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Billy Don’t You Weep for Me

[ Roud V2845 ; Bodleian Roud V2845 ; Mudcat 54686 ; words anon., music Nic Jones]

This song is from a broadside with the title Unfortunate Sally or Billy Don’t You Cry for Me (printed 1833 and 1841 by T. Birt, 39, Great St. Andrew Street, Seven Dials, London. Firth b.25(51)). Nic Jones wrote the tune in 9/8 to fit the odd metre of the text. He sang the song as Billy Don’t You Weep for Me on his 1978 album From the Devil to a Stranger, and this recording has also been included in the Topic Records 4CD anthology The Acoustic Folk Box.

Two live performances of Nic Jones’ are on his CDs Unearthed (2001) and Game Set Match (2006); the latter recording was also included on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2007 CD. On the same album in the Young Folk Awards Finalists section is another interpretation of this song by Ruth Notman and Bryony Bainbridge. Ruth Notman also recorded it in 2007 for her CD Threads and sang it at Kirkby Fleetham Winter Warmer 2010:

Jon Boden sang Billy Don’t You Weep for Me (“A strange, spikey broadside from Nic Jones. All very Hogarthian.”) as the 15 March 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

GreenMatthews sang Billy Don’t You Weep for Me on their 2013 CD A Brief History of Music 1260-1915.

This video shows Jon Loomes singing Unfortunate Sally in January 2015:

Cambridge and Walker sang Billy Don’t You Weep for Me on their 2019 EP Worry, Grief and Care, and David Cambridge sang it on his 2019 CD Songtales too. He noted:

This conversational ballad, with a cautionary note at the end, was published as a broadside in the early 19th century. Billy’s girlfriend Sally is somewhat dismissive of him and prefers to hang out with her guardsman cousin, but Sally is blithely heading for a fall of tragic proportions. The guitar accompaniment is loosely based on the tune which Nic Jones wrote for his recording of Billy.


Nic Jones sings Billy Don’t You Weep for Me

“Sally where are you going that you do look so gay?
I know that I’ve not asked you to take a walk today.”
“You have not asked me, well indeed, it’s a tidy cheek of you,
For you think that there’re no more young chaps; I’ve got a dozen or two.
Billy don’t you weep for me, I’m going to St James’s Park my cousin Joe to see.”

“Cousin Joe, now who is he, he’s a soldier I can tell,
For I know that you’re fond of lobsters, both raw and boiled as well.”
“My Cousin Joe’s a guardsman; he is a handsome chap,
And he wears such fine mustachios and a stunning furry cap.
Oh Billy don’t you weep for me, I’m very fond of Cousin Joe and I’ll sit all on his knee.”

“We’re going to the play tonight, Jack Sheppard* for to see,
And when that it is all over, we’ll all have a jolly good spree.
I’ve got money for a pint of stout and when we’re short of tin,
I’ll even go and pawn my smock to buy us a bottle of gin.”
“Billy don’t you weep for me, I’m very fond of Cousin Joe and I’ll sit all on his knee.”

So what’s the use of him, he never can keep you;
You’ll have to work from morn till night, that’s what you’ll have to do.
You’ll have to make shirts at a penny each or else stand at the tub,
And mark my words, it’s many a day you’ll go very short of grub.
Sally you’ll cry for me, you get back to Cousin Joe and sit all on his knee.”

In about a twelve months after, young Sally came back to me
And she said that she was sorry she’d ever been on that spree.
Wanted me to take her back; says I, “It is no go,
For do you think that I’m such a fool? Go back to Cousin Joe.
Sally you can’t come over me for I see you’ve got a baby to dance all on your knee.”

“Billy how can you serve me so? You really drive me mad!
I’ll have you up before the beak and I’ll swear you are its dad.
When that you get before the bench, they will not let you speak,
And you’ll have to keep the young one on thirty pence a week.
So Billy, how can you serve me so? I’m sure the child belongs to you and not to Cousin Joe.”

Well in a week she gets this summons but she found it was no go;
The magistrate decided that the child belonged to Joe.
She went up to Billy’s back yard, quickly the door she shut,
And when at last they found her, she’d drowned in a water butt.
So young women take a warning from me: never love a soldier or sit all on his knee.

* Jack Sheppard: the 1825 melodrama Jack Sheppard, The Housebreaker, or, London in 1724 by William Thomas Moncrieff (1794-1857)