Gypsy Rover


Jon reveals “I’ve only ever heard this sung on forest School Camps but I dare say it was sung a lot in the sixties. I’m guessing it’s an American version. Interesting that the subtext here is ‘you might as well run off with a gypsy because he might be a lord in disguise’, unlike Seven Yellow Gypsies where the subtext is more ‘keep an eye on your wife or she may run off with the gypsies.’ ”

This has stirred some sort of ‘folk-memory’ for me and frustratingly I can’t place it – is it recent, or a throwback to my youth? There’s something about the conjunction of tune and the lines “He whistled and he sang ‘til the greenwoods rang and he won the heart of a lady.” The more I try to peer through the mental fog, the more remote the setting seems, apart from some vague idea of having learned it as a child! On first glance this and Seven Yellow Gypsies both seem to fall under the same Child Ballad #200 along with Gypsy Davy, Black Jack Davy and Gypsy Laddie. All have the Lady running away with a Gypsy or Gypsies and the Lord setting off in pursuit, but this is different in that it has a happy ending with the Gypsy really being a Lord in disguise. But… This is also known as The Whistling Gypsy and was copyrighted by a Leo Maguire from Dublin in around 1950. His claim seems opportunistic at best, as numerous versions with almost identical words, including the “Aaah-di-do” chorus, were already known and widely performed. Still, Wiki here and you’ll note that The Highwaymen had a Top 40 hit with it, which may explain my stirrings, although I also note The Seekers name on the list and my Radio 2/BBC TV upbringing might also put them in the frame. It seems Mr. Maguire’s song-grab may have paid off handsomely, although by Child’s estimations there are versions as far back as the late C17th and C18th that carry the same story. You may want to Wiki again for more here, but I’d caution that Nick Tosche’s attempts to link this to historical fact are probably as dubious as Leo Maguire’s claims. Anyway, as usual I digress and maybe it’s simply that memory dredged up from somewhere that has me really enjoying this, despite now knowing that the darker versions of the tale are far superior.



46 Responses to “Gypsy Rover”

  1. Shelley says:

    Yes, I learned this one as a child at primary school, and apart from performances there had never sung it “out” until a local singaround about a year ago. I said I suspected it had been cleaned up to make it suitable for school children to sing. The assembled throng said I was right, and started to sing all manner of filthy versions to me!

  2. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Another good old song………….I always feel that all songs with choruses such as “Aaah-di-do” and “Right -fol -lol” are to encourage soporific audiences to join in with the minimum of effort.
    @Shelley….please post all the filthy versions

  3. yer gran says:

    Meeting of minds in the mental fog:Elton Hayes in the Disney live action Robin Hood,from 1950’s??

  4. Stephen Jeffreys says:

    Yes, Elton Hayes (‘he sings to a small guitar ‘) recorded a version of this song and it became a regular on Children’s Favourites in the 1950’s. But I believe the song he sang in ‘The Story of Robin Hood’ was ‘Whistle My Love’ .

  5. Reinhard says:

    I have a very old record from 1964 by the Ian Campbell Folk Group, Across the Hills, on which Lorna Campbell sings Gypsy Rover. The sleeve notes said:

    For some reason this song has lent itself widely to popular adaptations. Although this is an Irish song, it has been recorded so many times by American singers, that it is often thought to be an American folk song. This is one song in our repertoire that is known everywhere we go, and we have never yet encountered an audience that didn’t join in the chorus.

  6. Phil says:

    When my sister (born in 1950) was a little girl, she used to sing a song which she thought she’d made up herself: it went

    I know where I’m going
    And I know who’s going with me
    He whistled and he sang till the greenwoods rang
    And he won the heart of a lady

    Almost fits.

    Surprising how many people still know this. Somebody came up to a group of us when we were playing in a pub once and asked if we knew “Ar-de-doo-wah”. (We did.)

  7. Shelley says:

    Muzza – Phil (above) was present when the filthy versions were sung to me. I have cleansed my mind of them!

  8. Jan says:

    Oh, what a shame, Shelley – any offers, Phil?

    Thanks to others above for putting the name Elton Hayes to my memories of hearing the song on Children’s Favourites on the radio. It’s a standard at one of our local folk clubs, but I’ve known it for as long as I can remember, and as Reinhard’s post says, it’s recognised wherever you sing it.

  9. Mehefin says:

    There was a popular version of this song by a group called The Highwaymen that I remember from the ’60s with a whistled intro. It was often played on Children’s Favourites.

  10. Phil says:

    I’m afraid I was very, very drunk. (Seriously, I’ve got no recollection of this at all – although I’m not saying it didn’t happen!)

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    I certainly know this from my childhood – not sure if a version from school and/or one of those songs you heard on the radio because your parents did, like ‘Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley’ – that sure made a big impression on me as a small child!

    I have a feeling I knew of it from both sources, as in the Black Jack Davy/won the heart of the lady sanitised school song, but also an Americanised version as in a Western. I have a possibly-imagined idea of a cowboy riding his horse into town, playing a guitar and singing this, a bit Clancy Brothers like!

    I know! I have some imagination! I thought maybe Robert Mitchum might have sung it once, as he had a fine voice and was recorded with some Irish singers called the Ames Brothers, but is perhaps best remembered for ‘Leaning On The Everlasting Arms’ in ‘The Night Of The Hunter’ with Lillian Gish:

    You never know where it’s gonna lead when you dredge up these folk-memories, Jon!

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    PS I believe the singer on the Clancy Bros YouTube link is Tommy Makem, described as ‘a resonant, agile baritone!’

    One commentator also writes: “It’s a d*mn bl@@dy shame that all four of these guys are gone. We could use good songs like this, not this “modern” cr*p they play on the radio these days!” One up to Jon, I think! Hahahahaha!

  13. johnone says:

    Loved it Jon. I’m so soporific I sang along heartily…. As I do to many of Jon’s songs! Poor poor Shelley having to endure the filthy versions! I’m so glad that she has managed to expunge them!

  14. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @Jane………….so I follow your Youtube link to hear Robert Mitcham sing and I end up with a snatched Bunny…aaarrrggghhh…I’m upset for the day…..please issue warnings for sensitive souls such as I!

  15. Joanne Sheppard says:

    I’m another one who used to sing this at primary school, but have never heard it anywhere else, so delighted it appears here.

    As a child, I was slightly disappointed when the gypsy turned out to be a rich aristocrat. Suddenly he seemed far less interesting for some reason.

  16. John Biggs says:

    Goodness, John, you rattled the memory boxes with this one ! But where was the whistled introduction ? I suppose for many of us of that ‘certain generation’ that I touched on the other day, Uncle Mac on Children’s Favourites gave us our first taste of recorded folk music with this, and the songs of Burl Ives etc. And not forgetting The Deadwood Stage !!

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ John: Well, the Clancy Bros have the whistled introduction as per my YouTube link. Jon likes to make a difference with his own interpretation, I think. And not all of us can whistle! I know, Lauren Bacall said, ‘You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.’

    @ Muzza: That’s Charles Laughton’s great and ominous direction. You didn’t actually get to see the rabbit being carried off… I note not a word about Shelley Winters’ ‘hare’ floating under the water tho! HAHAHAHAHA!

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    I might be getting my cowboys mixed up with my Robin Hood films! Re-reading & building on the above about Robin Hood by Stephen J, Elton Hayes did indeed sing ‘The Whistling Gypsy’ in the 1952 Walt Disney film ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ in which he played Alan-a-Dale, & he composed some of the music for the film too. (Richard Todd was Robin Hood, Peter Finch the Sheriff, James Robertson Justice Little John and Martita Hunt Eleanor of Aquitaine!) I don’t remember Joan Rice as Maid Marion, tho she co-starred with Burt Lancaster in another film.

    Interestingly, Elton Hayes’ 2nd film was ‘The Black Knight’ released in 1954, which starred Alan Ladd. His scenes were cut, but Elton can still be seen in the opening credits as the minstrel on horseback riding up to the castle as he sings the title song (released on Parlophone 78rpm as ‘The Bold Black Knight’). Elton then rides right out of the film, but obviously not out of my confused memory!

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    And he’s riding his horse, playing and singing in Robin Hood as well! HAHAHAHAHA!

    Wonder if it was the same horse?…

  20. Rob Derrick says:

    I have collected about 30 recorded version of the Whistlin, Black-jack, dark-eyed, raggle-taggle gypsy.

    The bluesy version by Taj Mahal is particularly good. I’ve got a Gypsum Davey by Jean Ritchie. A version by Golden Bough that tells the story from the gypsy’s pov, after she runs out on him. But the clear winner for a version that takes the story the farthest away from its origins while keeping it absolutely a true “version” is Clayton Boone, as performed by Ed Trickett.

    Twas way out in New Mexico along the Spanish line
    I was workin’ for old Clayton Boone –a man well past his prime.

    He rides in and asks of me, “What’s happened to my lady?”
    I says to him, “She’s quit your range and run with the handsome Davey.”

  21. SRD says:

    I remember this from youthful listening to the radio and my mother singing it, Phil’s sister seems to have joined two songs together as I can also remember Burl Ives singing ‘I know where I’m going, and I know who’s going with me’ There are versions on youtube.

  22. Jane says:

    Limelighters’ version is the one I know.

  23. Diana says:

    Love this song – Jon’s version is an old favourite. The other versions on Mainly Norfolk I am not at all familiar with, and this one is the one I recall.

  24. Jane Ramsden says:

    Love it! And Rob Derrick’s comment above had me LMAO!

    I note my original link to Elton Hayes on his hoss has been taken down – rats! But I have found him again! It seems he sang ‘Whistle My Love’ as Alan-a-Dale in ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ in 1952:

    and this song in ‘The Black Knight’ opening credits only in 1954:

    The YouTube note reads: From the opening sequence of the 1954 movie, “The Black Knight”, composed by Leo Maguire and sung with lyrics by Elton Hayes, mounted on horseback in the movie sequence. The song was also released on record at that time as “The Whistling Gypsy” with different lyrics and extra verses, sung by Rose Brennan. In 1961, the song was then covered by the Highwaymen as “The Gypsy Rover” (top 40 hit methinks) with slightly altered lyrics, as a follow-up to their big hit “Micheal (row the boat ashore.)”

    Phew! Glad I sorted that out! As I was born between the 2 films coming out, I think I may be forgiven the memory lapse! Lol!

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    Must be the mention of the Black Knight, but now for sthg completely different! I have just received Spiral Earth’s newsletter in my Inbox and it carries a review of ‘Orfeo’ with a Fay interview video – I suspect the same one signposted earlier on here by Reinhard, but can’t find it now to compare.

    Very good, and the closing remarks by Iain Hazlewood must be particularly satisfying:

    ‘It has to be said that the concentration of top class English folk artists in the Sheffield area is virtually the Bloomsbury Group of Folk. In decades to come, their collected songs and tunes will be re-interpreted and adapted by new generations. What better compliment can there be than that?’

    There’s also a pointer to Steve Knightley appearing in a major new BBC 2 TV series. ‘ The Great British Story,’ presented by historian Michael Wood, starts on Friday, May 25 at 9pm and will chart Britain’s chequered past from the perspective of ordinary people and local communities – from Viking invasions and the Norman Conquests through to the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars. (But I’ll be listening to Phil Beer ‘unplugged’ at Otley Courthouse then, with Pierre Walsh, as it’s his birthday!)

    “The series will include footage of Show of Hands playing Knightley’s anthemic song of Cornish miners ‘Cousin Jack,’ as performed on May 15 at the Daphne du Maurier Festival in Fowey, Cornwall” (in episode 7 of the 8 x 60 minute series.) (I’ve been listening to it loads this week, as finally bought ‘Country Life’ for ‘Reynardine.’)

    But “his first contribution to ‘The Great British Story’ will in episode 3 when he sings a song about an Anglo-Saxon thane called Breme (meaning “renowned”). Breme, who hailed from Suffolk, was killed in the Battle of Hastings.

    This is followed in episode 4 by Steve’s rendition of a song about the Peasants’ Revolt, with lyrics from an original 14th century text. Finally in episode 6, Steve – well known for his pull-no-punches songs – will sing The Diggers’ Song – a 17th century protest song about land rights inspired by the Diggers and Levellers movement and composed by one of the movement’s leaders, Gerrard Winstanley.”

    Here’s a link to Spiral Earth for those wanting to read about the above and lots more:

  26. Reynard says:

    Thank you Jane, for pointing us to Spiral Earth. I’ve added the link to my Orfeo page. There is also a very nice review by Mike Wilson on Folk Radio. But please don’t apply for a free ticket for the album launch party on May 31; you’ll diminish my chances to get one 😉

  27. Diana says:

    Followed your links Jane, – did people ever sing looking like that. All your other information was read with interest. Michael Wood is always one to watch, it has been a long time since his last series. This latest one looks up to scratch.

  28. Diana says:

    Jane, I have caught up with everything and have not forgotten the 25th. I have upgraded the computer – it took most of the afternoon to download stuff. What the improvements are I have yet to discover.

  29. Diana says:

    Still a great version.

  30. Jacko says:

    Love this song. North Sea Gas have a version on their 08 album, Glencoe Massacre. Someone on Youtube called Timmy Jay also does a nice version.

  31. OldMuzza (N.W Surrey-UK) says:

    Good to have a good old ahhhh dee do ahh dee do da day now and then….might have another tomorrow just for the hell of it!

  32. Linda says:

    @Muzza thought the sun was getting to you, read the comments before listening to the song. Nice song sort of suits the weather..
    By the way Muzza your comment seem to be very early in the morning late nights or early mornings ??

  33. Diana says:

    I like this song. Think Muzza writes late at night or very early in the morning Linda.

  34. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Arrrrrrhhh dee doo dar do darrrrrrrr day……….That’s the PIRATE version!

  35. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Call me old fashioned but I’m not at all happy that “she left her own true lover”
    That line changes the whole aspect of the song AND her character.
    I sing the following words which identifies her as a young, innocent girl, waiting for love….and it comes along…………..rather than some selfish, two timing fly- by -night.

    She left her father’s castle gate
    she left her own dear mother
    she left her servants and her estates
    To follow the Gypsy rover

  36. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    I’m still singing my version….tempted to put my PIRATE version on Youtube

  37. John Bryson says:

    Hello Muzza, just catching up via the archives, been away on hols. Good to see your scribe on this website. Re-visiting it reminds me of the outstanding material in this project

  38. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.U) says:

    Still lovin’ this song

  39. lizzie lane says:

    I was about 8 when we were taught this song at school? That would be over 60 years ago, back in the fifties.

  40. old Muzza (NW Surrey) says:

    Well……..looks as though Lizzie (58) just dipped in way back in February
    As for me….can’t make my mind up whether to have an aaarr de doo dah day or a
    zipedee doo dah day

  41. old Muzza (NW Surrey) says:

    If it’s not this gypsy rover running off with your woman……there’s another lot of wraggle taggle gypsies at the bally castle gate waiting to chance their luck……”wanna buy a bunch of lucky heather dearie”… who’s gonna fall for a chat up line like that!

  42. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    I’m now at an age where I have to decide whether it is advisable to even venture to try a bit of aaaar dee doo daaahring…..
    oh what the heck….I’ll give it a go

  43. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Just had a quick aaaar dee doo daaah daaah….. phew…..gotta sit down for a minute or two to recover….but it was worth it!

  44. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Hooray……still here to manage a revitalising rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr dee doo daa…dee do…..daaaa…day!

  45. John Bryson says:

    And I Muzza. A late night so I’d thought I’d have an early hours listen.

    It’s my Wife Jane’s birthday and I’ve just done a Facebook post with birthday wishes.

    Wide awake as I’m not long in from the Carlton Town FC Annual Awards Night – step 4 non league, we are a semi-professional club. I’ve been posing – doing interviews for the club website – in my element, many people say 🤔🤔

  46. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Well John…happy birthday to Jane…I suspect you’ll be in no state to take her breakfast in bed!
    I had a quick look at Carlton Town Website but only got to see 2023 awards so presume the ‘senior press team’s’ efforts have not yet reached the webmaster.
    aaaaarrrr dee do da da dee daa dey

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