Tuesday 31 January 2012

42: Maggie May

A public service announcement warning sailors about unscrupulous brasses, this song is as scouse as scouse. Several versions are given by Stan Hugill in Shanties of the Seven Seas, and the song retained a popularity well into the 1960s as a standard for skiffle groups - The Beatles, recalling it from their skiffle days as The Quarrymen, recorded a fragment of it on Let It Be.

As a town catering for sailors, Liverpool was riddled with prostitutes. As the sign above suggests, it's not without them today. A popular topic of conversation surrounding this song is whether Maggie May was a real person or simply an archetypal lady of the night; Hughie Jones of the Spinners remarks: "My first job was as an office boy in Duke Street and I’d heard the rumour that Maggie May lived at number 17. One day somebody came in and said a funeral has just gone by and it was Maggie May and that was in 1952. I thought that can’t be true because I’ve always known the song... Was she still alive in the 50s? It is possible. Maggie May had many contemporaries of course. One was called Jumping Jenny and the famous one was The Battle Ship, pretty ominous really."

Maggie May is #1757 in the Roud folksong index.

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