> Martin Carthy > Songs > Work Life Out to Keep Life In

Work Life Out to Keep Life In / The Working Chap

[ Roud 5591 ; G/D 3:656 ; Ballad Index Ord051 ; Mudcat 50615 ; trad., additional lyrics Martin Carthy]

Karl Dallas:: One Hundred Songs of Toil Ewan MacColl: Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads

Chris Foster sang The Working Chap in 1979 on his Topic album All Things in Common.

Martin Carthy sang this song with additional lyrics as Work Life Out to Keep Life In in 1990 on the BBC North West documentary Hard Cash and in 1993 on his own compilation CD Rigs of the Time.

Tom Spiers sang I’m a Working Chap in 2001 on his Tradition Bearers album Allan Water, and the Spiers Family sang it on their 2012 album Oh, Gin I Were There…. They noted:

Tom learned this song many years ago after hearing it sung by Robin Williamson of Incredible String Band fame. It is included in the Greig~Duncan Collection, but Tom’s more complete version comes from John Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads.

Duncan Brown sang Working Chap in 2016 on his and Danny Spooner’s CD of songs of the working life, Labour and Toil. The album’s notes commented:

A Scottish traditional song focusing attention on the exploration of the poor and particularly of home workers. It vividly expresses the poignancy of the struggle to make ends meet. The song appears in John Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads, and also in The Collection. Ord’s collection dates the song back at least to 1883, with the tune being much older.

Thom Ashworth sang Work Life Out to Keep Life In using Martin Carthy’s verses on his 2017 EP Hollow.

Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith sang Working Chap on their 2018 CD Many a Thousand. They noted:

A bothy ballad from Scotland that timelessly depicts the struggles of poverty and working to make ends meet. There is an additional verse written by Martin Carthy who first recorded the song in 1990.

Note: Mike Waterson’s The Working Chap is quite a different song.


Martin Carthy sings Work Life Out to Keep Life In

Oh the working man as you can see
That is what he was born to be
Married to the working wife
That is what she’ll be all her life
Never lived beyond their means
Nor sought assistance from their friends
Yet day and night through thick and thin
They work life out just to keep life in

Chorus (after each verse):
No matter friends whate’er befall
The poor folk they must work or fall
Through frost and snow through sleet and wind
They work life out just to keep life in

Do you see the women how make the gowns
For those in other parts of town
It’s a picture sorrowful to see
And I’m sure with me you will agree
Meagre is our daily pay
To feed and clad a family with
She’s overworked she’s tired and thin
She works life out just to keep life in

Oh mischief mine where do you roam
When reason called you weren’t at home
If you take cheese from off the rat
Is he then free to hunt the cat
If free from union’s free from dues
Are you free from choice or free to choose
Or free as any birds blown by the wind
To work life out just to keep life in

The Spiers Family sings I’m a Working Chap

I’m a working chap as you can see
And you’ll find an honest lad in me
I’m neither haughty, mean nor prood
Nor iver taaks the things too rude
I niver live abeen mi means
Nor seek assistance fae mi friens
But day and nicht, through thick an thin
I’m workin life oot tae keep life in.

Chorus (after each verse):
Sae nae maitter friens whate’er befaa
The peer folk they maun work awa
Through frost an snaw an rain an wind
They’re working life oot tae keep life in.

The peer needle wummin that we saw
In reality and on the waa,
A picture sorrowfu tae see
I’m sure wi me you wid agree.
Her pey’s scarce able tae feed a moose
Far less tae keep hersel an hoose.
She’s naked, hungry, pale and thin
Jist workin life oot, tae keep life in.

Don’t call a man a drunken sot
Because he wears a ragged coat.
It’s better far, mind don’t forget
Tae rin in rags than rin in debt
He may look seedy, very true,
But still his creditors are few.
He toddles on, devoid o sin,
Jist working life oot, tae keep life in.

Aye but maybe frien’s I’ve bade ower lang
An I hope I hae said nithin wrang,
For I’ve merely winted for tae show
The wye the peer folk hae tae go.
Jist imagine a man wi a hoosefae o bairns
Tae raise them up it taaks aa he earns,
Wi a willin heart an a coat gey thin
He’s workin life oot tae keep life in.


Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard