Old Sir Simon the King

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OLD SIR SIMON/SYMON THE KING. AKA and see "Auld Sir Simon the King," "To Old Sir Simon the King," "Sir Simon the King," "Simon the King," "Symon the King," "Golden Age (The)," "Ragged and torn and true," "I'll ne'er be drunk again," "When this old cap was new," "Round about our coal-fire." English, Scottish; Country Dance Tune (9/8 time), Air or Pipe Piece (9/4 time). England, Northumberland. D Dorian (Raven): A Minor (Vickers): A Mixolydian (Howe): C Major (Chappell, Johnson, Playford). Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Chappell): AABB (Raven, Vickers): ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP (Johnson). This popular and long-lived early 17th century air appears in Musick's Recreation on the Lyra-Viol (1652) and Musick's Handmaid for the Virginals (1678), as well as John Playford's Dancing Master, supplement to the 6th edition (1679). The original song was quite popular and quite bawdy. The tune, which is in typical British four-bar variation form[1], has been harmonized various ways, depending on how the key is interpreted; Playford noted it without accidentals, but a 'B' flat note is sometimes suggested.

A long variation set appears in Johnson (1984) based on a harpsichord set by the famous English composer Henry Purcell (1659-95) that originally appeared in Henry Playford's Musick's Handmaid Part II (1689); Chappell (1859) states this setting appears in the publisher's A Choice Collection of Lessons, being excellently sett to the Harpsichord by the two great masters, Dr. John Blow, and the late Mr. Henry Purcell (1705). It appears as well in John Walsh's The Division Flute (London, 1707), David Young's MacFarlane Manuscript (c. 1740, No. 26), and Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion (1760); all containing variation sets. Chappell remarks this tune was greatly in favor at and after the Restoration in England, and that many of the songs of the Cavaliers were sung to it. He does not support Hawkin's conjecture that the Simon of the title was one Simon Wadloe, landlord of the Devil Tavern at the time the Apollo Club met there (and whom Ben Jonson called "the King of Skynkers" {drawers of ale}). Sir John Hawkin's also disdainfully mentions the quality of music found in taverns, or 'music houses' as the became known, in this excerpt from his 1776 A General History of the Science and Practice of Music:

...Fidlers and others, hired by the master of the house; such as in the night season were wont to parade the city and suburbs under the title of Waits...Half a dozen of fidlers would scrape 'Sellenger's Round', or 'John, Come Kiss Me' or 'Old Simon the King' with divisions, till themselves and their audience were tired, after which as many players on the hautboy would in the most harsh and discordant tones grate forth 'Greensleeves', 'Yellow Stockings', 'Gillean of Croydon', or some such common dance tune, and the people thought it fine music.

Fielding, in his novel Tom Jones, makes "Old Sir Simon" his character Squire Western's favorite tune. Pulver (1923) remarks the popular melody was used in several early 18th century ballad operas, sometimes under different titles.

A song version [Roud 19776] was printed in Thomas D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy (1729-30), and begins:

In a humour I was late,
As many good fellows be;
To think of no matters of State,
But seek for good Company:
That best contented me.
I travell'd up and down;
No company I could find;
Till I came to the fight of the Crown:
My hostess was sick of the Mumps;
The Maid was ill at ease,
The Tapster was drunk in his Dumps;
They were all of one disease,
Says Old Simon the King.

Poet Robert Burns (probably) penned his own bawdy verses to "Auld Sir Simon the King" in his Merry Muses of Caledonia (1798), one stanza of which serves to illustrate the character of the remaining six:

I'll tell you a tale of a wife,
And she was a Whig and a saunt.
She lived a most sanctify'd life,
But whiles she was fashed wi' her cunt.

The title "Old Sir Simon the King" made its way into children's literature in a nursery rhyme that goes:

Old Sir Simon the king
And young Sir Simon the squire
And old Mrs. Hickabout
Kicke Mrs. Kickabout
Round about our coal fire.

Source for notated version: Bremner's Scots Tunes (1759) [Johnson].

Printed sources: Howe (1000 Jigs and Reels), c. 1867; p. 147. Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1984; No. 30, p. 84. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book 7), 1760; p. 6. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 14. Seattle (Great Northern/William Vickers), 1770, Part 2; No. 369 (appears as "Old Simon the King"). Walsh (Complete Country Dancing-Master, Volume the Fourth), London, 1740; No. 69.

Recorded sources: Maggie's Music MM220, Hesperus - "Celtic Roots." Park Records PRKMC 31, Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band - "Hang Up Sorrow and Care" (1995). Wild Goose Records WGS 314 Bleshazzar's Feast - "Mr. Kynaston's Famous Dance" (2003).

See also listing at:
See a standard notation transcription of the melody with variation sets from David Young's MacFarlane Manuscript (c. 1740) [1]




Back to Old Sir Simon the King[edit]

  1. John M. Ward, "The Lancashire Hornpipe", Essays in Musicology: A Tribute to Alvin Johnson, 1990, pp. 140-173