The Ale-House Door (painting of c. 1790 by Henry Singleton – courtesy of Wikiwand)
‘Wild Rover No More’ is the eighth song on Burl Ives’ 1953 album ‘9 Australian Folk Songs.’ It was included in Banjo Paterson’s ‘Old Bush Songs’, and also in Douglas Stewart’s and Nancy Keesing’s ‘Old Bush Songs.’ Having said that, there is nothing distinctly Australian about the song at all, and very few Australians have recorded it. The song would appear to have been originally written for the temperance movement, propaganda to discourage the consumption of alcohol. Ironically, it is now best known as a drinking song, and is very popular in the pubs of Ireland. In recent times, it has mostly been recorded by Irish performers – The Pogues, The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers, The High Kings, etc. Having said that, when The Clancy Brothers introduce the song on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest TV show in the 1960s, they refer to it as “an old Australian song.”
Despite the song’s popularity in Ireland, the origins of the song most likely lie with England. There is also evidence that an early version of the song was sung by fishermen in the North Atlantic. The website ‘Mainly Norfolk’ tells us that ‘Wild Rover No More’ probably evolved from a song entitled ‘The Green Bed’, where the poorly treated ‘rover’ is a fisherman.
The Institute of Australian Culture
Australian Folk Songs
Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music
Irish Australian Song Library
Refreshment Shanty, Ballarat 1854 (by Samuel Thomas Gill, courtesy of Art Gallery of Ballarat)
Since the death of Pete Seeger I’ve been listening to him more and more – and the most satisfying examples of his work are coming from the episodes of his TV show “The Rainbow Quest” on YouTube. I’d stumbled on these in a haphazard way in the past, never giving them too much thought, but now I realise just what utter treasures they are, and am viewing them – and the show itself – in a much more considered way.
Here is my little poetic tribute to “The Rainbow Quest” (with some thanks to Wikipedia, too).
The Rainbow Quest
Pete Seeger had many a musical guest
On his little TV show,”The Rainbow Quest”.
They came from all over, with banjos in tow,
To jump on the set, and be part of the show.
Few people saw it. The budget was slight
(Thirty-nine episodes, all black and white),
But Seeger was having the time of his life,
Ably assisted by Toshi, his wife.
Folk, old-timey, bluegrass, blues,
They came on board to spread the news
That musical talent was everywhere,
Though many were troubled, and worn with care.
They carried the message that music brings
Hope to the plucker, the person that sings;
That it opens your lungs, that it fills your heart,
That it brings fresh hope of a bright new start.
These weren’t the tunes of expensive schools.
They were ordinary folk with handmade tools,
Yet ‘ordinary’ doesn’t describe them well.
They were gifted maestros with tales to tell;
Tales of hardship, tales of pain,
Tales of falling again and again,
Tales of trouble, tales of strife,
Triumphant tales through difficult life.
Seeger’s childhood wasn’t that tough,
A white boy’s romp through bubble and fluff,
Yet he formed a rapport with these women and men
Through the bonds of strumming, and pencil or pen.
He formed a bridge that is all too rare
‘Tween the world of wealth, and the world of care;
‘Tween black and white, and Indian, too
(While Toshi directed the camera crew).
He’s gone now. No new notes will come
From his throat. No strumming of finger or thumb.
Yet I believe that his legacy
Will only grow – well, it will for me.
There’s live recordings of concerts grand
Where he’s backed by a talented, jaunty band,
But perhaps the record that captures him best
Is that little TV show, “The Rainbow Quest”.