Living History & Reenactment Music

Musical Rambles Through History © by Sara L. Johnson

Titillating Titles
An "Indelicate" Smoke & Fire Article

The following is the text of one of my past articles in Smoke and Fire News. It concerns historic songs or titles which some individuals might find objectionable or at least indelicate under modern standards. The great Scottish poet and tune collector, Robert Burns, even mentioned the indelicacy of the lyrics to "Dainty Davie" (playing now). Burns' song book, "Merry Muses of Caledonia" was published in the U.S. only in heavily expurgated versions until the latter half of the 20th Century. With good reason.

Titillating Titles: William Vickers Collection

Matt Seattle, in Northumberland, has been publishing old tune collections from various libraries in Great Britain. One he regards as the most important, especially for people studying 18th century repertoire, is the manuscript by William Vickers, which he found in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Society of Antiquaries. He's published all 600 tunes in three booklet, as The Great Northern Tune Book; William Vickers' Collection of Country Dance Music (pub. Dragonfly Music, 1986-1987). The manuscript has the date "the 10th of July, 1772" on the back cover, possibly its completion date. This little poem faces the first page of music:

On Musick

Musicks a Crochet the Sober thinks it Vain
The Fiddles a Wooding Projection
Tunes are But Flights of a Whimsical Brain
Which the Bottle Brings Best to Parfection
Musicians are half witted mery and madd
And Those are the same that admire Them
Theyr Fools if they Pley unless their Well Paid
And The Others are Blockheads to Hire Them.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of searching through these old books, apart from the music, is deciphering the wonderful spelling variations or trying to understand the meaning of the titillating titles. The British have never been as prudish as we. In fact, we apparently still blush to publish an unexpurgated Robert Burns' Merry Muses of Caledonia. And those ladies I know who perhaps still gather to sip tea will not be singing favorite Scottish songs published for them in such collections as Alan Ramsay's 1724 publication 'The Tea Table Miscellany' featuring popular tunes of the day, such as "Geld Him Lasses", "Piss on the Grass", "She's Sweetest When She's Naked".

Now, on to Vickers' tunes, imagine the rollicking lives depicted in: The Beer Stains, The Bouncing Hussy, Bustle Her In The Blanket, Charlie and His Trousers On, Clarty Bitch the Maiden, Claw Her Weam, Come Ashore Jolly Tar - Your Trousers On,

The Cow Bit Off the Miller's Thumb, The Cow's Corrant - or - Gallop and Shite, The Duke's Dang Over His Daddy, Fairly Shot of Her, Four Bare Legs Together, Four Drunken Maidens, Get Her Boo, Hold the Lass Till I Win at Her, How Can I Keep My Maidenhead,

I Cannot Get Time to Play With My Honey, I Lost My Love I Care Not, I'll Lay No More With My Mother, I'll Never Gan To The Dark Cellar Nae Mair, Jack Be The Daddy On't, Jackie's Friends is Never Pleased, Kiss Her Fast - Her Mother's Coming, Kiss'd Her Under the Coverlet,

Lady's Plaything, Lasses Gar Your Tail Toddle, The Lass of the Grass, Lasses Pisses Brandy, Merrily Kiss the Quaker's Wife, My Dear Durst I But Mow You, The New Way of Getting Bairns, Our Bride is No Maid, Seldom Cleanly, Stay and Take Your Breeches Wi' Ye,

Tumble Her Over Again, Such a Wife As Willy Had, We are All Forsaken for Want of Silver, We Will All Lie Together, A Wedding Whatever Comes Out, What Do You Think of Her Now? Whip Her and Gird Her, The Whore's March, Will This Please You? You'll Never Be Like My Other Good Man.

No, they just don't write songs like they used to.