Anne Anderson wrote me in June 2004 saying,

"The song (Ali Bali) originated in a town in the Scottish Borders called Peebles (my birthplace). John Coulter and his wife Maisie used to make toffee for their children and when he couldn't work on the farm any more the couple and their children moved into town. Money being basically non-existent, Maisie took in washing and John made candy. He used to go round the town with a basket full of toffees wrapped in waxed paper which he sold for a halfpenny. A halfpenny is called a bawbee. My father told me the story as told to him by his grandmother who was born in 1834.

The song I was taught is as follows:"


*Pronounced coolters


"The addition of the other verse you have seemingly was added south of the border in Newcastle and was never sung to my recollection in the Peebles area. The reason I know it was added in Newcastle is my grandfather was a coastguard there and treated the new verse with total disdain and refused to let my father add it when he sang it. 'Damn Geordies hivnay ony idea thur spiling history' - Direct quote from my grandfather! Translated... 'the people from Newcastle have no idea that they are spoiling history...' Anyway I hope I have helped you set the record straight and have not been too presumptuous in doing so." -Anne Anderson.

Laura Smith wrote in June 2006, "The song as I was taught it by my mum and gran is again slightly different, it goes:"

Ally Bally, Ally Bally Bee
Sittin' oan yir grannies knee
Greetin fur a wee bawbee
Tae buy sim Coulter's candy

Oor wee (name)'s awfy awfy thin
A rickle a bones covered up wi skin
Bit soon she'll hae a wee double chin
Wi sookin Coulter's candy

Coulter's candy, ha'penny a lump
That's the stuff tae make yi plump
An if yir plump yir sure tae .........
(I can't remember what went in there, think it was fa')
Wi sookin Coulter's candy.

Ally Bally, Ally Bally Bee
Sitting on your granny's knee
Weeping for a wee bawbee
To buy some Coulter's candy

Poor wee (name)'s awfully, awfully thin
A pile of bones covered up with skin
Pretty soon she'll have a wee double chin
With sucking Coulter's candy

Coulter's candy, half penny a lump
That's the stuff to make you plump
And if you're plump you're sure to (fall)
With sucking Coulter's candy.

Sonia Ritchie-Park wrote: "My mum sang this to me, and I sing it to my daughter and I remember my dide (granda) singing it to me when I was little. This was in Fraserburgh in the north east of Scotland (about 40 miles north of Aberdeen) I have never seen this version anywhere else but I asked a few other relatives and this is the way they all remember it. My dad's family also sang it to him when he was little in the same area. Just thought this may interest you. Thanks. The version I was brought up with was:"

Ali bali, ali bali bee,
Sittin' on yer mammy's knee,
Waitin' for a wee babbie,
Tae buy some cooter's candy.

Look at wee Jeanie,
she's lookin' awffy thin,
Jist a rickle o beans covered ore wee skin,
Soon she'll be getting' a double chin,
Fae sookin' cooter's candy.

Mammy gie's ma bankie doon,
Here's aul cooter comin' roon,
Wi' a basket on his croon,
Sellin' cooter's candy.


Ali bali, ali bali bee,
Sitting on your mommy's knee,
Waiting for a wee babbie,
To buy some Cooter's candy.

Look at wee Jeanie,
She's looking awfully thin,
Just a pile of beans covered by wee skin,
Soon she'll be getting a double chin,
For sucking Cooter's candy.

Mammy gives my purse down,
Here's old Cooter coming round,
With a basket on his head,
Selling Cooter`s candy.


Shona Docherty wrote, "I am from Aberdeen, in the north-east of Scotland and was amazed to find Ali Bali on your list! My mum sang it to me as a child, her mum sang it to her as a child and I now sing it to my own child! The claim to its origins is very interesting as my mum was told as a child a similar story, but the place was Aberdeen not Peebles. As the poster from Peebles has actual names to go with the story though, I think she wins!"


Sheet Music

Sheet Music - Ali Bali 2

Thanks and Acknowledgements

My thanks go out to Anne Anderson for contributing this song and such an interesting commentary. Many thanks also to Laura Smith and Sonia Richie-Park for contributing those other versions of Ali Bali Bee

Thanks so much!