> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Tigery Orum
> Steeleye Span > Songs > Marrowbones
> Frankie Armstrong > Songs > Marrow Bones
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Johnny Sands

Marrowbones / Tigery Orum / Johnny Sands

[ Roud 183 ; Laws Q2 ; G/D 2:318 ; Henry H174 ; TYG 6 ; Ballad Index LQ02 ; Wiltshire Roud 183 ; trad.]

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 commented in their sleeve notes:

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 commented in the album's sleeve notes:

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 commented in the album's sleeve notes:

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.

Hedy West sang the Johnny Sands variant in 1966 on her Topic album Pretty Saro. She commented in the sleeve notes:

Johnny Sands and My Good Old Man were first British and then American. Johnny Sands was a stage re-make (c. 1840) by a singer and comedian John Sinclair from the folk ballad called The Wife of Kelso. Both songs here are from the repertory of my great grandmother. [Hedy West's granduncle] Gus had changed the text and the tune of Johnny Sands. I sing Grandma's version.

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 The Bonny Green Tree: Songs of an Irish Traveller.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Johnny Sands in 1971 on his eponymous Trailer album Martyn Wyndham-Read.

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 April 3, 1975 in a recording by Keith Summers. This track was included in 1978 on the Topic LP Sing, Say and Play: Traditional Songs and Music from Suffolk 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.

John Kirkpatrick sang Johnny Sands in 1977 on his and Sue Harris' Topic album Shreds and Patches. This track was also included on his Topic anthology A Short History of John Kirkpatrick. The album notes commented:

There are two forms of this song. In the oldest form, the wife has her husband eat marrowbones in the hope of making him blind (She is told that “when he's sucked all the marrow out, he won't see nothing at all”). He professes not to be able to help her when she accidentally falls in the water. In that shape the song circulated for several centuries.

The later form of the song, similar to the one that John sings here, dispenses with the blindness bit. It is probably the work of an American singer-entertainer, John Sinclair, who published it in 1842. So many stage comedians and singing groups took it up that it became extraordinarily current throughout the United States, Britain and Ireland during the remainder of the nineteenth century, and has lingered on in the memory of country singers, alongside the “marrowbones” version. John's version was sung to the blind folk song collector Fred Hamer, by a Shropshire singer named Saunders.

Martin Carthy sang Johnny Sands live in the Sunflower Folk Club, Belfast, on October 20, 1978. A recording of this concert was published in 2011 on his CD The January Man.

Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise sang The Wicked Wife in 1979 on their Topic duo album Cilla & Artie.

Jon Boden sang Marrowbones as the October 14, 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.

Jackie Oates sang Marrowbones in 2011 on her CD Saturnine.


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
Fal-the-lal 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.”

John Kirkpatrick sings Johnny Sands

Now there was a man called Johnny Sands
    Who married Betsy Haig;
And though she brought him wealth and land
    She proved a terrible plague,
    She proved a terrible plague.

Says he one day, “ I'll drown myself;
    The river runs below.”
Said she, “Pray do, you silly oaf;
    I wished it long ago,
    I wished it long ago.”

Says he, “Upon the brink I'll stand,
    And you run up the hill
For to push me in with all your might.”
    “Well I will, ” she says, “I will.
    I will, ” she says, “I will.”

“And for fear that I should courage lack
    And try to save my life,
Oh, pray tie my hands behind my back.”
    “Well I will,” replied his wife,
    “I will,” replied his wife.

So she tied them fast as you may think;
    It could not be undone.
And up the hill she went, you know,
    And she prepared to run,
    She prepared to run.

And it's down the hill this lovin' wife,
    She ran with all her force
For to push him in, but he stepped aside
    And she fell in, of course,
    Oh, she fell in, of course.

Oh, splashin', dashin' like a fish,
    “Oh help me, Johnny Sands!”
“Well I can't, my love, for much I wish,
    For you have tied my hands,
    Oh, you have tied my hands.”

Martin Carthy sings Johnny Sands

Johnny Sands he was a fine young man
And he married a lady gay,
And though she brought him gold and she brought him land
She proved him a terrible plague.
From night till morn she'd curse and moan,
She was full of caprice and whim,
Till he has said he was tired of life
For she was tired of him,
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
For she was tired of him.

Oh says he, “I think I'll drown myself
In the river that runs below.”
She says, “I wish you would you silly old sot,
I've wished it long ago.”
Says he, “I'll stand all on the bank
And you go up the hill,
Then you can come down and push me in.”
She says, “My love, I will,”
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
She says, “My love, I will.”

“Oh but just in case I should lose me courage
And try to save me life
You must tie me hands behind me back.”
“I will,” then says his wife.
So she's tied him fast as fast can be,
And when he's securely bound
Well she goes up to the top of the hill
And she commence to run,
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
And she commence to run.

Down the hill came running his loving bride,
A-rushing with all her force
For to push him in but he jumped aside.
She went in of course
Then splashing, dashing like a fish,
“Come save me Johnny Sands.”
He says, “I would. You surely know I would,
But you have tied me hands,
Right fal la, right fa larum fa larum
But you have tied me hands.”


See also the Mudcat Café threads Lyr Req: Johnny Sands and Origins: Eggs and Marrowbone .