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Broadside ballad entitled 'The Cup Of Cold Water Or That's What I Read In The Next Week's Police News'


This ballad begins: 'One night as I sat in a cup of cold water, / Nearly frozen to death by the heat of the sun, / I read in the papers a case of man slaughter / Which caused the salt tears from my poor nose to run.' Below the title we are told that, 'Copies of this popular song can always be had at the POET'S BOX, Overgaie, Dundee'. The text underneath the title also states that the song was written by James Curran (a Glasgow song-writer and parodist), and sung by T. Barrick.

The bizarre lyrics to this ballad verge on the surreal. Supposedly based on the sensational stories that will be appearing in next week's edition of a newspaper called 'Police News', the song is comprised entirely of nonsense verses - though rather dark nonsense, admittedly. It seems likely that the reference to next week's police stories is a joke based on inside knowledge of the local crime scene. The trend for naming the songwriter and singer underneath the sheet's title could indicate that copyright laws had been introduced. It might also suggest that the shift towards music hall entertainment was now taking place.
The Dundee Poets? Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poets? Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poets? Box ? many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet?s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no.203 and 207.

It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one at Paisley in the early 1850s, owned by William Anderson.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Probable period of publication: 1880-1900   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(69a)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Cup Of Cold Water Or That's What I Read In The Next Week's Police News'
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