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Old Farmer and his Young Wife, The

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Alternative title: Seven Nights Drunk

Place Collected: Cerney Wick
Date collected: Between 1913 and 1916
Collector: Williams, Alfred
Roud Number: 114
Other Numbers: Child 274

Francis James Child chose to call this comic song of husbandly impotence in the face of brazen female adultery “Our Goodman,” an eighteenth-century title.   It is number 274 in his collection.  The song has been found all over the English-speaking world, and Child lists numerous Continental analogues.

Whenever the Dubliners performed The Seven Drunken Nights in the 1960s, Ronnie Drew would advise the audience, “But we’re only allowed to sing five of them.”  Even the five-night version, learned from the poet Seamus Heaney and ending is said to have been banned from Irish radio as indecent.  Thanks in part to numerous  commercial recordings in Britain and America under a variety of titles (including The Cabbage Head Song), Our Goodman is one of the most popular songs of the folksong revival.  Bawdy songs tend to grow bawdier over the decades, and later stanzas of “Our Goodman” can include more graphic discoveries, more far-fetched explanations, and more explicit refutations.  Some recent “Renfaire” versions end by mocking a presumed English lack of sexual stamina.  Such twists add to the song’s popularity. Nowadays the song is often performed as a stage duet. Much of the humour stems from the relentless dramatic irony of the buildup, and many younger singers seem to interpret the song as a feminist statement.

The American singer Oscar Brand introduced Our Goodman to American college audiences in the 1950s.  Steeleye Span recorded Four Nights Drunk in 1971, set to the reel tune, The Primrose Girl.  In New York fifty years ago, Professor Lighter learned a two-melody version in which the husband is a sailor, “home from the sea.”  The tune used for his wife’s replies (“‘You old fool, you damn fool, you son of a bitch!’  said she”) was that of “Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main!”

Several Gloucestershire versions exist with tunes: go to ‘Browse’ and search for 114 under Roud number.


Notes by Jon Lighter