitous theme of young maidens married to impotent old men.

Jon Wilks learned Oh, It Was My Cruel Parents That Did Me First Trepan. from George Dunn’s album. He recorded it in 2018 for his CD Midlife. See also his blog on this song.

Amy Leach sang Haud Yer Tongue, Dear Sally on her and guitarist Alasdair Paul’s 2024 EP Six Sangs. She noted:

A sang warning of the dangers of getting what you want, and the unpleasantness of men of all ages. Learnt from the singing of Chris Hendry.


High, Jeanie, High in Christie: Traditional Ballad Airs

My father was a gentleman, a gentleman was he,
And he wed me to an old man three score and three.

Chorus (after each verse):
And sing high, Jeanie, high, and sing low, Jeanie, low;
Ane can never mak’ a singing bird out o’ a hoody-crow.

Before I’d love an old man wi’ thirty ploughs o’ land,
I would rather have a young man wi’ only staff in hand.

An old man he comes pechin’ in, as if he wanted life;
A young man he comes bouncin’ in, says, “Kiss me, my dear wife.”

At night when he goes to his bed, he turns him to the wa’
An ne’er a word to me he speaks till morning light does daw.

Some neighbours have advis’d me to drown him in a well;
And others have advis’d me to grind him in a mill.

But I ha’e t’en my own advice, and bore him to a plain,
Where I tied him to a windle-strae, and he ne’er came back again.

George Dunn sings It Was My Cruel Father/Parents

Oh, it was my cruel father/parents that first did me trepan;
He married me to an old man for the sake of money and land.
If he’d married me to you a young man without a penny at all,
He’d have took me in his arms and have loved me all the more.

Oh, it’s, “Hush, my dearest Nancy, oh, wait ’til we go to town,
I’ll buy you a lady’s bonney, likewise a mus-e-lin gown;
There is no lady in the land your beauty can compare,
And I’ll buy you a little lapdog to follow you everywhere.”

“I want none of your little lapdogs nor none of your gentle care;
It’s a pity that such an old man my beauty you should snare.
I am not sixteen years of age and scarcely in my bloom;
Oh, you are my cruel torment, both morning, night and noon.”

When he comes to bed at night he’s as cold as any clay:
His feet are as cold at midnight as corpse, I’ve heard them say;
His pipes are out of order and his old flute’s never in tune:
Oh, I wish that he was dead and a young man in the room.

[Now some they do persuade me to drown him in a well,
And others do persuade me to grind him in a mill.
I’d rather take my own advice and tie him to a stake,]
Oh I’ll get a big stick and labour him well, until his bones I break.