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Surely one of the most widespread of English-language songs. It is an integral part of the Derbyshire ‘Old Tup’ play, and there are many versions from that county. However, it has escaped the county boundaries and is found everywhere folk songs in English are sung, with multiple verses. It has even gone into the New Orleans Jazz repertoires as “Didn’t he Ramble”. In its time, apart from its part in the Old Tup play, it has served as a sea shanty, a Rugby Club song and a favourite with the folk revival. Bawdy versions have arisen, giving full scope to the imagination when describing the physical attributes of this magic animal.
The fantasy overtones of the song have made some commentators believe that the song derives from some ancient animal ritual. This is unlikely but the song does seem to be quite old. There is certainly evidence of the song being sung in the 18th century, and it was printed on broadsides from the early 19th century onwards, when it already had a vigorous life in oral tradition by then.
The overwhelming number of versions give the venue as Derby, but other locations do occasionally figure: Exmoor, Horsham and in Danny Brazil’s case Salisbury. However, even Danny does change to Derby later in the song.