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The Little Cabin Boy

[ Roud 1168 ; Ballad Index FSC056 ; trad.]

Jim ‘Brick’ Harber sang The Cabin Boy and the Lady Gay at The Plough, Three Bridges, Sussex, to Brian Matthews on 10 February 1960. This recording was included in 2011 of the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from Sussex country pubs, Just Another Saturday Night. Rod Stradling commented:

Thomas Maccueen heard this song from a Mrs MacConechie in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, in 1827, and Sharp collected it from Edmund Jupp of Southwater, Sussex, in 1908. Beyond that, only George Edwards of the Catskill Mountains, New York state, is known to have sung it. There are no further mentions of this song in the Roud Index—except for Brick Harber, who gives another powerful and compelling performance here. This is a man who I dearly wish I had met.

Harry Upton sang two lines from The Little Cabin Boy on his 1978 Topic album Why Can't It Always Be Saturday?. and on his 2015 same-titled Musical Traditions anthology Why Can't It Always Be Saturday?. Rod Stradling noted:

These couple of lines come from a song called The Little Cabin Boy, a version of which was collected in Sussex from the singer Jim ‘Brick’ Harber by Ken Stubbs, who included it in his book The Life of a Man (1970). Norman Cazden, an American collector, also noted a set from the singer George Edwards, which he included in two books, Abelard Folk Song Book Pt. 2 (1958) and Folk Songs of the Catskills (1982).

Alasdair Roberts sang The Cabin Boy on the Furror Collective's 2018 album Fathoms. They noted:

Our version of this song is a composite of two geographically distinct sources. Alasdair first encountered it in a North American variant entitled The Little Cabin Boy sung by Peggy Seeger, which in turn is based on a version from George Edwards of New York State, as printed in Folk Songs of the Catskills. He later discovered a Scottish variant recorded from Mrs MacConechie, a tailor's wife from Kilmarnock, in Andrew Crawfurd's Collection of Ballads and Songs, originally collected by Thomas Macqueen in 1827; our recording of the song draws on both of these variants.


Jim ‘Brick’ Harber sang The Cabin Boy and the Lady Gay

Oh it's of a rich lady so gay
And she was a beautiful bride
'Til she fell in love with a little cabin boy
And denièd both Lord, Duke and Knight.

O it's “William, dear William,” says she,
“Will you stay along with me on the shore?”
“You must go to the captain of our gallant ship
And ask him for my liberties.”

Then it's straight to the captain she went
Down on her bended knees, o she fell.
“O captain”, said she, “will you let your cabin boy
Stay home on the shore along with me?”

“Oh no, you young lady!” said he,
“Such things can never be.
For you looks more fitting for some Lord, Duke or I
To embrace your sweet company.”

Then it's back to young William she went
With a wet and a watery eye
“O,” saying “dearest William, the best of friends must part
And so must you, love, and I.”

Then it's straight on board young William went
Left his Polly a-weeping there on the shore.
Young William got lost, and the rest of his ship's crew,
And never was heard of any more.

Then it's home to her father's house she went
And she threw her fair body on the floor
And when her father woke and he rose up in the morn
He lamented at the death that he had found.

Then soon was a funeral put out
And everything so neatly prepared
There was six jolly sailors, all dressèd well in blue
To carry this fair body down.