Posts tagged ‘Battle of Waterloo’

June 19, 2015

Week 200 – The Grand Conversation on Napoleon

At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender… but the legend lived on, of course, and his years of exile on the lonely Isle of St Helena provided further material for those who sought to romanticise the man in verse or song. I think this is a rather fine  – if typically confused – example of such pieces. I first heard it in the late 1970s, on a Strawhead LP lent to me by my friend Simon Oliver. A few years later, on a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I looked the song up, and copied it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 2 (1906). Vaughan Williams had collected the song in 1904, from Henry Burstow (born 1826) of Horsham in Sussex,. There are several examples of nineteenth century broadside printings to be found at Ballads Online and the Full English but apart from Henry Burstow’s version (one of quite a number of Napoleonic songs in his repertoire) the song was only found twice by the early English collectors in oral tradition – once by Baring-Gould in Devon, and by Vaughan Williams, again, in Norfolk. In more recent times, versions have been recorded in Ireland from Elizabeth Cronin of Cork in the 1950s, and from Tom Costello of Connemara in 1972 (the latter can be heard on Volume 8 of The Voice of the People). Gordon Hall (who of course had a strong connection with, and interest in, Henry Burstow) sang the song on the Veteran CD When The May Is All In Bloom. In the sleevenotes to that CD John Howson notes

As the broadside versions mention Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, this ballad must date from sometime after 1821. Both Harkness of Preston and Such of London published the song in about 1840 but it was probably based on an earlier broadside ballad called The Grand Conversation under the Rose. Perhaps due to the popularity of the Napoleon ballad, they both, some time later published The Grand Conversation on Nelson.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose - broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose – broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

There’s an interesting article on this, and other pro-Napoleon ballads, on the Musical Traditions site –The Grand Conversation: Napoleon and British Popular Balladry, by the always-readable Vic Gammon.

 

 

Well there we are then: two hundred consecutive weeks of songs on this blog. When I started I guessed that I knew about 150 songs. A little while ago I revised my estimate up to 200, and now I’m thinking the total might be nearer 250. In fact the number keeps increasing: next week’s song (yet more Napoleon) is a song I’ve only learned in the last few weeks. To those of you who have followed this blog over the years, and made supportive or constructive comments, many many thanks – it has meant a lot to me.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon

June 13, 2015

Week 199 – Lovely Elwina

We are fast approaching the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final defeat of Napoleon was a defining moment in European history, bringing to an end, as it did, two decades of conflict. And although, as a recent Guardian article pointed out, the majority of the allied forces commanded by Wellington on the 18th June were actually German or from the Low Countries, we’ve always regarded it, of course, as a great British victory. At the time, news of the victory was welcomed in Britain with the ringing of church bells and much rejoicing. In view of which, and their usual keenness to make a few pounds out of any event of local or national significance, it is rather surprising that the broadside press did not issue a great many more ballads and broadsheets celebrating the victory (I am indebted to Pete Wood for pointing this out, first at the 2015 Traditional Song Forum / EFDSS Broadside Day, and now in an article on the ballads of Waterloo in the current issue of English Dance & Song). But having said that, there were quite a few songs where the battle provided either the subject, or the backdrop, and which entered the tradition.

‘Lovely Elwina’ was collected by Vaughan Williams, some 89 years after the battle, from Mr Leary, a native of Hampshire, but then living in Almshouses in Salisbury. Vaughan Williams recorded it as either ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ or ‘Leaving Waterloo’ (I think – I really struggle with his handwriting). I learned the song from Roy Palmer’s book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where it is given as ‘Elwina of Waterloo’ – this is the title given to the song in its frequent appearances on broadsides. Roy writes that Mr Leary’s version seems to be unique but in fact now, with the benefit of a further thirty years’ research, not to mention the internet, we can point to one other collected version, from Joseph Alcock of Sibford Gower in Oxfordshire.

The beginning of the song is set in Brussels, on the eve of battle. I always picture a scene from Vanity Fair, although I’m ashamed to say my images come from an old BBC television adaptation, rather than from the book itself, which I’ve never read.  The opening lines of broadside versions run

The Trumpet had sounded the signal for battle,
To the fair ones of Brussels we all bade adieu

But Mr Leary had changed Brussels to Bristol, and I’ve always followed his example.

The ferocious battle itself (total casualties and losses 55 000 according to Wikipedia) features only in the background: our hero is wounded, but it’s not, it would seem, anything too serious, and the song focuses on the young lady he meets, and who by the end of the song is set to become his bride.

I used to sing this song with Chris Wood in the 1980s, and it’s now set to become part of the Magpie Lane repertoire – although typically for Magpie Lane, not in time for the Waterloo bicentennial!

 

Elwina of Waterloo - ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection. Printed and Sold by J. Pitts, 14, Great St. Andrew Street, 7 Dials.

Elwina of Waterloo – ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection. Printed and Sold by J. Pitts, 14, Great St. Andrew Street, 7 Dials.

 

 

The Battle of Waterloo was not only celebrated in song – a number of dance tunes have “Waterloo” in the title. In this arrangement I celebrate the impending nuptials by concluding with a tune from the Welch Family of Bosham (MS dated 1800, but clearly added to in the following years), which I learned from A Sussex Tune Book.

Lovely Elwina / Waterloo

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina