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The Sheepstealer

[ Roud 2410 ; Ballad Index ReSh093 ; VWML CJS2/9/1303 , CJS2/10/1417 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang The Sheepstealer on his and Dave Swarbrick's 1992 album Skin and Bone; this recording was also included in 1993 on Rigs of the Time: The Best of Martin Carthy and in 2003 on The Definitive Collection. A live recording from the Tanz & Folkfest Rudolstadt, Germany, on July 3, 1992 was included on their 2011 Fellside CD Walnut Creek. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Sing a Song of Sixpence was never like this, and in another sense, neither, as a rule, are songs on this subject. There are two songs called The Sheep Stealer, a great angry show of defiance with a nasty streak a mile wide, and this one, which is a fragment from a woman called Mrs Woodberry in Somerset, to which I have added a verse to give it an ending, and its atmosphere of rumbustious idiocy marks it out among songs on the subject, which generally share the bleaker more sombre tones of The Poacher, written down by Vaughan Williams from a Mrs Joiner just outside St Albans. Apparently the majority of people transported for poaching were first offenders, caught while hunting in order to feed hungry, possibly starving families. Certainly that is the impression left by this song—indeed the stink of entrapment hangs heavy in the air as do the presently celebrated (in some quarters) Victorian values, which insist that the victim's “very large family” survive, in modern terms, on roughly half a dozen bread loaves, after which, nothing.

Lyrics

Mrs Woodberry sings The Sheepstealer Martin Carthy sings The Sheepstealer on Skin and Bone

There was a sheep stole from the marsh,
Will Marpass was the sinner;
He stole the sheep last Saturday night
For Sunday for his dinner.
So good a cook he had,
She was so good and clever,
For a very good pie we should have had
If she had got the liver.

There was a sheep stole from the marsh
And Marpass was the sinner;
He stole the sheep on a Saturday night
For Sunday for his dinner.
So good a cook he had,
She was so good and clever
For a very good pie we should have had
If she's only got the liver.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And sing toora loora lido
Toora loora lay
Toora loora lido

A famous scratch we had
With the stuff we stole just now;
We killed the sheep and skin 'un
Upon an open bough.
One said he'd have the breast,
Another one said he'd have the chain;
Says Wrestling Ned to Stumpy Jack,
“You'll tear off all the spine.”

A famous scratch we had
With the stuff we stole just now;
We killed the sheep and skin him,
All on an open bough.
One said he'd have the breast,
Another one said he'd have the chine;
Says Wrestling Ned to Stumpy Jack,
“You'll tear off all his spine.”

Says Stumpy Jack, “I'll have none of that
From any old fool like you.
If you boiled his head for a year and a day
He'd have more brains than you.”
They fought the whole of the afternoon,
They stopped to get some scran.
But the kids had eat up all of the meat
And the bones was in the pan.

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcription by Cecil Sharp from Mrs. Eliza Woodberry of Ash Priors, Somerset, on August 17, 1907, as printed in James Reeves' book The Idiom of the People with a small correction and added punctuation.

Martin Carthy's version was transcribed by Garry Gillard, with a head start from Wolfgang Hell.

See also the Mudcat Café article Lyr Add: The Sheepstealer.