> Martin Carthy > Songs > When I Was a Little Boy

When I Was a Little Boy / A Lying Tale / As I Set Off to Turkey

[ Roud 1706 ; G/D 8:1701 ; Ballad Index VWL101 ; VWML GG/1/10/568 ; trad.]

John Stickle of Unst, Shetland, sang the boasting ballad When I Was a Little Boy to Patrick Shuldham-Shaw in February 1952 (BBC recording 18623). This track was later included on the anthology Songs of Animals and Other Marvels (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd included it in 1959 in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Dave Goulder and Liz Dyer sang When I Was a Little Boy in 1970 on their Argo album January Man.

Cyril Tawney sang A Lying Tale in 1970 on his Argo album Cyril Tawney Sings Children’s Songs from Devon and Cornwall.

Roy Harris sang When I Was a Little Boy on his 1975 LP Champions of Folly. Martin Carthy played guitar on this track and Bobby Campbell played mandola.

Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick sang When I Was a Little Boy on their 2006 album Straws in the Wind. Carthy commented in the sleeve notes:

There are the clearest echoes of the beautiful Jean Ritchie family song Nottamun Town in When I Was a Little Boy. They're called “songs of lies” and are a very old idea—an idea assumed with huge effect by Bob Dylan in his epic Hard Rain's Gonna Fall. It's from just about as far north as you can get in Scotland without drowning and the singer, John Stickle from Baltasound on Unst in the Shetlands, who sang many beautiful and unusual songs for Patrick Shuldham-Shaw, was also possessed of a wonderful repertoire of fiddle tunes.

Robert Leng with Jossy ‘Pop’ Mainprize and Jim Eldon sang A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie in three recordings made in Flamborough in 1988 and at BBC Radio Humberside in April 1989. These were include in 2018 on their Musical Traditions anthology Songs and Tales from Flamborough Head. They noted:

A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie is real local stuff. It grew with time and there are three different renditions of it on this album. Robert sang two more verses on the studio recording than on the earlier recordings and Jim added a verse of his own.

A variant called As I Set Off to Turkey was printed in Frank Purslow's 1960 book The Everlasting Circle. Jo Freya sang it in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England. The liner notes commented:

Collected by George Gardiner from David Marlow of Basingstoke, 1906 [VWML GG/1/10/568] . This is a hyperbolic song of the The Derby Ram genre and Gardiner says that it was current among young people about 1830-40 when Mr Marlow was a boy.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings When I Was a Little Boy

When I was a little boy to London I did go,
But now I've turned a roguish blade, my courage it will show.
My feet was on the table, my head was hanging down,
And I jumped over Kingston Hill and never touched the ground,
My tooral laddy whack fol laddy tooral looral ling.

Oh, I bought myself a little bull about three inches high;
People all admired me, all for to hear him cry.
People all admired me, he made such an awful sound,
That he made the steeple of St Paul's Church come a-tumbling to the ground,
My tooral laddy whack fol laddy tooral looral ling.

Oh, I bought myself a flock of sheep and most of them were wethers;
Sometimes they brought me wool, sometimes they brought me feathers.
They were as fine a flock, sir, as anyone could possess,
For every month or six weeks they brought me six lamb apiece,
With my tooral laddy whack fol laddy tooral looral ling.

Oh, I bought myself a little hen, and of her I took great care;
I set her on a mussel shell, she hatched me out a hare.
The hare grew to a milk-white steed about eighteen yard high,
And if anybody tell you a bigger story, I'll tell you it's a lie,
With my tooral laddy whack fol laddy tooral looral ling.

And I bought myself a little box about three acres square;
Stowed it in my breeches' pocket, guineas they were there.
People all admired me, thanked me for what I'd done,
And they gave me a portion of silver and gold about ten thousand ton,
My tooral laddy whack fol laddy tooral looral ling.

Jo Freya sings As I Set Off to Turkey

As I set off to Turkey I travelled like an ox
And in my breeches' pocket I carried my little box.
My box was four foot high, my box was four foot square,
All for to put my money in when guineas are so rare,
To my right tol lol le riddle riddle lol, to my right tol lol li day.

Then I bought me a little dog, his collar was undone,
I learned him to sing and dance, to wrestle and to run.
His legs were four feet high and his hears were four feet wide,
And round the world in half a day all on my dog I'd ride.
To my right tol lol le riddle riddle lol, to my right tol lol li day.

Then I bought me a flock of sheep, their wool it was so sleek,
And every month at the full of the moon they had six lambs apiece.
Then I bought me a little hen, on her I took much care,
I sat her on a mussel shell and she hatched me a hare.
To my right tol lol le riddle riddle lol, to my right tol lol li day.

The hare it proved to be a white steed about fifteen hands high,
And they as can tell a bigger jest, oh dear, oh dear, what a lie.
To my right tol lol le riddle riddle lol, to my right tol lol li day.

Acknowledgements

Lyrics taken from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, ed. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959:101, and adapted to the actual singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.