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My Johnny Was a Shoemaker

[ Roud 1388 ; G/D 8:1848 ; Ballad Index OLcM044 ; Bodleian Roud 1388 ; trad.]

Ray and Archie Fisher sang My Johnny Is a Shoemaker, “an English traditional song about the sea and the press gangs” (sleeve notes), in 1963 on the Decca album Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 1.

Steeleye Span sang the first three verses of My Johnny Was a Shoemaker a cappella, with Gay Woods in lead, on their first album, Hark! The Village Wait (1970). The record's sleeve notes commented:

This version, taken from Colm O'Lochlainn's excellent Irish Street Ballads (Vol. II) [1965] is only one of several, the song having attained wide currency in both Britain and Ireland, even turning up in a Welsh version in 4/2 time. The word ‘reive’ in the second verse, not to be confused with ‘reef’, means to draw cord through eyelet holes; implying perhaps that Johnny will be doing a new kind of sewing.

And Ashley Hutchings added in the Mooncrest CD reissue's notes:

I don't think we planned to do this a cappella, it just happened.

A live version from St. David's Hall, Cardiff on December 6, 1994 can be found on the video 25 Live: The Classic Twenty Fifth Anniversary Tour Concert. Another live version from Steeleye Span's tour in December 1996—where they were supporting act for Status Quo—was included as bonus track on the CD reissue of Sails of Silver.

John Renbourn played the tune of My Johnny Was a Shoemaker in 1970 too on his Transatlantic album The Lady and the Unicorn, and the John Renbourn Group recorded the song with Jacqui McShee singing in 1977 for their album Maid in Bedlam (which was reissued in 1996 as part of their Edsel compilation CD John Barleycorn). The album's sleeve notes commented:

Lucy Broadwood and Fuller Maitland included this in the Songs of the Sea section of English County Songs [1893]—basing their arrangement on one that appeared in Heywood Sumner's The Bosom Maker [1888]. The first version to be collected from the tradition though was from Aberdeenshire, Scotland, around the turn of the century, and it seems probable that it was known for years before that. It appears to have been widespread: the earliest known printed version is in an Oliver & Ditson songbook (Boston 1870) while the same song [was] included in a Welsh Methodist hymnbook of 1897.

The theme of the girl waiting at home while the lover is away at sea coupled with a distinctive modal melody has resulted in numerous interpretations by revivalist musicians.

Corrina Hewat sang My Johnny Was a Shoemaker in 1996 on Bachué's CD A Certain Smile.

Vera Aspey sang My Johnny Was a Shoemaker in 1977 on her Topic album The Blackbird. She commented in her sleeve notes:

A traditional song from Kidson's A Garland of English Folk Song (London, 1926). It probably began life in 18th-century Ireland, has turned up as as fo'c'sle song in English sailing ships, as a comic minstrel song in the USA, and its tune has served for a Welsh Methodist hymn.

Rachael McShane sang My Johnny Was a Shoemaker in 2009 on her CD No Man's Fool.

Jon Boden sang My Johnny Was a Shoemaker as the November 20, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Emily Spiers sang My Johnny Was a Shoemaker in 2010 on her CD The Half-Moon Lovers.

Sound Tradition sang My Johnny Was a Shoemaker in 2017 on their CD Well Met, My Friend. They noted:

Short but lively, the first song is a traditional 18th century ditty full of hope and pride as a young man goes off to sea, although we'll never know whether he returned to marry his sweetheart.

Lyrics

Steeleye Span sing My Johnny Was a Shoemaker

My Johnny was a shoemaker and dearly he loved me,
My Johnny was a shoemaker but now he's gone to sea
With pitch and tar to soil his hands
And to sail across the sea, stormy sea,
And sail across the stormy sea.

His jacket was a deep sky blue and curly was his hair,
His jacket was a deep sky blue, it was, I do declare,
For to reive the topsails up against the mast
And to sail across the sea, stormy sea,
And sail across the stormy sea.

Some day he'll be a captain bold with a brave and a gallant crew,
Some day he'll be a captain bold with a sword and spy-glass too.
And when he has a gallant captain's sword
He'll come home and marry me, marry me,
He'll come home and marry me.

The John Renbourn Group's My Johnny Was a Shoemaker

My Johnny was a shoemaker and dearly he loved me,
My Johnny was a shoemaker but now he's gone to sea
With nasty tar to soil his hands
And sail across the briny sea-e-e-e —
My Johnny was a shoemaker.

His jacket was a deep sky blue and curly was his hair,
His jacket was a deep sky blue and curly was his hair.
To reef the topsails he has gone
To sail across the briny sea-e-e-e —
My Johnny was a shoemaker.

A captain he will be by and by with a brave and gallant crew,
A captain he will be by and by, with a sword and spy-glass too.
And when he gets a ship of his own
He'll come back and marry me-e-e-e —
My Johnny was a shoemaker.

And when I am a captain's wife, I'll sing the whole day long,
Yes, when I am a captain's wife then this will be my song.
May peace and plenty bless our days
And little ones upon my knee-e-e-e —
My Johnny was a shoemaker.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: My Johnny Was a Shoemaker.