The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #41454 Message #3734255
Posted By: Lighter
30-Aug-15 - 04:52 PM
Thread Name: ADD/Origins: Yarmouth Town
Subject: RE: ADD/Origins: Yarmouth Town
I have long - no, always - been of the opinion that this song is no older than about 1960.
First of all, the theme is similar to that of Lloyd's "Do Me Ama," a revival hit after he recorded it in the mid '50s. While the song itself dates from the 19th century, it was rarely collected, and Lloyd's version goes rather more smoothly than those of tradition.
"Yarmouth Town" is first noted anywhere on earth just a few years later. It enlarges comically on the already comical situation in "Do Me Ama." It even includes some of Lloyd's lyrics, nearly unchanged. The comparative rarity of trad versions of "Do Me Ama" makes a traditional offshoot of the "Yarmouth Town" rather unlikely - particularly one so witty and singable, yet not to be collected before the heyday of the folk revival in England.
What's more, the very style and melody of "Yarmouth Town" seem modern to me. This is subjective, admittedly, but the lyrics move along very briskly without any broadside-style padding or oral-traditional confusions, missing stanzas, awkward lines, etc. The song seems to be very close to its original form - too close to have been in oral circulation for very long, assuming it ever was.
Once in oral tradition, many feeble songs are sung for decades. It's hard to believe that a song so clever as "Yarmouth Town" could have existed *in tradition* for long without turning up more than once.
The lines "Now he's never seen such a sight before,/ 'Cause the string around the finger was all she wore" is, in my opinion, a little too clever for the 19th century. The use of a *different melody* for the four-line refrain could be older, but it's more typical of the 20th century.
The same may be true of the direct suggestion to the audience in the last stanza to come on down and pull the string. Moreover, the comic motif of one illicit lover being followed by several (in this case no less than fifteen!) doesn't sound very "folk-like" to me, unless you're talking about rugby songs. And even then I can't think of a close parallel. If one exists, I bet the comic focus is on the variety of activities rather than, as here, the mere number of actors.
Finally it seems a bit too good to be true that it's all set in "Yarmouth Town." Sam Larner, of course, was from Yarmouth, and his extensive repertoire of sea songs - including the bawdy "While Cruising 'Round Yarmouth" - made that town almost synonymous with seafaring songs - at least to folkies of the 1960s and beyond.
Quite a coincidence. And the town in "Do Me Ama" goes unmentioned - which is very typical of 19th century broadsides, which were meant to have more than local appeal.
None of these points alone proves anything. But taken together, plus the fact that Peter Bullen via Peter Bellamy is also the credited source of the equally dubious "Fakenham Fair," the likelihood of either "recent" composition or else currency restricted to Peter Bullen's household in the 20th century becomes, in my opinion, impossible to discount. (Even if, as Bellamy averred, the songs were composed by Peter Bullen's grandfather, grandpa must have made them in the 20th century - and likely after he heard Lloyd singing "Do Me Ama"!)
"Fakenham Fair"has been the subject of a very interesting and informative thread of its own:
As with "Fakenham Fair," I do not in any way suggest that people stop singing and enjoying "Yarmouth Town."
But the issue here is "origins" not "wit."