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Broadside ballad entitled 'My Friend Bill'


This ballad begins: 'I'll try and sing a verse, / Or two, on the topics of the day, / And tell you what I think is wrong. / And what I think's fairplay, / There's such funny thing accours, / Now a day's that fill me with surprise.' The text beneath the title reads: 'Wretten Composed and Sung by WILFORD TAYLOR, Comedian and Vocalist with emmense success, [Strictly Copyright,]'. The broadside was published by the Poet's Box, Overgate, Dundee.

As the second line suggests, this ballad is concerned with the 'topics of the day'. The author, Wilford Taylor, is clearly a man of humanitarian principles. He condemns a judge for imprisoning a man for begging for bread. He also criticises hardline Tory policy against Irish Home Rule campaigners. The song was probably written around 1886 when the seventh Earl of Aberdeen, John Campbell Gordon was briefly Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy of Ireland. He held the same position from 1906 to 1915.
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 date published: 1886   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(90a)
Broadside ballad entitled 'My Friend Bill'
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