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The Wild Rover

[ Roud 1173 ; Master title: The Wild Rover ; G/D 7:1480 ; AFS 99 ; Ballad Index MA069 ; The Wild Rover at Fire Draw Near ; Bodleian Roud 1173 ; Wiltshire 1019 ; DT WLDROVER ; Mudcat 31678 , 97556 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang The Wild Rover in 1958 on his Wattle LP Across the Western Plains. He commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

In the nineteenth century, this popular street ballad was issued over and over again on broadsheets by Catnach, Such, Bebbington and other stall-ballad printers. An older song, The Green Bed, describing the adventures of a sailor in an uncharitable boarding house, seems to be the parent of Wild Rover. It appears to have survived better in Australia than in the country of its origin. As late as the early thirties it was quite common along the Bogan and Lachlan Rivers, and presumably elsewhere. I heard two or three tunes for it, but this version learned in the Condobolin district in 1929, from a South Australian named E. Barratt, is the best I know. I never heard in the bush the tune used by Burl Ives but that’s not to say it wasn’t sung. Other versions are to be found in Ashton’s Modern Street Ballads, Creighton’s Songs and Ballads From Nova Scotia, Paterson’s Old Bush Songs, likewise in Old Bush Songs ed. Stewart and Keesing.

Sam Larner sang The Wild Rover in 1959-60 to Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. They printed it in their 1960 book The Singing Island. Thes recording was included in 1961 on Larner’s Folkways album Now Is the Time for Fishing. and in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth.

David Lumsden sang The Wild Rover in 1963 on his, Brian Mooney and Martyn Wyndham-Read’s Australian album Moreton Bay.

Peter Dickie sang Wild Rover in 1967 on Martyn Wyndham-Read’s, Phyl Vinnicombe’s and his album Bullockies, Bushwackers & Booze. He noted:

Originally a 19th century British broadside, Wild Rover was presumably brought to Australia by sailors, where it enjoyed wide currency among bush workers. Banjo Patterson was first to print a bush version in the 1924 edition of Old Bush Songs.

The Dubliners learned The Wild Rover from Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl’s Seeger’s 1960 book The Singing Island and had a huge hit with this song in 1964, turning its mood from temperance to carousing.

Cyril Tawney sang The Wild Rover in 1962 on his HMV EP of songs from the West Country, Baby Lie Easy. All tracks of this EP were included in 2007 on his anthology The Song Goes On. Peter Kennedy noted on the original album:

Learned contagiously from a National Serviceman of Irish extraction on board a floating electrical school in Plymouth harbour. He sang it “in a beautiful piping Irish tenor voice” at one of the Naval singing parties held in the Cornish side of the water in one of those old wooden hulks that lie there for the purpose. We hope no interfering official has taken them away, otherwise we never, no never, can go there any more.

Louis Killen heard a version of Wild Rover on BBC radio in the 1940s, remembered it later, and added it to his repertoire, padded out with Sam Larner’s words. He sang it in a midnight concert in May 1963 in London. This concert was published on the Decca LP Hootenanny in London. Nearly ten years later he sang in with the Clancy Brothers in a live recording from the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, Connecticut on their LP Live on St. Patrick’s Day.

Sandy Denny recorded The Wild Rover on 7 November 1966 for the BBC broadcast “The Johnny Silvo Folk Four”. I don’t know of any official publication or bootleg of this recording.

Jimmy McBeath sang Wild Rover No More as the title track of his 1967 Topic album Wild Rover No More. Peter Hall noted:

A song known in England as The Green Bed and common in North-east Scotland under the title Johnny and the Landlady, is thought to be the original of this piece. Dean Christie found the older song in Banffshire more than a century ago and printed it as The Brisk Young Sailor. The Wild Rover owes its popularity to its wide circulation as a broadside during the 19th Century. Musically, the Aberdeenshire versions show most similarity to those from East Anglia leading one to suspect that the song may have been carried by sea up the East coast.

The Halliard (with Nic Jones) sang The Wild Rover in 1967 on their album It’s the Irish in Me.

Robin and Barry Dransfield sang The Wild Rover in 1971 on their Trailer album Lord of All I Behold.

Jim and Sylvia Barnes sang Wild Roving No More in 1979 with their group Kentigern and in 1985 with their trio Scotch Measure; both eponymous albums were released on the Topic label. They noted on the first album:

The words will be well known to most folk audiences, but the tune is not so familiar, and, we feel, puts a different interpretation on an old favourite. We learned this version from Glasgow fiddler Willie Beaton.

Brian Peters and Gordon Tyrrall sang The Wild Rover in 2000 on their duo CD The Moving Moon. They noted:

The Wild Rover had a vigorous life as an English country song before becoming the tub-thumping anthem of Irish singing groups in the 1960s. We base our rather more reflective version on a set collected in Hampshire in the 1900s.

Brian Peters also sang it on his 2015 CD Squeezebox, Voicebox. This video shows him at the National Folk Festival, Canberra, 2016:

Bob Davenport sang The Wild Rover in 2004 on his Topic CD The Common Stone.

Jim Causley sang Wild Rover in 2007 on his WildGoose CD Lost Love Found. He commented in his sleeve notes:

This more reflective, melancholic version of the somewhat tired old rover was collected from a sailor in Plymouth by the late, great Cyril Tawney. I do love finding interesting versions of songs that have a groan-factor when you so much as mention their names, if only to remind folks that the reason they’ve been done-to-death is simply because they’re fantastic songs.

Andy Turner learned The Wild Rover from the singing of Sam Larner and sang it as the 5 June 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow sang The Wild Rover in 2015 on their CD Summat’s Brewin’. They commented in their booklet:

Learned from she singing of Belinda’s dad, Seamus. A stereotypical Irish drinking song, though its origins are contested…

Sam Lee sang The Wild Rover on Stick in the Wheel’s 2017 anthology of English folk field recordings, From Here.

Ted Kemp and Laura Smyth sang The Wild Rover on their 2017 CD The Poacher’s Fate. They noted:

Whilst commonly considered a rousing drinking song, this version learnt from Peter Kennedy’s 1954 recording of Alec Bloomfield of Framlingham, Suffolk, reflects the song’s temperance roots.

This video shows them at the Green Note, Camden, on 25 November 2013:

Dougie Mackenzie sang The Wild Rover on his 2019 Greentrax album Along the Way. He noted:

The tale of a rover’s return was first heard from Sean Cannon; a great example of how a different tune can alter completely the feel of the song.

Lankum sang The Wild Rover on their 2019 CD The Livelong Day. They noted:

We first heard this version of The Wild Rover from the singing of Dónal Maguire, who in turn got it from fellow Drogheda man Pat Usher. Dónal recorded Pat singing the song in 1974, and the recording was subsequently released on an album entitled The Usher Family [MUASCD010]. Although it can be traced back to an early 19th century English broadside song promoting temperance, this was essentially a re-write of an even earlier song by Thomas Lanfiere called The Good Fellow’s Resolution; or, The Bad Husband’s Return From His Folly. The common ancestor of oral tradition versions found in Ireland, Scotland, England, and North America, it was first printed around 1678-80. The last verse here signals a clear tone of regret and shame, bringing us closer to the original sentiment of the song, which is a far cry from the version more widely sung today.

The Haar sang Wild Rover on their 2022 album Where Old Ghosts Meet and also released it as a single. They noted:

The first single release from the album is Wild Rover (out on 17 March) St Patrick’s Day—is a case in point: not for The Haar the bonhomie of The Dubliners. The band were struck by the idea that the prodigal son’s triumphant return, pockets laden with gold, might not be something that endeared him to everyone in the community that he returned to—jealousy, envy and covetousness are easy to imagine. The greedy landlady suddenly gets an extra gleam in her eye in the lamplit gloom of that dockyard tavern. A dark additional verse by [Adam] Summerhayes gives the final refrains a new poignancy, turning the story on its head. Molly [Donnery] sang a few experimental bars in a minor key, Cormac [Byrne] added a few quietly ominous strikes and the band fell in love with the feel. Adam and Murray [Grainger] found a dark sound, imbued with hints of Arabic and klezmer music. Deciding that Molly would start alone, they hit record, and this is the result.

The Haar’s Wild Rover serves as a potent lesson to our extravagantly consuming society in the wake of current global environmental destruction. We meet the Wild Rover as he reaches a critical time, faced with the opportunity to turn his back on excessive consumption and face up to his past before he loses everything. Vowing to change, and knowing he must, the lure of excess proves too strong a lust. But continuing profligacy and extravagance come at a cost. He succumbs once again when so close to change, and the prodigal son pays the ultimate price for his ways. An opportunity has been missed, never to return… “never no more”.

This is just one example of several in the forthcoming album where the band, who feature not one but two FATEA Instrumentalists of the Year Award winners, take a familiar tune and turn into something fresh that mysteriously feels as if you have known it forever.


A.L. Lloyd sings The Wild Rover

I’ve been a wild rover for a number of years
I’ve spent all me money on whisky and beer
Now I save up me wages, keep money in store
And I never shall play the wild rover no more

Wild rover, wild rover, wild rover no more
And I never will play the wild rover no more

I went to a pub where I used to resort
I told the landlady me money was short
I asked for to trust me, her answer was nay
Such custom as yours we can get any day

So save up your wages, keep your money in store,
Don’t you never play the wild rover no more

Put me hand in me pocket so manly and bold,
And down on the table threw a handful of gold.
Here’s beer and here’s whisky, saying, Bob you’re good bloke,
And it’s don’t you take no notice I was having a joke.

Never mind about your wages nor your money in store,
And you can be a wild rover ever more

You can keep all your whisky and your beer likewise too,
For not another penny I’m spending with you.
For the money I’ve got mine I’m taking good care
And I never will play the wild rover no more.

Wild rover, wild rover, wild rover no more
And it’s never will I play the wild rover no more

I’ll go home to me parents and I’ll tell what I’ve done
And ask them to pardon their prodigal son.
And if they’ll forgive me as they’ve done before
Oh, it’s never will I play the wild rover no more.

Wild rover, wild rover, wild rover no more
No never will I play the wild rover no more

Sam Larner sings The Wild Rover

Yes, we use to, and we used to have a rare old, good old time. We used to get in the old pub, and we used to have a song, a drink and a four-handed reel. [Diddles the reel] Round we’d go. Whoop! They go! [Laughs] That’s all there was for our enjoyment.

Here’s to the world as round as a wheel.
We all the sting of death must feel.
But if life was a thing that money would buy.
The rich would live and one poor would die.

But God in his goodness has ordained it so.
That the rich and the poor all together must go.
Big bees fly high, little bees gather the honey,
The poor man work hard, and the rich man pocket the money.

I’ve been a wild rover for many long year
I’ve spent all my money on wine, ale and beer,
Now to give up all roving, put my money in store.
And ne’er will I play the wild rover no more.

Chorus (after each verse):
Nay, no never, never no more.
Ne’er will I play the wild rover no more.

I went into an alehouse where I used to frequent,
And told the landlady my money was all spent.
I called for a pint, but she says to me, “Nay,
Such customer as you I can meet every day.”

I put my hand in my pocket, drew handfuls of gold.
And on the round table it glittered and rolled.
“Now here’s my best brandy, my whiskey and all.”
“Begone, landlady. I’ll have none at all.”

Now, I’ll go home to my parents, tell them what I’ve done,
And ask to give pardon to a prodigal son.
And if they forgive me, which they’ve done times before,
Then ne’er will I play the wild rover no more.

Jimmy McBeath sings The Wild Rover

I’ve been a wild rover for many a year
An’ I spent all my money on whisky and beer
But now I’ll give over, put my money in store
An’ I’ll be a wild rover, no never, no more.

Chorus (after each verse):
An’ it’s no, nay never, never no more,
An’ I’ll be a wild rover no never no more.

I went into an ale-house l’d oft-times frequent
And I told the Landlady my money was spent
I asked for some credit and she answered me: “Nay,
We’ve got o such customers like you every day.”

l put my hand in my pocket drew out silver and gold
And the Iandlady’s eyes they began for to roll,
She says: “We’ve got wines and spirits and beers in galore.”
Aye, no, never, never no more, and I’ll play the wild rover no never no more.

I’ll go home to my parents and tell what I’ve done,
An’ I’ll ask them to pardon the prodigal son.
And if they accept me as they’ve done times before
Then I’ll play the wild rover, o never, no more.

Ted Kemp and Laura Smyth sing The Wild Rover

Well I’ve been a wild rover for many long years
And I’ve spent all my money on tobacco and beer.
But I’ve given up wild roving, put my money in store
And I never will play the wild rover no more.

Chorus (after each verse):
Wild rover, wild rover no more,
And I never will play the wild rover no more.

I went to a alehouse that I used to frequent
And I told the landlady my money was spent.
I asked for a glass and she answered me, “Nay,
Such a customer as you I can find any day.”

I put my hand in my pocket and from it I drew
A handful of notes on the counter I threw.
Now I could have had whisky or brandy galore
But I never will play the wild rover no more.

I’ll go to my father, tell him what I’ve done
And hope that he’ll forgive his prodigal son.
I’ll go to my mother and there I’ll remain
And I never will play the wild rover again.

And its no nay never, no never no more,
And I never will play the wild rover no more.

Acknowledgements and Links

A.L. Lloyd’ version transcribed by Reinhard Zierke. Compare to this the version on Mark Gregory’s Australian Folk Songs website.