My Old Hat That I Got On | Folk from the Attic

If there was ever a case of a folk song hiding in plain sight, this was it. I first heard ‘My Old Hat That I Got On‘ as a recording on Voice of the People, performed by an old Oxfordshire chap named Tom Newman. It struck me as a song with potential for a slightly bluesy guitar arrangement so I began hacking away at it, slowly chiseling it into something performable, much to the annoyance of my family (that chorus played 20 times a day will wear down the hardiest of people). 

As is the way with these songs, once it got under my skin I found myself on a bit of a detective mission. I wanted to know more about its origins, so I hit the usual websites and libraries and – unusually enough – came up lacking. A chat with another local folkie surfaced the idea that I might write to a few real experts and see what they knew, and sure enough, Alexandra Burton at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (Cecil Sharpe House) came up trumps.

Tom Newman

Before we get onto the details, it’s worth recounting what’s known about Tom Newman, mentioned above. The website A Folk Song A Week has him down as George ‘Tom’ Newman, and Mike Yates wrote about him in his liner notes to ‘Up in the North, Down in the South’.

“George ‘Tom’ Newman was in his 90th year when I met him and, sadly, I only knew him for the last six months of his life. Originally from Faringdon, he was living in a small bungalow in the village of Clanfield, near Bampton.  I was told that Tom used to occasionally turn up at the Bampton Whit Monday ceremonies with his one-man band and would proceed to accompany the traditional morris team around the village.”

John Baldwin also wrote of his acquaintance with Tom Newman in an article in Folk Music Journal, published in 1969.

“He is an old man now and tends to become very excited when singing; sitting in a chair and pumping the floor with his feet alternately, and similarly his knees with clenched fists.”

Yates’s article also highlights the rowdiness of the tune, and of Tom’s performances, as it describes a typical scene in a pub in Faringdon (near Bampton):

“[Tom] removed each article of clothing as he sang about it, until such a stage was reached, when he was left with only his pants, that the landlady would shout, “You can stop singin’ that song! You’re not takin’ anythin’ else off in here!””

This passion for his singing, although as raw as it gets, is delightfully highlighted, again by Yates, in a description of a Saturday afternoon shortly before Newman died.

“One Saturday afternoon, after recording a number of his songs, Tom insisted that we take the recordings to his son, who lived nearby, so that the son might listen to them. It turned out that there was racing on the television and it was only with Tom’s insistence that I plugged in the recorder and set the tapes to play. I remember Tom sitting there with a look of absolute pleasure on his face, completely unaware of his son’s indifference. Here was one tradition that was not going to survive in its own locality.”

Suffice to say, it’s a nice feeling to be reviving a song sung by someone who seems to have been quite a dear old character, so this blog post and recording are for you, Tom, wherever you may be. I’ll raise a Real Kombucha in your general direction!

You can hear the man himself singing his version of the song in this recording from Topic Records’ Voice of the People*. 

‘My Old Hat that I Got On’

While a fair amount seems to have been written about Tom Newman himself, it seemed to be impossible to find information about ‘My Old Hat that I Got On’ – that was until Alexandra Burton spent a little time digging around and found that a version of the song is far more commonly known as ‘All For Me Grog’ (Roud 475). This isn’t uncommon, of course, and neither is it the first time that I’ve gone searching for a song only to find that it has a myriad of titles.

‘My Old Hat That I Got On’, photocopied from a 1969 article by Mike Yates, published in Folk Song Journal. Thanks to Alexandra Burton and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

It has also gone by the names, ‘Oh For Me Grog’, ‘All Through the Beer’, ‘All Through Me Ale’, ‘Here’s to the Grog’ and many more variations on that theme – although most of these have a shanty feel about them, something which isn’t apparent in Tom Newman’s recording. Common to many versions is the use of the strange word ‘sutter’, which clearly means fallen into disrepair, while at the same time having fallen into disuse. (If I do one thing this year it’ll be to reintroduce the word ‘sutter’ into the English language.)

The Full English website has versions found as far afield as Australia, while the earliest reference I’ve been able to find dates to possibly 1888, when it was sung by TC Smith in Scarborough. The venerable old Hampshire collector, George Gardiner, even picked up a version of the song in Basingstoke in 1906, when a certain Charles Chivers warbled it under the name, ‘Where is My Hat, Oh My Nobby Nobby Hat‘.

Indeed, once you dig around, you’ll find that everyone’s had a crack at this song under its various guises. As I said above, in many ways it was hiding in plain sight: recordings by Jon Boden, The Watersons, A. L. Lloyd, The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers are all readily available, should you know what title you’re looking for (I got there eventually).

All in all, it seems there’s life in the old song yet. Still plenty of time before it’s gone to a sutter.

My Old Hat that I Got On (lyrics)

My old hat that I got on
The front of him is gone
And the rim’s all shot to a shutter
If I only had one more
If I only had a score
I’d keep my old hat in remembrance

‘Cause it’s all through the grog
The bonny, bonny grog
It’s all through the beer and tobacco
I’ve spent all my bloomin’ tin
On the lasses drinkin’ gin
And across the briny ocean I must wander

My old waistcoat I got on
The front of him is gone
And the tail’s all gone to a shutter
If I only had one more
If I only had a score
I’d keep my old waistcoat in remembrance

‘Cause it’s all through the grog
The bonny, bonny grog
It’s all through the beer and tobacco
I’ve spent all my bloomin’ tin
On the lasses drinkin’ gin
And across the briny ocean I must wander

My trousers I got on
The arse of them is gone
And the knees all shot to a sutter
If I only had some more
If I only had a score
I’d keep my old trousers in remembrance

‘Cause it’s all through the grog
The bonny, bonny grog
It’s all through the beer and tobacco
I’ve spent all my bloomin’ tin
On the lasses drinkin’ gin
And across the briny ocean I must wander

My old socks that I got on
The toes of them are gone
And the heel’s all shot to a sutter
If I only had some more
If I only had a score
I’d keep my old socks in remembrance

‘Cause it’s all through the grog
The bonny, bonny grog
It’s all through the beer and tobacco
I’ve spent all my bloomin’ tin
On the lasses drinkin’ gin
And across the briny ocean I must wander

*NB: Following the publication of this article, I received a comment (see below) from Reinhard Zierke of the Mainly Norfolk website explaining that Tom Newman’s recording had actually been released earlier than I had at first thought. For more info, see his entry on the song here.

2 thoughts on “My Old Hat That I Got On | Folk from the Attic

  1. A nice informative article! But note that the recording of Tom Newman was first released with the more common title “All for the Grog” on the 1975 Topic Records album of countryside songs from Southern England, “When Sheepshearing’s Done”.

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