This is a song I’d heard a few times at my local singaround, sung by the brilliant Sue van Gaalen, before I ever thought about learning it or even identifying it. I enjoyed Sue’s version so much that it seemed best just to leave the song as one of hers and enjoy it when it came round.
Then curiosity got the better of me, assisted by John Kelly’s performance of the song – which, unusually, he sings unaccompanied – on his second album For honour and promotion. John’s version confirmed to me just what a beautiful tune this is. When I’d decided to do One night as I lay on my bed for this week, this was the obvious choice to accompany it.
The song was collected by Sam Henry in the 1920s and appears in his Songs of the People collection. Sam Henry’s text is quite different from the version usually sung, which came from the singing of Paddy Tunney. In fact there are two or three different post-revival versions, which may go back to different sources or may just have been knocked about in the singing. I took advantage of this to put together a version I liked; it’s seven verses (one longer!) and taken about half from the usual version, a bit less than half from Sam Henry and a few lines from another, completely unsourced, version I found knocking about online (“farewell my favourite girl” was from this version; call it a tribute). Once I’d learnt the song I realised that it wasn’t quite the paean to all-consuming love I’d thought it was; really it’s more like “When a man wants to speed things up a bit”. Beautiful tune, though.