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The Molecatcher

[ Roud 1052 ; Ballad Index K206 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd recorded The Molecatcher in 1966 for his album The Best of A.L. Lloyd, accompanied by Alf Edwards on concertina. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

This sly song of the biter bit amused the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams who noted some fine versions of it in Norfolk. Two folklorish parsons, Baring-Gould and Fleetwood Sheppard heard it on bleak Dartmoor and it struck them as “very gross”, so they wrote new words to it that have none of the wit and pungency of the original. Their version may be found in Songs of the West. Our version of from an unpublished set provided by Dr Vaughan Williams.

Bernard Wrigley sang The Molecatcher on his 1971 Topic album The Phenomenal B. Wrigley. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

A song like an ox-tail, hairy but tasty. Much sung but never bookprinted, like many a good Rabelaisian piece. Bob Copper recorded a version from an old singer in the Southern Counties and kindly sent it to me. I brushed it up a bit, and it began a lively circulation through the folk clubs. Swindells of Manchester issued it on a broadside nearly a century and a half ago, in a slightly different version with a less stern moral.

Ewan MacColl sang The Molecatcher in 1972 on his Argo album Solo Flight.

Louie Fuller of Lingfield, Surrey, sang The Molecatcher in a recording made by Mike Yates in between 1972 and 1975, on the Topic album of country singers from South England, Green Grow the Laurels. This track was also included on the 2015 Musical Traditions anthology of songs from the Yates collection, I Wish There Was No Prisons. Mike Yates commented in the original album's notes:

Although The Molecatcher has seldom been printed by folksong collectors it is certainly commonplace with folksingers. In 1800 Robert Burns printed a collection of Scots bawdy The Merry Muses of Caledonia which contained a number of songs which he had collected in the countryside, including a song, The Modiewark, which begins:

The modiewark has done me ill
And below my apron has bigggit a hill.

For some reason I find the song to be especially popular today in Susses.

Cyril Phillips sang The Sussex Molecatcher on May 11, 1974 at the Lewes Arms, Mount Place, Lewes, Sussex. This recording was released in the following year on the Transatlantic album of “songs and stories in a Sussex pub”, The Brave Ploughboy.

Amy Birch of Bampton, Devon, sang The Molecatcher in a recording made by Sam Richards, Tish Stubbs and Paul Wilson in between 1974 and 1976, on the Topic album Devon Tradition.

Peter Bellamy learnt The Molecatcher from Vaughan Williams' Norfolk Collection via A.L. Lloyd, and sang it on his 1983 cassette Fair Annie; he was accompanied by Chris Birch on fiddle. This recording was also included on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

Gordon Hall of Pease Pottage, Sussex, sang The Molecatcher on his Veteran Tapes cassette of “songs from a Sussex singing family” In Horsham Town. This recording was also included in 2008 on his and his mother Mabs Hall's posthumous Veteran anthology, As I Went Down to Horsham. John Howson and Mike Yates noted:

Versions of The Molecatcher have turned up all over the place, not that you would necessarily know this, because collectors have been extremely reluctant to include the words in their printed collections. In 1904 the Reverend Baring Gould felt obliged to rewrite the text before printing the song, and five years later, when Ralph Vaughan Williams published three tunes for the song in the Journal of the Folk Song Society, the words were omitted as being “unsuitable for this Journal”. Surprisingly, there appear to be no known broadside texts and it would seem to be a song that has circulated in the oral tradition for at least a couple of hundred years.

Viv Legg sang The Molecatcher on his 1994 Veteran Tapes cassette of songs of his Cornish family, I've Come to Sing a Song.

Harp and a Monkey sang Molecatcher on the 2012 Folk Police anthology Weirdlore.

Steve Roud included The Molecatcher in 2012 in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Brian Peters sang it a year later on the accompanying Fellside CD The Liberty to Choose: A Selection of Songs from The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Georgia Lewis sang The Sussex Molecatcher in 2015 on her eponymous first EP, Georgia Lewis.

Rachael McShane sang The Molecatcher in 2018 on her Topic album with The Cartographers, When All Is Still. She noted:

I found this cheeky song lurking in a dark corner of the Internet and decided to give it a new melody and a chorus. We decided that our friend Ian [Stephenson]'s studio where we recorded this album deserved a tune, so Julian [Sutton] wrote Simpson Street Waltz. No moles were harmed in the making of this song.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Molecatcher Peter Bellamy sings The Molecatcher

Near Manchester city at the sign of “The Plough”
There lived a molecatcher, I can tell you how.

Near Manchester city at the sign of “The Plough”
There lived a molecatcher, I can tell you how.

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing lor te lie day, well well,
Lor te lie little lie,
Lor te lie day

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing lor te lie day, well well,
Lor te lie little lie,
Lor te lie day

He goes a-molecatching from morning till night
And a young fellow came for to play with his wife.

Now he go a-molecatching from morning till night
But come a young fellow for to play with his wife.

Now the molecatcher jealous of this very same thing,
He hid in the wash house to watch him come in.

But the old chap being jealous of this very same thing,
He hide in the wash house to watch him come in.

Now when this young fellow come over the stile
That caused the molecatcher so foxy to smile.

And when this young fellow crept over the stile
It caused that molecatcher so foxy to smile.

He knocked at the door and this he did say,
“Oh where is your husband, good woman, I pray?”

And he knocked on the door and this he did say,
“Oh where is your husband, good woman, I pray?”

“He's gone a-moletrapping, you need have no fear,”
But little she thought the molecatcher was near.

“Well, he's gone a-molecatching, so you need have no fear,”
But little she thought that her husband was near.

She went off upstairs and he followed her sign
And the ole molecatcher crept close up behind.

She goes up the stair and she give him the sign
Not thinking that her husband crept up close behind.

Now when that young fellow's in the midst of his frolics
The molecatcher trapped him quite fast by the jackets.

But while this young chap was in the midst of his frolics
The molecatcher trapped him right fast by the shoulder.

The trap it bit tight and he laughed at the sight,
Saying, “Here's the best mole that I've caught in me life.”

“I'll make you pay well for ploughing my land
And the money it will cost you no less than ten pound.”

“So's I'll make you pay well for ploughing of my ground
And the money that will cost you no less than ten pound.”

“Very well,” says the young fellow, “The money I don't mind,
That only works out about tuppence a time.”

“Very well,” says this fellow, “for the cash I don't mind,
That only works out about tuppence a time.”

So come all young fellows and mind what you're at,
Don't you ever get caught in the molecatcher's trap.

So come all you young fellows and mind what you're at,
And don't you ever get caught in the molecatcher's trap.

Louie Fuller sings The Molecatcher

Now, somewhere in Sussex not far from “The Plough”,
There live an old molecatcher, I couldn't tell you how.
A-molecatching he'd go from morning till night
Till he caught the young farmer come and played with his wife.

Now upstairs they went, so fur'vely design,
The old molecatcher followed them closely behind.
Just as they got in the middle of the sport
The old molecatcher caught hold of the young farmer's coat.

He says, “Eh, what have you got at?
I've got you caught hard in my old moletrap.”
I looked at the farmer and grinned at his wife,
“He's the fined old mole I ever caught in my life.”

“Now,” so say the farmer for ploughing his ground,
“When I do plough it will cost him ten pounds.
When I do tell him she'll say it's not fine,
But I'm sure she won't come to about tuppence a time!”

Right fol the ri laddy, right fol the ri day,
Now all you young farmers that come down our way,
If you're not napping you're sure to be fine,
But I'm sure she won't come to about tuppence a time!”

Gordon Hall sings The Molecatcher

Now the week after Easter the weather some-what thin,
I met an old ommicker ugly as sin.
He sat down on his barrow, told me and old yarn
To which you young buggers should listen and learn.

Chorus (after each verse):
Right tool er lye, ool er lye, ool er lye aye,
Right tool er lye, ool er lye, ool er lye aye,
Right tool er lye, ool er lye, ool er lye aye,
Right tool er lye, ool er lye, ool er lye aye.

This jovial ommicker's name was George Plum,
I sat down beside him, bye Christ he did hum.
He told me an old yarn which I now will relate
About a young ploughboy so cruel was his fate.

It seems that in Sussex at the sign of the plough
There lived a mole catcher, I knowed him quite well.
He'd been a mole catching be night and be day
And the ploughboy would come with his wife for to play.

Old mole catcher was jealous of the very same thing,
So he hid in the midden to watch him come in.
And when the young fellow jumped over the stile,
Well it caused the molecatcher so crafty to smile.

Old boy knocked at the door and thus he did say,
“Where is your husband, good woman, I pray?”
“He be a-molecatching, you need have no fear.”
But little she knew the molecatcher was near.

She went on upstairs, gave the old boy the sign,
At that molecatcher came close up behind.
When the sharp fast young fella was at the height of his rollicks,
The molecatcher trapped him quite fast by the …

As the trap it squeezed tighter old mole catcher did smile,
He says, “It's best the mole I've caught in a while.
I shall make you pay dearly for tilling me ground,
Now your antics will cost you the best part of ten pounds”

Says the young fella, “The money I don't mind
'Cos it only works out about tuppence a time.”
So all you young fellas, just mind what you're at
And never get caught in the molecatcher's trap.

Old mole catcher went down to the Plough for a drink
And he said to his cronies, “Lads, what do you think?
I paid that young bugger for ploughing me ground,
Now we'll all have a drink off his old ten pound.”

Old mole catcher got drunk and stood up for to sing,
Some young bugger throwed a tomato at him.
When tomatoes ain't ripe, well you won't break the skin,
But this bugger did, it was still in the tin.

Old mole catcher dragged himself offen the floor
And the young bugger he took a bolt for the door.
But as through that door well he made for a pass,
He got six lace holes of mole catchers boot up his …

Now all you young fellows that follows the plough,
Take heed of the warning I'm giving you know.
Never make free with the mole catcher's wife
Or you'll have sore … tonsils for the rest of your life.

Rachael McShane sings The Molecatcher

In old Tawney Common there’s a pub and a cow,
And there lives a molecatcher and I'll tell you how.
Well, he goes a-molecatching from morning till night,
While the jolly young farmer goes playing with his wife.

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing, o-ho-ho all day and all night,
Singing, o-ho-ho till the moon it shown bright.

Oh the molecatcher jealous of the very same thing,
So he hid in the alehouse and watched him come in,
And when that young farmer jumped over the stile,
Well, it caused the molecatcher to laugh and to smile.

He knocked at the door and thus he did say,
“Oh where is your husband? Good woman, I pray.”
“Well, he's gone a-molecatching so you need not fear.”
But little did she think the molecatcher was near.

She went upstairs and he followed the sign,
But the molecatcher followed them closely behind.
And when they got into the middle of their sport
Well, he molecatcher grabbed him quite fast by his coat.

He clapped his hands and he laughed at the sight,
Saying, “Here's the best mole that I've caught in my life.
And I'll make you pay well for ploughing my ground,
And the money it shall be no less than ten pound.”

“Very well,” said the farmer, “the money I don't mind,
For it only works out about tuppence a time.”
So come all you young farmers and mind where you're at,
Don't you ever get caught in a molecatcher's trap.

Acknowledgements

A.L. Lloyd's lyrics were copied from the Digital Tradition at the Mudcat Café and adapted to his actual singing.