Folk Music/Old Silly Songs


My uncle used to play guitar when we had campfires in the yard in the summer. He had a fair repertoire of folk music but he also had a few he called "dirty ditties", that he learned as a college student at Ohio State university in the late 1950's. Not sure if these qualify as folk songs but I particularly liked but I never had a chance to learn the lyrics before he passed away.

This is what I remember:
Matches, matches, m a t c h e s
She can strike them on her (?), she can strike them on her (?)
Sometimes she can strike them on her (ass is implied but not said)
Oh matches, matches, m a t c h e s

The other song I loved was "After the Ball". He sang this version:
“After the ball was over, Nellie took out her glass eye. Put her false teeth in some water, hung up her corset to dry. Put her false leg in the corner and hung up her wig on the wall and that was the end of poor Nellie after the ball.”

Have seen many versions of this song and theories of the origin, is there an 'official' answer to the original version and origin? Or is it so old the original has been lost over time?

Thanks for looking into these. I'm missing my uncle very much, would love to pass these to my grandchildren who also adore silly songs

Dear Sandy

I wold not qualify these songs as 'folk songs' in the purest sense of the word. However, given that they are exactly the type of song to be sung, probably at a gathering of people who are familiar to one another and can be recreated and added to ... well, we could debate what they are and  what they are not until the end of time – these are 'people's songs'.

Now, I don't recall ever hearing the first one. It doesn't have the air of being particularly old - given that the song talks about 'matches' - if it was of a time when efficient matches were new (late 1800s) the song would probably refer to 'vestas' or 'lucifers' – these are the type of brandings which can help to date a song like this - 'while you've a Lucifer to light your fag, smile boys that's the style' (It's a Long Way to Tipperary )
My best suggestion is to go on to and the forums there could help you with that one.

As  for 'After the Ball was Over', that's easier in my opinion. The original song was a huge hit in - wait for it - 1892. Its sheet-music sold millions of copies. You can hear the original song here

Being so popular, it was ripe for parodies - and there are many versions, mainly simply with the woman's name changed. The parodies have a life of their own - you can read more about them here -  and I would check out the Mudcat link too.

However, this reminds me of 18th century engravings of 'fashionable' women getting ready, fillers get put in the mouths to compensate for lost teeth, eyes brows are glued on, bald heads (or shaved - both men and women shaved their heads) are covered with wigs etc etc. Some of these cartoons are brutal in the depictions, but rest assured, the men did not escape the attention of the 18th century caricaturist! You can see a couple via these links.

I mention this because while the song is a parody of a late 19th century hit, its content harks back to this older caricature tradition – so in effect, the parody is part of an older tradition than the original!

Hope this helps


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Kaye McAlpine


My main field of expertise in in traditional ballads - those commonly known as the Child ballads. Those containing executions are my particular speciality, but I am also interested in ballad structure formula, functions and narrative constructs. However, I also have interest in - and academic knowledge of - bothy ballads, and the singing tradition of Scotland - although not Gaelic song. This includes Jacobite song, political song, songs about the trades, and so on. I'm pretty au fait with traditional singers and bands too. And while I enjoy singing the songs, I'm not so sure others might enjoy listening!


I studied ballads academically, as well as Scottish literature. This extended into Scottish social customs and social history. I was the traditional music reviewer for the Edinburgh Evening News for 4 years, and have several publications to my name. I have been a freelance tutor in outreach courses from Edinburgh University on Scottish Culture and Tradition, including lifecycle customs, broadsheet ballads in Scotland, the traditional ballad and history. I am a freelance writer, have been a guest presenter on Ch4 History Hunters programme, and was a contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's 'Songlines' series on 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow', and have advised BBC Radio Scotland researchers regarding Scottish songs and ballads from the Borders.

Books: Forthcoming: The Gallows and The Stake. Published: Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10 'Oral Literature and Performance Culture', chapter on The Traditional and the Border Ballad; The Harris Repertoire (Scottish Text Society, co-editor), The Ballad in History (chapter on Border ballads). Journals include Folklore, The Review of Scottish Culture, Scottish Studies, and The Scottish Literary Journal. Music reviews appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News

Ph D, M. Phil, BA (Hons)

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