Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

Johnny Todd

Johnny Todd has ta’en a notion
For tae go and sail the sea
But he’s left his ain dear Jeannie
Greetin on the Greenock quay

Greet nae mair ma ain dear Jeannie
Tak the bairn upon your knee
I’ll come back and we’ll be mairriet
Doon upon the Greenock quay

Many’s the winter’s nicht she’s waited
For a ship oot in the bay
Freens may tell her she’s forsaken
But she still could hear him say

Then one morning bricht and early
In the springtime o the year
She spied a sail oot in the water
Bringin back her Johnny dear
 
Words:
Bairn: child
Freens: friends
Greetin: crying, weeping
Mairriet: married

Brought to Sangschule by Gordeanna McCulloch. She compared it to the children’s song called “My True Love’s a Sailor” in 101 Scottish Songs, which gives its source as Kerr’s Guild Of Play. The first 8 lines, set out as verse and chorus in Johnny Todd, are very similar though Johnny Johnston and Jessie are the stars, and “jolly sailors” are invited to drink to the baby’s health:

Johnnie Johnston’s taen a notion / For to go and sail the sea / There he left his own dear Jessie / Weepin on the Greenock Quay / Weep nae mair my own dear Jessie, / Tak your baby on your knee / Drink his health my jolly sailors, / I’ll come back and marry thee
The remaining 8 lines in 101 Scottish Songs take a different tack:

I will give you beads and earrings, / I will give you diamond stones, / I will give you a horse to ride on / When your true love’s dead and gone. / What care I for beads and earrings, / What care I for diamond stones, / What care I for a horse to ride on / When my true love’s dead and gone

“Johnnie Johnston” is also listed in volume 1 (1906 – 1911) of The Rymour Club’s collections as one of the singing games played by “the girls attending the Public School at Gorgie, a working-class district in the extreme west of Edinburgh.” In their version, he has left “his own true lover/ Weeping by the willow tree.”  The next 8 lines also offer beads and earrings though silks and satins take the place of a horse to ride on, and there is an actual offer of marriage, all rejected by the faithful woman.

An English version, “Johnny Todd”, appears as a children’s song in The Singing Island compiled by Seeger and MacColl. In this Liverpool version in 6 verses, the deserted true love is tempted as before, but this time the “fair and false one” marries another, and sailors in Johnny’s position are advised to marry their girls before they go.

All except Gordeanna’s version use the tune made famous in the 60s as the theme tune of TV programme, Z Cars.  The sweeter, more open tune she brought us was learned from one of her students at the RSAMD.