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Run your cursor gently over Rowie's ear to 'ear the essay.

Insolvayent On:2008-08-28 15:50:33

From time to time on these waves of the air I have visited the appalling and twisted world of the folksong: you can best think of these visits as an antidote to Ellen Koskoff's "What In the World Is Music?", I mean Ellen's a dear and her segment's delightful, but WITWIM (as we professionals call it) has always struck me as a bit too much like enabling a dangerous addiction.

Anyway for today's antidotal visit we are going to examine the tragedy of transvestitism (not to be confused with the comedy of cross-dressing) among the young female agonists and antagonists of British folksong.

Now before we start let me make it absolutely clear that I see nothing inherently wrong with transvestitism1; indeed I think that people should be allowed to wear their vests anyway out they want, and so you should bear in mind that this is merely a folkloristic and indeed a clinical investigation.
And for the purposes of this act we’ll ignore all those little drummer boy-girls with their smug smiling at thinking how they
[Female Drummer]
Bloody typical---"slept with a thousand men and a maiden all the while"2.
and, though it is the locus classicus, we'll also turn a blind ear to the various Pollies Oliver.
[Sweet Polly Oliver]
And, as a final bit of willful ignorance, we'll even give a miss to that classic of the Trunch tradition (a nor-folk song from NW Norfolk); wherein the female highwayman turns out to have originally been a man in drag which then turns out to be not as bad for his ... her ... their significant other as might be feared because his ... her ... their accosted young man was, underneath it all, a cross-dressing woman, though not necessarily a maiden all the while.
[Male Female Highwayman]
No, we will instead concentrate on the disturbing case of she whom we will refer to only as Sovay or Solvay, largely on the grounds that one of those is her name---or possibly, since this is folksong, because her name is actually Sophie or Sylvie or Something.
After the traditional 'All on a day' spent dressing herself in man's array...
[Sovay 1]
she goes a-hunting for her truelove, and once she has him in her sights (literally as it turns out), she immediately robs him--- stripping him of his gold in store; and finally demanding one thing more, the ring that she herself had given him (twisted, sick, confused boy that she is). This final act of despoilment being too much even for her wimpy boyfriend, he refuses.
Next day he meets her (after, we hope, she has taken off her man's array) and sees his watch hanging from her (since she has, we hope---if we may be allowed to hope not too strongly---now put on women's array) clothes. This makes him blush (well I did say he was a wimp) and all she has to say for herself is:
[Sovay 2]
"If you'd given me that ring I'd have pulled the trigger and shot you dead" so in her eyes it was just a test of his wimphood.
The song ends here, on what I suppose its perverse author thought was a happy note, and it doesn’t then go on to mention the aftermath where he dumps her, and finds himself a less psychotic love interest---nor the aftermath to that, involving as it does the stalking and the protracted court case and his inevitable entry into the witness protection programme.
So, if you take anything at all away from this short exposé, let it be the implied advice 'Always check on both the underlying sex and prior convictions of your truelove before you start dating'.

Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


If I'd had enough room, this essay would have been entitled "Play 'One Misty Moisty Morning When Cloudy was the Weather' for Me", but I didn't, which is probably a good thing since Mr Eastwood might well have accused ME of stalking.

1 as long as they wear them for the sake of decency inside their shirts (or outside their shirts if they happen to be Americans who never ever seem to get the placement of articles of clothing right---vide the woeful American confusion about braces, suspenders, garters etc.)

2not that it has too much to do with this song, but if you come to think about it, lying down with a load of soldiers and not getting laid would be almost the exact equivalent for female suicide bombers of the old "seventy two virgins"* are for their male counterparts.


*  the which of course, rather than being Heaven for the bombers, must be Hell for the virgins and at this point we should also take a moment to pity the poor dyslexic bomber who only got 27 virgins.



I was brought up in Yorkshire and when I was sixteen
I walked all the way to London and a soldier I became

cho: With me fine cap and feathers, likewise me rattling drum
They learned me to play upon the ra-ba-da-ba-dum
With me gentle waist so slender, me fingers long and small
I could play upon the ra-ba-dum the best of them all

And so many were the pranks that I saw among the French
And so boldly did I fight me boys although I'm but a wench
And they buttoned then up me trousers so up to them I smiled
To think I'd lie with a thousand men and a maiden all the while

And they never found my secret out until this very hour
When they sent me out to London to be sentry at the Tower
When a young girl fell in love with me and she found that I's a maid
She went out to me officer me secret she betrayed
He unbuttoned then my red uniform and he found that it was true
"It's a shame", he says "to lose a pretty drummer boy like you"
So now I must return to me mum and dad at home
And along with me old comrades no longer can I roam


As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A sudden strange fancy came into her head.
"Nor father nor mother shall make me false prove,
I'll 'list as a soldier, and follow my love."

So early next morning she softly arose,
And dressed herself up in her dead brother's clothes.
She cut her hair close, and she stained her face brown,
And went for a soldier to fair London Town.

Then up spoke the sergeant one day at his drill,
"Now who's good for nursing? A captain, he's ill."
"I'm ready," said Polly. To nurse him she's gone,
And finds it's her true love all wasted and wan.

The first week the doctor kept shaking his head,
"No nursing, young fellow, can save him," he said.
But when Polly Oliver had nursed him back to life
He cried, "You have cherished him as if you were his wife".

O then Polly Oliver, she burst into tears
And told the good doctor her hopes and her fears,
And very shortly after, for better or for worse,
The captain took joyfully his pretty soldier nurse.


Sovay, Sovay, all on a day
She dressed herself in man's array.
With a sword and pistol all by her side,
To meet her true love,
To meet her true love away did ride.
As she was riding over the plain,
She met her true love and bid him to stand.

"Stand and deliver, come sir," she said
"And If an you do not, and if you do not, and if you do not, I'll shoot you dead"

He delivered up his golden store
And still she craved for one thing more
"That diamond ring, that diamond ring that I see you wear
Oh hand it over, oh hand it over, and your life I'll spare"

"Oh with that ring I will not part
For it's a token from me sweetheart
You shoot and be damned you rogue" said he
"And you'll be hanged then and you'll be and you'll be hanged then for murdering me"

Next morning in the garden green
Young Sophie and her true love were seen
He spied his watch hanging by her clothes
Which made him blush lads, which made him blush lads like any rose

"Why do you blush you silly thing
I thought to have that diamond ring
'Twas I who robbed you all on the plain
So here's your gold, so here's your gold and your watch again"
"I only did it for to know
If you were be a man or no
If you had given me that ring she said
I'd have pulled the trigger I'd pulled the trigger and shot you dead"


It's of a female highwayman all on a summer's day
She said a frolic I will have and dress in man's array
And I'll ride out along the lea
And hope my true love I shall see
And there I'll test his constancy
With a female highwayman.

cho: With a female highwayman
With a female highwayman
--plus last two lines of verse--

And so this female highwayman has mounted on a horse
And she's rode out and there she's met her true love, of course
"Stand and deliver sir", she said,
"Or if you don't I'll shoot you dead
Or would you rather come to bed
With a female highwayman?"

So they jogged on together till they came unto an inn
And there they called an ostler and boldly they walked in
They called for liquors of the best,
They went upstairs and got undressed
What happened next can ne'er be guessed
To the female highwayman

For she's pulled off her breeches and likewise her jacket red
She's taken off her velvet cape and lay upon the bed.
Her true love in amazement stands
It seems the end of all his plans
For she has proved to be a man
This female highwayman.

Her true love stands like one amazed and at her did stare
But when the joke he did find out he loudly did declare:
"Fear not my love, it's time to smile"
He threw his clothes down in a pile
He was a female all the while
For the female highwayman

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