If ye want a buzzem
For to sweep yor hoose
Come to me, ma honey
Ye may hae yor choose.
Buy broom buzzems,
Buy them when they're new
Fine heather bred uns
Better never grew.
Buzzems for a penny
Rangers for a plack
If ye winnot buy
I'll tie them on my back.
Buy broom etc
If aa had a horse
Ad wad hev a cairt;
If aa had a wife
She wad tyek me pairt.
Buy broom etc
Had aa but a wife
Aa care not what she be-
If she's but a woman
That's enyuf for me.
Buy broom etc
abc | midi | pdf
Source: North Countrie Folk Songs for Schools, Ed Whittaker, Pub Curwen, 1921
I have preserved the attempt at a representation of the Geordie accent in the lyrics.
Baring-Gould, in his notes for "Green Besoms" wrote:
[Green Besoms] is sung in Sussex and Devon alike. In Northumberland it has been displaced by another, "Buy Broom Buzzems", the composition of a local singer, William Purvis. The words are no improvement and the melody a corruption of the well-known air.
Further examples are listed, chiefly from the North of England and Scotland (Greig-Duncan Collection, vol.3); a set noted in Ulster appears in Sam Henry's Songs of the People.
This example is probably reprinted from Northumbrian Minstrelsy (1882), though that book has aw rather than aa. A final verse has been omitted:
If she liked a droppie,
Her and I'd agree;
If she didn't like it,
There's the mair for me.
Bruce and Stokoe's notes in the Minstrelsy bear repeating here:
"This unique little ballad, quaint and simple alike in music and words, is popularly attributed to William Purvis, commonly called 'Blind Willie', one of the most worthy and famous of the Newcastle eccentrics. He was the son of John Purvis, waterman, and born about the beginning of 1752, having been baptized at All Saints Church on the 16th February of that year.
"This eccentric character never enjoyed the faculty of sight, and many still living remember the sonsy, contented, and sightless face of Willie as he trudged the streets without a covering on his head. Several attempts were made by presenting him with a hat to induce him to wear one; but after having borne the infliction for a day or two, it was thrown aside, and the 'Minstrel', as he was called, appeared again uncovered, preferring the exposure of his hoary but well-thatched pate to the pelting of the pitiless storm. Blind Willie was perfectly acquainted with all the streets, lanes, and chares of his native town, and made his way everywhere without a guide, only using a long stick. His happy, contented nature made him a universal favourite with all ranks of society; and he had his regular places of call, where he was always welcome and duly served. At the inns and public houses of the town Blind Willie's presence in the taproom was a sure attraction, and his voice and fiddle in harmony, singing some quaint local ditty, gave never failing delight to his appreciative audiences."
("Sonsy" seems mostly to have dropped out of use even in Northern English, though it persists in Scots. Although it can mean "plump" or "buxom", it's usually more general than that, and is also defined as "luck-bringing"; "comely"; "good-natured" and "comfortable-looking"; either of the two last would seem to be what is intended here.)
"Buy Broom Buzzems was usually considered to be Willie's chef-d'oeuvre, and he was in the habit of adding new verses, either made by himself or made for him, having no connection with the original theme. They have, therefore, been omitted here. Blind Willie died in the All Saints' Poorhouse on 20th July, 1832, upwards of eighty years of age."
The Besom Maker or Green Besoms, although it shares a refrain with this song, is otherwise quite different; the Roud Index assigns it number 910. The versions taken from tradition and published by such as Baring-Gould (who edited his text a little, and omitted a verse concerning a parson!) and Heywood Sumner, rather gloss over the theme of the song as it appeared on broadsides, where the besom-maker is a woman and the gathering of green broom is, as usual, a sexual metaphor. Broadside examples of the latter song can be seen, as The Besom Maker, at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads
Although he certainly made it his own, the song is unlikely to have originated with Blind Willie. It seems to have been well-known on both sides of the border; Burns knew it, for one, and in 1796 wrote a satirical piece, Buy Braw Troggin, set to the tune. There are also two texts among his papers, likely enough noted from local tradition:
Broom Besoms (A)
I maun hae a wife, whatsoe'er she be;
An she be a woman, that's eneugh for me.
Buy broom besoms! wha will buy them now;
Fine heather ringers, better never grew.
If that she be bony, I shall think her right:
If that she be ugly, where's the odds at night?
O, an she be young, how happy I shall be!
If that she be auld, the sooner she will die.
If that she be fruitfu', O! what joy is there!
If that she be barren, less will be my care.
If she like a drappie, she and I'll agree;
If she dinna like it, there's the mair for me.
Be she green or gray; be she black or fair;
Let her be a woman, I shall seek nae mair.
Broom Besoms (B)
Young and souple was I, when I lap the dyke;
Now I'm auld and frail, I douna step a syke.
Young and souple was I, when at Lautherslack,
Now I'm auld and frail, and lie at Nansie's back.
Had she gien me butter, when she gae me bread,
I wad looked bauler, wi' my beld head.
Burns: Poems and Songs, James Kinsley, 1969.
Further verses and versions of this song can be found in the Forum thread shown below.
Roud: 1623 (Search Roud index at VWML)