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 "Gypsy Davy", "The Raggle Taggle Gypsies O", "The Gypsy Laddie(s)", "Black Jack David" (or "Davy") and "Seven Yellow Gypsies".
"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 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 Johnny Faa or Black Jack Davy, whereas in others there is one leader and his six brothers. In some versions the lady is identified as Margaret Kennedy, the wife of the Scottish Earl of Cassilis.
In a typical version, the lord comes home to find his lady "gone with the gypsy laddie". Sometimes this is because the gypsies have charmed her with their singing or even cast a spell over her.
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.
Origins and early history
"The Gypsy Loddy", c.1720
The earliest text may be "The Gypsy Loddy", published in the Roxburghe Ballads with an assigned date of 1720. The first two verses of this version are as follows:
There was seven gypsies all in a gang,
They were brisk and bonny, O;
They rode till they came to the Earl of Casstle's house,
And there they sang most sweetly, O.
The Earl of Castle's lady came down,
With the waiting-maid beside her;
As soon as her fair face they saw,
They called their grandmother over.
In the final two lines shown above, they called their grandmother over 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.
Johnny Faa and the Earl of Cassilis
A more certain date than that of "The Gypsy Loddy", c.1720 of a version from 1740 in Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany, which included the ballad as of "The Gypsy Johnny Faa". Many printed versions after this appear to copy Ramsay, including nineteenth century broadside versions. Nick Tosches, in his Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll, spends part of his first chapter examining the song's history. The ballad, according to Tosches, retells the story of John Faa, a Scottish 17th-century Gypsy outlaw, and Lady Jane Hamilton, wife of The Earl of Cassilis (identified in local tradition as the John Kennedy 6th 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. Tosches also compares the song's narrative to the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Common ancestor and "Lady Cassiles Lilt"
Differences between "The Gypsy Loddy" (c.1720) and "The Gypsy Johnny Faa" (1740) suggest that they derive from one or more earlier versions, so the song is most likely at least as old as the seventeenth century. 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.
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.
Hundreds of versions of the song survived in the oral tradition well into the twentieth century and were recorded by folklorists from traditional singers.
The song was popular in England, where recordings were made of figures including Harry Cox, Walter Pardon and Frank Hinchliffe singing the song in the 1960s and 70s. In 1908, the composer and song collector Percy Grainger used phonograph technology to record a man named Archer Lane of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire singing a version of the song; the recording is available in two parts on the British Library Sound Archive website.
Many Irish traditional singers have performed versions learnt in the oral tradition, including Paddy Tunney, John Reilly and Robert Cinnamond; Paddy Tunney's recording is available on the Irish Traditional Music Archive.
Some traditional recordings were made in Scotland, including by the Scottish traveller Jeannie Robertson and her daughter Lizzie Higgins, whose version can be heard online via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.
The song has been recorded many times in the United States, mostly under the title of "Gypsy Davy" or "Black Jack Davy", by people whose ancestors brought the songs from the British Isles. American performers include the Appalachian musicians Jean Ritchie, Buell Kazee, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Dillard Chandler and Texas Gladden; James Madison Carpenter recorded a woman singing a version in Boone, North Carolina in the early 1930s, which can be heard on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website. Many traditional Ozark singers including Almeda Riddle and Ollie Gilbert whose recording can be heard via the Max Hunter collection.
The following four verses are the beginning of the Ritchie family version of "Gypsy Laddie", as sung by Jean Ritchie:
An English lord came home one night
Inquiring for his Lady.
The servants said on every hand,
She’s gone with the Gypsy Laddie.
Go saddle up my milk white steed,
Go saddle me up my brownie,
And I will ride both night and day
Till I overtake my bonnie.
Oh, he rode East and he rode West,
And at last he found her.
She was lying on the green, green grass
And the gypsy’s arms all around her.
Oh, how can you leave your house and land?
How can you leave your money?
How can you leave your rich, young Lord
To be a gypsy’s bonnie?
At the start of the twentieth century, 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, leading the song to be taught to generations of English school children. It was later 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.
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).
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 (musician)||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"|
|Comet||Cordelia's Dad||1995||"Gypsy Davy"|
|The True Lover's Farewell – Appalachian Folk Ballads||Custer LaRue||1995||"Gypsen Davey"|
|Neat and Complete||Sandra Kerr & Nancy Kerr||1996||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|Proud||Glen of Guinness||1996||"The Raggle Taggle Gypsies"|
|Starry Gazy 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)|
|Long Expectant Comes At Last||Cathal McConnell||2000||"The Gypsies"||Also in "I Have Travelled This Country – Songs of Cathal McConnell", a book of 123 songs with accompanying recordings|
|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|
|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|
|Ten Penny Bit||Les Violinik||2007||"Raggle-Taggle Gypsy"||Sung by Paolo Baglini|
|Act Two||Celtic Thunder||2008||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Roodumdah||Wheeler Streer||2009||"Gypsies / Rochdale Coconut Dance"|
|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|
|Nine Miles From the White City||The White Stripes||2013||"Black Jack Davey"|
|My Dearest Darkest Neighbor||Hurray for the Riff Raff||2013||"Black Jack Davey"|
|Country Soul||Derek Ryan||2013||"Raggle-Taggle Gypsy"|
|The Norway Sessions||The Electrics||2014||"Rockin' Taggle Gypsy"|
|"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"||Dylan Walshe||2015||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"||Muddy Roots label, appears on the live album Soul Hell Cafe |
|From Without||Ferocious Dog||2015||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|Ballads Long and Short||John Roberts and Debra Cowan||2015||"Gypsum Davey"|
|Strange Country||Kacy & Clayton||2016||"Seven Yellow Gypsies"|
|Look Both Ways||Steamchicken||2017||"Gypsy"|
|Origins||Dark Moor||2018||"Raggle Taggle Gypsy"|
|The Livelong Day||Lankum||2019||"The Dark Eyed Gypsy"|
|“Gypsy Davey” b/w “Mushi No Uta”||Kikagaku Moyo||2020||"Gypsy Davey"||Single released on SubPop, follows the arrangement of Fotheringay’s 1970 version (released in 2008)|
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.
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.
Bella Hardy's song "Good Man's Wife" is in the voice of Lord Cassillis' wife. The theme of the song is how she fell in love with the gypsy as her marriage turned cold, and the song ends with the familiar exchange of featherbed and wealth for sleeping in a field with her love; the husband's pursuit does not occur.
- 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
- quoted in Roud & Bishop, p. 447.
- Roud & Bishop, p. 447.
- Tosches, Nick. (1996). Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80713-0.
- 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".
- Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society Vol. II, London 1890–91
- The English and Scottish popular ballads By Francis James Child
- "The Black-guarded Gipsies (Roud Folksong Index S169369)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Raggle Taggle Gypsies (Roud Folksong Index S340395)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies (Roud Folksong Index S376441)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Raggle tailed Gypsies (The wraggle taggle Gipsies O) (part 1) – Percy Grainger ethnographic wax cylinders – World and traditional music | British Library – Sounds". sounds.bl.uk. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Raggle tailed Gypsies (The wraggle taggle Gipsies O) (part 2) – Percy Grainger ethnographic wax cylinders – World and traditional music | British Library – Sounds". sounds.bl.uk. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Seven Little Gipsies (Roud Folksong Index S444212)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "The Gypsie Laddie (Roud Folksong Index S237119)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "The Gypsie Laddie (Roud Folksong Index S237110)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- Archive, Irish Traditional Music (19 May 2021). "Seven little gipsies, song / Paddy Tunney, singing in English". ITMA. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "The Gipsy Laddie (Roud Folksong Index S206528)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Three Gypsies (Roud Folksong Index S304829)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "The Gypsum Davy (Roud Folksong Index S341692)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Black Jack Davy (Roud Folksong Index S311526)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Black Jack Davy (Roud Folksong Index S318192)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Black Jack Daisy (Roud Folksong Index S198795)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Gypsy Davy (Roud Folksong Index S237130)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Gypsy Laddie, The (VWML Song Index SN19166)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Black Jack Davey (Roud Folksong Index S301887)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Gypsy Davey (Roud Folksong Index S267950)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- "Song Information". maxhunter.missouristate.edu. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
- Baring Gould, Sabine and Cecil Sharp English Folk Songs for Schools. 1906. Curwen.
- President Records / Jay Boy JSX2009