To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
35 messages

Walk-on characters in songs.

28 Mar 09 - 10:56 AM (#2599236)
Subject: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Darowyn

Walk on parts are common in theatre, where a named character appears on stage but takes no real part in the action or dialogue.
It occurred to me that they occasionally turn up in Folk songs too.
There are three in "The Wee Cooper of Fife"-
Willy Wallachie
John Dougal
And the notorious Rafferty Roo Roo Roo.

What about that well known but frequently misunderstood, West Country trio?-
Johnny Rumbelow and his friends Hal and Tow.
They were up long before the day!

Maybe John Kanakanaka is another one.
Can anyone think of any more?

28 Mar 09 - 10:59 AM (#2599240)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Dave the Gnome

We'll pay Paddy Doyle for his boots.

Who is he and why is he selling his boots?


28 Mar 09 - 11:03 AM (#2599243)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: wysiwyg

I think that at the time the songs were born, the characters that seem like walk-on's, now, probably represented rich meaning and, possibly, real people heavily involved in the story.

Songs, as poetry, have to be shorter than prose. So some names are mentioned, perhaps, for emphasis, only briefly-- just as, in much writing, a brevity may indicate emphasis rather than insignificance.

In our time, our hindsight is imperfect and the folk process also truncates verses, changes name spellings...

Etc etc etc....


28 Mar 09 - 11:05 AM (#2599245)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: The Sandman

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney
Peter Day, Daniel Whiddon, Harry Hawk
Old uncle Tom Cobleigh and all,
Old uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.
Widdiecombe fair.

28 Mar 09 - 11:14 AM (#2599248)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Darowyn

I'd thought of them, Captain, but they do go to the fair and die (along with Tom Pearce's grey mare) so they are a bit more upscale than walk-ons.
They even have a ghost scene!

28 Mar 09 - 11:17 AM (#2599250)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Doug Chadwick

Albert Mooney and old Johnny Murray (or variations thereof) in "the Belle of Belfast City"


28 Mar 09 - 11:22 AM (#2599254)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Doug Chadwick

The crew list of the Irish Rover.


28 Mar 09 - 11:31 AM (#2599259)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: John MacKenzie

Lord Nelson
Lord Collingwood
Old Tosspot

28 Mar 09 - 12:08 PM (#2599276)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh

Not alone in songs; one of the most famous such "walk-on" parts occurs in "Hamlet", where the Gloomy One is wondering whether to set about Claudius:

"Now I might do it pat, now he is praying...""

As generations of smart-arce teachers have asked, who is this mysterious fellow Pat?

28 Mar 09 - 04:04 PM (#2599409)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Artful Codger

Lady Mondegreen—no sooner does she appear (borrowing sugar?) than she's killed.

28 Mar 09 - 04:32 PM (#2599429)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: GUEST,Jonny Sunshine

My favourite example is the third sister who crops up in various versions of The Two Sisters, who's mentioned in the first verse to make a convenient rhyme ("and he had daughters one, two, three"), and is never heard of again.

28 Mar 09 - 06:56 PM (#2599502)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Artful Codger

Maybe she'd already been married off. ;-}

28 Mar 09 - 10:52 PM (#2599582)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: frogprince

"And the one eyed undertaker, he blows a flugalhorn"
             Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.

28 Mar 09 - 10:53 PM (#2599584)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: frogprince

It's too late at night...he is, of course, in "Shelter From the Storm"

29 Mar 09 - 11:40 AM (#2599815)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Darowyn

I've thought of some more,
There's Mary Beaton and Mary Seaton and Mary Carmichael, but not me,

29 Mar 09 - 11:47 AM (#2599824)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: John MacKenzie

The Fourth Craw

29 Mar 09 - 12:04 PM (#2599841)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Leadfingers

But I always thought the FOURTH craw was nae there at al' John !

29 Mar 09 - 04:36 PM (#2600012)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: MartinRyan

In "Father Murphy" there's a nice line describing the fleeing soldiery from an engagement in the Irish rebellion of 1798;

And if Barry Lawless be not a liar
There were more went scrambling up Lugala"

I know where Lugala is (a mountain in Wicklow) but who was the bould Barry?


29 Mar 09 - 05:51 PM (#2600047)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Geordie-Peorgie

Maisie Dotes and Dozy Dotes and Little Lambsie Divie,
Round John Birdgen (Away In A Manger)
Everybody that knew Cock Robin and had a hand in his untimely demise

29 Mar 09 - 06:01 PM (#2600057)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Richard Mellish

How about Magee in
"There was Johnnie MacIldoo and Magee and me"?

Magee is mentioned at the start, but for the rest of the song he is just a member of the group, along with the others who don't get mentioned by name at all, IIRC.


29 Mar 09 - 06:26 PM (#2600067)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: curmudgeon

And let us not forget Rutherglen Will, who deserted his mates to go get pissed with some tanner,

29 Mar 09 - 06:27 PM (#2600068)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Child is full of them.

Take the House Carpenter for example. Disposed of in the first verse, yet he rates a title spot. Is this fair to the protagonists?

"Dear mother" in Lord Thomas and Fair Elinore. Two dear mothers actually, His and Hers, who are far wiser than the male and female lead. Not to mention the inhabitants of the various villages who thought he looked like the King and she looked like the Queen when they rode through -- local myopia, an undeveloped story aching to be told.

What about offstage figures? Lord Randall's (uncredited but lethal) sweetheart, not to mention scads of brothers in numerous ballads. Absent sweethearts and wives galore, as in The Two Soldiers, or, The Comrades' Last Brave Charge. Relatively few turn up late, like Lord Bateman's Turkish Lady. In fact, nearly everyone in the ballads is a walk-on, and some of them are dead.

"Your father and your mother" who "in yonders room do lie a huggin' one another" from Blow the Candles Out.

And then (no need to name the song, is there?) Sheriff Grayson of "If it hadn't been for Grayson, I'd've been in Tennessee." (Tennessee, the Volunteer State, being the walk-on state here.)

Porpoise and porgy of The Eddystone Light. Admissible as they're of human ancestry? Not to mention the keeper's son's (grand)mother sitting on a buoy:

Bein' a buoy for ships wot syle,
And not a boy who's a juvenile myle.

My Bonnie, who lies over the ocean. (Presumably she tells the truth this side of the water.)

The list must be endless.   Bob

29 Mar 09 - 07:02 PM (#2600087)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Darowyn

I'm inspired by WYSIWIG's insight that the real stories of these half-remembered characters have been lost.
Tom Stoppard wrote "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", in which "Hamlet" goes on in the background.
I'm going to write a song about Willy and John and the reason why Rafferty deserves a cheer.
Or maybe "The Deserted House Carpenter" (pity he doesn't have a name though.)
or "The continuing tale of the three Marys"
It's time the world knew the truth! (I will have to invent it, just like a real journalist)

30 Mar 09 - 06:05 AM (#2600280)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Saro

I always feel a bit sorry for "the young bride's mother" in Lord Bateman, who just pops up in time to say "'ere, what about my daughter then!!" or words to that effect, and then (presumably) goes home again. yet another example of the dearth of good roles for older women, I suppose...

30 Mar 09 - 06:27 AM (#2600286)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.

Polly the parrot in The Outlandish Knight.

30 Mar 09 - 07:21 AM (#2600302)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: GUEST,Steve Howlett

My Lord and My Lady in Long Lankin. And what happened to the real nurse?

30 Mar 09 - 09:13 AM (#2600374)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: TheSnail

Donald Norman's daughter (who could make good tea) in WHEN FlRST I WENT TO CALEDONlA and the "maiden from Boulardrie over" makes a brief but devastating appearance.

30 Mar 09 - 11:21 AM (#2600445)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Terry McDonald

The knight dressed in white and the knight dressed in green in 'The Cruel Brother.'

30 Mar 09 - 11:36 AM (#2600455)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Sailor Ron

"The bravest knightin all England" along with "The first and second [ladies] that come in" from Matty Groves.

30 Mar 09 - 03:17 PM (#2600655)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Matthew Edwards

Pride of place should surely go to the legion of little footpages who had to spend their days running up and down the country telling their masters and mistresses that their loyal lovers were:-
a) dying of a broken heart
b) sleeping with Little Musgrave
c) being put to death by cruel parents
d) burning alive in their castles
or (e) all or most of the above.
These poor lads ran hard for their very lives; and where the bridges were broken down they had to take off their shoes and swim (which tells us a lot about the lamentable state of bridge construction in the Early Ballad Era).
None of these poor messengers are named beyond a credit such as "the sisters youngest son", but in the days before the internet the Ballad Country depended on these young men to carry the news from one end of the kingdom to the other in the space of a single stanza.
Let us salute these anonymous messengers whose stalwart achievements have enabled simple ballads to continue for many extra verses while the rest of us went to order more pints at the bar!

Matthew Edwards

30 Mar 09 - 04:24 PM (#2600706)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Geordie-Peorgie

...... and there's the deputy from 'I Shot The Sheriff' - never even named but Bob Marley holds his hands up to shootin' him, but NOT Sherff John Brown

31 Mar 09 - 08:21 AM (#2601176)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: A Wandering Minstrel

The famous Captain Upspoke! (started out as a cabin boy and involved in gender changes)

31 Mar 09 - 10:23 AM (#2601263)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Bat Goddess

Jimmy Twitcher

31 Mar 09 - 10:53 AM (#2601289)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: Mick Tems

"The Collier's Wedding" (South Wales) just about beats the lot:

1. A Collier I be sir
And as you shall see sir
If you listen to me sir
        You'll laugh, I'll be bound
The whole of last summer
I works at the Cymmer
Along with great number
        Of chaps underground.
Tom Jones was my butty,
He works very purty
And sticks to his duty
The whole year around.

2. Tom Jones had a daughter
A beauty I thought her
To marry I sought her
        With fond words and tones
A sweet pretty woman
She strike me uncommon
So crummy and bloomin'
        You can't see her bones,
When first I come nigh her
Her name was Maria
Keziah Sophia
Ann Sarah Jane Jones.

3. I says, bold as a lion
Mr Harris, Mount Zion
You're a man I rely on
        To marry us two.
Tom Jones he is killing
His pig – the gel's willing
And I'll give you ten shilling
        The job for to do
Then like Shah Persian
For the sake of diversion
We'll go by the excursion
        To Cardiff right through.

4. When we stood in Mount Zion
Sarah burst out a-cryin'
As Harris was tyin'
        The true lovers' knot,
Mrs Jones of Llwyn Pia
Was standing there by her
Says she: Come Maria
        To cry you ain't ought.
I will make you turn yellow
And Bill Hughes Cwrtybella
Says she's caught a fellow
        As few girls has got.

5. Says old Morgan Jenkin:
Indeed I am thinkin'
It's dry without drinkin'
        So Tom drawed the beer;
The novel sensation
And great admiration
For my new relation -
        It made me feel queer.
But I hands round the glasses
And everyone passes -
First, drink to the lasses
        As custom is here.

6. Then friends and relations
All filled with impatience
They come from all stations
        The country around;
The Joneses, Bedwellty
There was there in plenty –
I think there were twenty
        As did there, abound
There was Jones, Abergwilli,
Jones Mawr of Caerphilly
Miss Jones, Kidwelly
        Among them was found.

7. Old Jones of Cwmamman
(He's keeping 'The Salmon')
With Jones of Brynamman
        Contented did sit;
There was Jones, Pontardawe,
Could drink up the Towy
If Jones of Sirhowy
        Would help him a bit.
The Jones from Hirwaun
And they from the Derwen
With the Joneses, Scyborwen
        Come after a bit.

8. I saw Jones of the Crumlin
He come in a-stumblin'
And fumblin'and grumblin'
        Because he was late;
Jones Cochin of Magor
And Jones of Tredegar –
This last was most eager
        To empty his plate.
Old Jones of the Blaina
His daughters Sabina,
Malvina, Selina,
        They sit there in state.

9. Young Jones of Blaencuffin
A good one for stuffin'
But he didn't drink nuffin
        Good Templar was he,
Mr Jones of Nantmelyn
(His mane is Llewellyn)
'Mong the ladies was dwelling
        As fine as might me.
While Jones, Pontymister –
He come with his sister!
We all could have kissed her –
Of course, except me.

10. There was Jones, Pontnewynydd,
And Jones of Trawsfynydd
And Jones of Maenmynydd
        With Jones of the Pant;
And Jones, Llety Shenkin
(A beggar for drinkin')
Came quietly slinkin'
        Along with his aunt,
And Mr Jones, Undy
All dressed up like Sunday –
For all that 'twas Monday
        And Jones, Abernant.

11. And Jones of Llandenny
With Jones Abergenny,
(A man among many)
        Was there at the feast;
And Jones of Rhiwderin
I heard him a-swearin'
His coat they was tearin'
        Some called him a beast;
Jones, butcher, Portskewett
He send us some suet
Very kind for to do it –
        I think so, at least.

12. James Jones, Abergorki,
He looked rather gawky
And smell rather smoky
        For a fireman is he;
Miss Jones, Cwmtillery,
And Jones Nantyderry
Was both very merry
        For sweethearts they be.
But I couldn't help thinkin'
That Jones of Tirfilkin
Didn't ought to be winkin'
        So slyly at she.

13. But Jones of Blaenavon
A row he was havin'
With Jones of Cwmavon –
        A thing I can't bear.
'Tis not my intention
All the Joneses to mention
Nor ask your attention
        To all that was there;
There was dozen and dozen
And all of them cousin –
And some there that wasn'
        It made me quite stare.

14. When dinner was over
        The table uncover
And draw up together
        The toasts then come on;
And Cwmshilly Madoc
He gave us Caradoc
And Evan, Llangattock
        Tunes up with Llwyn On.
Mr Thomas, Siloam,
He gave us a poem
He made up at home –
        It were twenty verse long.

15. Then a bard, name of Leon,
He sing a sweet glee on
The town of Caerleon –
        That city so fair;
But William Massaleg
The bard of Bassaleg
Did swear with the Palleg
        No place could compare,
But Davies Llandeilo
He pull off his highbrow
And vow he shall lay low
        This great bardic pair.

16. Among these confusions
I lose the profusions
Of bardic effusions
        No doubt of great worth;
The Jones of the Beaufort
To stop their discomfort
A loving cup offered –
        And Jones of Llanbarth
Says 'Indeed it is hard if
We can't bear a bard if
He comes up from Cardiff,
        Hugh Jones of the Garth.

17.Who then, 'mong the jingling
Of glasses was minglin'
Sweet sounds in an englyn
        On the tuneful sea shore
So we kept on a drinking
And singing like winking
While the bottles was sinking
        Some calling for more.
But Jones the great druid
He took down the fluid
Until he got screwed
        And sank to the floor.

18. Jones, Mynyddislwyn,
Took kind to the brewin'
But drink was his ruin
        And soon laid him low –
Jones of Ystalyfera
Made faces at Sarah
And say he can't bear her
        So I catched him a blow
And then there was some fighting
Which some folks delight in
Never see such a sight in
        E'en sweet Nantyglo.

19. Tom Jones with a poker
Indeed he's no joker
Knocked down that old soaker
        John Morgans, Cwmbran;
And now from the swilling
He turned to a milling
And very near killing
        Both woman and man.
In comes the constable
He hardly was able
But he jumps on the table
        And to speak he began;

20. Mr Jones of Llanwrtyd,
Your clothes is much dirtied
And I fear that you're hurted
        By rolling about;
And indeed, it is certain,
Mr Jones of Llanmartin
You had better be startin'
        Away from this rout
But Jones of Llanmartin
He's big and he's bony –
I'm sorry to own he
        Wouldn't let him go out.

21. Then the whole of the women
Rushed forward a screamin'
Bobby see them a-comin'
        And cut for the door;
The timely occasion
Caused by his invasion
Did bring some cessation
        And peace did restore;
Then Jones of Penydarren,
Says; 'Shut up your sparrin'
I'm sore from the warrin'
        So I'll just take a snore'.

22. My wife with Selina,
Miss Jones of Blaina
Went off, and to join her
        I quickly prepare;
So I stand up before all
And says, very moral,
I hope you shan't quarrel
        If I am not there
Indeed I am thinkin'
With sleep my eye's winkin'
So please, Mr Jenkin,
        Do you take the chair.

23. So I left my companions,
A rare lot of funny 'uns,
A-singing englynions
        Without more excuse
For my dear little woman
So crummy and bloomin'
Was a-waiting my comin' –
        Not an instant to lose,
But soon I was nigh her,
My darling Maria
Sophia Keziah
Ann Sarah Jane Hughes.

Collected by Mick Tems.

01 Apr 09 - 09:16 AM (#2602143)
Subject: RE: Walk-on characters in songs.
From: GUEST,Barry Littelton

Dr Price, that is amazing!