The Old Maid in the Garret

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Old Maid In The Garrett was recorded by The Clancys , The Flying Column , Steeleye Span, The Dublin City Ramblers. This song dates to the 17th century but the lyrics here are 19th century[sic?] by Martin Parker from London- Not a song you would hear a lot of women sing. A garret is a habitable attic ( loft) or small and often dismal or cramped living space at the top of a house. This was the least prestigious position in a building, and often had sloping ceilings.(notes above by Martin Dardis from his great site,

However, when I went looking for Martin Parker, songwriter of 19th Century London I was thrown back a couple of hundred years to:

Parker, Martin (fl. 1624–1647), ballad writer, is an obscure figure. He was probably a Londoner, as his writings were most closely associated with metropolitan culture, though his stories are populated by northern lasses, and were read throughout England. (The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.)

Martin Parker (c. 1600 – c. 1656) was an English ballad writer, and probably a London tavern-keeper. About 1625 he seems to have begun publishing ballads… John Dryden considered him the best ballad writer of his time. His sympathies were with the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and it was in support of the declining fortunes of Charles I of England that he wrote the best known of his ballads, When the king enjoys his own again, which he first published in 1643, and which, after enjoying great popularity at the Restoration, became a favourite Jacobite song in the 18th century. Parker also wrote a nautical ballad, Sailors for my Money, which in a revised version survives as When the stormy winds do blow. It is not known when he died, but the appearance in 1656 of a funeral elegy, in which the ballad writer was satirically celebrated is perhaps a correct indication of the date of his death. A couple of quotations attributed to Martin Parker are given below:

Ye gentlemen of England/That live at home at ease,/Ah! little do you think upon/The dangers of the seas. This taken from Ye Gentlemen of England, (c. 1630), reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Also: In ancient times all things were cheape/’Tis good to look before you leape/When come is ripe ’tis time to reape. From The Roxburghe Ballads (c. 1630), reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 

(Notes above from the wonderful Wikipedia and Wikiquotes. If you use this resource, as I frequently do, donate something, when you can, to keep this free resource available to all)

This was one of the first songs I learnt when I was whaling away on my old acoustic and dreaming of fame and fortune- as you do as a young’un. Later, after we moved to Australia, (me, my wife and daughter), we sang this song as part of our set as a folk duo in Wollongong at a couple of restaurants that were trialling folk music as part of their offering to the grazing public (though not our young daughter- we left her with a baby-sitter whenever we went out for such occasions).

When Bridie would sing this song she would gaze kindly at me when she sang the words, There is nothing in this wide world that would make me half so cheery/ As a wee, fat man who would call me his own deary Not that I minded- I got, by far, the better of the deal!

Now, almost fifty years down the track, Banter features this song with Sam the Man taking the vocal credits: but, were you there, you could hear me bellowing the two-line chorus with him- this was when there was such a thing as singing in pubs and clubs. Our coronavirus experts tell us that such singing  is really a virus firehose. So, even, the singing of hymns in church is strictly verboten!

I use a Country Outlaw vibe for the instrumentation behind this version, which is sort of out there in left-field, (to use a term from baseball). And because we are still in lockdown, I get to sing the song.

The Old Maid in the Garrett

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s