Now Delaney had a donkey that everyone admired
Temporarily lazy and permanently tired
A leg at every corner balancing his head
And a tail to let you know which end he wanted to be fed……
Introductory lines of a traditional Irish folk song that late entertainer Val Doonican jokingly credited with turning him into an overnight success after sixteen years of trying. This particular tune, titled Delaney’s Donkey, a catchy Celtic ditty which as I write is repeat playing on my cranial jukebox.
Music hall songwriter William Hargreaves’ toe-tapping refrain was recorded by Doonican in 1964 – It’s lyrics delivered in an amiable Irish lilt by the Waterford born songster. Poetically painting a picture of having craic with mates over a pint of Guinness, Irish village pub in situ – Laughing at a local man’s trials and tribulations at the hands (or hooves) of his obdurate equidae.
Hargreaves, an Englishman by birth, is probably more famous for penning music hall song Burlington Bertie from Bow, in 1916. A whimsical ditty in the vein of his offering about Delaney’s stubborn ass, which entertained UK audiences during the final two years of WWI.
When I stood knee high to a grasshopper, these catchy tunes were part of my mum’s ‘entertain the kids’ strategy. Whimsical rhyming flights of fancy she sang to my siblings and I in our fledgling years, bearing a beat and joy of delivery that never failed to attract our attention – Consequently calming some of our early childhood meltdowns.
At the time my brother, sister and me probably didn’t understand the words Maggie (mum) was imparting in her adequately tuneful Yorkshire tones. However, witnessing the joy she seemed to derive from singing them led to us responding in kind with likewise grins.
Emotions rubber stamped into our sub-conscious which have stayed with me for half a century. Subsequently, never failing to manifest an inner warmth and nostalgic smile if I ever hear refrains such as ‘Oh, Mr Porter’, ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs Worthington’ and ‘Burlington Bertie From Bow’.
As most of the songs were written before her birth, I’m unsure how she had such a wonderful insight into these older melodies. I’m assuming mum’s fondness of these uncomplicated musical arrangements was born from her own mother’s indoctrination in Maggie’s childhood.
If truth be told, though, I’ve never been inquisitive enough to ask. As her mum sadly passed before my birth, I never gained first hand exposure to my grandma’s ‘songbook for toddlers’. Consequently, unless I one day acquire a more inquisitive nature, I’ll never be able to confirm my theory.
Of course, these old traditional laments weren’t an every day occurrence. In my young childhood (mid/late 1960’s) the songs my parents ordinarily exposed their kids to included a wealth of refrains from The Beatles, Merseybeat bands, UK pop and latterly Motown. Rich musical pickings that would’ve made jukebox tune selection at the time as difficult as comprehending the findings of the Warren Report into JFK’s assassination.
The old music hall songs only appeared when triggered in mater’s mind during random family discussions. For example, if the household chat turned to a train related subject there’d be was a good chance of Oh, Mr Porter being warbled by mater. If the talk was of the London district of Bow, Burlington Bertie would be our maternal musical accompaniment.
All very straightforward stuff, unless conversation turned to a train journey to the London district of Bow, in which case mum was forced to improvise, leading to a mash up of both songs called Oh, Mr Burlington Bertie!
No big drama, though, as spontaneous re-writing of rhyming music hall classics was all in a days work for our Maggie Anne, Tin Can, Copper Kettle, Brass Pan.