Sunday 12 February 2012

43: The Rambling Royal

A song about a Scouse deserter trying to get back to his girl in Birkenhead. I found two published versions of this song; the first was in Roy Palmer's Everyman's Book of British Ballads. He writes that "this forceful tale of protest goes back at least to 1798, when Irish rebels had a version beginning 'I am a real republican, John Wilson is my name'". The song definitely survived in Liverpool well into the 20th century, and the version Palmer includes was collected by Phil Colclough, a folk revival singer of some note from Staffordshire who in his early life had joined the Merchant Navy and sailed out of Liverpool. Bert Lloyd also collected a version of this song from Frank Jeffries, a "seaman of Liverpool"; his version is published in Sing Magazine, Vol. 6 No. 6 (1962). It's substantially the same as the one from Colclough in both words and tune, only with a bit more ornamentation.

Given that both the deserter and the Birkenhead girl who promised to conceal him in her bedroom would have been severely punished for their actions, in a certain sense this is as much a song of daring as many tales of wartime heroism. I certainly start to admire the Rambling Royal's swagger and bravado by the time it gets to the last verse.

In the Roud folksong index, this is #982, grouped together with other deserter songs that are clearly very close relations, including 'The Belfast Shoemaker'.

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