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> Steeleye Span > Songs > Marrowbones
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Marrowbones / Tigery Orum / The Old Woman of Wexford
; Master title: Marrowbones
; Laws Q2
; G/D 2:318
; Henry H174
; TYG 6
; Ballad Index
; Mudcat 50419
Harry Cox sang Marrowbones in a recording made by Peter Kennedy between 1953 and 1956 on the 1965 EFDSS album Traditional English Love Songs.
Sarah Makem sang The Canny Oul Lad (Marrowbones) in 1955 and in 1962 to Diane Hamilton. These recordings were included in 2011 on her Musical Traditions anthology As I Roved Out. A third recording made in 1956 was included in 2012 on her Topic anthology The Heart Is True (The Voice of the People Series Volume 24).
Dominic Behan sang The Blind Man He Could See, “a dose of Irish nonsense that outdoes Ogden Nash for poetic acrobatics” [sleeve notes], in 1958 on his Topic album Irish Songs and in 1964 on his Topic EP Dominic Takes the Floor.
Mary Connors and Paddy Doran of Belfast sang The Blind Man He Can See on the anthology Fair Game and Foul (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 7; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).
The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Blind Man He Could See in 1964 on their Transatlantic album Across the Hills. They noted:
This song is common all over the English-speaking world. This particular version is Irish, and was given to us by A.L. Lloyd.
Joe Heaney sang The Old Woman of Wexford at Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's home in Beckenham in 1964. These recordings were released in 2000 on his Topic CD The Road from Connemara.
The Exiles sang this song as The Toon o' Kelso in 1965 on the Topic anthology New Voices from Scotland. Arthur Argo and Peter Hall noted:
Some collectors consider that part of this song is missing and that there should be some indication of collusion between the doctor and the husband. Few people recognise immediately the catch in the lines:
By the time ye suck the marra' oot
Ye canna see ony at a' …
which, of course, indicated that you can see through the bone when the marrow is removed. If the husband, the doctor, and of course, the audience, know the saying and the wife does not, this would make sense of the situation. The tune gives us yet another example of the infinite adaptability of melody in the hands of traditional singers, for variants of this air are used for two more songs on this disc, Sleepytoon and Tae the Beggin', and a lightly more distant cousin for The Kirk o' Birnie Bouzle.
A.L. Lloyd sang this ballad as Tigery Orum in 1966 on his LP The Best of A.L. Lloyd; he was accompanied by Alf Edwards on concertina. Lloyd noted:
This waggish ballad seems to have begun life as a folk tale. It has very frequently been recorded in England, Scotland and Ireland, but for some reason seldom been published. It's also called: The Young Woman of Oxford or (in Scotland) The Wife of Kelso. It was exported to USA and took vigorous root there. A version without the marrowbone-blindness motif was adapted and copyrighted in the mid-19th century under the title: Johnny Sands; as such it was carried to various parts of the States by the Hutchinson family of entertainers. In our text, the point of the marrowbones joke show a bit clearer than usual. To judge by the tune, this version came into England from Ireland. It's a great favourite with children.
John Reilly sang this song as Tippin' It Up to Nancy in a recording made by Tom Munnelly in his own home in Dublin in Winter 1967. It was released in 1977 on his Topic album of songs of an Irish Traveller, The Bonny Green Tree.
Steeleye Span recorded Marrowbones in 1971 for their third album, Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again, with Martin Carthy singing lead. The record's sleeve notes commented cryptically:
Or “Gullibility rewarded by a ducking” … or “The pact between the doctor and the butcher” … or even “The saga of who plays the mandolin” … blindman awarded both ears and the tail … ¡ole!
John Maguire of Co. Fermanagh sang Marrowbones on his 1973 Leader album Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday.
Jimmy Knights sang Marrowbones in his home in Little Glenham, Suffolk, on 3 April 1975 in a recording by Keith Summers. This track was included in 1978 on the Topic LP of traditional songs And Music from Suffolk, Sing, Say and Play and in 1998 on the Topic anthology Tonight I'll Make You My Bride (The Voice of the People Series Volume 6).
Frankie Armstrong sang Marrow Bones in 1976 on the LP Here's a Health to the Man and the Maid. The album notes comment:
Right wins out when the old woman gets her comeuppance for trying to blind the husband. Marrow Bones began as a folk tale. It appears in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America under many different names (Johnny Sands, Betsy Hague, The Blind Man He Can See, The Young Woman of Oxford). In the United States, the Hutchinson Family popularised Johnny Sands, a version without the marrowbones/blindness motif, which was copyrighted in the mid-19th century.
Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise sang The Wicked Wife in 1979 on their Topic duo album Cilla & Artie.
Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton sang Marrowbones on their 2000 album A Thousand Miles or More.
Daoirí Farrell sang Tippin' It Up to Nancy on his 2009 CD The First Turn. He noted:
There are some songs you just know, and this one is one of those songs. When I was a child I could never sleep because I use to think that there were cats at the end of the bed, or there was someone in the room. I suppose this is normal for a kid that doesn’t want to go sleep—great excuses! So my father used to play me some of his favourite music to try and shut me up and put me to sleep. This is one of these songs he used to play, along with many of the other songs of Planxty, Bothy Band, the Fureys, Moving Hearts etc. I think this is where I first got my love for music and many of the songs that I know today. Tom Munnelly collected this song among others including The Raggle Taggle Gypsies and The Well Below the Valley from a traveller from Boyle, Co. Roscommon called John Reilly. I believe that if Tom had not have collected these songs from John Reilly they would have died with him never to be sung again.
Jon Boden sang Marrowbones as the 14 October 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.
Pete Coe sang The Blind Man He Can See in 2010 on his CD Backbone.
Lucy Pringle & Chris Wright sang The Auld Woman o Kelso on their 2010 CD The Speaking Heart. They noted:
Versions of this humorous traditional song (also known as Marrowbones) are common throughout Britain and Ireland. This version was collected in 1967 by Hamish Henderson from Janet Lynch of Newton Stewart.
Jackie Oates sang Marrowbones in 2011 on her CD Saturnine.
Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin sang Eggs and Marrowbone on the 2017 Appalachian ballad tradition anthology Big Bend Killing.
A.L. Lloyd sings Tigery Orum
There was a pretty young woman and in Oxford she did dwell
She loved her darling husband and another man twice as well
Chorus (after each verse):
To me tigery orum orum and beware of the likes of she
Tigery orum orum and the blind man he can see
Well she went to the doctor shop to see if she could find
Anything at all that would make her old man blind.
“Oh just you get some marrowbones and put them on to boil
And when he suckles the marrow out he won't nothing see at all.”
Now the doctor sent to this old man and told him what she spoke.
The husband thanked him kindly and he said he saw the joke.
Well she got a pound of marrowbones and put them on to boil
And when he suckled the marrow out he couldn't see anymore.
“Which now I'm blind and comfortless and here I can't remain
And I think I'd like to drown myself if I could find the stream.”
“You poor old man, you blind old man, I well see what you mean
If you'd really like to drown yourself I'll take you to the stream.”
He says, “I'll stand on the river bank and you run up the hill
And then run down and shove me in.” Says she, “me love I will”
So he stood on the river bank and up the hill she run
And when she run down he stepped aside and headlong she went in.
“Oh help, oh help, my husband dear,” so loudly she did call,
“Oh don't you remember that I'm gone blind and can't see nothing at all?”
Now the old man being kindhearted and he knew she couldn't swim
He got himself a very long pole and shoved her further in.
Steeleye Span sing Marrowbones
There was a woman in our town and in our town did dwell,
She loved her old man dearly but another man twice as well.
Chorus (after each verse):
And sing fal-the-lal-lal-the-lal-li-day
She went down to the doctor to see if she could find
Anything in the whole world to make her old man blind.
“Oh take him sixteen marrowbones and make him eat them all,
And when he's finished he'll be so blind, he won't see you at all.”
So the doctor he wrote a letter and he sealed it with his hand,
And he sent it up to the old man to make him understand.
But the old man being a crafty bugger he knew it all before,
He ate 'em up and he says, “My dear, oh I can't see you at all.”
Says he, “I'll go to the river and there myself I'll drown.”
Says she, “I'll walk along with you to see that you don't fall down.”
They walked along together till they come to the river's brim,
So gently there she's kissed him and she crept away behind.
She ran and she ran behind him to try to push him in,
But the old man heard and he jumped aside and she went tumbling in.
So loudly she did holler and loud for mercy call,
But the old man says, “I am so blind, I can't see you at all.”
She swam and she swam and she swam around till she came to the further brim,
But the old man got the barge pole and he pushed her further in.
“Oh it may take sixteen marrowbones to make your old man blind,
But if you want to murder him you must creep up close behind.”