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.