The Raggle Taggle Gypsy

"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy" (Roud 1, Child 200), is a traditional folk song that originated as a Scottish border ballad, and has been popular throughout Britain, Ireland and North America. It concerns a rich lady who runs off to join the gypsies (or one gypsy). Common alternative names are "The Raggle Taggle Gypsies O", "The Gypsy Laddie(s)", "Black Jack David" (or "Davy") and "Seven Yellow Gypsies".

Popularity

In the folk tradition the song was extremely popular, spread all over the English-speaking world by broadsheets and oral tradition. It went under a great many titles, including "Black Jack Davy", "The Gypsy Laddie", "The Draggletail Gypsies", "Seven Yellow Gypsies" and "Johnnie Faa". According to Roud and Bishop,

"Definitely in the top five Child ballads in terms of widespread popularity, and possibly second only to 'Barbara Allen', the Gypsies stealing the lady, or, to put it the other way round, the lady running off with the sexy Gypsies, has caught singers' attention all over the anglophone world for more than 200 years. For obvious reasons, the song has long been a favourite with members of the travelling community."[1]

The song was also published in books. Robert Burns used the song in his Reliques of Robert Burns; consisting chiefly of original letters, poems, and critical observations on Scottish songs (1808). Due to the Romanichal origins of the main protagonist Davie or Johnny Faa, the ballad was translated into Anglo-Romany in 1890 by the Gypsy Lore Society.[2][3]

One version, collected and set to piano accompaniment by Cecil Sharp, reached a much wider public. Under the title "The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies O!", it was published in several collections, most notably one entitled English Folk Songs for Schools,[4] leading the song to be taught to generations of English school children.

In America, the country music recording industry spread versions of the song by such notable musicians as Cliff Carlisle and the Carter Family, and later by the rockabilly singer Warren Smith, under the title "Black Jack David". In the American folk music revival, Woody Guthrie sang and copyrighted a version he called "Gypsy Davy" (which was later also sung by his son Arlo).

The Cecil Sharp sheet music version was occasionally used by jazz musicians, for example the instrumental "Raggle Taggle" by the Territory band Boots and His Buddies, and the vocal recording by Maxine Sullivan.

Synopsis

The core of the song's story is that a lady forsakes a life of luxury to run off with a band of gypsies. In some versions there is one individual, named, for example as Johnny Faa or Black Jack Davy. In some versions there is one leader and his six brothers. In one local tradition, the lady is identified as the wife of the Earl of Cassilis. In some versions the gypsies charm her with their singing, or even cast a spell over her. In a typical version, the lord comes home to find his lady "gone with the gypsy laddie". He saddles his fastest horse to follow her. He finds her and bids her come home, asking "Would you forsake your husband and child?" She refuses to return: in many versions preferring the cold ground ("What care I for your fine feather sheets?") and the gypsy's company to her lord's wealth and fine bed. At the end of some versions the husband kills the gypsies. In the local Cassilis tradition, they are hanged on the Cassilis Dule Tree.

Origins

The earliest text may be "The Gypsy Loddy", published in the Roxburghe Ballads with an assigned date of 1720. A more certain date is 1740, the publication of Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany, which included the ballad as of "The Gypsy Johnny Faa". Differences between the two texts suggest that they derive from one or more earlier versions. They were followed by several printings, often copying Ramsay. It was then printed by most of the nineteenth century broadside printers.[5]

In "The Gypsy Loddie"

As soon as her fair face they saw
They called their grandmother over

This is assumed to be a corruption of They cast their glamour over her (i.e. they cast a spell), not vice versa. This is the motivation in many texts for the lady leaving her lord; in others she leaves of her own free will.[6]

In some texts the lord is identifies as "Cassilis", and a local tradition identifies him as the John Kennedy 6th Earl of Cassilis. B. H. Bronson[7] discovered that a tune in the Skene manuscripts and dated earlier than 1600, resembles later tunes for this song and is entitled "Lady Cassiles Lilt".[8] The inference is that a song concerning Lord and Lady Cassilis existed before the two earliest manuscripts, and was the source of both.

Nick Tosches, in his Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll, spends part of his first chapter examining the song's history. He compares the song's narrative to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The ballad, according to Tosches, retells the story of John Faa, a 17th-century outlaw, described as a Scottish Gypsy, and Lady Jane Hamilton, wife of The Earl of Cassilis. Lord Cassilis led a band of men (some sources say 16, others 7), to abduct her. They were caught and hanged on the "Dool Tree" in 1643. The "Gypsies" were killed (except for one, who escaped) and Lady Jane Hamilton was imprisoned for the remainder of her life, dying in 1642.[9]

The song "The Whistling Gypsy" also describes a lady running off with a "gypsy rover". However, there is no melancholy, no hardship and no conflict.

The song "Lizzie Lindsay" has a similar theme. Robert Burns adapted the song into "Sweet Tibby Dunbar", a shorter version of the story. There is also a children's version by Elizabeth Mitchell which has lyrical content changed to be about a young girl "charming hearts of the ladies", and sailing "across the deep blue sea, where the skies are always sunny".

Although the hero of this song is often called "Johnny Faa" or even "Davy Faa", he should not be confused with the hero/villain of "Davy Faa (Remember the Barley Straw)". [Silber and Silber misidentify all their texts] as deriving from "Child 120", which is actually "Robin Hood's Death". According to The Faber Book of Ballads the name Faa was common among Gypsies in the 17th century.

Recordings

A vast number of artists and groups have recorded the song. This selection is limited to artists and/or albums found in other Wikipedia articles:

Album or single titlePerformerYearTitle variantNotes
Early American Ballads' John Jacob Niles1938"The Gypsie Laddie"78 rpm record album
"Black Jack David"Cliff Carlisle1939"Black Jack David"Single on Decca label, reissued on Blue Yodeller And Steel Guitar Wizard (1996)
& A Country Legacy (2004)
"Black Jack David"Carter Family1940"Black Jack David"Single on Okeh label, resissued on several albums
"Gypsy Davy"Woody Guthrie1944"Gypsy Davy"Single recorded by Moses Asch reissued on several albums
"Black Jack David"T. Texas Tyler1952"Black Jack David"Single, reissued on CD by the British Archive of Country Music (BACM)
"Black Jack David"Warren Smith1956"Black Jack David"Single, reissued on several albums
"The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies"
Folk Songs & Ballades of Elizabethan England
Alfred Deller1956"The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies"Vinyl LP the Cecil Sharp version sung in Elizabethan style by countertenor
The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love SongsA. L. Lloyd1956"The Seven Gypsies"
Pete Seeger Sings American BalladsPete Seeger1957"Gypsy Davy"
Songs and Ballads of the OzarksAlmeda Riddle1960"Black Jack Davey"
British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains Volume 1Jean Ritchie1961"Gypsy Laddie"
The English And Scottish Popular Ballads
Vol.2, F.J. Child Ballads
Ewan MacColl1961"The Gypsy Laddie"
Folk, Blues and BeyondDavey Graham1964"Seven Gypsies"
All the Good TimesAlice Stuart1964"Black Jack David"
Remembrance of Things to ComeNew Lost City Ramblers1966"Black Jack Daisy"
The Power of the True Love KnotShirley Collins1968"Seven Yellow Gypsies"
Prince HeathenMartin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick1969"Seven Yellow Gypsies"Reissued on Martin Carthy: A Collection (Topic: TSCD750, 1999), Carthy also sings it live in the studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros.
Ride a Hustler's DreamElmer Gantry's Velvet Opera1969"Black Jack Davy"
I Looked UpThe Incredible String Band1970"Black Jack Davy"Also (as "Black Jack David") on Earthspan (1972)
The Kerbside Entertainers[10]Don Partridge1971"Raggle Taggle Gypsies"Solo vocal with acoustic guitar
Last of the Brooklyn CowboysArlo Guthrie1973"Gypsy Davy"Charted at #23 on Billboard Easy Listening chart
PlanxtyPlanxty1973"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"Version learnt from John Reilly (see below 1977)
The ShipbuilderBob Pegg & Nick Strutt1974"The Raggle Taggle Gypsies"
Mo’ RootsTaj Mahal (musician)1974"Blackjack Davey"
All Around My HatSteeleye Span1975"Black Jack Davy"Also on On Tour and Gone to Australia (live albums)
and Present - The Very Best of Steeleye Span (2002)
For Pence and Spicy AleMike Waterson1975"Seven Yellow Gypsies"
Are Ye Sleeping MaggieThe Tannahill Weavers1976"The Gypsy Laddie"
Traditional Ballads of ScotlandAlex Campbell1977"The Gypsy Laddie"
The Bonny Green Tree
Songs of an Irish Traveller
John Reilly1977"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"Recorded 1967 The version learnt by Christy Moore
and popularised among Irish groups
Shreds and PatchesJohn Kirkpatrick & Sue Harris1977"The Gypsy Laddie"
There Was a MaidDolores Keane1978"Seven Yellow Gypsies"Version of Paddy Doran (see below 2012)
The Boatman's DaughterGolden Bough1983"Black Jack Davy"This version written by Paul Espinoza of Golden Bough
Watching the White WheatThe King's Singers1986"The Raggle Taggle Gypsies"The Cecil Sharp version, highly arranged for male-voice a capella group
The Voice of the People Vol 6
Tonight I'll Make You My Bride
Walter Pardon1988"The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies"Recorded 1975
The Voice of the People Vol 17
It Fell on a Day, a Bonny Summer Day
Jeannie Robertson1988"The Gypsy Laddies"Recorded 1953
In Search of Nic JonesNic Jones1988"Seven Yellow Gypsies"Recorded 1981 for BBC Radio 2 Radio Folk
Room to RoamThe Waterboys1990"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
New Britain: The Roots of American FolksongBoston Camerata1990"Gipsy Davy"
Fiddler's GreenFiddler's Green1992"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
Good as I Been to YouBob Dylan1992"Blackjack Davey"
Gypsies & LoversThe Irish Descendants1994"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
CometCordelia's Dad1995"Gypsy Davy"
The True Lover's Farewell - Appalachian Folk BalladsCuster LaRue1995"Gypsen Davey"
Neat and CompleteSandra Kerr & Nancy Kerr1996"Seven Yellow Gypsies"
Stargazy PieNancy Kerr & James Fagan1997"Seven Yellow Gypsies"
October SongThe House Band1998"Seven Yellow Gypsies"
Pastures of PlentyJSD Band1998"The Gypsy Laddie"
Blackjack DavidDave Alvin1998"Blackjack David"
TravellerChristy Moore1999"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
Os Amores LibresCarlos Núñez1999"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"Sung by Mike Scott
Broken GroundWaterson–Carthy1999"Raggle Taggle Gypsies"Sung by Eliza Carthy
Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4Carter Family2000"Black Jack David"Reissue of 1940 recording (see above)
Long Expectant Comes At LastCathal McConnell2000"The Gypsies"Also in "I Have Travelled This Country - Songs of Cathal McConnell", a book of 123 songs with accompanying recordings
The Alan Lomax Collection: Portraits
Texas Gladden – Ballad Legacy
Texas Gladden2001"Gypsy Davy"Recorded 1941
The Bonny Labouring BoyHarry Cox2001"Black-Hearted Gypsies O"Recorded 1965
Hattie Mae Tyler CargillDebra Cowan2001"Dark-Skinned Davy"
Wayfaring Stranger: FolksongsAndreas Scholl2001"The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O!"Sung as dialogue between counter-tenor and baritone,
accompanied by Edin Karamazov & the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Away with the FairiesMad Dog Mcrea2002"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
Further Down the Old Plank RoadThe Chieftains2003"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"Featuring Nickel Creek
ElephantThe White Stripes2003"Black Jack Davey"Single track listing
Swinging Miss Loch Lomond 1952–1959Maxine Sullivan2004"Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies"Single recorded in 1950's
Another DawnTempest2004"Black Jack Davy"
With UsThe Black Pine2004"Black Jack David"
VoiceAlison Moyet2004"The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies-O"
The Irish ConnectionJohnny Logan2007"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
Celtic FireRapalje2007"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
The Song TrainHarvey Reid2007"Black Jack Davy"Sung by Joyce Andersen
Act TwoCeltic Thunder2008"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
Fotheringay 2Fotheringay2008"Gypsy Davey"Recorded 1970
A Folk Song a Day: AprilJon Boden2011"Seven Yellow Gypsies"
The Voice of the People
Good People Take Warning
Paddy Doran2012"Seven Yellow Gypsies"Recorded 1952
The Voice of the People
I'm A Romani Rai
Carolyne Hughes2012"The Draggle-Tail Gypsies"Recorded 1968
The Speyside SessionsSpeyside Sessions2012"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
A North Country LassLesley Garrett2012"The Raggle Taggle Gypsies"The Cecil Sharp version, performed by classical soprano and orchestra
My Dearest Darkest NeighborHurray for the Riff Raff2013"Black Jack Davey"
Country SoulDerek Ryan"Raggle-Taggle Gypsy"
"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"Dylan Walshe2015"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"Muddy Roots label, appears on the live album Soul Hell Cafe
From WithoutFerocious Dog2015"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"
Ballads Long and ShortJohn Roberts and Debra Cowan2015"Gypsum Davey"
Strange Country Kacy & Clayton 2016 "Seven Yellow Gypsies"
Look Both WaysSteamchicken2017"Gypsy"
OriginsDark Moor2018"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"

Broadsides

  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(1446), "Gypsy Laddie", W. Stephenson (Gateshead), 1821–1838; also Harding B 11(2903), "Gypsy Loddy"; Harding B 19(45), "The Dark-Eyed Gipsy O"; Harding B 25(731), "Gipsy Loddy"; Firth b.25(220), "The Gipsy Laddy"; Harding B 11(1317), "The Gipsy Laddie, O"; Firth b.26(198), Harding B 15(116b), 2806 c.14(140), "The Gipsy Laddie"; Firth b.25(56), "Gypsie Laddie"
  • Murray, Mu23-y3:030, "The Gypsy Laddie", unknown, 19C
  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(092), "The Gipsy Laddie", unknown, c. 1875

References

  1. Roud, Steve & Julia Bishop (2012). The New Penguin Book of Folk Songs. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-119461-5. p. 446
  2. Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society Vol. II, London 1890–91
  3. The English and Scottish popular ballads By Francis James Child
  4. Baring Gould, Sabine and Cecil Sharp English Folk Songs for Schools. 1906. Curwen.
  5. Roud & Bishop, p. 447.
  6. quoted in Roud & Bishop, p. 447.
  7. Bronson, Bernard Harris, The Traditional Tunes of The Child Ballads, Princeton University Press. 1959–1972. Cited by Roud & Bishop p 447.
  8. Child, "Raggle-Taggle Gypsies".
  9. Tosches, Nick. (1996). Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80713-0.
  10. President Records / Jay Boy JSX2009
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