Sunday, 17 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 16 (JP Long and My Old Man's a Dustman)


Have just found JP Long's lyrics for the original version of My Old Man's A Dustman, actually entitled What D'Yer Think of That?
They are on the excellent Mudcat forum here - if you scroll down far enough. As mentioned before, this is a great place for checking out variants of folk and folk-related songs with nary a pop-up in sight.

Before someone posted up the lyrics (taken from a copy of the sheet music in the National Library of Australia, above), an ingenious and not implausible explanation was proffered for Donegan's use of the word "nana"  in his version of the song - as in:
He looks a proper nana in his great big hobnail boots
He's got such a job to pull 'em up that he calls 'em "daisy roots"
Could it, one contributor asked, have been "nabob" originally? Here was the reply:
It may be that "Nabob" was as originally written by the composer but Donegan interpolated "Nana" to give contemporary relevance and meaning - compelling evidence indeed for the man's genius and grasp of zeitgeist.
A sentiment which would be endorsed, I'm sure, by my Donegan-fanatic friend, if he's reading this - but alas, nohow and contrariwise: no equivalent word or phrase is found in the original.

Maybe, however, there was a stroke of genius, or at the very least shrewdness, in the general tone of that reworked version.


Donegan's dustman is, in more than one sense, earthy, with a keen sense of his rights:
Now folks give tips at Christmas, and some of them forget
So when he picks their bins up, he spills some on the step
Now one old man got nasty, and to the Council wrote
Next time my old man went round there, he punched 'im up the froat
Not to mention a prowess to rival that of Jake Thackray's Grandad who, some may remember, "offered to put the ladies' union in the family way":
Though my old man's a dustman, he's got a heart of gold
Now he got married recently, though he's 86 years old
We said "Here, hang on, Dad! You're getting past your prime!"
He said "Well, when you get my age, it 'elps to pass the time ..."
And reflecting that period of social change - it was released in 1960 - Donegan ends with an exhortation to the live audience to regard the dustman as fully human - connected, indeed, to the one who hymns him and, by extension, those listening to the 45:
Next time you see a dustman, a-lookin' all pale and sad
Don't kick him in the dustbin, it might be my old dad
But the 1922 original seems to be a Daily Mail-type dig at overpaid members of the working classes who are in danger of getting above their station, told from the point of view of the sensible and long-suffering wife, with whom the audience are clearly intended to identify:
When they only paid him thirty bob a week,
He called me his little turtledove;
But since they've raised his salary to four pounds ten,
He throws his rubbish where he throws his love!
We are reassured, nevertheless, that she knows how to work around his pretentions:
He used to have beer for his breakfast, but now he wants nothing but "fizz."
So I give him a Seidlitz powder, and then I leaves things as they is.
And furthermore, this undeserved luxury is, for her, penance rather than pleasure:
You'll notice this dress that I'm wearing: it's sent all my friends up the pole.
He got it for me on my birthday from Robinson Peter's "dusthole."
Our rag-and-bone man said this morning the material's "creepy de shin."
I fancy it's "sackcloth and ashes" by the way that it scratches my skin. 
Note, by the way, that the song comes from a time long before Peter Robinson's was taken over by Burton so was indeed a byword for modish apparel, if the 1908 advertisement below is any guide - ie the husband isn't betraying his ignorance in having his wife kitted out there. Aimed at Americans, the text reads:

Every Trans-Atlantic visitor to London this season is cordially invited to pay a visit to our world-famous establishments -- inspect the newest fashions always in evidence here.
Which is just about all I have to say for the moment - except to qualify, my "biting satire it ain't" remark in post 14.

For all my facetiousness above, when Donegan refers to "an unsung hero" at the start of his version of the song I think he sort of means it: he may have created a cartoon character but I do think we're meant to be on that character's side. There may not be much - alright, any -  political intent but it is nevertheless a song of its time. And the "punched 'im up the froat" line isn't about senseless violence but linked to the intro, which makes clear it would be a pretty big deal for such a man not to get a Christmas box:
Some people make a fortune, others earn a mint
My old man don't earn much
In fact ...he's flippin'.....skint.
The reverse position, in fact, of What D'Yer Think of That? So maybe Donegan was a bit of a genius after all.


It's also worth noting that Shaw's Alfred Doolittle was created for Pygmalion in 1912 - and came back to prominence via the hugely successful musical adaptation My Fair Lady in 1956 played by Stanley Holloway:


 Something in the air, or might those two versions of the song have been inspired by those respective incarnations of Shaw's character?

(Beat.)

Oh, alright then: just in case you can't be bothered, or have become tearful and confused, with all that scrolling down on the mudcat site, suppose I'd better reproduce those original lyrics here as well:

WHAT D'YER THINK OF THAT? (MY OLD MAN'S A DUSTMAN)

Written and Composed by J. P. Long

"Featured and sung with great success by Joe Brennan in J. C. Williamson's pantomime 'Forty Thieves'"

1.
I've married a man of position. I've married a man of great wealth.
He works very hard for his living, and it isn't too good for his health.
I think his good job will continue. Well, that's what I fervently trust.
He's rapidly making his fortune. Yes, he's covered all over with dust.

CHORUS:
My old man's a dustman. What d'yer think of that?
What d'yer think of that? What d'yer think of that?
He wears a dustman's trousers, he wears a dustman's hat,
And he talks a dustman's language. What d'yer think of that?

OPTIONAL:
When they only paid him thirty bob a week,
He called me his little turtledove;
But since they've raised his salary to four pounds ten,
He throws his rubbish where he throws his love!

2.
He used to have beer for his breakfast, but now he wants nothing but "fizz."
So I give him a Seidlitz powder, and then I leaves things as they is.
I'm getting quite jealous of Herbert. The ladies admire him, I know;
And the way that he picks up a dustbin, oh, it does show his figure off so!

3.
You'll notice this dress that I'm wearing: it's sent all my friends up the pole.
He got it for me on my birthday from Robinson Peter's "dusthole."
Our rag-and-bone man said this morning the material's "creepy de shin."
I fancy it's "sackcloth and ashes" by the way that it scratches my skin.

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