The Raggle Taggle Gypsy

The Raggle Taggle Gypsy

"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy" (Roud 1, Child 200), is a traditional folk song in origin a Scottish border ballad, and subsequently popular throughout Britain, Ireland and North America. It concerns a rich lady who runs off to join the gypsies (or one gypsy). Common alternative names are "The Raggle Taggle Gypsies O", "The Gypsy Laddie(s)", "Black Jack David" (or "Davy") and "Seven Yellow Gypsies".


  • Popularity 1
  • Description 2
  • Origins 3
  • Related Songs 4
  • Recordings 5
  • Broadsides 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


In the folk tradition the song was extremely popular, spread all over the English-speaking world by broadsheets and oral tradition. It went under a great many titles, including "Black Jack Davy", "The Gypsy Laddie", "The Draggletail Gypsies", "Seven Yellow Gypsies" and "Johnnie Faa". According to Roud and Bishop,

"Definitely in the top five Child ballads in terms of widespread popularity, and possibly second only to 'Barbara Allen', the Gypsies stealing the lady, or, to put it the other way round, the lady running off with the sexy Gypsies, has caught singers' attention all over the anglophone world for more than 200 years. For obvious reasons, the song has long been a favourite with members of the travelling community."[1]

The song was also published in books. Robert Burns used the song in his Reliques of Robert Burns; consisting chiefly of original letters, poems, and critical observations on Scottish songs (1808). Due to the Romanichal origins of the main protagonist Davie or Johnny Faa, the ballad was translated into Anglo-Romany in 1890 by the Gypsy Lore Society.[2][3]

One version reached a much wider public. Collected and set to piano accompaniment by Cecil Sharp. Under the title "The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies O!" it was published in several collections, most notably one entitled English Folk Songs for Schools,[4] causing the song to be learned by generations of English school children.

In America, the Country Music recording industry spread versions of the song by such notable musicians as Cliff Carlisle and The Carter Family, and later by the rockabilly singer Warren Smith, under the title "Black Jack David". In the American folk music revival, Woody Guthrie sang and copyrighted a version he called "Gypsy Davy" (which was later also sung by his son Arlo).

The Cecil Sharp sheet music version was occasionally used by Jazz musicians, for example the instrumental "Raggle Taggle" by Territory band Boots and His Buddies, and the vocal recording by Maxine Sullivan.


The Waterboys' recording of "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy", from the album Room to Roam.

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The core of the song's story is that a lady forsakes a life of luxury to run off with a band of gypsies. In some versions there is one individual, named, for example as Johnny Faa or Black Jack Davy. In some versions there is one leader and his six brothers. In one local tradition, the lady is identified as the wife of the Earl of Cassilis. In some versions the gypsies charm her with their singing, or even cast a spell over her. In a typical version, the lord comes home to find his lady "gone with the gypsy laddie". He saddles his fastest horse to follow her. He finds her and bids her come home, asking "Would you forsake your husband and child?" She refuses to return: in many versions preferring the cold ground ("What care I for your fine feather sheets?") and the gypsy's company to her lord's wealth and fine bed. At the end of some versions the husband kills the gypsies. In the local Cassilis tradition, they are hung from the Cassilis Dule Tree.


The earliest text may be "The Gypsy Loddy", published in the Roxburghe Ballads with an assigned date of 1720. A more certain date is 1740, the publication of Allan Ramsay's "Tea-Table Miscellany", which included the ballad as of "The Gypsy Johnny Faa". Differences between the two texts suggest that they derive from one or more earlier versions. They were followed by several printings, often copying Ramsay. It was then printed by most of the nineteenth century broadside printers.[5]

In "The Gypsy Loddie"

As soon as her fair face they saw
They called their grandmother over

This is assumed to be a corruption of They cast their glamour over her (i.e. they cast a spell), not vice versa. This is the motivation in many texts for the lady leaving her lord; in others she leaves of her own free will.[6]

In some texts the lord is identifies as "Cassilis", and a local tradition identifies him as the John Kennedy 6th Earl of Cassilis. B.H.Bronson[7] discovered that a tune in the Skene manuscripts and dated earlier than 1600, resembles later tunes for this song and is entitled "Lady Cassiles Lilt".[8] The inference is that a song concerning Lord and Lady Cassilis existed before the two earliest manuscripts, and was the source of both.

Nick Tosches, in his Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll, spends part of his first chapter examining the song's history. He compares the song's narrative to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The ballad, according to Tosches, retells the story of John Faa, a 17th-century outlaw, described as a Scottish Gypsy, and Lady Jane Hamilton, wife of The Earl of Cassilis. Lord Cassilis led a band of men (some sources say 16, others 7) to abduct her. They were caught and hanged on the "Dool Tree" in 1643. The "Gypsies" were killed (except for one, who escaped) and Lady Jane Hamilton was imprisoned for the remainder of her life, dying in 1642.[9]

Related Songs

The song "The Whistling Gypsy" also describes a lady running off with a "gypsy rover". However, there is no melancholy, no hardship and no conflict. Her father rides after her and discovers that the "gypsy" is really a rich lord.

The song "Lizzie Lindsay" has a similar theme. Robert Burns adapted the song into "Sweet Tibby Dunbar", a shorter version of the story. There is also a children's version by Elizabeth Mitchell which has lyrical content changed to be about a young girl "charming hearts of the ladies", and sailing "across the deep blue sea, where the skies are always sunny".

Although the hero of this song is often called "Johnny Faa" or even "Davy Faa", he should not be confused with the hero/villain of "Davy Faa (Remember the Barley Straw)". [Silber and Silber misidentify all their texts] as deriving from "Child 120", which is actually "Robin Hood's Death". According to The Faber Book of Ballads the name Faa was common among Gypsies in the 17th century.


A vast number of artists and groups have recorded the song. This selection is limited to artists and/or albums found in other WorldHeritage articles.:

Album/Single Performer Year Variant Notes
Early American Ballads John Jacob Niles 1938 The Gypsie Laddie 78 rpm record album
Black Jack David Cliff Carlisle 1939 Black Jack David single on Decca label, reissued on Blue Yodeller And Steel Guitar Wizard (1996)
& A Country Legacy (2004)
Black Jack David The Carter Family 1940 Black Jack David single on Okeh label, resissued on several albums
Gypsy Davy Woody Guthrie 1944 Gypsy Davy single recorded by Moses Asch reissued on several albums
Black Jack David T. Texas Tyler 1952 Black Jack David single, reissued on CD by the British Archive of Country Music (BACM)
Black Jack David Warren Smith 1956 Black Jack David single, reissued on several albums
The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies
Folk Songs & Ballades of Elizabethan England
Alfred Deller 1956 The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies vinyl LP the Cecil Sharp version sung in Elizabethan style by countertenor
The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs A. L. Lloyd 1956 The Seven Gypsies
Pete Seeger Sings American Ballads Pete Seeger 1957 Gypsy Davy
Songs and Ballads of the Ozarks Almeda Riddle 1960 Black Jack Davey
British Traditional Ballads In The Southern Mountains Volume 1 Jean Ritchie 1961 Gypsy Laddie
The English And Scottish Popular Ballads
Vol.2, F.J. Child Ballads
Ewan MacColl 1961 The Gypsy Laddie
Folk, Blues and Beyond Davy Graham 1964 Seven Gypsies
All the Good Times Alice Stuart 1964 Black Jack David
Remembrance of Things to Come New Lost City Ramblers 1966 Black Jack Daisy
The Power of the True Love Knot Shirley Collins 1968 Seven Yellow Gypsies
Prince Heathen Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick 1969 Seven Yellow Gypsies
Ride a Hustler's Dream Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera 1969 Black Jack Davy
I Looked Up The Incredible String Band 1970 Black Jack Davy also (as "Black Jack David") on Earthspan (1972)
Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys Arlo Guthrie 1973 Gypsy Davy
Planxty Planxty 1973 Raggle Taggle Gypsy version learnt from John Reilly (see below 1977)
The Shipbuilder Bob Pegg & Nick Strutt 1974 The Raggle Taggle Gypsies
All Around My Hat Steeleye Span 1975 Black Jack Davy also on On Tour and Gone to Australia (live albums)
and Present - The Very Best of Steeleye Span (2002)
For Pence and Spicy Ale Mike Waterson 1975 Seven Yellow Gypsies
Are Ye Sleeping Maggie The Tannahill Weavers 1976 The Gypsy Laddie
Traditional Ballads of Scotland Alex Campbell 1977 The Gypsy Laddie
The Bonny Green Tree
Songs of an Irish Traveller
John Reilly 1977 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy recorded 1967. The version learnt by Christy Moore
and popularised among Irish groups
Shreds and Patches John Kirkpatrick & Sue Harris 1977 The Gypsy Laddie
There Was a Maid Dolores Keane 1978 Seven Yellow Gypsies version of Paddy Doran (see below 2012)
The Boatman's Daughter Golden Bough 1983 Black Jack Davy This version written by Paul Espinoza of Golden Bough.
Watching the White Wheat The King's Singers 1986 The Raggle Taggle Gypsies the Cecil Sharp version, highly arranged for male-voice a capella group
The Voice of the People Vol 6
Tonight I'll Make You My Bride
Walter Pardon 1988 The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies recorded 1975
The Voice of the People Vol 17
It Fell on a Day, a Bonny Summer Day
Jeannie Robertson 1988 The Gypsy Laddies recorded 1953
In Search of Nic Jones Nic Jones 1988 Seven Yellow Gypsies recorded 1981 for BBC Radio 2 Radio Folk
Room to Roam The Waterboys 1990 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Fiddler's Green Fiddler's Green 1992 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Good as I Been to You Bob Dylan 1992 Blackjack Davey
Gypsies & Lovers The Irish Descendants 1994 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Neat and Complete Sandra Kerr & Nancy Kerr 1996 Seven Yellow Gypsies
Stargazy Pie Nancy Kerr & James Fagan 1997 Seven Yellow Gypsies
October Song The House Band 1998 Seven Yellow Gypsies
Pastures of Plenty JSD Band 1998 The Gypsy Laddie
The Long Haul Shanneyganock 1998 Raggle Taggle
Blackjack David Dave Alvin 1998 Blackjack David
Traveller Christy Moore 1999 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Os Amores Libres Carlos Núñez 1999 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy sung by Mike Scott
Broken Ground Waterson:Carthy 1999 Raggle Taggle Gypsies sung by Eliza Carthy
Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4 The Carter Family 2000 Black Jack David reissue of 1940 recording (see above)
The Alan Lomax Collection: Portraits
Texas Gladden - Ballad Legacy
Texas Gladden 2001 Gypsy Davy recorded 1941
The Bonny Labouring Boy Harry Cox 2001 Black-Hearted Gypsies O recorded 1965
Hattie Mae Tyler Cargill Debra Cowan 2001 Dark-Skinned Davy
Wayfaring Stranger: Folksongs Andreas Scholl 2001 The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O! sung as dialogue between counter-tenor and baritone,
accompanied by Edin Karamazov & the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Away with the Fairies Mad Dog Mcrea 2002 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Further Down the Old Plank Road The Chieftains 2003 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy featuring Nickel Creek
Elephant The White Stripes 2003 Black Jack Davey Single track listing
Swinging Miss Loch Lomond 1952–1959 Maxine Sullivan 2004 Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies single recorded in 1950's
Another Dawn Tempest 2004 Black Jack Davy
With Us The Black Pine 2004 Black Jack David
The Irish Connection Johnny Logan 2007 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Celtic Fire Rapalje 2007 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
The Song Train Harvey Reid 2007 Black Jack Davy sung by Joyce Andersen
Act Two Celtic Thunder 2008 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Fotheringay 2 Fotheringay 2008 Gypsy Davey recorded 1970
A Folk Song a Day: April Jon Boden 2011 Seven Yellow Gypsies
The Voice of the People
Good People Take Warning
Paddy Doran 2012 Seven Yellow Gypsies recorded 1952
The Voice of the People
I'm A Romani Rai
Carolyne Hughes 2012 The Draggle-Tail Gypsies recorded 1968
The Speyside Sessions Speyside Sessions 2012 Raggle Taggle Gypsy
A North Country Lass Lesley Garrett 2012 The Raggle Taggle Gypsies the Cecil Sharp version, performed by classical soprano and orchestra


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(1446), "Gypsy Laddie", W. Stephenson (Gateshead), 1821–1838; also Harding B 11(2903), "Gypsy Loddy"; Harding B 19(45), "The Dark-Eyed Gipsy O"; Harding B 25(731), "Gipsy Loddy"; Firth b.25(220), "The Gipsy Laddy"; Harding B 11(1317), "The Gipsy Laddie, O"; Firth b.26(198), Harding B 15(116b), 2806 c.14(140), "The Gipsy Laddie"; Firth b.25(56), "Gypsie Laddie"
  • Murray, Mu23-y3:030, "The Gypsy Laddie", unknown, 19C
  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(092), "The Gipsy Laddie", unknown, c. 1875


  1. ^ Roud, Steve & Julia Bishop (2012). The New Penguin Book of Folk Songs. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-119461-5.p. 446
  2. ^ Journal of the Gypsy Lore society Vol. II, London 1890–91
  3. ^ The English and Scottish popular ballads By Francis James Child
  4. ^ Baring Gould, Sabine and Cecil Sharp English Folk Songs for Schools. 1906. Curwen
  5. ^ Roud & Bishop, p. 447
  6. ^ quoted in Roud & Bishop, p. 447
  7. ^ Bronson, Bernard Harris, The Traditional Tunes of The Child Ballads, Princeton Uiniversity Press. 1959–1972. Cited by Roud & Bishop p 447
  8. ^ Child, "Raggle-Taggle Gypsies"
  9. ^ Tosches, Nick. (1996). Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80713-0.

External links

  • "The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies-O" melody and lyrics
  • Origins: "The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy" at The Mudcat Café
  • Covers at SecondHandSongs
  • Covers at WhoSampled
  • Variant lyrics, with chords from The Waterboys arrangement
  • Child Ballad #200 Entry at