I really enjoy singing this song, when sung slowly it has a hypnotic feel.
Difficulty level: Intermediate: This is an easy song to sing, it only covers a small range and has a fairly short melody (based on the Steeleye Span version). I sing this song while I play a drone on the fiddle, on the bottom two strings (G and D), which if you are a fiddle player takes a bit of practice.
I have provided the guitar chords bellow, but I rated this as Intermediate because I choose to play it on the fiddle as I found the guitar part difficult, mostly because I really love the Steeleye Span intro and haven’t got around to learning it! but there are plenty of folk who have mastered it! So don’t be put off!
The Saucy Sailor tells the story of a young sailor home from sea, who tries to court a young woman. She rejects him on the grounds of his filthy appearance; she insults him calling him Saucy! When he tells her he has plenty of silver and gold she changes her mind and offers to marry him only to be rejected by him for being a poor country girl with no fortune! I love the sentiment of this song, the sailor is “Frolicksome” and “Easy” and he doesn’t care what the world thinks of him.
I love the imagery of the Saucy Sailor, and I love the Briny Ocean!
This song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mr Thomas Hendy of Ilminster in Somerset, but it was also collected in many other parts of the UK and North America.
Steeleye Span introduced The Saucy Sailor on one of their albums with the words:
“ Seven long years he strode the seven seas
Seven league boots, salt caked above the knees
Seven bright stars, the road across the foam
Seven light verses to tell his coming home” (source: Mainly Norfolk)
The Saucy Sailor has been performed by many folkies including, of course, Steeleye Span, Frankie Armstrong, The Wailin Jennys, Peter Bellamy, Jon Boden, and the Witches of Elswick, but my favourite is still the Steeleye Span version.
I believe that The Saucy Sailor was one of the first folk songs I ever heard, my mum had the Album Below the Salt I used to love singing along to it as a child and then I learnt to sing it unaccompanied in my late teens, and it is still one of my favourite songs to sing to this day!
The Saucy Sailor
Come me young love, Come me fair love (traditionally: Come me own one, Come me fair one)
Come now all to me
Could you fancy a poor sailor lad
Who is just home from sea?
Oh you’re ragged love, and you’re dirty love
And your clothes smell much of tar
So be gone you saucy sailor lad
So be gone you Jacky Tar.
If I’m ragged love and I’m dirty love
And me clothes smell much of tar
I have silver in me pockets love
And gold in great store.
And then when she heard him say so
On her bended knee she fell
I will marry my dear Henry
For I love Sailor lads well.
Do you think that I am foolish love
Do you think that I am mad?
For to wed with a poor country girl
Where no fortunes to be had
I will course the briny ocean
I will whistle and sing
And since you have refused the offer, love
Some other girl shall wear the ring.
I am frolicsome, I am easy
Good tempered and free
And I don’t give a single penny boys
What the World thinks of me.
This is me singing the Saucy Sailor!
Photograph by Keith Bremner on Unsplash.