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Tarry Trousers

[ Roud 427 ; Ballad Index LoF014 ; trad.]

Frankie Armstrong sang Tarry Trousers in 1972 on her LP Lovely on the Water. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Mother-daughter dialogues on amorous themes make a common form of folk song from China to Peru, and they've been on the go since the priestesses of antiquity sang their instructive hymns to the little temple harlots. The present version, however, is probably less than two hundred years old. It was well-known from Yorkshire to Somerset, its circulation stimulated partly through its appearance on broadsides published by Catnach and others, but also doubtless by virtue of its fond and striking image of the sailor's trousers shining like diamonds in the young girl's eyes. Dickens knew the song, and he makes Captain Cuttle sing a scrap of it in Dombey and Son. Frankie's graceful tune is substantially the one sung to Vaughan Williams by Mrs. Humphreys of Ingrave, near Brentwood, Essex.

Tundra sang Tarry Trowsers in 1978 on their Sweet Folk All album A Kentish Garland.

Emily Portman and Lauren McCormick sang the English version of Tarry Trowsers, and and Jody Stecher sang an American version of Tarry Trousers in 2005 on the Fellside anthology Songlinks 2: A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and Their American Variants. The set's booklet commented on the English version:

“At the end of the 18th century, when most men wore knee breeches, sailors (apart from officers) wore trousers, and had been doing so for some fifty years. A sailor could easily roll up his wide trousers when the decks had to be scrubbed, or seas were breaking over them. The trousers (usually spelled ‘trowsers’ at the time) were often stained with the Stockholm tar used on the standing rigging, and ‘tarry trowsers’ were thus the unmistakable badge of the sailor.”
From Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, edited by Roy Palmer.

This version comes from the singing of Mr Jasper Bishop, 74, of the village of Priddy in Somerset, taken down by Cecil Sharp, September 18, 1905, and published in the Journal of The Folk Song Society No 17. Vol. IV, January 1913.

This popular song was sung by some of the most important of the English traditional singers, namely Mrs Harriet Verrall of Monksgate, Sussex, from whom Ralph Vaughan Williams noted the tune that he would later adapt to become one of the most popular of the English hymns, John Bunyan's To Be a Pilgrim, and Mrs Russell, of Upway, Dorset, from whom the Hammond Brothers noted down one hundred songs. Frank Purslow noted in his book The Wanton Seed that Captain Cuttle sings half a verse of Tarry Trowsers in Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son, showing that it was a popular song of its time.

… and on the American version:

Tarry Trousers was collected by Cecil Sharp in Montvale, Virginia, on June 4, 1918 from Mrs Lawson Grey and Mrs Tina Dooley. Sharp wrote in his diary: “Had quite a concert, Mrs Tina Dooley, Mr Gray's sister being there and singing rather well… I got some nice songs, and at 2.30 we walked back to Mailville Station in a shower, which though not very heavy, spoiled my new white umbrella!”

A version from the north-east is also printed in [Gale Huntington's] Songs the Whalemen Sang, where the source is given as coming from the log of the Nauticon in 1848, proving that it was sung aboard ship.

In the States it is sometimes called As I walked Out One Pleasant Summer Morning; one was collected from Mrs Kit Williamson in Yellow Branch, Virginia, in 1933 by Juliet Fauntleroy.

Tom and Barbara Brown sang Tarry Trousers in 2008 on their WildGoose CD Beyond the Quay. They commented in the album's liner notes:

Barbara couldn’t remember her source for Tarry Trousers but a bit of digging revealed that she had it from the E.F.D.S. publication The Wanton Seed—a version collected by Gardiner from Mrs. [Charlotte] Hall of Axford, Basingstoke. Quite how we acquired a guest appearance by Orfeo in the arrangement is a mystery—he somehow found himself a part, like he does! We like songs of strong-willed women. […]

Hazel Askew sang Mrs Charlotte Hall's version of Tarry Trousers too: on the Askew Sisters' and Craig; Morgan; Robson' 2009 CD of songs collected by George Gardiner from five woman singers in Axford, Hampshire, in 1907, The Axford Five.

Pilgrims' Way sang Tarry Trousers in 2010 on their eponymous debut EP, Pilgrims' Way and in 2011 on their CD Wayside Courtesies. They commented in their sleeve notes:

A song from Frankie Armstrong, this feisty mother-daughter dialogue was once well-known, circulating as a broadside publication, and represents our second foray into transvestism. The tune is generally attributed to Mrs Humphreys of Ingrave, near Brentwood in Essex, as sung to Vaughan Williams, however we have speeded it up somewhat and added a bass line!

Tar-boat enthusiasts Tom and Edwin can testify that real tarry trousers are not remotely as effective in attracting the ladies as this song might suggest.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang Tarry Trousers in 2011 on their Hallamshire Traditions CD Spring Tide Rising.

Fay Hield sang Tarry Trousers in 2012 on her second solo CD, Orfeo. She commented in her liner notes:

A widely popular song, this was well-known from Yorkshire to Somerset, its circulation stimulated partly through its appearance on broadsides published by Catnach and others. It was even well known by Dickens—Captain Cuttle sings it in Dombey and Son (1846-8). I came across this version sung by Frankie Armstrong on her Lovely on the Water album (1972). Frankie took her tune from the one sung to Vaughan Williams by Mrs Humphreys of Ingrave, near Brentwood, Essex. Mrs Humphreys' version can be found on the EFDSS album A Century of Song (1998).

Lyrics

Frankie Armstrong sings Tarry Trousers Emily Portman and Lauren McCormick sing Tarry Trowsers

As I walked out one midsummer morning,
The weather being both fine and clear,
Who should I hear but a tender mother
Talking to her daughter dear.

As I walked out one midsummer's morning
The morning being both fine and clear
Who should I spy but a tender mother
Talking to her daughter, daughter dear.

“Daughter, I would have you marry
And live no longer a single life.”
But she says, “Mother, I'd rather tarry
For my sailor boy so bright.”

The mother said, “I would have you marry
And live no longer a single life.”
”Oh no,”said she, “I would sooner tarry
For my jolly sailor bright.

“I know you would have me wed with a farmer
And not give me my heart's delight.
Give me the lad with the tarry trowsers,
Shines to me like diamonds, diamonds bright.”

“But daughter, they are given to roaming,
Into foreign countries they do go,
And then they leave you broken hearted
And that will prove your overthrow.”

“Oh, sailors they are given to roving
And to some foreign parts they go;
Then they'll leave you broken-hearted
And they'll prove your overthrow.”

“Oh, sailors they are men of honour
And do face their enemy
When thundering cannons roar and rattle
And the bullets they do fly.”

“Polly my dear, our anchor is weighing
And I am come to take my leave.
Although I leave you, my dearest jewel,
Charming Polly, do not grieve.”

“I'll dress my self in sailor's clothing,
No foreign dangers will I fear.
And when we're in the height of battle
Then I'll protect my Jamie dear.

“Oh Jamie dear, let me go with you,
Nor foreign danger will I fear.
When you are in the height of battle
I will attend on you, my dear.”

“Ah, the big guns they do rattle,
The small guns they do make their noise;
And when we're in the height of battle
I'll cry, Fight on, me jolly boys.

Hark, oh hark, how the great guns do rattle
And the small guns do make a noise.
When they are in the height of battle
She cries, “Fight on, my jolly, jolly boys!”

“My mother would have me wed a tailor
And rob me of my heart's delight,
But give me the lad whose tarry trousers
Shine to me like diamonds bright.”

So come all you maidens, pray give attention
If a jolly sailor is your delight:
Never be forced to wed another
For all their gold and silver, silver bright.