> Steeleye Span > Songs > New York Girls
> Cyril Tawney > Songs > New York Girls
> Bellowhead > Songs > New York Girls

New York Girls / Can't You Dance the Polka

[ Roud 486 ; Ballad Index Doe058 ; trad.]

Bob Roberts sang this song as Can't You Dance the Polka in a BBC Archive recording by Peter Kennedy from the 1950s on the compilation CD Sea Songs and Shanties.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang New York Gals on their 1967 album, New Impressions. This was reissued in 2005 together with all of their Transatlantic recordings on their anthology The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Steeleye Span recorded New York Girls with guest Peter Sellers (who played ukulele and went goon on the lines quoted in brackets) for their album Commoners Crown. The verses are very similar to the version in Stan Hugill's book Shanties from the Seven Seas, p. 283, titled The New York Gals.

Steeleye Span's recording was also included in the 2CD compilation Spanning the Years. Unfortunately, the later BGO CD reissue of Commoners Crown finished early and left out Peter Sellers' matelote quip at the end.

Gordon Jones and Bob Thomas sang New York Girls on BBC Manchester's “Folk Like Us” charity cassette of 1987, Children in Need.

Cyril Tawney sang New York Girls in 1990 on his Neptune cassette Sailor's Delight. This recording was also included in 2003 on his CD Nautical Tawney.

According to Tom Lewis, as cited in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Can't You Dance the Polka? (from S Slade), the “Can't You Dance the Polka?” chorus

[…] is the ‘modern’ version of the song, dating from the eighteen-eighties. Before the popularity of the Polka at this time the same song had a last line in the chorus of “You Loves Us For Our Money”.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang New York Girls with the pre-polka chorus on their 2000 CD of songs of the North Atlantic sailing packets, Across the Western Ocean. They commented in their liner notes:

Also known as Can't You Dance the Polka?, this song achieved considerable popularity to the folk song revival of the late fifties and early sixties. On the packets it was used as a capstan shanty, though here it is sung more as a forebitter. This set is culled from one of the versions given by Hugill, and, in common with many other forebitters, gives an account of Jack Tar's treatment on shore at the hands of the ‘doxies,’ ladies whose livelihood depended on keeping him entertained, but whose honesty and trustworthiness as companions was sometimes questionable. Other versions are given by Colcord and Doerflinger.

Steve Tilston sang New York Gals in 2005 on his CD Of Many Hands.

Jon Boden sang New York Girls as the October 4, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day to commemorate the release of Bellowhead's CD Hedonism which has this song on it too. Bellowhead's live recording from the Cambridge Folk Festival in July 2011 can be found on the DVD Cambridge Folk Festival 2011.

Similarly themed songs are Rag Fair as sung by Frank Purslow in 1960 on Rap-a-Tap-Tap or Peter Bellamy in 1975 on his album Peter Bellamy, and Barrack Street as sung by Nic Jones in 1980 on album Penguin Eggs.

Lyrics

Steeleye Span sing New York Girls

As I walked down through Chatham Street a fair maid I did meet.
She asked me to see her home, she lived in Bleeker Street.

Chorus (after each verse):
And away you Santy, my dear honey,
Oh you New York girls, can't you dance the polka?

And when we got to Bleeker Street we stopped at forty-four,
Her mother and her sister were to meet her at the door.

And when I got inside the house the drinks were passed around;
The liquor was so awful strong, my head went round and round.

And then we had another drink before we sat to eat.
The liquor was so awful strong, I quickly fell asleep.

[Ah, come on, Min, play that modern banjo, Min]

When I awoke next morning I had an aching head.
There was I Jack all alone, stark naked in my bed.

My gold watch and my pocket book and lady friend were gone.
And there was I Jack all alone, stark naked in my room.

On looking round this little room there's nothing I could see,
But a woman's shift and apron [embarrassed falsetto cry]
That were no use to me. [embarrassed falsetto cry]

With a flour barrel for a suit of clothes down Cherry Street forlorn,
Where Martin Churchill took me in and sent me round Cape Horn.

[I say, are you a matelote? Careful what you say, sir—we're on board ship here.]

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing New York Girls

As I walked out an South Street, a fair maid I did meet,
Who asked me then to see her home, she lived on 14th Street,

Chorus (after each verse):
And away, you Johnny, my dear honey,
Oh, you New York girls, you love us for our money.

I said, “My dear young lady, I'm a stranger here in town,
I left my ship just yesterday, from Liverpool I was bound.”

She said, “Come with me, my dearie, and I'll stand you a treat,
I'll buy you rum and brandy, dear, and tab-nabs for to eat.”

And when we got to 14th Street we stopped at Number Four,
Her mother and her sister came to greet us at the door.

Then when we got inside the house the drinks was handed round,
That liquor was so awful strong, my head went round and round.

When I awoke next morning, I had an aching head,
And there was I, Jack-all-alone, stark naked on the bed.

I looked all around the room, but nothing could I see,
But a lady's shift and pantaloons, not worth a damn to me.

With a flour barrel for a suit I wished I'd never been born,
A boarding master picked me up and he shipped ma round Cape Horn.

So come all you bully sailormen, take warning when ashore,
Or else you'll meet some charming girl who's nothing but a whore.

Your hard-earned cash will disappear, your rig and boots as well,
For Yankee girls are tougher than the other side of Hell.

Bellowhead sing New York Girls

As I walked down to New York town a fair maid I did meet;
She asked me back to see her place, she lived on Barrack Street.

Chorus:
And away, Santy, my dear Annie,
Oh you New York girls, can't you dance the polka?

And when we got to Barrack Street we stopped at forty-four,
Her mother and her sister were waiting at the door.

(Chorus)

And when we got inside the house the drinks were passed around;
The liquor was so awful strong, my head went round and round.

And then we had another drink before we sat to eat;
The liquor was so awful strong, I quickly fell asleep.

(Chorus)

When I awoke next morning I had an aching head;
There was I Jack all alone, stark naked in my bed.

My gold watch and my money and my lady friend were gone;
There was I Jack all alone, stark naked in that room.

(Chorus)

On looking round that little room there's nothing I could see,
But a woman's shift and apron that were no use to me.

With a barrel for a suit of clothes down Cherry Street forlorn,
Where Martin Churchill took me in and he sent me round Cape Horn.

So sailor lads take warning when you land on New York shore,
You'll have to get up early to be smarter than a whore.

(Chorus)

Notes to Steeleye Span's version

Matelot is French for sailor, matelote is a dish of fish.

Further note by Simon Collis: Just to say (and you've probably heard this before), that the two “embarrassed falsetto cry” lines are the Goon Show character Minnie Bannister (who was usually played by Spike Milligan, although Sellers could play both parts, just not together). The “Are you a matelote?” line at the end is the character Major (or sometimes Colonel) Denis Bloodnok (regimental oath “open your wallets and repeat after me, 'help yourself'”). the “Ah, come on, Min” line is the character Henry Crun.

Links and Acknowledgements

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Can't You Dance the Polka? (from S Slade).

Thanks to Martin Underwood, Patrick Montague, Kevin Wright and Simon Collis for spelling corrections and the Peter Sellers lines.