Fathom the Bowl


“A great drinking song.” That’s Jon’s simple intro to this while he notes Forest School Camps as his source, which made me wonder exactly what they get up at said events! Anyway, that’s two drinking songs on the bounce. This one seems to be pretty well documented and this Wiki entry is interesting, questioning the possible association with either smugglers or the more well-to-do on account of the relative expense of brandy and rum. There are some possibly unnecessary rumblings on this Mudcat thread, but the end of it seems to nail this down to the early C19th. With its opening request to “Come all you bold heroes…” this possibly has something of the military and perhaps the officers’ mess about it. The timing might suggest a post Napoleonic celebration, with father beneath the sea possibly at Trafalgar, with the Pax Britannica bringing in the name-checked, exotic goodies. That might also explain the stability of the song if it was a) passed down between officers (or perhaps even just the rank and file), and b) had little chance outside of those circles to go through the folk process. Well, it’s a theory of sorts. Still, charge my punch glass… Oh no! We’ve done that one already.

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37 Responses to “Fathom the Bowl”

  1. muzza says:

    A great chorus song………….but be ready for the excruciating harmonies that evolve when sung in “well-oiled” company…………good fun though.

  2. SRD says:

    Nicely non PC in so many respects.
    It seems to me that this is the sort of song that would have been popular in the Glee or Catch clubs of the 18th century with their generally ‘male’ atmosphere.

  3. Ellie May says:

    Agree with Muzza, when sung in sessions it the chorus tends to be hijacked!
    In order to recalaim the song I have written a new verse that celebrates our local Goachers ale and the salubrious Tovil area where it is brewed. It usually gets a titter locally in Kent.

  4. Jan says:

    I’ve only just discovered this – what a wonderful idea Jon – I’ve gone back as far as I could and heard some splendid singing!
    This song is a long-time favourite of mine, but I have another verse (gleaned from the ‘net, but I can’t recall where) – are we allowed to put such things here?

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    ‘Fathom the bowl’ – what a resoundingly descriptive phrase! Oh, you did sing that wonderfully well, Jon!

  6. John Burton says:

    Just post it Jan and then ask for forgiveness.
    This is a learning process for ALL involved.

  7. Jan says:

    I sang it tonight at our local singaround:-
    My husband doth disturb me when I’m laid at my rest
    for he does what he does, but he does not it best
    My husband’s a lackard limp in body and soul
    Give me the punch ladle,I’ll fathom the bowl.
    Am I forgiven?

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    You’re forgiven… if the ‘husband’s got no courage in him’…

  9. SRD says:

    Nice one Jan.

  10. Simon says:

    Jan, we’re always keen to get any additional information, verses and just general comments that add to the story. As I’ve said before (and as you’re new I’ll repeat it) we have a monthly poll for the favourite songs, these are picked in order of the number of comments thay attract. So if there’s anything you like it’s worth simply saying that, but if you can start a dialogue then even better. Anyway your most welcome and feel free to join in at will.

  11. John Bryson says:

    This is a new song on me – only got into the folk scene in the last 12 months or so , although I have had a lean towards this music genre for many years. My Wife Jane is a choral singer, and I have tried to educate her (!), and to be fair Jane does go with me to Hitchin Folk Club – look forward to Boden & Spiers on the 26th Sept. The point I am coming to (I do waffle!) is that Jane is coming on to this site with me and is slowly coming around thanks to Jon’s great work – but Jane still can’t stand my rendition of ‘Matty Groves’! This is a superb song sung in great style

  12. @John Bryson

    Offer her a dose of Steve Jordan singing Little Musgrave, it’s the same song as matty groves (which I adore) but much more gentle and fairly choral – you can find the CD on which it can be heard at http://www.forest-tracks.co.uk/folk_music_pages/folk_music_jordantracks.html

  13. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Fathom the Bowl from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are 16 records of Fathom the Bowl in the Library, collected from various counties across southern England.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 880, there are 39 records, also known as ‘The Punch Ladle’ or ‘The Punch Bowl’.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are 3 records of the song in the Take 6 collection, from the manuscripts of George Gardiner and Francis M Collinson.
    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.
    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit http://www.efdss.org/front/access-the-library-online/access-the-library-online/115
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or library@efdss.org.

  14. John Bryson says:

    Thanks Neil, I’v just told her and Jane will give it a try,



  15. […] include the expected Child Ballads and early 19th-century drinking numbers, but also songs by Tom Lehrer (“Rickety Tickety Tin”) and even Janis Joplin […]

  16. R says:

    “My wife is a devil as black as the coal…”

    very racist

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ R: Old songs often contain old views and values of the day, which we have hopefully moved on from. Maybe he means dark-spirited though. He married her after all, so not that racist!

  18. Simon says:

    I think Jane’s on the track and it means more temper, mood and humour rather than skin colour, although it could also be grimey suggesting a hard living woman, which might also explain her mental state. At the time the pretty young maidens were all supposed to be pale skinned, while those who led a more rugged life were probably tanned to some extent, if not just plain dirty. That’s not to say that race and religion weren’t issues, but looking back on the whole year I’m struggling to recall anything I thought was really dodgy. Even the Gypsys aren’t pilloried in the way that seems so common today, but that’s probably because they were the singers of many of these songs and played a great part in their spread across the land.

  19. Diana says:

    A good one Jon – you enjoyed singing this yourself I’ll wager.

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    Think I’ll go fathom the bowl shortly… hehehehe…

    Got my tickets for Bellowhead for 22 November gig at St George’s Hall – yeh!

  21. Joe Fineman says:

    I agree with Jan in regretting the song’s one-sided view of the war of the sexes. My own patch has been:

    My husband never tires of lying around.
    He drinks like a fish, and he sings like a hound.
    He eats like a pig and makes love like a troll,
    And the day he drops dead, I will fathom the bowl.

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Joe: Think I’d be fathoming the bowl sooner, if the ‘osbond was that bad!

  23. Simon says:

    Can I suggest a mass touching of wood and deployment of charms, trinkets, amulets, or whatever other Gris-Gris you have at your disposal perhaps even the odd ritual offering. So far no spam, although I find it hard to believe that my blundering about in the back end has really done the job.

  24. Linda says:

    Fingers crossed Simon……

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    I will pass my black cat, Panthero (Pant Hero to his friends!) across the screen as a spam deterrent. Lol.

  26. Jane Ramsden says:

    Just done 2 rousing choruses of this song with Jon – I know, he’d be pleased about that! Hahahahahahaha! Off now to fathom the Bin 65!

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

    Down goes the tone………….Simon blundering about in the back end..oooer Matron

  28. Jane Ramsden says:

    My tone was perfick, I’ll ave you know, YOUNG Muzza!

  29. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Twas on this day…at 12 noon…in the year of our Lord 1959….a scorching hot day to boot (tar melting on the road /folk fainting in the church) that a YOUNG Muzza got married.
    Only lasted 32 years before she was whisked away by a jolly ploughboy…or was it a jolly sailor…….or was it some fella that said he only wanted to stay the night……anyway…I fathom the bowl on each anniversary as I got three lovely young ‘uns out of the deal!

  30. Jane Ramsden says:

    T’was on this day, 2 years ago (Fri 13th), that my tailless puss, Scooter, disappeared & has never been seen or heard of since… Waaaaaahh!

    I was just coming up for 6 when you were getting married, Muzza!

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

    Janey……….If only I’d known…….I would have waited!!!!!

  32. Jeff Klückers says:

    Great drinking song! I learnt this one from the Southdowns Folk Singers Project!

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

    Cor Blimey guvnor…..because I was looking at the wrong day(yesterday) I now see I have repeated my comments from above.
    Anyyway….good old song and enjoyed singing along with it again today….including Jan’s rather risqué verse about her unpriapismatic husband!
    Happens to us all when we reach a certain age….so make the most of it while you can ladies!
    Jane and Diana will be reaching for their OEDs.

  34. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    I looked at my comment above and it took me a time to work out that OED is Oxford English Dictionary….don’t know why I used the initials…I hate it when politicians etc do it all the time
    For example…..In the recent pandemic….how many folk knew that ‘Sage’ is short for
    ‘the scientific action group for emergencies!!!

  35. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Hooray…thank goodness the pandemic worries of 2021 are behind us….phew!

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

    When you look at all the troubles in the world………
    droughts / floods/earthquakes/wars/invasions / disease/ famine/ religion / China/
    Fathoming the bowl will seem the only comfort for many!
    Oh…happy anniversary to me….no regrets..had some great years.

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