The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy" (Roud 1, Child 200), is a traditional folk song that originated as a Scottish border ballad, and has been popular throughout Britain, Ireland and North America. It concerns a rich lady who runs off to join the gypsies (or one gypsy). Common alternative names are "The Raggle Taggle Gypsies O", "The Gypsy Laddie(s)", "Black Jack David" (or "Davy") and "Seven Yellow Gypsies".
In the folk tradition the song was extremely popular, spread all over the English-speaking world by broadsheets and oral tradition. It went under a great many titles, including "Black Jack Davy", "The Gypsy Laddie", "The Draggletail Gypsies", "Seven Yellow Gypsies" and "Johnnie Faa". According to Roud and Bishop,
"Definitely in the top five Child ballads in terms of widespread popularity, and possibly second only to 'Barbara Allen', the Gypsies stealing the lady, or, to put it the other way round, the lady running off with the sexy Gypsies, has caught singers' attention all over the anglophone world for more than 200 years. For obvious reasons, the song has long been a favourite with members of the travelling community."
The song was also published in books. Robert Burns used the song in his Reliques of Robert Burns; consisting chiefly of original letters, poems, and critical observations on Scottish songs (1808). Due to the Romanichal origins of the main protagonist Davie or Johnny Faa, the ballad was translated into Anglo-Romany in 1890 by the Gypsy Lore Society.
One version, collected and set to piano accompaniment by Cecil Sharp, reached a much wider public. Under the title "The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies O!", it was published in several collections, most notably one entitled English Folk Songs for Schools, causing the song to be learned by generations of English school children.
In America, the country music recording industry spread versions of the song by such notable musicians as Cliff Carlisle and the Carter Family, and later by the rockabilly singer Warren Smith, under the title "Black Jack David". In the American folk music revival, Woody Guthrie sang and copyrighted a version he called "Gypsy Davy" (which was later also sung by his son Arlo).
The Cecil Sharp sheet music version was occasionally used by Jazz musicians, for example the instrumental "Raggle Taggle" by the Territory band Boots and His Buddies, and the vocal recording by Maxine Sullivan.
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The core of the song's story is that a lady forsakes a life of luxury to run off with a band of gypsies. In some versions there is one individual, named, for example as Johnny Faa or Black Jack Davy. In some versions there is one leader and his six brothers. In one local tradition, the lady is identified as the wife of the Earl of Cassilis. In some versions the gypsies charm her with their singing, or even cast a spell over her. In a typical version, the lord comes home to find his lady "gone with the gypsy laddie". He saddles his fastest horse to follow her. He finds her and bids her come home, asking "Would you forsake your husband and child?" She refuses to return: in many versions preferring the cold ground ("What care I for your fine feather sheets?") and the gypsy's company to her lord's wealth and fine bed. At the end of some versions the husband kills the gypsies. In the local Cassilis tradition, they are hanged on the Cassilis Dule Tree.
The earliest text may be "The Gypsy Loddy", published in the Roxburghe Ballads with an assigned date of 1720. A more certain date is 1740, the publication of Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany, which included the ballad as of "The Gypsy Johnny Faa". Differences between the two texts suggest that they derive from one or more earlier versions. They were followed by several printings, often copying Ramsay. It was then printed by most of the nineteenth century broadside printers.
In "The Gypsy Loddie"
As soon as her fair face they saw
They called their grandmother over
This is assumed to be a corruption of They cast their glamour over her (i.e. they cast a spell), not vice versa. This is the motivation in many texts for the lady leaving her lord; in others she leaves of her own free will.
In some texts the lord is identifies as "Cassilis", and a local tradition identifies him as the John Kennedy 6th Earl of Cassilis. B. H. Bronson discovered that a tune in the Skene manuscripts and dated earlier than 1600, resembles later tunes for this song and is entitled "Lady Cassiles Lilt". The inference is that a song concerning Lord and Lady Cassilis existed before the two earliest manuscripts, and was the source of both.
Nick Tosches, in his Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll, spends part of his first chapter examining the song's history. He compares the song's narrative to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The ballad, according to Tosches, retells the story of John Faa, a 17th-century outlaw, described as a Scottish Gypsy, and Lady Jane Hamilton, wife of The Earl of Cassilis. Lord Cassilis led a band of men (some sources say 16, others 7, to abduct her. They were caught and hanged on the "Dool Tree" in 1643. The "Gypsies" were killed (except for one, who escaped) and Lady Jane Hamilton was imprisoned for the remainder of her life, dying in 1642.
The song "The Whistling Gypsy" also describes a lady running off with a "gypsy rover". However, there is no melancholy, no hardship and no conflict. Her father rides after her and discovers that the "gypsy" is really a rich lord.
The song "Lizzie Lindsay" has a similar theme. Robert Burns adapted the song into "Sweet Tibby Dunbar", a shorter version of the story. There is also a children's version by Elizabeth Mitchell which has lyrical content changed to be about a young girl "charming hearts of the ladies", and sailing "across the deep blue sea, where the skies are always sunny".
Although the hero of this song is often called "Johnny Faa" or even "Davy Faa", he should not be confused with the hero/villain of "Davy Faa (Remember the Barley Straw)". [Silber and Silber misidentify all their texts] as deriving from "Child 120", which is actually "Robin Hood's Death". According to The Faber Book of Ballads the name Faa was common among Gypsies in the 17th century.
A vast number of artists and groups have recorded the song. This selection is limited to artists and/or albums found in other Wikipedia articles:
|Album or single title||Performer||Year||Title variant||Notes|
|Early American Ballads'||John Jacob Niles||1938||"The Gypsie Laddie"||78 rpm record album|
|"Black Jack David"||Cliff Carlisle||1939||"Black Jack David"||Single on Decca label, reissued on Blue Yodeller And Steel Guitar Wizard (1996) |
& A Country Legacy (2004)
|"Black Jack David"||Carter Family||1940||"Black Jack David"||Single on Okeh label, resissued on several albums|
|"Gypsy Davy"||Woody Guthrie||1944||"Gypsy Davy"||Single recorded by Moses Asch reissued on several albums|
|"Black Jack David"||T. Texas Tyler||1952||"Black Jack David"||Single, reissued on CD by the British Archive of Country Music (BACM)|
|"Black Jack David"||Warren Smith||1956||"Black Jack David"||Single, reissued on several albums|
|"The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies"
Folk Songs & Ballades of Elizabethan England
|Alfred Deller||1956||"The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies"||Vinyl LP the Cecil Sharp version sung in Elizabethan style by countertenor|
|The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs||A. L. Lloyd||1956||"The Seven Gypsies"|
|Pete Seeger Sings American Ballads||Pete Seeger||1957||"Gypsy Davy"|
|Songs and Ballads of the Ozarks||Almeda Riddle||1960||"Black Jack Davey"|
|British Traditional Ballads in the Southern Mountains Volume 1||Jean Ritchie||1961||"Gypsy Laddie"|
|The English And Scottish Popular Ballads
Vol.2, F.J. Child Ballads
|Ewan MacColl||1961||"The Gypsy Laddie"|
|Folk, Blues and Beyond||Davey Graham||1964||"Seven Gypsies"|
|All the Good Times||Alice Stuart||1964||"Black Jack David"|
|Remembrance of Things to Come||New Lost City Ramblers||1966||"Black Jack Daisy"|
|The Power of the True Love Knot||Shirley Collins||1968||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|Prince Heathen||Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick||1969||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"||Reissued on Martin Carthy: A Collection (Topic: TSCD750, 1999), Carthy also sings it live in the studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros.|
|Ride a Hustler's Dream||Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera||1969||"Black Jack Davy"|
|I Looked Up||The Incredible String Band||1970||"Black Jack Davy"||Also (as "Black Jack David") on Earthspan (1972)|
|The Kerbside Entertainers||Don Partridge||1971||"Raggle Taggle Gypsies"||Solo vocal with acoustic guitar|
|Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys||Arlo Guthrie||1973||"Gypsy Davy"||Charted at #23 on Billboard Easy Listening chart|
|Planxty||Planxty||1973||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"||Version learnt from John Reilly (see below 1977)|
|The Shipbuilder||Bob Pegg & Nick Strutt||1974||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsies"|
|Mo’ Roots||Taj Mahal||1974||"Blackjack Davey"|
|All Around My Hat||Steeleye Span||1975||"Black Jack Davy"||Also on On Tour and Gone to Australia (live albums) |
and Present - The Very Best of Steeleye Span (2002)
|For Pence and Spicy Ale||Mike Waterson||1975||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|Are Ye Sleeping Maggie||The Tannahill Weavers||1976||"The Gypsy Laddie"|
|Traditional Ballads of Scotland||Alex Campbell||1977||"The Gypsy Laddie"|
|The Bonny Green Tree
Songs of an Irish Traveller
|John Reilly||1977||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"||Recorded 1967 The version learnt by Christy Moore |
and popularised among Irish groups
|Shreds and Patches||John Kirkpatrick & Sue Harris||1977||"The Gypsy Laddie"|
|There Was a Maid||Dolores Keane||1978||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"||Version of Paddy Doran (see below 2012)|
|The Boatman's Daughter||Golden Bough||1983||"Black Jack Davy"||This version written by Paul Espinoza of Golden Bough|
|Watching the White Wheat||The King's Singers||1986||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsies"||The Cecil Sharp version, highly arranged for male-voice a capella group|
|The Voice of the People Vol 6
Tonight I'll Make You My Bride
|Walter Pardon||1988||"The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies"||Recorded 1975|
|The Voice of the People Vol 17
It Fell on a Day, a Bonny Summer Day
|Jeannie Robertson||1988||"The Gypsy Laddies"||Recorded 1953|
|In Search of Nic Jones||Nic Jones||1988||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"||Recorded 1981 for BBC Radio 2 Radio Folk|
|Room to Roam||The Waterboys||1990||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|New Britain: The Roots of American Folksong||Boston Camerata||1990||"Gipsy Davy"|
|Fiddler's Green||Fiddler's Green||1992||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Good as I Been to You||Bob Dylan||1992||"Blackjack Davey"|
|Gypsies & Lovers||The Irish Descendants||1994||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|The True Lover's Farewell - Appalachian Folk Ballads||Custer LaRue||1995||"Gypsen Davey"|
|Neat and Complete||Sandra Kerr & Nancy Kerr||1996||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|Stargazy Pie||Nancy Kerr & James Fagan||1997||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|October Song||The House Band||1998||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|Pastures of Plenty||JSD Band||1998||"The Gypsy Laddie"|
|"Blackjack David"||Dave Alvin||1998||"Blackjack David"|
|Traveller||Christy Moore||1999||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Os Amores Libres||Carlos Núñez||1999||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"||Sung by Mike Scott|
|Broken Ground||Waterson–Carthy||1999||"Raggle Taggle Gypsies"||Sung by Eliza Carthy|
|Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4||Carter Family||2000||"Black Jack David"||Reissue of 1940 recording (see above)|
|The Alan Lomax Collection: Portraits
Texas Gladden – Ballad Legacy
|Texas Gladden||2001||"Gypsy Davy"||Recorded 1941|
|The Bonny Labouring Boy||Harry Cox||2001||"Black-Hearted Gypsies O"||Recorded 1965|
|Hattie Mae Tyler Cargill||Debra Cowan||2001||"Dark-Skinned Davy"|
|Wayfaring Stranger: Folksongs||Andreas Scholl||2001||"The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O!"||Sung as dialogue between counter-tenor and baritone, |
accompanied by Edin Karamazov & the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
|Away with the Fairies||Mad Dog Mcrea||2002||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Further Down the Old Plank Road||The Chieftains||2003||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"||Featuring Nickel Creek|
|Elephant||The White Stripes||2003||"Black Jack Davey"||Single track listing|
|Swinging Miss Loch Lomond 1952–1959||Maxine Sullivan||2004||"Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies"||Single recorded in 1950's|
|Another Dawn||Tempest||2004||"Black Jack Davy"|
|With Us||The Black Pine||2004||"Black Jack David"|
|Voice||Alison Moyet||2004||"The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies-O"|
|The Irish Connection||Johnny Logan||2007||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Celtic Fire||Rapalje||2007||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|The Song Train||Harvey Reid||2007||"Black Jack Davy"||Sung by Joyce Andersen|
|Act Two||Celtic Thunder||2008||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Fotheringay 2||Fotheringay||2008||"Gypsy Davey"||Recorded 1970|
|A Folk Song a Day: April||Jon Boden||2011||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|The Voice of the People
Good People Take Warning
|Paddy Doran||2012||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"||Recorded 1952|
|The Voice of the People
I'm A Romani Rai
|Carolyne Hughes||2012||"The Draggle-Tail Gypsies"||Recorded 1968|
|The Speyside Sessions||Speyside Sessions||2012||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|A North Country Lass||Lesley Garrett||2012||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsies"||The Cecil Sharp version, performed by classical soprano and orchestra|
|My Dearest Darkest Neighbor||Hurray for the Riff Raff||2013||"Black Jack Davey"|
|From Without||Ferocious Dog||2015||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Ballads Long and Short||John Roberts (musician) and Debra Cowan||2015||"Gypsum Davey"|
|Look Both Ways||Steamchicken||2017||"Gypsy"|
- Bodleian, Harding B 11(1446), "Gypsy Laddie", W. Stephenson (Gateshead), 1821–1838; also Harding B 11(2903), "Gypsy Loddy"; Harding B 19(45), "The Dark-Eyed Gipsy O"; Harding B 25(731), "Gipsy Loddy"; Firth b.25(220), "The Gipsy Laddy"; Harding B 11(1317), "The Gipsy Laddie, O"; Firth b.26(198), Harding B 15(116b), 2806 c.14(140), "The Gipsy Laddie"; Firth b.25(56), "Gypsie Laddie"
- Murray, Mu23-y3:030, "The Gypsy Laddie", unknown, 19C
- NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(092), "The Gipsy Laddie", unknown, c. 1875
- Roud, Steve & Julia Bishop (2012). The New Penguin Book of Folk Songs. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-119461-5. p. 446
- Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society Vol. II, London 1890–91
- The English and Scottish popular ballads By Francis James Child
- Baring Gould, Sabine and Cecil Sharp English Folk Songs for Schools. 1906. Curwen.
- Roud & Bishop, p. 447.
- quoted in Roud & Bishop, p. 447.
- Bronson, Bernard Harris, The Traditional Tunes of The Child Ballads, Princeton University Press. 1959–1972. Cited by Roud & Bishop p 447.
- Child, "Raggle-Taggle Gypsies".
- Tosches, Nick. (1996). Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80713-0.
- President Records / Jay Boy JSX2009