I can’t tell you when I heard this song for the first time – it’s literally been decades. But today I happened to use the phrase “it’s a penny to a quid” (similar to the US expression “it’s dimes to dollars”), and every time I hear or use that phrase, this song pops into my mind. And thanks to the miracle of the Internet, which is busy recording for posterity almost everything that can be salvaged – what a great historical tool it is, too – I can share it with you.


Lonnie Donovan was a British skiffle musician (Americans, think Jug Band) popular in the 1960’s.


by Lonnie Donegan

Now, “lively” is a funny word
It means a lot of things
But to the burglar people
An urgent call it brings

Cause’ when they breakin’ open safes
Or nailin’ up mail vans
Lively! just means “Scarper boys”
To all the different gangs

Lively, lively, the night is going fast
Lively, lively, we both got murky pasts
Lively, lively, don’t leave that bloke untied
Cause’ if you did it’s a penny to a quid that we both end up inside!

Solo 1

We broke into a spinster’s house
While she was knelt in prayer
She was praying for a man
what sort she didn’t care

We had to dive beneath the bed
The dust fair made us sneeze
“Cor, that was quick!” the old girl cried
And jumped up off her knees!

Repeat Chorus

Solo 2

Now we rehearsed for days and days
A smash an’ grab to do
“You throw the brick” one bloke said
“And I’ll leave the grab to you”

The brick went through the window
“Now grab! – they cried – “And quick!”
It wasn’t till we got away I found I’d grabbed our brick!

Oh lively, lively…
I sung this song once at a policemen’s dance
But I was only singing for coppers
Oooo what a gagster

Whilst on the run once from the law I rushed into a church
I mixed with lots of people just to confuse the search
I’ve found meself right up the front, the best place I could hide
I had a fright when some bloke said “Got the ring? Here comes the bride!”


Solo 3

The shop steward of our union was up before the judge
Who sentenced him to 18 months, our steward lodged a grudge
The maximum is twelve M’lud[1], the judge replied “What rot!”
You always wanted time and half and that’s just what you’ve got!”

Lively, lively, the night is going fast
Lively, lively, we both got murky pasts
Lively, lively, don’t leave that bloke untied
Or if you did it’s a penny to a quid
Oh Gawd Blimey, here comes Hymie
La, La, twopence[2] on your jar
(Different Voice) Rosin on the bow and here we go!
(yet another voice) Good luck then snapper, here comes the coppers!
(Lonnie again) I’ve had some beer, if we run in here…
We both end up insiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!

[1] M’lud = “My Lord”
[2] *twopence (pronounced “tuppence”) – The price you would get for taking clean Glass Jam Jars back to the shop, along with most types of glass bottles.

Here’s another example of Donovan’s work – Grand Coulee Dam

Lastly, a more modern example of Donegan’s work (he passed away in 2002), in the framework of an appearance on Michael Barrymore’s show (a British “Tonight Show” sort of thing.) Ignore Barrymore, he sort of mucks up the performance, but it shows Donegan toward the end of his life, still “lively!”.

The Old Wolf has spoken.