Coulter's Candy

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"Coulter's Candy", also known as "Ally Bally" or "Ally Bally Bee", is a Scottish folk song.

It was written by a former Galashiels weaver, Robert Coltard (1832–1880). He died of a brain tumour [1] and was buried in an unmarked ("pauper's") grave in Eastlands Cemetery, in Galashiels. The song was an advertising jingle for the aniseed-flavoured sweets that he manufactured in Melrose and sold around the markets of the Border towns.[2] The recipe is no longer known, but the song lived on. In 1958 a letter to The Weekly Scotsman reported that a man remembered hearing it from his grandmother, who in turn had learned the song in around 1845. It was collected in a children's playground in 1964 by James T. Ritche, who published it in a book called The Singing Street.

However, Norman Buchan published it earlier in 101 Scottish Songs, Collins, 1962. He states there: "This song probably produced more correspondence than any other when I printed it in 'The Weekly Scotsman' a few years ago. Robert Coultart - the 'Coulter' of the song - made and sold his own candy round all the country fairs and markets in the Borders..............etc. I first heard it from Scots actor, playwright and folk singer Roddy McMillan." He also added one of the verses.

The word bawbee refers to a halfpenny coin.


Ally bally, ally bally bee,
Sittin' on yer mammy's knee,
Greetin' for a wee bawbee, (crying) (a halfpenny)
Tae buy some Coulter's candy. (to)

Poor wee Jeanie's gettin' awfy thin, (awfully)
A rickle o' banes covered ower wi' skin, (bones) (over)
Noo she's gettin' a wee double chin, (now)
Wi' sookin' Coulter's Candy. (sucking)

Mammy gie's ma thrifty doon, (give) (money box) (down)
Here's auld Coulter comin' roon', (old) (around)
Wi' a basket on his croon, (with) (crown/head)
Selling Coulter's Candy.

Ally bally, ally bally bee,
When you grow old, a man to be,
you'll work hard and you'll sail the seas,
an' bring hame pennies for your faither and me,
Tae buy mair Coulter's Candy. " (more) "

Coulter he's a affa funny man, (very)
He mak's his candy in a pan, (makes)
Awa an greet to yer ma, (away) (cry) (your)
Tae buy some Coulters candy. (to)

Little Annie's greetin' tae,
Sae whit can puir wee Mammy dae, (so) (what) (poor) (do)
But gie them a penny atween them twae, (between) (two)
Tae buy mair Coulter's Candy.

The following verse is also sung, at least in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire since before the 1920s:

Coulter's Candy, a penny a lump,
'At's i' stuff tae mak ye jump. (that's) (the) (to) (make) (you)
If ye jump you're sure tae fa', (you) (to) (fall)
Coulter's Candy, a penny fur a' (for) (all)

Covers and parodies[edit]

Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor sang it on their "Scottish Choice" LP, Decca ACL1065, 1961. All the verses in this version, except one, were written by Robin.

In spite of the fact that Coltart was long dead and the sweets no longer in existence, the BBC originally had the song played as 'Sugar Candy', on the grounds that 'Coulter's Candy' was advertising.

It was recorded by Donovan on HMS Donovan (1971). Canadian singer Catherine McKinnon also recorded a version of the song on her album Voice Of An Angel.

Hamish Imlach recorded a parody version, where a buyer complains about the poor quality of the candy. The song was also parodied on BBC Radio Scotland, by comedy group Flying Pig Productions in their show Desperate Fishwives, who related the song to the stereotypically poor Scottish diet.

A version by Scottish folk singer Watt Nicoll was commissioned by Allyballybees Ltd of Abington, South Lanarkshire, to promote their "Coulter's Candy" product and other confectionery. The song contained extra "New" and "Lost" verses.

A version of the song was released by The Kerries in 1967 on Major Minor 45 MM541, the song was produced by Tommy Scott.

Dawn Steele sang part of the song towards the end of Monarch of the Glen season 2 finale episode.

The Irish Rovers sang this song on one of their live recordings in the late 1960s. Between the song's verses were spoken, poetic reminiscences about childhood.

The melody was reused in Bjarne Rasmussen's protest song Storkespringvandet (1966).


  1. ^ "Coulter's Candy". Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  2. ^ "Legend of sweetie salesman unwrapped". Retrieved 2013-10-18. - Home of Coulters candy