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The Farmer's Servant / Rap-a-Tap-Tap

[ Roud 792 ; Ballad Index DTraptap ; Bodleian Roud 792 ; trad.]

Folksongs of Britain and Ireland Everyman's Book of English Country Songs Marrow Bones

The Farmer's Servant is a song from the repertoire of Norfolk singer Harry Cox. Alan Lomax recorded him singing this song in Sutton, Norfolk, in November 1953. In 2000, this recording was included on Harry Cox's CD What Will Become of England?. Peter Kennedy noted in the album's booklet:

Once again, this one was too much for Reverend Baring-Gould in the 1890s. He noted the first verse but in his notebook wrote “This one so gross I did not take it down.” In rewritten form, it was published as The Flail Man. Two ardent song collectors, Henry Hammond and George Gardiner, noted versions in Dorset and Hampshire, and at our Suffolk pub sessions at Blaxhall Ship it was Percy Webb’s Saturday night song. In 1975 we included Harry’s version in our Folksongs of Britain and Ireland.

Frank Purslow and John Pearse sang Rap-a-Tap-Tap in 1960 as the title track of their album of “English folk songs Miss Pringle never taught us”, Rap-a-Tap-Tap.

A.L. Lloyd sang The Farmer's Servant on his 1962 album English Drinking Songs and on his 1966 album The Best of A.L. Lloyd. He noted on the first album:

Those who don't know him imagine the East Anglian farm-hand to be deferential, even servile. Nothing is further from the truth. He is, as the songs say, inclined to mind his master's business “as servants always done”. But under that innocent phrase lies a sly meaning that many a master has never appreciated until it was too late. In melody, the song is a cousin of the well-known Lincolnshire Poacher. In shape, it recalls the commercial hit of a year or two back, The Thing. It is a song that evokes a nudge, a wink and a quickly stifled guffaw, if the squire is with his friends in the adjacent saloon bar.

and on the second:

The oldtime yokels were not always so thickheaded as they pretended to be. Likewise bumpkin humour often concealed a barb. This song, very common in Norfolk and Suffolk, offers an artful view of the servant's attitude to his master, and of his diligence in looking after his master's business “as servants always done”. The broad rustic grin has sharp teeth behind it here. So far, the song has remained unprinted.

Matt McGinn sang Rap Tap Tap on the 1963 Decca album Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 1.

Martin Carthy sang The Farmer's Servant unaccompanied live at St. Andrews, Scotland in 1965. This track was released in 2001 on his Free Reed anthology The Carthy Chronicles.

Bob Hart of Snape, Suffolk, sang The Farmer's Servant (Rap-a-Tap-Tap) at home in July 1969 to Rod and Danny Stradling, in 1970 to Bill Leader and Danny and Rod Stradling, and in September 1973 to Tony Engle. This second recording was released in 1974 on the Hart et al Topic album Flash Company, the first in 1998 on his Musical Tradition anthology A Broadside, and the second in 1998 on the Topic anthology Come All My Lads That Follow the Plough (The Voice of the People Volume 5). Mike Yates noted on the 1974 album:

The Farmer’s Servant has been collected infrequently from tradition. Not that it is all that rare. Most singers in East Anglia have either a version of it or of the related Chandler’s Wife song. Gardiner noted it once in Hampshire in 1905, but in general country singers have preferred to keep it to themselves, feeling no doubt that it was not the sort of thing which they should sing in ‘respectable’ company. Bob’s tune, in common with most, is a version of the well-known Lincolnshire Poacher.

Percy Webb sang Rap-a-Tap-Tap at the King's Head Folk Club on 18 February 1970. This recording was included in 2012 on the folk club's Musical Tradition anthology King's Head Folk Club. Another live recording from The Ship Inn, Blaxhall, on 16 November 1973 was released on the Transatlantic album of a “sing-song in a Suffolk pub”, The Larks They Sang Melodious.

Knotted Cord sang Rap-a-Tap in a 1973 recording made by Brain Horsfall that was released in 1976 on the Fellside anthology The Best of BBC Radio Carlisle's Folk Workshop.

Nick Dow sang The Farmer’s Servant on his 2015 album Unaccompanied.

Lyrics

Bob Hart sings The Farmer's Servant (Rap-a-Tap-Tap)

When I's an old farmer's servant, well, I used to like some fun,
To mind my Master's business when he was not at home.
For if my Master should go out to view the fields so gay,
I was up to the door with my rat-tat-tat, oh either by night or day, oh,
Either by night or day.

Now it happened to be on a Thursday my Master to market did go,
I told him I'd mind his business as servants ought to do.
As soon as my Master's back was turned I went blundering out of the barn,
And up to the door with my rat-tat-tat and, sure, I thought no harm, oh,
Sure, I thought no harm.

Well who should come but my Mistress, she bade me to walk in.
When I complained of the belly-ache she ordered me some gin.
She ordered me some gin, my boys, but never a word to say;
I had been there with my rat-tat-tat and to bed we went straightway, oh,
And to bed we went straightway.

And there us two lay sporting for two long hours or more,
The Missis, she liked the sport so well, I thought she'd never give o'er.
“You won my heart for ever,” she cried, “No more your master for me,
For cannot come with his rat-tat-tat not half so well as thee, oh,
Not half so well as thee.

Now the master, he came from market and he asked my how I got on.
I told him I'd minded his business the same as if he was at home.
He ordered me some ale, my boys, but little did he know
That I'd been there with my rat-tat-tat, if he had, he'd a never done so,
If he had, he'd a never done so.

Nor would he!

A.L. Lloyd sings The Farmer's Servant

When I was a farmer servant I liked my bit of fun
I always minded my business as servants always done
Whenever my master he went out to view the fields so gay
I'de be round the back door with my [bm bm bm] and never a word to say, no,
Never a word to say.

It was on a Thursday afternoon my master to market did go
He told me to mind his business as servants always do
As soon as my master he was gone I blundered out of that barn
And I was round the back door with my [bm bm bm] and never a thought of harm, no,
Never a thought of harm.

The mistress she come to the door and asked me to come in
When I complained of the bellyache she give to me some gin
She give to me some gin, my boys, with never a word to say
Well, there I was with my [bm bm bm] and a-courting we went straightway, we did,
A-courting we went straightway.

Now we had not been a-courting not half an hour or more
Me mistress took so well to the sport, I thought she'd never give o'er
“You've won my heart forever,” she cried, “your master no more for me.
For he can't manage the [bm bm bm] not half so good as thee, my love,
Not half so good as thee.”

Well when my master he come home, he asked me how I got on
I told him I minded his business as servants always done
He give to me best ale, my boys, and little did he know
That I'd been there with my [bm bm bm], if he had he'd never done so, I'm sure,
If he had he'd never done so.

Martin Carthy sings The Farmer's Servant

Now when I was a farming servant I liked my bit of fun
I minded my master's business as a servant should have done
When he went out in the afternoon to view the fields so gay
And I was round the back door with my [bm bm bm] and never a word to say

Now it happened on a Thursday when my master to market did go
He told me to mind his business as servants always do
And as soon as my master he was gone I blundered out of the barn
I was round the back door with my [bm bm bm] and never a thought of harm

Now my mistress she come down to the door and she quickly invited me in
When I complained of the bellyache she give to me some gin
She give to me some gin, my lads, oh then we had some more
And there I was with my [bm bm bm] as I'd never been before

Now we had not been a-courting not half an hour or more
Me mistress took so well to the sport, I thought she'd never give o'er
“You've won my heart and head,” she said, “your master's not for me
Cause he can't manage the [bm bm bm] not half as well as thee.”

Now when my master he come home, he asked me how I'd got on
I minded your business master as a servant should have done
He give me cake and ale, my lads, but little did he know
If he'd a known about the [bm bm bm] he never would have done so

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's version transcribed by Garry Gillard.