Cheaper booze

U 12.1397-8: She pulling him by the whiskers and singing him old bits of songs about Ehren on the Rhine and come where the boose is cheaper.

Weldon Thornton (Allusions in Ulysses , p. 287) convincingly explains the origin of the song ‘Come where the booze is cheaper’:

Hodgart and Worthington list this as an allusion to George Dance's parody of Stephen Foster’s well-known “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming”. […] I have not located a copy of the song.

The former orthodoxy was that the song was written by the English lyricist and theatre manager, George Dance (1857-1932). But there were dissenting voices – notable H. G. Hibbert in Fifty Years of a Londoner’s Life (1916), ch. 2, p. 8:

Dance was at that time engaged in local commerce, but diligently writing comic songs. One of his early works was:

"His lordship winked at the counsel,

Counsel winked at the clerk,

The jury passed the wink around,

And murmured 'Here’s a lark'."

Another song has been erroneously attributed to him of late. I note the fact, because it had a melody so bewitching that Queen Victoria, hearing it played by a military band, asked for the words. They proved to be:

"Come where the booze is cheaper,

Come where the pots hold more,

Come where the boss is a bit of a joss,

Come to the pub next door."

We start to hear references to the song in the very early 1890s, and it is associated with the celebrated music-hall artist Charles Colborn (best known for his ‘Two Lovely Black Eyes’ and ‘The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’ - Joyce is recalled singing this last song in C. P. Curran's James Joyce Remembered (1968), p. 41):

The London Theatres… The Grand… 'Dorothy'[…] To whom but to Mr Williams would it occur to remark, 'Whisper softly the blackbird is moulting', or invite a friend to 'come where the booze is cheaper'. These and other gems of witty inspiration were received [as Williams's interpolations into the text] by the audience at the Grand Theatre on Monday with roars and screams of laughter.

Era (1890) 26 July, p. 14

Collins's… Mr Charles Coborn’s 'Pa's Advice' ranks higher than 'Come where the booze is cheaper', which, however, goes well with the gallery.

Era (1890) 13 December

‘Come where the booze is cheaper’ was written by E. W Rogers (lyrics) and A. E. Durandeau (music), around 1890 (the reference may also be found here). The sheet music is undated but is ascribed to 1891. Rogers and Durandeau collaborated on a number of successful music-hall songs – the most popular being the music-hall favourite ‘(If you want to know the time) Ask a P’liceman!’

‘Come where the booze is cheaper’ achieved notoriety at the time for two reasons. Firstly, as Fritz Senn noted in 1976 (JJQ, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter, 1976), pp. 242-6), because Queen Victoria appreciated the melody - as cited above.

The second reason for the song’s notoriety is that in 1894 Colborn was hissed off the stage while singing it at the Palace Theatre in London. He claimed that the disturbance came from a small group of hecklers who objected to the sentiments of his songs. Realizing that he would be unable to continue his performance, he left the stage and then the theatre, being fined the next day for causing a disturbance outside the theatre. Later he sued the theatre management for breaking the terms of their contract. The story was widely reported in the newspapers of the day. Here are excerpts of the account in the London Times of 9 February, 1895 (p. 4):

The action was by the plaintiff to recover damages for an alleged breach of an agreement between him and the defendants, by which he agreed to sing at the Palace Theatre at a weekly salary of £20 for a certain period commencing on December 26, 1893. During the engagement the defendants dismissed him, and refused to permit him to continue his engagement.

This was quite a step by the management, as Coborn was a very popular entertainer. The theatre management relied upon a clause of the agreement which stated that:

No artiste shall address the audience, except in the regular course of the performance, and any allusion to other engagements at other establishments is absolutely forbidden. Any breach of this rule will entail instant dismissal and forfeiture of salary for the current engagement.

Coborn was hissed by a small section of the audience during one song (and at the same time applauded by another section), and the hissing and booing continued while he attempted to sing his next song, 'Come where the booze is cheaper'. He stopped singing and began a verbal exchange with the audience, saying that:

[…] he was an artiste alone on the stage and that any man hissing was unworthy of the name; and 'let those who are interrupting contribute to your entertainment, for I will not'.

Coborn won his case, but the judgment was overturned on appeal. However, the judges recognized that he had been provoked:

[...] The view of the case which their Lordships were inclined to take was that the plaintiff, in a moment of irritation, did say something which went beyond the obligation imposed upon him by his agreement,[and that…] the parties had agreed that judgment should be entered for the defendants, without costs.

And here is the text of the song (see the Library of Congress link above for text and music):


Last night I went out with some pals, for we'd heard

That booze they were giving away,

But where this grand free distribution took place

They couldn't with certainty say;

We toddled down Regent Street spotted a place,

It's quiet and cosy said I,

We entered, but nobody noticed one thing

That was that the place was the Cri.


When they brought the bill it was long as a lawyer's. Then the waiters all chanted the chorus of "Do not forget me" and after paying two men at the door – one for telling us it was a fine night, and the other for having to tell him we didn’t want a cab – Jenkins said we'd better "hedge" this is the wrong shop for us.


Come where the booze is cheaper!

Come where the pots hold more!

Come where the boss is a bit of a joss!

Come to the pub next door.


Then Tompkins suggested as we were still dry,

We'd leave the gay part of the West,

And he'd show us where we could get a cheap drink,

Said we "very well you know best",

We entered and certainly just for a bob

In liquor we nearly got drowned,

But when for our watches and trinkets we felt,

Not one of the things could be found.


Hallo! Said I – Is this a den of thieves? That did it! – round came the landlord, barmen and potman, and their toes were raised and our back premises removed before you could say "knife". As one looked at a battered hat, another at a black eye, and I found my trousers would never be fit for "lumbering" again, we came to the conclusion that booze was not cheap there, so off we started for pastures new, singing rather hazily –


Come where the booze is cheaper!

Come where the pots hold more!

Come where the boss is a bit of a joss!

Come to the pub next door.


When we got thrown out it was just closing time

And not a drop more could we get

Then Tompkins laid odds that he'd knock off the hat

Of the very first bobby he met

We all took his bets and the bobbies took us

And charged us next day for assault

And then the beak charged us a very stiff price

For taking a drop too much malt.


The old chappie asked us what we had to say to the charge. "Well – said I to the beak" what do you charge here for booze? Forty shillings a-piece said he. "Why – said I – that’s more than the bun shops charge!" "Well – said he if you object to paying you can work it out on the Wheel of Life." But as we were not in training for gymnastics, we elected to pay, but never again will they have me with the Will o’ the Wisp cry of –


Come where the booze is cheaper!

Come where the pots hold more!

Come where the boss is a bit of a joss!

Come to the pub next door.

Notes to song: 'the Cri' = 'the Criterion Theatre'; 'hedge' = 'beat a retreat'; 'a bit of a joss' ('joss' is a regional equivalent of 'boss'; some versions read 'the deuce of a joss').

John Simpson

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