One of the Has-beens

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.

Notes to One of the Has-beens (tune, “Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green”)

…Polly Perkins…is the title of a famous English song, composed by the London music hall and broadside songwriter Harry Clifton (1832-1872), and first published in 1864. It was almost universally known in England until around the mid-1980s and was commonly taught to school children. The title refers to the district of Paddington in London. The song gained a place in the canonical Oxford Book of Comic Verse, and the original manuscript of “Polly” is now held in the Bodleian Library.

It was adapted for the USA by Clifton during the American Civil War, re-titled “Polly Perkins of Abington Green”. Presumably the new title referred to Abington Green, Georgia, in the USA.
Most of Clifton’s songs adapted their tunes from old folk songs, and it is possible that a folk tune is also the origin of the tune for Polly. A folk song in the English county of Northumberland, called Cushie Butterfield, is sung to the same tune as “Polly” – although the “Cushie” tune was always claimed by one Geordie Ridley (1834-1864), a Tyneside comedian and miner. Ridley and Clifton’s death dates mean that both the song and its tune are now firmly in the public domain.

[Below are three verses from Polly Perkins to give a sense of the comic song from the 19th Century]

POLLY PERKINS OF ABINGTON GREEN written by Harry Clifton, 1864.
1. I am a broken-hearted milkman; in grief I’m arrayed/Through keeping of the company of a young servant maid/Who lived on board wages, the house to keep clean,/In a gentleman’s family near Abington Green.

CHORUS: Oh! She was as beautiful as a butterfly and as proud as a queen,/Was pretty little Polly Perkins of Abington Green.

4. When I asked her to marry me, she said, “Oh what stuff!”/And told me to drop it, for she’d had quite enough/Of my nonsense. At the same time, I’d been very kind/But to marry a milkman she didn’t feel inclined. CHORUS

7. In six months, she married, this hard-hearted girl,/But it was not a ‘Wicount’ and it was not a ‘Nearl’./It was not a ‘Baronite’, but a shade or two wuss./’Twas a bow-legged conductor of a twopenny ‘bus. CHORUS

The tune, with new lyrics, found its way into the Australian bush culture, among outback farmers and sheep shearers, in the song “One of the Has-beens”

A.L. Lloyd sang One of the Has-Beens in 1958 on his Wattle album, Across the Western Plains. He commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

I first heard this one New Year’s Day, in the late 1920’s, in hospital in Cowra, N.S.W. The matron was away, and the patients had a party in the ward. A teamster from Grenfell sang the song, and one or two of the old bushwhackers took umbrage, because they thought the stranger was getting at them. I now learn from [Douglas] Stewart and [Nancy] Keesing’s Old Bush Songs [Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1957] that One of the Has-Beens is the work of a former horse-breaker, shearer and gold-digger named Robert Stewart, born 1833 in N.S.W. The tune is that of the familiar early nineteenth century stage song, Pretty Polly Perkins [of Paddington Green]. (source,

Parody below composed by Don Henderson, folk-singer, composer, poet, and musical-instrument maker. [Aficionados of Aussie folk music will be able to relate to the lines below.]

I’m one of the has-beens/A folksong I mean. In oral tradition/I once was serene.
Illiterate agrarians my worth would avow, but you may not believe me/ ’cause they don’t do it now./Chorus
I’m as awkward as a new one,/much more cap and gown/than a blithe air of arcadia;/I’ve been written down

Eluding the Banjo,/Vance Palmer, Bert Lloyd,/Jones, Durst and O’Connor/I did likewise avoid./Manifold, Meredith, Tate, de Hugard,/both Scotts, all found/ finding me was too hard./ Chorus (Source,

I reckon that the Australian lyrics that you hear on this post are superior: they perfectly capture the loss of vitality, strength and skill that even the gun shearers would suffer should they live long enough to experience the inevitable effects of ageing. Of course, as a septuagenarian, conscious of my own decline, the verses may reflect where I’m at in- (What is that cliché, again?)- my journey.

I first heard this song in Wollongong in the 1970s, sung a capella by Kevin Baker, a noted Illawarra poet and songwriter with whom I had a long association.

This lockdown version uses the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo and N-Track 9 mixing software.

Again, the backing uses the virtuoso finger-picked guitars of Brett Mason and Jason Roller, and rhythm section of acoustic piano, and acoustic bass: with accordion and fiddle alternating verse accompaniment roles. I use a solo voice for the verse and doubled voices chorus. The arrangement is one of my lock-down preferences- not too simplistic nor overly produced.

One of the Has-beens

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