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Old Molly Metcalfe

[Jake Thackray]

Old Molly Metcalfe is a song from Jake Thackray's 1972 album, Bantam Cock. In this BBC Four TV broadcast from November 6, 1971, he explained the shepherds' counting system and sang Old Molly Metcalfe:

Folly Bridge sang Old Molly Metcalfe in 1992 on their second WildGoose cassette, Unabridged. Claire Lloyd commented:

A song written by the late Jake Thackray from Leeds, West Yorkshire, showing that the life of a shepherdess isn't as idyllic as its romantic image suggests. It is sung here by Graham Metcalfe (no relation) with Folly Bridge. Although Thackray claimed when he first sang the song that Molly Metcalfe was his aunt, he later revealed that the lady in question is fictitious.

The refrain is an old method of counting sheep in the North of England, derived from an ancient Celtic language.

The Witches of Elswick sang Old Molly Metcalfe in 2005 on their second and last album, Hell's Belles. They commented in their liner notes:

The late Jake Thackray came from Leeds but, influenced by the likes of George Brassens, wrote songs in the French singer-songwriter tradition. His hilarious lyrics are genius; the melodies memorable and entertaining, but in true folk style, we decided to sing the serious one about sheep and death. The refrain is Shepherd's Score, formerly used by shepherds so they didn't lose count of their sheep. They counted from Yan to Jiggit (1–20) over and over, picking up a stone for each 20, then counted the stones and did some maths. Clever Gillian can recite it. That must be why she won The Weakest Link.

Lyrics

The Witches of Elswick sing Old Molly Metcalfe

Old Molly Metcalfe counting sheep,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she counted.
Up upon Swaledale, steep and bleak,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she said.

Grow, little sheep, come hail, come snow,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she counted.
Fine warm wool for a gentleman's shoulder blades,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she said.

Over the heather when the weather is cold,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she counted.
Stiff Molly Metcalfe goes bow-leggedly,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she said.

Grow, little sheep, come wind, come rain,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she counted.
Fine warm wool for a lady's counterpane,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she said.

On her back in the bracken with frozen bones,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she counted.
Daft Molly Metcalfe singing alone,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she said.

Grow, little sheep, come death, come dark,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she counted.
No such wool for Old Molly Metcalfe,
    Yan tan tether mether pip, she said.

Acknowledgements

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Old Molly Metcalfe.