The Trooper and the Tailor
introduced by Mark Gilston
I performed my first public concert at the Yellow Door Coffeehouse in Montreal in 1971. When I was putting together my set list, I noticed that two of the songs contained lyrics about ears which had been isolated from their owners’ heads. “The Cat Came Back” had the line, “Next day all they found was Freddy’s own right ear.” “Perrine” had the the line, “The mice they chewed and chewed and only left an ear.” I was also familiar with the song, “Jackknife” from the Unholy Modal Rounders, which begins, “I was cleaning my jackknife when you did appear. I had a fight with you; I cut off your ear.”
This all got me to wondering, were there many songs with missing or dismembered ears or other body parts? Thus began a collecting journey with many delightful finds and surprises. The next October, I heard Barry O’Neill sing “Shearing in a Bar” with “Two blows to clip away the wig… I also took an ear.” And at the same festival, I was introduced to the parody of “Captain Kidd,” “My name it is Van Gogh, lend an ear, lend an ear.”
I eventually compiled many of my best finds onto a CD entitled “Lend Me an Ear.” One of the songs which I had first heard in England in 1976 was “The Trooper and the Tailor.” But locating the version I had heard proved elusive. I discovered that versions had also been collected in the Catskill Mountains of New York and I conflated a couple of texts with the English melody and chorus which I found particularly delightful.
Listen to Mark sing the song accompanied on English concertina:
Traditional English – arranged by Mark Gilston © Copyright 2005
There was a fair lady in London did dwell,
For style and for beauty no one could excel,
And she had a husband who loved her right well,
And her husband, he was a bold trooper.
Ti in the Ti – I
Ta loo rum ta lie,
(repeat last line of verse)
There was a young tailor who lived there close by,
And on this fair lady he casted his eye;
He swore he would have her, or else he would die,
For he did not admire the bold trooper.
The tailor, he came awhile after ‘twas night
To seize on his jewel, his own heart’s delight,
Saying, “Ten guineas I’ll give to lie with you tonight,
For I hear that your husband’s on duty.”
“Oh yes, little tailor, you’ve guessed very right,
My husband’s on duty, oh, this very night;
But if he comes home, he’d give us a great fright,
For you know that my husband’s a trooper.”
So the bargain was made and to bed they did run,
They hadn’t been there long before fun had begun;
The fun being over, sleep swiftly did come,
And they had no more thoughts of the trooper.
The trooper came in in the midst of the night,
He rapped on the door, which gave them a great fright;
“Oh hide me, oh hide me, my sweet heart’s delight,
For I hear the bold knock of the trooper!”
“There’s a three-cornered cupboard behind the old door,
I’ll hide you in that, you’ll be safe and secure;
Then I will go down and I’ll open the door
And I’ll let in my husband, the trooper.”
She tripped down the stairs and she made a great din.
With compliments and kisses she welcomed him in;
“But for compliments and kisses I care not a pin:
Come light me a fire!” said the trooper.
“The fire is all out, and there’s no fire stuff,
So come to bed, darling, you’ll be warm enough!”
“There’s a three-cornered cupboard, it’s old and it’s rough,
And I’ll burn it this night,” cried the trooper.
Oh husband, dear husband, it’s not my desire,
for to burn a good cupboard to light you a fire,
For in it I keep a game-cock, I admire.”
“I’ll see your game-cock,” cried the trooper.
So he went to the cupboard, he opened the door:
And there sat the tailor all “safe and secure!”
Grabbed the nape of his neck, yanked him out on the floor,
”Is this your game-cock?” said the trooper!
He kicked and he cuffed him, and beat him severe;
With his own pair of shears he cut off his right ear –
“Now for this night’s lodging you’ve paid very dear!”
And away ran the poor cropp-ed tailor.
Mark Gilston was born and raised in New York City. Both of his parents were steeped in the folk music revival scene of the 1950's. He grew up listening to 78's and LP's of American, Russian, Spanish, Caribbean and Israeli folk music. Learning guitar and taking piano lessons starting at age 5, he was constantly immersed in music. In his youth, Mark gained a love of traditional American ballads and Old-Time songs and instrumentals from recordings and from his father, who often sang the old ballads which he had learned in his youth in Appalachia.
After earning a Bachelor's degree in Folklore, Mark went to graduate school at SUNY Binghamton studying ethnomusicology and ended up settling there until 1994.
Mark has been giving concerts and leading workshops since 1971. He interned at the Library of Congress archive of Folk Song, and has worked as a researcher for Alan Lomax. He has published numerous articles and books on music and folklore. Mark is also a multi-instrumentalist with an international reputation in English concertina and mountain dulcimer. He won the prestigious National Mountain Dulcimer Championship in 2016. Mark has 14 CDs on the Ramble Creek and Creative Engineering labels. "The Trooper and the Tailor" is on Mark's second CD, Lend Me an Ear.