Keel Row

I rediscovered Keel Row this week and thought it would be fun for us. It’s not hard and if you want to add variations and/or harmonies, it lends itself to playing around…

My favourite playing on Youtube is by Kathryn Tickell. Here are some fun Banjo’s in Kentucky (at least I think that’s where they are). And a handy rendition on a melodeon. (See below the notes for the words)

Pdf downloadable here.

One point about the notes… lots of versions that I’ve found have the first note as a C dropping down to the B, rather than an A… but I’m afraid, this is how I’ve learnt it and it does keep with the ending of the A part playing it this way… but if you prefer it another way, don’t worry. It’s just another harmony to addKeelRow3The words that Kathleen Ferrier sang to this were:

As I came thro’ Sandgate,
Thro’ Sandgate, thro’ Sandgate,
As I came thro’ Sandgate,
I heard a lassie sing:

‘O, weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row,
O weel may the keel row
That my laddie’s in.’

‘O wha’s like my Johnnie,
Sae leish, sae blithe, sae bonnie?
He’s foremost ‘mang the mony
Keel lads o’ coaly Tyne;
He’ll set or row sae tightly
Or, in the dance sae sprightly,
He’ll cut and shuffle slightly,
‘Tis true, were he nae mine.’

‘He wears a blue bonnet,
Blue bonnet, blue bonnet,
He wears a blue bonnet
A dimple in his chin.

And weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row,
And weel may the keel row
That my laddie’s in.’


I’ve persuaded Jane to tell me her variations… This shows them all in one go. She sensibly adds a few each time but not usually all of them on one playing. If you are interested in playing some of these harmonies, perhaps pick a few and adopt those. I’ve written it out with the melody so that you can compare the two to see the changes. I hope it makes sense.


Jane played Keel Row with me last week… She added some lovely variations and I played the tune either in the usual violin range or an octave lower (I have a five string fiddle). All the mistakes are mine, but you can hear some of the ideas…

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