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Sandgate Dandling Song

[ Roud B24532 ; Mudcat 23412 ; Robert Nunn (1809-1853)]

Karl Dallas: One Hundred Songs of Toil

The Sandgate Dandling Song was written by Robert Nunn (1809-1853), a blind fiddler from Tyneside. The tune is a traditional Tyneside melody that was also used by Stan Kelly for his Liverpool Lullaby.

Isla Cameron sang the Sandgate Nursing Song in 1956 on her Tradition album Through Bushes and Briars and in 1961 on her and Louis Killen’s Prestige album of Northumbrian songs and ballads, The Waters of Tyne. Ewan MacColl commented in the latter album’s sleeve notes:

Robert Nunn (1808-1853), the author of this fine song, was on of the most talented creators of ‘Geordie Songs’. A slater by trade, Nunn lost his sight after falling from a roof and thereafter managed to eke out a living by playing the fiddle and singing at miners’ meetings and in pubs.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Sandgate Dandle on their 1965 Transatlantic album Coaldust Ballads. Their sleeve notes commented:

Words by the blind fiddler, Robert Nunn, who died in 1853. The tune is a traditional Tyneside Melody, often called Dollia.

Anni Mageean sang the The Sandgate Wife’s Nurse Song on the 1981 Greenwich Village anthology of songs about the women of Tyneside over the past two centuries, Aall Tegithor Like the Foaks o’ Shields.

Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing sang the Sandgate Dandling Song in 1997 on their WildGoose album Call & Cry. They noted:

Written by the blind Tyneside fiddler Robert Nunn in 1842. Sue found this moving song of love and loyalty in a book she ‘borrowed’ from school twenty years ago.

Anni Fentiman sang the Sandgate Wife’s Nurse Song in 1998 on her and Dave Webber’s CD Constant Lovers. They noted:

A dandling song (a song used to entertain a small child). The Keelman in this song is not all good [referring to the Keelman in the song Sandgate Lass on the Ropery Banks on the same album].

Andrew Cadie sang the Sandgate Dandling Song on his 2006 album The Snow Tree.

Dempsey Robson Tweed sang the Sandgate Dandling Song on their 2016 CD Dirt Road. Carolyn Robson noted:

Another song in my repertoire by Robert Nunn, a blind fiddler and singer from Tyneside who died in 1853. One of the verses is threatening but I can remember when moving back to the NE in the late seventies a friend had set up a business in a less desirable area. She noticed that several of the women sported black eyes on Friday mornings (after payday on Thursday). When she suggested that they didn’t have to put up with this sort of brutality she was told that they would not consider their men manly if they did not give them a good beating now and then. Each to his own!

Jon Wilks sang The Sandgate Dandling on his 2017 album Songs From the Attic.

Rachel Unthank sang The Sandgate Dandling Song on Stick in the Wheel’s 2019 anthology From Here: English Folk Field Recordings Volume 2. She also sang it with The Unthanks on their 2022 album Sorrows Away. She noted on the first album:

I always call it The Sandgate Dandling Song but in my book it’s called The Sandgate Wife’s Nurse Song. Dandling songs are common in the North East, singing to a bairn while bouncing it on your knee. I heard Anni Fentiman singing it. I can’t remember if it was in person, but we definitely had it on a tape at home when I was a kid and I love her singing. It’s been one of my favourite songs to sing since I was a teenager. I like how unapologetic it is, it’s a slice of life—it’s complicated. Domestic violence is a taboo and dark subject, yet the woman in the song asks for no sympathy. She tells her baby, this is my life. I find it really moving. It’s the kind of song you can play with—each time I sing it, I probably sing it slightly differently. My relationship with it has changed as now I have children of my own. You think about those moments when you’re looking at your kid, your beautiful baby, and being in that situation would be horrendous. It’s a song that I’ve always sung, but it’s never been quite right to record. Now, I’ve decided to just do it. It was written by a blind fiddler from Tyneside called Bobby Nunn in 1842, to a local traditional tune. It may sound familiar as Stan Kelly used the tune to write Liverpool Lullaby, sung by Cilia Black, which is like an updated version of the same song.

Lyrics

Robert Nunn’s Sandgate Dandling Song

Hold thy way, my bonny bairn,
Hold thy way up on my arm,
Hold thy way, thou soon may learn
To say Dada, so canny.
I wish thy daddy may be well,
He’s long in coming from the keel,
Though his black face be like the de’il,
I like a kiss from Johnny.

Thou really has thy daddy’s chin,
Thou art like him, leg and wing,
And I, with pleasure, can thee sing,
Since thou belongs my Johnny.
Johnny is a clever lad,
Last night he fuddled all he had,
This morn he wasn’t very bad,
He looked as blithe as any.

Though thou’s the first, thou’s not the last,
I mean to have my bairns fast,
And when this happy time is past
I still will love my Johnny.
For his hair’s brown and so is thine,
Thine eyes are grey, and so are mine,
Thy nose is tapered off so fine,
Thou’s like thy daddy Johnny.

Thy canny dowp is fat and round,
And like thy dad, thou’s plump and sound,
Thou’s worth to me a thousand pound,
Thou’s altogether bonny.
When daddy’s drunk, he’ll take his knife
And threaten sore to take my life,
Who wouldn’t be a keelman’s wife,
To have a man like Johnny.

But yonder’s daddy, coming now,
He looks the best among the crew,
They’re all going to the Barley Mow
To have a glass with Johnny.
So let’s go get the bacon fried,
And let us make a clean fireside,
Then on his knee he will thee ride,
When he comes home to mammy.

Jon Wilks sings The Sandgate Dandling

Hold your way, my bonny bairn,
Hold your way up on my arm,
Hold your way and you’ll soon learn
To say Dada, so canny.
I wish my Johnny may be well,
He’s long in coming from the keel,
Though his black face’ll be like hell,
I like a kiss from Johnny.

Now it’s a struggle everyday,
Living on my Johnny’s pay,
When the bugger drinks it all away
He leaves me without any.
My Johnny is a clever lad,
Last night he fuddled all we had,
This morning wasn’t very bad,
He looked as blithe as any.

Though you’re the first, you’re not the last,
I mean to have my babies fast,
And when this happy time is past
Will I still love my Johnny?
But when Johnny’s drunk he’ll take the knife,
And threaten sore to end my life,
Who wouldn’t be a keelman’s wife,
To have a man like Johnny.

But yonder Johnny’s coming now,
He looks the best among the crew
And they’re all off to the Barley Mow
To have a drink with Johnny.
So let us get the bacon fried,
And let us make a clean fireside,
Then on his knee he will thee ride,
When he comes home to mammy.

The Unthanks sing The Sandgate Dandling Song

Ah you, ah, me bonny bairn
Ah you, ah, upon my airm
Ah you, ah, you soon may learn
To say Da Da se canny.
I hope yer daddy may be weel
He’s long a coming from the keel
And, though his face be like the de’il
I’d like a kiss from Johnny.

Thou really has the daddy’s chin
Thou art like him both leg and limb
And I with pleasure can thee sing
Since thou belongs my Johnny.
Johnny is a clever lad
Last he fuddled all he had
This morn it wasn’t very bad
He looked as blithe as any.

Though thou’s the first, thou’s not the last
I mean to have my bairns fast
And, when this happy time is past
I still will love my Johnny
For his hair is brown and so is thine
Thou’s eyes are grey and so are mine
Though nose it tapers off so fine
The like the daddy, Johnny.

Thy canny dowp is fat and round
The like the dad, both plump and sound
Thou worth to me a thousand pound
Thou’s altogether bonny
But, when daddy’s drunk he’ll take a knife
And threaten sore to take my life
Who wouldn’t be a keelman’s wife
And have a man like Johnny.

Ah you, ah, me bonnie lass
The bairn as well, growing up so fast
This time at sea will soon be past
I’ll soon be home to mammy.
I’ll not be drunk, I’ll not be bad
I’m not like him, me canny dad
You’ll see I’ve changed, this time for good
The bairn’s as safe as any.

Yonder’s Johnny coming now
He’s the best of all the crew
They’ll all gan to the Barley Mow
My canny Godlike Johnny
So let’s get the bacon fried
And, let us make a clean fireside
And on his knee he will thee ride
When he comes home to mammy.

Links

See also Jon Wilks’ Folk from the Attic blog Sandgate Dandling Song.