Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Naughty Bits: Ball of Ballynoor

Oscar Brand: Ball of Ballynoor


No chapter on this topic would be complete without a song from one of nearly 100 albums put out by Mr. Oscar Brand … folksinger, performer, writer, researcher, director, historian, folklorist, reviewer and commentator. His lifelong dedication to folk music has truly been inspirational. “Ball of Ballynoor” is from one of his many volumes of “Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads.”

Oscar Brand was born on February 7, 1920 on a wheat farm near Winnipeg, Canada to a family of singers. At age seven, his family moved to Minneapolis, then to Chicago, and finally to New York City. In 1942, he received a degree in abnormal psychology. Joining the Army during World War II, he used folksongs for therapy in hospitals in and around New York City. Leaving the Army in 1945, he became a professional folksinger. He once said that’s “easier than working for a living.”

“Ball of Ballynoor” is an oft-requested number, especially after 2 a.m. when we’re down to the last beer, but it’s still too soon to crash. I chose this song, however, because it also emphasizes the Scottish origin of so much of our American folk music today. Over there the song is typically known as “The Ball of Kerriemuir,” and today it’s sung (with gusto, I might add) by third- and fourth-generation immigrants whose hearts still remain in the Highlands. The song’s verses have filtered through many a throng of college students, sailors and publicans over the decades. So we must conclude that Brand’s verses are not in the original Scots.

I offer this song as a tribute to the stalwart American folk song carrier and interpreter, Oscar Brand. Like most of his recordings, Oscar gives it a lean arrangement with just guitar and vocals. That’s so we focus on the song and its naughty lyrics. Grab your concertina and play along! Write a few verses of your own!

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