> June Tabor > Songs > The Overgate

The Overgate / The Beefcan Close / Wi' My Rovin' Eye

[ Roud 866 ; Ballad Index K187 ; trad.]

Jeannie Robertson sang The Overgate, in a recording made at her home in Aberdeen in 1955, on her 1957 Riverside album Songs of a Scots Tinker Lady. Another recording made by Peter Kennedy in Aberdeen in 1953 was included in 1994 on the Saydisc anthology Songs of the Travelling People. She also recorded The Overgate for her 1963 Prestige album The Cuckoo's Nest and Other Scottish Folk Songs. She sang The Overgate live with an audience chorus in Edinburgh in 1958. This recording by Hamish Henderson was published in 1984 on her Lismor album Up the Dee and Doon the Don.

She sang Wi' My Rovin' Eye to Alan Lomax in Aberdeen in November 1953. This recording was included in 1961 on the Tradition Records LP Heather and Glen and in 1998 on her Rounder CD The Queen Among the Heather. She recorded My Rovin' Eye on 30 January 1959 for her Collector EP Twa Brothers. She recorded My Rovin' Eye for her 1960 Prestige album Scottish Ballads and Folk Songs. The liner notes of the Tradition album album commented:

My Rovin' Eye, sung by Mrs. Jeannie Robertson, is a lyric derived from The Trooper and the Maid (Child No. 299), found frequently among the travelling folk who have been, for a considerable time, the principal song carriers of Britain. Americans have cut this piece to a few innocent verses about a girl who will be Sixteen Next Sunday, but this version tells a frank story of a man who is gulled by a travelling woman.

Belle Stewart sang The Overgate with Hamish Henderson joining in on the chorus to Peter Kennedy in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, in 1954. This recording was included in the 2000 Rounder re-issue of the anthology Songs of Seduction. She also recorded The Overgate in Blairgowrie in May 1976 for her 1977 Topic album of Scots traditional songs and ballads, Queen Among the Heather. This track was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology There Is a Man Upon the Farm (The Voice of the People Series Volume 20). Geordie McIntyre noted on the original Topic album:

Belle learned this rollicking song in her teens, three verses from her cousin, the rest from Jimmy Whyte, a traveller friend of the family. There is a certain irony that the girl in the story should “lose her maidenhead” in the Old Overgate—a delightful ambiguity. This locale in Dundee was famous or notorious for its lowffs (brothels). “Ye could get anything in the Overgate especially a nice young girl; they were specially obligin'.” It may be that this song is an ingeniously improvised and, of course, highly localised relative of the song As I Roved Out which is so widespread in the Scots, English and Anglo-Irish tradition. There is certainly textual and musical evidence to support this view. Belle has three mysterious verse intrusions which appear to belong to another song of the ‘Cornkister’ variety. This is a common species in the North-Easterly part of Scotland and deals with social relations on specific farms.

A recording of Davie Stewart singing The Overgate to Hamish Henderson in 1954, 1955 or 1962 was included in 1978 on his eponymous Topic album Davie Stewart. Hamish Henderson noted:

This ever popular bothy ballad is best known in the Aberdeenshire version, with a “ricky doo dum day” chorus, which Jeannie Robertson used to sing, but it is undoubtedly a south-county song—probably of Fife origin. The Overgate was a street in Dundee, the “Reeperbahn” target for ploughmen on the lookout for a good night on the tiles. Davie used to repeat the old joke about Dunkeld being all hills and moors, and Dundee being just the opposite, and indeed that was exactly what the Overgate was liked in the old days (It has vanished completely in Dundee's postwar town-eviscerating orgy). Davie's tune is quite closely related to the one Jean Redpath got from her mother in Leven, Fife, as also to Belle Stewart's (from Blairgowrie, Perthshire).

Until it was pulled down, the Overgate was also famous for a shop called The Poet's Box, which did a roaring trade in chapbooks and broadsides.

Sandy Paton sang The Overgate in 1959 on his Elektra album The Many Sides of Sandy Paton. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:

A watch and purse may seem a cheap enough price to pay for a young lady's favours, but the country hero of this Dundee street song still has a lot to learn about the city lass who took him in. Learned from the great Aberdeen folk singer, Jeannie Robertson.

Robin Hall and Jimmie Macgregor with The Galliards sang The Overgate in 1962 on their Decca album A Rovin'.

Alex Campbell sang The Overgate in 1965 on his eponymous Transatlantic album Alex Campbell.

The Tannahill Weavers sang The Overgate in 1976 on their Plant Life album Are Ye Sleeping Maggie.

Ian Manuel sang The Overgate on his 1977 Topic album of Scots traditional songs, The Dales of Caledonia.

Five Hand Reel sang The Beefcan Close on their 1978 album Earl o' Moray.

June Tabor sang The Overgate, accompanied by Martin Simpson on guitar and Jon Gillaspie on recorder, in a BBC Radio 1 John Peel Session that was recorded on 24 January 1978 and broadcast on 12 February 1978. This recording was included in 1998 on her BBC CD On Air, and in 2005 on her Topic anthology Always. She refers to Belle Stewart in the latter album's booklet and her verses are quite similar to Belle's but she sings them much faster.

Annie Watkins and the Foundry Bar Band sang The Beefcan Close in 1985 on the Springthyme anthology of songs and ballads of Dundee, Coorse and Fine, and Jim Reid sang it on his 2001 album Emfae Dundee.

Norman Kennedy sang The Castlegate at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2005. This recording was included a year later on the festival CD For Friendship and for Harmony (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 2). The liner notes commented:

An ever popular traditional song of a young ploughboy who goes to town on a spree and falls into a scrape with a young woman. Most versions of the song refer to the Overgate and the Beefcan Close in Dundee but here the song is claimed by Aberdeen's Castlegate and the nearby Peacock's Close—a place that retained its reputation as a place of ill-repute till recent times.

Jimmy Hutchison sang The Overgate at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2008. This recording was included a year later on the festival CD Grand to Be a Working Man (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 5).

Barbara Dymock sang The Beefcan Close on her 2011 CD Hilbert's Hotel. She noted:

Sometimes known as The Overgate, this song tells of a Dundee mugging, but the victim being a Fifer, they don't get his money because he ties it to the tail o' his sark (shirt). Mind you, in this version he doesn't get much either as he's thrown down the stairs just after he arrives at the temptress's lair. In 1982, Dundee's Evening Telegraph caused a hot debate about where the Beefcan Close actually was and why it was called that. So destitute were the inhabitants, the story goes, that they were forced to pawn their cooking utensils and beg empty beef cans from local grocers to use instead.


Jeannie Robertson sings The Overgate on Songs of a Scots Tinker Lady

For as I gaed doun the Overgate I met a bonnie wee lass.
For she winked to me wi' the tail of her e'e as I went walkin' past.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Rickey-doo-dum-die, doo-dum-die,

I asked her what her name might be, she said, “Jemima Rose,
And I live in Blueberry Lane at the fit o' the Beefcan Close.”

I asked her what was her landlady's name, she said it was Mrs. Bruce;
And wi' that she invited me to come awa tae the hoose.

As we went up the windin' stair, and it bein' lang and dark;
For I slipped my money through my inside pooch and I tied it to the tail o' my sark.

I scarcely had got in the hoose when she took me tae her room;
It was there we pulled a bottle oot and then we baith set doun.

That a' nicht lang I dreamt I was lyin' in the airms o' Jemima Rose;
But when I waukened I was lyin' on my back at the fit o' the Beefcan Close.

Come a' ye jolly plooman lads that gang oot for a lark;
Just slip your money through your inside pooch and tie it to the tail o' your sark.

Jeannie Robertson sings Wi' My Rovin' Eye on The Queen Among the Heather

For as I gaed doon the Overgate I met a bonnie wee lass.
For she winked to me with the tail of her e'e as I went walking past.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Wi' my roving eye, fol-a doo-a-di,
My rovin' di-dumderry, wi' my rovin' eye.

She took me tae her sitting room, a wee bit doon the toon,
It was there we poured a bottle oot and then we baith sat doon.

She took me tae anouther hoose, a wee bit doon the burn.
It's true what Robbie Burns said: “A man was made to mourn.”

I'll gae hame to Auchtermuchty, contented for to be,
For the loosing o' my five-pound note with the lassie in Dundee.

Belle Stewart sings The Overgate on Queen Among the Heather

O as I gaed up the Overgate I met a bonnie wee lass.
She winked tae me wi' the tail o' her e'e as I was a-walking past.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Wi' my toorin-an-ah, lilt-fa-laddie,
Lilt-fa-laddie, toorin-nay.

Noo, I asked her if she'd tak a glass,
Says I: “I'm ower fae Auchtermuchty tae the market with some swine.”

I took her tae a sitting room, a wee bit doon the burn.
It's true what Robbie Burns said: “A man was made to mourn.”

Four hot pies and porter, she ate them by galore;
She ate and drank as much as serve an elephant for a year.

O, then we baith gaid up the stair to hae contented sleep,
When an awful knock come tae the door at the breakin' of daylight.

It was a big fat bobby, he got me by the top of the hair,
And he gied me the whirlijig right doon to the foot of the stair.

Noo, I gaed up the stair again, I seeking out my claes.
“You'd better get oot o' this, young man, or I'll gie you sixty days!”

But I said, “I've lost my waistcoat, my watch-chain and my purse.”
Says she, “I've lost my maidenheid, and that's a damn sight worse!”

Noo, there is a maid upon the fairm, she is a dainty dame,
She milks the kye at early morn; gin dinnertime it's cream.

There is a cattleman on the fairm, he has a wooden leg,
And he jumps aboot fae barn to byre sucking ilka egg.

There is a man upon the fairm, Will Garthill is his name,
And he'll drink every pint you'll gie him but he will pay for nane.

Noo, I'll go back to Auchtermuchty, contented I will be,
With the breaking o' my five pound note with a lassie in Dundee.

Five Hand Reel sing The Beefcan Close

As I ga'e doon the Overgate I met wi' a bonnie wee lass,
An' she winked at me wi' the tail o' her ee as I ga'ed rovin' past.

I asked her whit they ca'ed her an' she says, “emima Ross
An' I bide up the toon wi' Mistress Broon in the back o' the Beefcan Close.”

She took me tae a ludgin' hoose doon by the Scorin' Burn
An' it's true whit Rabbie Burns said that this man wis made tae mourn.

As I ga'ed up the Beef-can close the stairs wis awfy dark
So I took my siller frae my inside pooch An' tied it tae the tail o' my sark.

She took me tae the kitchen and on a table there;
There wis drink enough for a lad like me an' plenty mair tae spare.

She gi'ed me pies and porter an' she gi'ed me pints o' beer
An' I ate an' drank as much that nicht as'd dae a guid New Year.

I got richt fu' an' settled doon tae spend a peacefu' nicht
When tae the door there cam' a roar at the breakin' o' the daylicht.

In stepped twa big polismen an' grabbed me by the hair
An' they gar'd me dance a whirimagig an' threw me doon the stair.

An' man! I had a dream that nicht o' Miss Jemima Ross
But wen I woke I wis on my back at the fit o' the Beefcan Close.

If tae Dundee ye ever gae an' if the stairs are dark
Just tak your siller frae your inside pooch an' tie it tae the tail o' your sark.

Norman Kennedy sings The Castlegate

As I cam ower the Castlegate, I met a fair young lass;
And she gaed me a wink wi the tail o her e'e as I cam walkin past.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Ricky doo dum day, doo dum day, Ricky dicky doo dum day.

I asked her fit her name wis. Says she, “It's Mary Rose,
And I bide in ower the Castlegate, at the fit o Peacock's Close.”

I spierd faa she wis bade wi, and says she, “A Mistress Bruce.”
Syne I got an invitation tae gyang tae the lodgin hoose.

Noo as we gaed doon the Peacock's Close, ot bein raither dark,
I slipped ma money fae ma inside pooch an waffed it tae the tail o ma sark.

Weel, we gaed in the lodgin hoose an on a chair sat doon;
Fin she gaed me a wink wi the tail o her e'e, Says she, “Come ben the room.”

Well I fed her pies and porter, I fed her ham and beer;
An I swear she ate an drunk as muckle as I'd dae in a year.

Syne we went tae bed contentedly tae spend a peacefu nicht;
Fan a knock it cam tae the bedroom door at the brakin o daylicht.

Then in cam twa policemen an they taen me be the hair,
An I did a huly-burly In ma sark tail doon the stair.

Then aa nicht lang I thocht I lay In the airms o Mary Rose,
Fin I waukened I wis lyin on ma back at the fit o Peacock's Close.

Oh she stole fae me ma watch an chain, ma speuchan and ma purse;
But I stole fae her her maidenheid and that's a damn sicht worse.

Sae aa ye jolly plooboys that are gan oot for a lark,
Jist ye be like me fin ye gang on a spree, waff yer money tae the tail o your sark.