> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The Jolly Roving Tar

The Jolly Roving Tar / Get Up Jack, John Sit Down

[ Roud 2807 ; Ballad Index Wa071 ; Mudcat 96587 , 96582 ; Edward Green ‘Ned’ Harrigan]

Peter Bellamy sang The Jolly Roving Tar in 1969 on his second LP, Fair England's Shore. This is one of the two songs on the album where he accompanied himself on melodeon. He noted:

I found two verses of The Jolly Roving Tar deep in my memory, with no idea how they got there. There seem to be several versions around, two of them being in Modern Street Ballads and in the Kidson collection, but the verses I added to make a fuller song come from an American version which was collected by a dear and respected friend, American folklorist Frank Warner.

Jeff and Gerret Warner sang Jolly Roving Tar in 1973 on the National Geographic Society's album Songs & Sounds of the Sea, and Gerret Warner sang it in 1976 on the album of songs and chanteys from the days of commercial sail, Steady As She Goes. The first album noted:

For all the harshness of his lot at sea, Jack-tar often found life ashore somewhat less than idyllic. But he could find humor even in his rapid fall, once his pay was spent, from honored “John” to scorned “Jack”, just as the refrain in this lively forecastle ditty reveals:

When your money's gone,
It's the same old song,
Get up Jack! John sit down!

“I have heard this old tune many times,” relates Tony Saletan, “but it touched me most deeply one night as the Shenandoah lay anchored in the still waters of Tarpaulin Cove near Martha's Vineyard. During the afternoon, fog had started to roll in, and by evening it shrouded our vessel like a great gray blanket. On deck kerosene lanterns glowed in the swirling mist, while amidships a halo of yellow light marked the skylight over the main saloon. As I stood on the seemingly deserted deck, I could hear the lapping of waves against the hull, the dripping of condensation falling from the rigging, and the muffled moan of a distant foghorn.

“Spying a shadowy figure at the stern, I made my way aft and as I approached the main saloon skylight, Jeff and Gerret Warner, with our crew below, struck up Jolly Roving Tar. It was as if I had been suddenly thrust into a time machine-sent spinning back through the fog a hundred years or more. For some reason there slid into my mind a picture of two weathered gravestones that I had studied earlier in the day. They stood not far from the old lighthouse near the edge of the cove and they marked the graves of two men who had died at sea—Capt. William Loring, 1788, and Capt.  Eli Parnele, 1805.

“The song was nearing its end when the other man, leaning on the rail and staring off into the fog, cleared his throat. Snatched back to the present I peered closely at him—it was Capt. Bob Douglas, skipper of the Shenandoah, and a man of few words if ever there was one. But he spoke now. Gesturing toward the lighthouse, he said softly, ‘I'll bet the captains are enjoying this.’ ”

Here's the song that Jeff and Gerret recorded that evening. A fine version collected by their family from Lena Bourne ‘Grammy’ Fish of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, who learned it years ago from an old whalerman.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Get Up Jack, John Sit Down on their 1973 album Across the Western Ocean. They also sang it as Jolly Roving Tar live at Holstein's, Chicago, on 5-6 November 1982, which was released in 2000 on the CD reissue of their Live at Holsteins!. They noted on the original recording:

Get up Jack, John Sit Down was a common cry from the landlord or landlady when Jack had finally spent or been cheated out of all of his hard-earned pay. His seat given to John the landsman, he went back to his ship.

The song was collected in America by Frank Warner, who obtained it in New Hampshire from Lena Bourne Fish, whose ancestors had been the original settlers of Bourne, on Cape Cod. As far as we can ascertain it is the only collected version (printed in Lomax). Frank often sings it himself, as do his sons, Jeff and Gerret, but when we first learned it from the singing of Peter Bellamy, (formerly of the Young Tradition) it had changed somewhat from the way the Warners sing it. It was an interesting experience persuading Jeff and Gerret to do the chorus “our” way.

[NB: since these notes were written we have discovered that the original song was written in New York by Ed Harrigan & David Braham, for an 1885 theatre production entitled “Old Lavender”.]

Brian Peters sang Jolly Roving Tar on his 2003 CD Different Tongues. He noted:

Jolly Roving Tar is an American song with English roots I first heard sung by Jeff Davis himself, and learned from Traditional American Folk Songs, that wonderful book of treasures collected by Frank and Anne Warner. Their source for this one was Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire. It’s not found elsewhere in oral tradition, although a song of the same title and similar tune, but with an entirely different set of words, turned up in Old Hampshire (the one in England) in 1906. Jeff and I suspect that Mrs. Fish’s version came from a Tin-Pan-Alley parody. “Get up Jack, John sit down” is what the la­ dies of the streets would say when a sailor’s time had expired and it was time to welcome the next customer.

John Bowden and Sheafknot sang Jolly Roving Tar in 2015 on Vic Shepherd and John Bowden's Hallamshire Traditions CD Still Waters. They noted:

From the singing of the wonderful Lena Bourne Fish of East Jaffray, New Hampshire. ‘Grammy’ Fish was visited in 1940 and 1941 by Frank and Anne Warner, two of the most important collectors of North American songs, and gave them nearly a hundred items, some not found elsewhere in North America. Many of Mrs Fish's songs can be found in Anne Warner's magnificent book Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne & Frank Warner Collection, and she can be heard singing this song and others on The Warner Collection Vol. 1: Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still.

This song was composed by the New York dramatist and vaudevillian Edward Green ‘Ned’ Harrigan (1844-1911) and appeared in his 1995 comedy Old Lavender's Water.

Mawkin sang Jolly Roving Tar on their 2018 album Down Among the Dead Men. They noted:

A song about the life of a sailor. The song recounts how the pub is always willing to be your friend—until you run out of cash.

Lyrics

Lena Bourne Fish sings The Jolly Roving Tar

Ships may come and ships may go, as long as the sea doth roll.
Each sailor lad just like his dad he loves the flowing bowl
A trip ashore he does adore with a girl that's plump and round
When your money's gone, it's the same old song:

Chorus (after each verse):
Get up, Jack, let John sit down
Come along, come along you jolly brave boys
There's lots of grog in the jar
We'll plow the briny ocean
Like the jolly roving tar

When Jack gets in it's then he steers for some old boarding house.
He's welcomed in with rum and gin, they feed him on pork souse.
He'll lend and spend and not offend till he lies drunk on the ground.
When your money's gone it's the same old song …

He then will sail aboard some ship for India or Japan,
In Asia there the ladies fair all love the sailorman.
He'll go ashore and on a tear and buy some girl a gown.
When your money's gone it's the same old song …

When Jack gets old and weather-beat, too old to roam about,
In some rum shop they'll let him stop till eight bells calls him out.
He'll raise his eyes up to the skies, saying, “Boys, we're homeward bound!”
When your money's gone it's the same old song …

Peter Bellamy sings The Jolly Roving Tar

Ships may come and ships may go, just as long as the seas do run
And a sailor man, likewise his dad, he loves his pork and rum.
Now a lass ashore he do adore one that is plump and round;
But when your money’s all gone it’s the same old song:

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Get up Jack, John sit down!
Come along, come along me jolly brave boys,
There’s plenty more grog in the jar;
We’ll plow the briny ocean with a jolly roving tar

When Jack’s ashore he makes his way to some old boarding house
He’s welcomed in with rum and gin, likewise with fork and scouse.
Now he’ll spend and he’ll spend and he'll never offend until he lies drunk on the ground;
But when your money’s all gone it’s the same old song …

He then will ship aboard some ship bound for India or Japan,
Or in Asia there, the ladies fair all loves the sailor man.
He will trip ashore and he won’t scorn to buy some maid a gown
But when your money’s all gone it’s the same old song …

When Jack is old and weather-beat, too old to sail about,
In some grop shop they’ll let him stop ’til eight bells do ring out.
Then he’ll raise his hands high, and loud he’ll cry, “Thank God I’m homeward bound”,
But when your money’s all gone it’s the same old song …

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing Get Up Jack, John Sit Down

Well, ships may come and ships may go, just as long as the seas do run,
And a sailor lad, likewise his dad, he enjoys his pork and rum.
Now a lass ashore he do adore, one that is plump and round
But when your money's all gone, it's the same old song:

Chorus (after each verse):
Get up Jack, John sit down.
Come along, come along, my jolly brave boys,
There's plenty more grog in the jar,
We'll plow the briny ocean with a jolly roving tar.

When Jack's ashore, he'll make his way to some old boarding house,
He's welcomed in with rum end gin, likewise with pork and scouse,
And he'll spend and he'll spend, and he'll never offend, until he lies drunk on the ground.
But when your money's all gone, it's the same old song, …

Jack then will slip aboard some ship bound for India or Japan,
For in Asia there, the ladies fair, they all love a sailor man,
And he'll go ashore, and he won't scorn to buy some maid a gown.
But when your money's all gone, it's the same old song, …

When Jack is old and weather-beat, too old to sail about,
They'll let him stop in some grog shop till eight bells do ring out.
Then he'll raise his hands high, and loud he'll cry: “Great God! I'm homeward bound.”
But when your money's all gone, it's the same old song, …