LIFE IS A CABARET, OLD CHUM — the lost ballads of John Olday

John Olday: left – in Australia, 1957; right, at the piano with one of his illustrations behind him, at an Anarchist Black Cross cabaret evening at the Centro Iberico, Haverstock Hill, in the early 1970s.

Don Pedelty, veteran Syndicalist Workers’ Federation (SWF) activist of the 1950s and ’60s, author of THE GREAT DECEPTION How Parliamentary Democracy Duped the Workers and THE WRITER AND THE REALITY. Jane Austen and Her World and close friend and comrade of cabaret- and graphic artist John Olday (the Scots-German anarchist involved with Hilda Monte – his wife – and Georg Elser in the unsuccessful 1939 Munich Löwenbräu Bierkellar plot to kill Hitler) has just sent me copies of the six records (78s) John made, privately, at the HMV studios in 1954, shortly before sailing to Australia (11 March 1954). Sadly, the tapes Don made of John’s memorable Anarchist Black Cross cabaret evening at the Centro Iberico in the early 1970s, shortly after John’s return from Australia were lost when  his tape recorder was stolen during a break-in. However, hearing John’s hauntingly melodious voice again today — which reminds me of that of Tino Rossi! — has brought back lots of cheery memories… 1. ‘Rose rot, Rose weiß (a lyric poem written by Hermann Löns, a popular early 20th century author, written in hochdeutsch, high or standard German, and set to music by Haydn. 2: ‘Dat du min leevsten büst’, ein plattdeutsches Volkslied (a low German folksong), a night-visiting song in which the girl tells the boy how to find her without waking her parents. 3: ‘Unsere liebe Frauen vom kalten Bronnen’, a song of the Landsknecht, the mercenary soldiers who fought in the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor in Flanders. 4. Dar weer een mal ‘ne luttge Buurdeern ’, also in North German dialect, tells of how a young country maiden (Buurdeern) courted by two young men (twee Jungs), one of whom is just a labourer (Schipper = digger), then other the son of a man with a position, perhaps a bailiff (Amtmann) asks her mother (Moder) which of them she should marry. Take the Amtmann’s son she tells her, and the Devil (Düwel) can take the Schipper. The Devil comes in and flies around and out of the chimney, presumably taking the Schipper with him.

Rose Rot, Rose weißDat du min leevsten büst Unsere liebe Frauen vom kalten BronnenDar weer een mal ‘ne luttge Buurdeern ; Once I was single …  ; Molly Malone ; The Cuckoo ; Dance, dance… The Nightingale…  ; The Cherry Tree  ; When all is dark and quiet   ;  Forget-me-not     and as a special treat German Folk Songs 1: Martha Schlamme and Pete SeegerGerman Folk Songs 2: Martha Schlamme and Pete Seeger

Illustrations (John Olday)

Olday Home Office File 1 (Contains a facsimile of Olday’s ‘The March to Death’)

Olday Home Office File 2

Olday Home Office File 3


Fourteen folksongs sung by John Olday


  1. 1.      Rose rot, Rose weiss  (Red rose, white rose…)
  2. 2.      Dat du min leevsten bist  (That you are my dearest…)
  3. 3.      Unser liebe Fraue  (Our beloved Lady…)
  4. 4.      Dar weer een mal ‘ne luttge Buurdeern  (Once there was a wee country lass…)
  5. 5.      Cockles and mussels
  6. 6.      Once I was single
  7. 7.      Dance, dance…
  8. 8.      Went to ask my mother…
  9. 9.      The cuckoo
  10. 10.   Farewell, my love
  11. 11.   No longer for my bed I care
  12. 12.   Cherrytree
  13. 13.   When all is dark and quiet
  14. 14.   Forget me not

Only 1) is in hochdeutsch (High or standard German), a lyric poem by Hermann Löns set to music by Haydn. The others are in dialect.  2) is ein plattdeutsches Volkslied (a low German folksong). With some variations JO sings it again in English in song 13).  3) is a song of the Landsknecht, the mercenary soldiers fighting in the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor in Flanders. JO only sings the first of the three stanzas we have found on the internet.  4) is another traditional song in dialect quite difficult to decipher. The text will be given below, with just a paraphrase of the story it tells. As for the other songs, the German words are as sung by JO and the translations are based on them.


Rose rot, Rose weiss

Rose rot, Rose weiss, Wie süss blüht doch dein Mund.

Rose rot, Rose weiss, Dein denk Ich alle Stund

 bei Tag und Nacht,

Das dein Mund mir zugelacht

So süssen klang, so süssen klang.

Ein Vögel sang in Lindenbaum, Ein süsses Lied Er sang,

Er sang von Lieb und Treu,

Mir war so weh mir war so bang

Mir Schmoll das Herz dabei.

Rose rot, Rose weiss, Das Herz im Leibe mit sprang,

Sprang vor Freude hin und her,

Als ob Dein Lachen bei Ihm wār,

So süss, so süss es klang.

Rose rot, Rose weiss, Was wird aus mir und dir?

Ich glaube gar, es fiel ein Reif,

Dein Herz ist nicht bei mir;

Nicht bei mir, geht andern gang.

Falsches Lied de Vögel sang von mir und dir.

 Von mir und dir.

Red rose, white rose, how sweetly your mouth blooms.

Red rose, white rose, I think of you all the time,

Every moment by day and night that your red red mouth smiled at me –

Such a sweet sound, such a sweet sound.

A little bird sang in the limetree; it sang a sweet song.

It sang of love and faithfulness, I was so fearful,

It hurt so much , my heart melted at it, red rose, white rose,

That my heart leapt up and down for joy

As though you laughed with him, so sweet, so sweet, it sounded.

Red rose, white rose, what will become of me and you.

I felt a frost fall. Your heart is not with me.

 Not with me, it goes another way.

The bird sang a false song of me and you, of me and you.


Song 4 tells of how a young country maiden (Buurdeern) courted by two young men (twee Jungs), one of whom is just a labourer (Schipper = digger), the other the son of a man with a position, perhaps a bailiff (Amtmann) asks her mother (Moder) which of them she should marry. Take the Amtmann’s son she tells her. At that the Schipper swears ‘The Devil will take you on your wedding night’ (Hochtidsnacht), and, as foretold, the Devil comes into the house, flies round and round the room with her on his snow-white horse, out of the chimney and up the mountain.


Dat Du Min Leevsten Büst

Dat du min Leevsten büst dat du woll weest,

Kumm bi de Nacht, kumm bi de Nacht segg wo du heest (X2).

Kumm du um Middernacht, kumm du Klock een,

Vader slopt, Moder slöpt, Ich slap aileen {X2).

                  Klopp an de Kammerdor fat an de Klink,

Vader meent Moder meent dat deit de Wind(X2).

Kummt denn de Morgenstund kreiht de ol Hahn,

Leevster min Leevster min den mosst du gah’n (X2).


That you are my dearest one…

That you are my dearest, you well know.

Come here tonight, come here tonight, say who you are (X2).

Come at midnight, come at one o’clock,

Father is sleeping, Mother is sleeping; I sleep alone (X2).

Knock on my bedroom door, take hold of the handle;

Father thinks, Mother thinks, it is the wind (X2).

When the morning hour comes, the old cock crows,

My dearest, my dearest, then you must go (X2).

Unser Liebe Fraue


Unser liebe Fraue, vom kalten Bronnen Bescher

Uns armen Landsknecht  eine warme Sonnen!

Lasst uns rucht erfrieren wohl in des Wirteshaus.

Zieh’n wir mit vollen Sāckel und leeren wieder ‘naus.

Die Drummen, die Drummen, Larman, Larman, Larman.

Heiriderideran rideran, Frisch, voran! Landsknecht vorain!


Our beloved Lady [i.e. the Holy Mother of God] of the cold well of Bestow,

Grant us poor mercenaries a warm sun. Don’t let us freeze to death.

Into the inn we come with full purses, and leave with empty ones.

The drumming, the drumming, alarm, alarm, alarm,

Hi la la la la la, brace up, forward! Mercenaries forward!



Dar weer een mal ‘ne lüttge Buurdeern


Dar weer enmol ne lüttge Buur-buurdeern

De harr twee Junge so leev

De een weer en Schipper-ripper-ripper-ripper-ripper

De anner de Amtmann sin Söhn

La la la la la la lalala lala la la lala

La la la la la la la

Se dār er Moder wohl frogen

Wokeen se nehmen schull

‘Lat du den Schipper-ripper-ripper-ripper fahren

Un nimm den Amtmann sin Söhn!’

La la etc

As dat de Schipper harr vernohmen

Swar he er hillig to

‘De schall de swarte-ratte-ratte-ratte-ratte Düwel hain

In diene Hochtidsnacht.’

La la etc

De Düwel keem antorieden

Up sin schneeswarted Peerd

Un er flog mi er in de Stuv-teruv-teruv-teruv-teruv herum

Un den to’n Schornsteen rut.

La la etc

Da baben up dem Barge

Steiht een Machandelboom

Da harr he se terre-terre-terre-terre-terreten

Mit sine Düwelsklaun.

La la etc


 1-2  Martha Schlamme acc. By Pete Seeger on recorder and banjo

 Side 1







Side 2

1       MUSS I DENN



4       YODEL SONG