The ‘Wild Colonial Boy’: Rules To Sing By

There really are people out there who have NOT belted out The Wild Colonial Boy at a St. Patrick’s Day party. I suspect most of them are Irish people who actually live in Ireland.

Still, it might happen to you someday. Especially if it is known that you play the guitar. I would hate for you to be caught unprepared.

So, just under the wire for St. Patrick’s Day: some basic rules for singing The Wild Colonial Boy.

1. If you aren’t Irish, don’t. No need to suffer unnecessarily. However, if all else fails, claim a fictional great-grandmother from Kilkenny. (You can’t have mine.) This will be important later. You’ll see.

2. Brush up on your fast folkie strum. I don’t know the technical term, but it’s that thing where you do a real fast downward stroke followed by three or four up-down strokes (Down up-down-up-down-up … oh, just go listen to a Clancy Brothers/Tommy Makem album. That strum.) Remember to stamp your foot a lot.

3. Very important: Know all the verses. Tape them to the side of your guitar if you are shaky. This is no time to be proud. The Wild Colonial Boy has one thing in common with The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Once it starts, it cannot stop. Even if you’ve done three verses and there are seven more you don’t remember. Even if you’re passing out. The moments will spin on as you gape there ridiculously, your hand going down up-down-up-down-up …

[Oh, Lord, I’m feeling sick. Excuse me for a moment.]

4. Before you sing,  inform everyone (in a charmingly shy way) that you aren’t doing a definitive version of The Wild Colonial Boy. No! This is just the version you learned from your sainted great-granny from Kilkenny (the one from Step One, remember?). It’s the one she rocked you to sleep with after she told you the tales of Diarmuid and Grainne, and the Children of Lir. This step forestalls post-performance arguments about how badly you screwed up the lyrics. Who’s going to argue with your sainted great-granny?

5. Have a Guinness. If you don’t like Guinness, wine will do. If you don’t drink, try chocolate, or get a bystander to give you a massage. Basically, loosen up. Otherwise you might consider how you’re actually going to sound while singing The Wild Colonial Boy, which could be a dealbreaker.

6. Sing it as fast as you can. This will help if you get tripped up by Rule 3.

7. Remember to smile a lot while you’re singing it. Yes, it’s about a young Irish lad deported to Australia who gets gunned down by the government men after an aimless life of crime. But smile.

And don’t forget to stamp your foot.

Let me know how it goes.


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