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Traditional English Folk Songs

A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs Full English - A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs features the amazing talents of Mat Williams who did most of the vocals and also played most of the traditional instruments involved in the recordings, such as Guitar, Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Banjo, Banman, Upright Bass, Piano and many more. Mat invited some fellow folk musicians to share him for this album and add more traditional instruments, such as the Irish Whistle, Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran. Enjoy the music and read along as you listen!


The Derby Ram

Sound Sample:
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As I was going to Derby all on a market day,
I met the biggest ram, me boys
Tthat ever was fed on hay.

And indeed, my lads, it’s true, my lads,
I never was known to lie,
And if you’d been down in Derby,
You’d seen him the same as I.

He had four feet to walk upon
He had four feet to stand,
And every foot that he set down,
It covered an acre of land.

The horns that grew on this ram’s head,
They grew so very long,
And every time he shook his head
They rattled against the sun.


The wool on this ram’s back, my boys,
Iit grew so very high,
The eagles came and built their nests
And I heard the young ’uns cry.

The man that fed this ram, my lads,
He fed him twice a day,
And every time he opened his mouth,
He swallowed a rick of hay.


This ram he had two horns, my lads
That reached up to the moon,
A boy went up in January
And didn’t come back till June.

Words & Music: Traditional,
arranged & performed by Mat Williams

Now this old ram, he had a tail
That reached right down to hell,
And every time he waggled it
He rang the old church bell.

The butcher that stuck this ram, my lads,
Was up to his knees in blood,
And the little boy who held the bowl
Was carried away by the flood.


Now all the men in Derby
Came a-begging for his eyes,
To pound up and down the Derby streets
For they were of a football’s size.

Took all the boys in Derby
To carry away his bones,
Took all the girls in Derby
To roll away his.......


Now the man that fattened this ram,
My boys, he must have been very rich,
And the man who sung this song
He must be a lying son of a.......

So now my song is ended,
I’ve nothing more to say,
But give us another pint of beer
And we’ll all of us go away.


Origin and meaning of The Derby Ram

We don’t do things by halves in Derbyshire. If we decide to tell lies, they’re whoppers. This is an old, old song, one of many “boasting songs” where the bragging is so outrageous that it orbits out of any connection with reality. No-one could possibly believe one word of it, which all adds to the fun. So does being in a rowdy pub and having imbibed several alcoholic beverages before singing.

The ram has been associated with Derby for centuries - the northern part of the county is hill-farming sheep country. The song was part of a medieval mummers play, after which masked players would call at houses in small towns and villages and sing this song to bring luck the following year. This places it in midwinter - maybe on Twelfth Night with the Lord of Misrule? - and makes it a secular equivalent to carol singing. Very secular, in fact. Positively pagan. The last verse implies it was a visiting song - “if you give us more ale, we’ll go away and stop making this noise” which is the outdoor equivalent of the more domestic: “The cup and the bottle lie on the shelf, If you want any more you can sing it yourself”

which rounds off many rather more polite folk-songs.

“The Derby Ram” was made the regimental song of the Derbyshire Militia in 1855 and they adopted the ram as their mascot. Presumably the tune was played for public marching by the regimental band and the words sung inside the barracks so as not to offend those of a nervous disposition. The song is also the anthem of Derby Football Club, who are known, of course, as “The Rams.”

Looking at the words, the ram’s horns were obviously extra-special as they get two verses, whereas the feet, the wool etc. only get one. The verse about the tail is puzzling - if the tail reaches down to hell, why does it ring the church bell? Church bells are up. Maybe the tail went round and round like a catherine wheel.

Wonderful though this creature is, he still has to be slaughtered. This gives a lovely excuse for further bawdy verses as people queue up for the interesting bits.

It’s a cracking good song, “The Derby Ram.” I like it so much, in fact, that I’ve just sung it through ninety-nine times without stopping. Honest. Actually, I made that last bit up. The song does nothing but boast, so I thought I’d join in.

Commentary written by Gillian Goodman,
© ClassicRocks, Mat Williams 2012


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