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What a rotten song ...


Filed: Friday, 11th October 2002
By: David Challoner


As the majority of our readers are aware , this website is named after the song which was formally heard on the terraces at Upton Park for many years, right up to the start of the 1990's when it just seemed to fade from popular use.

But where does the song Knees Up Mother Brown come from? We all know the words (or one version at least), but what about the story behind it? We asked super sleuth Dave Challoner to go on the trail ...

***


Dating the bloody song is a pain in the arse. Being anonymously written makes it a complete unknown quantity but it is certainly Pre-Edwardian and very probably Pre-Victorian if some of the contemporary songs are anything to go by.

Morris Dancing (an art form allegedly) comes from the same stock as what is known as Folk Dancing. As already mentioned this is of the Arse Kicking, Knee Slapping, Spoons on Knee Clapping, Back Patting, Face Smacking, Facial hair Tweaking variety.

Every region had their own varieties of long practised "Dances" and in fact each walk of life did (There was a Farmer dance, Peasant Dance, Milkmaid dance etc). The most common and famous of these still exist to some extent i.e. Morris Dancing, Maypole Dancing, "Court" Dancing (i.e. the stuff you see in the old Medieval films).

However, because only the rich could read and write, nobody ever actually wrote down how to do these things nor the lyrics. So they were hand-me-down tunes and tales that changed through the the ages (we're talking KUMB the song may have roots way back in Edward the Confessors times if not before).

What has this got to do with KUMB which is basically a song? Well, drinking basically. It's a thirsty song. The idea being to jig, jump around and generally make a lot of noise and sing the lyrics faster and faster until everybody collapses out of breath and needs a good lager to recover.

The actual meaning isn't important as such, but humorous lyrics help of course. Threatening to kneecap some poor old granny if she doesn't keep up is hilarious to me anyway.

During the Victorian period the songs began to go "underground" only performed in pubs, bars and inns amongst the poor and alcohol dependant. The rich meanwhile turned away from their Court Dancing towards Ballroom affairs (Waltzes etc). Only the rabble would basically sing anything so risqué as KUMB.

It may well have become a Victorian Showtune, but I can find no record of it anywhere in anything "Officially" but knowing what Victorian Penny Shows were like the one thing they were there for was a good "Knees Up".

This actually brings us to the phrase "Mother Brown". Now I can't find anybody famous with the name Brown from any period (the name Brown coming from the German "Braun" name of course which I also searched for).

Then I remembered a little something; Queen Vicky herself. She was reportedly knocking off a certain Mr.John Brown played by Billy Connolly in the film "Mrs.Brown". Vicky was well known as the "Mother" of Britain and a miserable cow when she went into her life as a recluse for some 20+ years.

What would be more funny for the population than to sing a song telling her to "Cheer Up" and have a "Knees Up" or else we'll hack your knees off and pull your bloomers off whilst we're at it.

So here we are, 1900'plonkish and song gets round more and more. I can find a reference to the song in 1918 and apparently some Yanks singing it as they were packed off home from Portsmouth (which must have made an awful din); they took with them quite a lot of our culture it seems (and plenty of Irish, Scots, Welsh and English people went to America, land of opportunity). During the Second World War a lot of them absconded from the US over into Canada to avoid conscription and the war.

It's also in India thanks to our Servicemen, and I asked a couple of Maltese mates and they know "Of it". So KUMB has been right the way around the globe (You'd have to check with the Aussies - none of them I know are online at the moment, but it's probably there too and in South Africa).

The song went into something of a remission during the 1918 to 1937 period; I'd assume due to the depression and the rebuilding after the war, plus the fact Mrs.Simpson just didn't fit the rhyme scheme.

Edwardian period, Ragtime music darling. Get with the funky rhythms. Seems it made its comeback here from 1933 onwards reaching a peak in 1938 after which it became a Major Wartime favourite for keeping "Spirits Up" and knees up (I assume) along with the good old Wartime faves such as "Hang out the washing on the old front line" and "Who do you think you are kidding Mr.Hitler" (which ironically was written for the TV series "Dads Army" and not sung during the war at all). "Run Hitler" to the tune of "Run Rabbit" was a favourite though, "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag" and numerous others like "Roll me over (in the clover, lay me down and do it again)" made huge comebacks, probably sung by older people they caught on with the younger War Generation and as such, some 10 years later they made a huge comeback with Winifred Atwell a.k.a. "Wonderful Winnie" circa the 1953 to 1958 (8 years after the war would allow for all the kids sent to the country to pick up the old Pub and Show tunes from the old folks left behind obviously whilst the middle lot went to war) - these kids would then, in 1953, be 13 to 23 theoretically. A large portion of the "Party" generation was now into the Glen Miller "Big Band" sound which Atwell capitalised on by making "Medley" tunes of the old favourites.

Why West Ham picked on the one tune, I'm not sure, but it's all down to the Pearly Kings and Queens. The Tottenham Jewish sector kept out of it, Charlton, Arse, Fulham and Chelsea were all not part of the true Cockney tradition which effectively left West Ham. Ergo my theory. We got it by default; same as "Forever Blowing Bubbles".

That brings us up to 1958. After that the song is pretty commonly known, sung all over Britain and more specifically attached to the Hammers (Scunthorpe meanwhile pinched "Any Old Iron" from us).

There is no report of it being sang at the 1923 final, which I found strange because that final is pretty well documented thanks to it being the "First" but somehow I can't believe that a crowd in such "Good Spirits" didn't sing something.

********


Further investigation suggests the song predates Queen Vic by a good 2 century's, at least. I just don't believe it was known as "Knees Up, Mother Brown" prior to Victoria's reign (as previously reported it is also known as "Knees Up", "Knees Up Mother Brown", "Knees up, Mother Brown" but to the best of my knowledge has never just been known as "Mother Brown").

A possible link with witches has also been suggested. If there is a link then it'll probably be to Holinshead's "Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland" in 1577 who provided much inspiration for our long berated William Shakespokingstick and his play "Macbeth". None of the wierd sisters are ever named in it, but it's true that they are often known as Mother, Gammer or some other honorific title (a la Terry Pratchett).

Hacking at the knees and all that Jazz, a couple of links:

"Little Barber Shop of Horrors" - unfortunately never a film, merely just something I thought would make an interesting title. Basically if you went in for a Short Back and Sides, you could also have that nasty tooth extracted and a gammy foot chopped off. Dr.Crips.

Folk Dancing - "Knees up" as a phrase predates Chaucer. Still no Mother Brown though unless she's in Chaucers tales....*goes off to investigate that one*

Knees Up, Mother Brown - Rhyming slang, to be more particular Cockney Rhyming Slang?

Mother Brown - Natural Remedies. I found a link to some old woman who produced herbal remedy crap.

Max Greenall - Linked to the phrase "Mother Brown" somehow, though I don't know who he is *Goes off to investigate some more*

Yet another version of the song:

Knees up Mother Brown!
Knees up Mother Brown!
Under the table you must go
Ee-i-ee-i-ee-i-oh!
If I catch you bending,
I'll saw your legs right off,
Knees up! Knees Up! Don't get the breeze up, Knees up Mother Brown!

Oh My! What a rotten song!
What a rotten song! Oh, What a rotten song!
Oh My! What a rotten song!
What a rotten singer too!

Knees up Mother Brown!
Knees up Mother Brown!
Under the table you must go
Ee-i-ee-i-ee-i-oh!
If I catch you bending,
I'll saw your legs right off,
Knees up! Knees Up! Don't get the breeze up, Knees - up - Mother - Brown!

Ow's yer farver? All right!

Courtesy of http://ingeb.org/songs/kneesupm.html - make of it what you will.

Also, an adapted version: http://www.quesera-sera.com/knnesup.htm

Knees up Mother Brown - Ringtone available here.

More Mother Brown - http://www.grainger.de/music/songs/kneesupm.html

Woohooo, another bloody version:

Knees Up Mother Brown Traditional Written By: Unknown Copyright Unknown

There came a girl from France
Who didn't know how to dance
The only thing that she could do
Was knees up Mother Brown

Oh, knees up Mother Brown
Knees up Mother Brown Knees up,
knees up, never let the breeze up,
Knees up Mother Brown

Oh, hopping on one foot
Hopping on one foot
Hopping, hopping, never stopping
Hopping on one foot

Oh, knees up Mother Brown
Knees up Mother Brown
Knees up, knees up, never let the breeze up,
Knees up Mother Brown

Oh, prancing up and down
Prancing up and down
Prancing, prancing, never dancing
Prancing up and down

Oh, knees up Mother Brown
Knees up Mother Brown
Knees up, knees up, never let the breeze up,
Knees up Mother Brown

And whirling round and round
Whirling round and round
Whirling, whirling, never twirling
Whirling round and round

Oh, knees up Mother Brown
Knees up Mother Brown
Knees up, knees up, never let the breeze up,
Knees up Mother Brown

Oh, knees up Mother Brown
Knees up Mother Brown Knees up,
knees up, never let the breeze up,
Knees up Mother Brown

Courtesy of http://kididdles.com/mouseum/k002.html

And finally a link to some Morris Dancers doing some Dancing (no seriously, they call it dancing) to Knees Up Mother Brown: http://fp.millennas.f9.co.uk/londmorr.htm

Thus ends my first lesson, I hope the people at the back were paying attention.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.





Your Comments


by Chris W
11:03AM 28th Apr 2012
''"Mother" was a title given to older women whether they'd had children or not e.g Mother Shipton the soothsayer. "Under the table" was an expression meaning drunk. I've never understood why a woman bending over would make the singer "saw her legs off". Especially as her rear end would be sticking out.

This made me wonder if an original crude version was "I'll **** your a*** right off." Bearing in mind in "Bless 'em all", the corporals have "bloomin'" sons, not the original army version! If KUMB originated in Victorian times, the ladies wore crotchless bloomers then hence maybe,"never let the breeze up". Experts say this was why the Cancan caused such a commotion when the dancers held one leg in the air! ''

by mikey
11:47PM 23rd Jun 2009
''How does the cockney rejects version go?''

by
06:24PM 21st Oct 2008
''I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, put a smile on my boat, loved it.''

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