lyrics text

The Ballad Of Cushie Butterfield

Geordie Ridley

I’m a broken hearted keelman and I’m over head in love
With a young lass from Gateshead and I call her my dove
And her name is Cushie Butterfield and she sells yellow clay
And her cousin is a muck man and they call him Tom Grey

She’s big lass and a bonny lass and she likes her beer
An they call her Cushie Butterfield an I wish she was here

Her eyes are like two holes in a blanket burnt through
And her brews of a morning would spyen a young cow
And when I hear her shouting “Will you buy any clay?”
Like a candyman's trumpet she steals my young heart away

You’ll oft see her down Sandgate when the fresh herring comes in
She’s like a bag filled with sawdust tied round with a string
And she wears big galoshes and her stockings once was white
And her bed gown is laylock and her hats never straight

When I asked her for to marry us, well she started to laugh
She said none of that monkey stuff because I like no such chaff
Then I started bubbling and she roared like a bull
And the men on the quay said you're nowt but a fool

She says the man that gets us will have to work every day
And when he comes home at night he’ll have to gan and seek clay
And while he’s away seeking it I’ll make balls and sing
Oh weel may the keel row that my laddy’s in

Now I hear she has another chap and he hews at Shipcote
If thought she’d deceive me I’d sure cut my throat
I’ll go down the river singing I’m all afloat
Bid adieu to Cushie Butterfield and the chap from Shipcote

I never took much interest in the song until I noticed that most of the words are quite sad, in fact, it’s a bit of a lament with some humour added to lighten the mood. Isn’t life, and love, just like that?

Then I heard the story—can’t remember where—that Geordie Ridley, a Music Hall entertainer, "had fell so deep in love with"…… Cushie Butterfield! Unfortunately for poor Geordie, Elizabeth Butterfield was the daughter of a rich coal barge owner on the Tyne. The family wouldn’t entertain the idea of their daughter consorting with a common Music Hall singer. Maybe the "Cushie" Geordie wrote about was a heartfelt poke at his rejection. Myth or truth, it makes a good ballad.

I discovered the rarely-sung last verse in a Frank Graham book of ‘Songs Of Tyneside’. I think it adds some weight to the unrequited love angle.

Geordies may not pronounce words the same as others but we can spell—t’s not a different language. I’ve printed the lyrics in English, not phonetic pseudo-Geordie. Any non-Geordies wishing to learn the dialect please try “Larn Yassel Geordie” published by Frank Graham.

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