Posts tagged ‘Napoleonic Wars’

June 26, 2015

Week 201 – The Bonny Bunch of Roses O

Here’s one last Napoleon song (for the time being). It’s a song which I’ve only learned in recent weeks, although I’ve been aware of it for a very long time. I first came across it in Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones, where the words are set to a slowed down version of the dance tune The Rose Tree. Since then I’ve heard numerous versions both on record and at folk clubs and festivals, but have never really felt inclined to take the song up. Largely, I think, because of the rather confused narrative structure of the song – who, exactly, is supposed to be talking to whom? And when? And in what tense? And why, yet again, does Napoleon think the best way to get to Russia from France is to go over the Alps?

The general consensus is that it’s a conversation between Napoleon’s only legitimate son, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (Prince Imperial, King of Rome, Prince of Parma, Placentia and Guastalla, Duke of Reichstadt, blah blah blah) and his mother, Napoleon’s second wife,  Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. I’ve no idea if the young Napoleon had delusions of restoring the glories of his father’s Empire, but it seems likely enough, given his father’s own inflated sense of self-worth, and the way that, later in the century, Louis-Napoleon / Napoleon III traded heavily on the family name. At all events, although he showed promise in his military training in exile in Austria, in 1832 he caught pneumonia, followed by TB, and drooped his youthful head for the last time, at the age of only 21.

What made me sit up and take notice of the song was hearing the Hastings fisherman Noah Gillette singing it on You Never Heard So Sweet, one of the second tranche of Topic’s The Voice of the People series, released in 2012. That recording was made by Bob Copper during his song-collecting days for the BBC, in 1954, and Bob’s time among the fishermen of Hastings Old Town is recounted in chapter 6 of his book Songs and Southern Breezes. The  song was actually the opening track on the 1977 Topic LP Songs and Southern Breezes, an album I have never owned, but had heard a couple of times over the years. I can only assume that I wasn’t paying proper attention on those occasions.

Noah Gillette - photo from the Copper Family website

Noah Gillette – photo from the Copper Family website

I was reminded of the song again by Shirley Collins’ multimedia presentation on Bob’s collecting activities as part of the Ten Thousand Times Adieu event at Cecil Sharp House in January this year. And as the bicentennial of Waterloo approached, I reckoned that if I was ever going to learn this song, the time to do it was now.

I’ve made no attempt to slavishly copy Noah Gillette’s words (in fact I’ve swapped a couple of the verses around), his phrasing or his melodic variations. But I have retained, for example, his “famous warbling songster” and his oh-so-simple, but really effective, trick of reversing two notes in the phrase “in spite of all the Universe”. I’ve also retained a really important phrase from the very last line. In nineteenth century broadsides, and versions noted down by the early collectors, the last two lines are usually

The deeds of bold Napoleon
Will sting the bonny bunch of roses O

But singing in 1950s Britain, perhaps mindful of recent historical events, Noah Gillette had changed this to

All the deeds of bold Napoleon
Will never conquer the Bonny bunch of roses, O

And that’s what I sing. Because, when all is said and done – and whatever Andrew Roberts might tell us to the contrary – we don’t have any more time for a little Napoleon than a little Hitler.

Bonny Bunch of Roses O - 19th century broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

Bonny Bunch of Roses O – 19th century broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

 

And following on from that thought, I really can’t resist sharing this photograph of a wonderful wartime newspaper cutting, which my friend Gavin Atkin spotted on the wall of Hunton Village Hall, in Kent. That’s the way to deal with jumped-up little dictators with their silly moustaches and their silly uniforms – call them a little squirt!

1940s newspaper cutting, photographed in Hunton Village Hall by Gavin Atkin.

1940s newspaper cutting, photographed in Hunton Village Hall by Gavin Atkin.

Incidentally, Gavin also maintains a blog. It’s mainly concerned with boats and boatbuilding, but you’ll also find a number of sea-related songs and tunes on the site. Do check it out.

The Bonny Bunch of Roses O

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

October 20, 2013

Week 113 – On Board a Ninety-Eight

The visitor to Oxford is of course immediately struck by the beauty of the honey-coloured stone of the medieval colleges, the Old Bod, the Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian… But another of the glories of Oxford to my mind has always been the Covered Market. And when I was a student one of the glories of the Covered Market was, without doubt, Garon Records. I spent many a happy hour browsing through the racks of second-hand LPs, and there are quite a number of records in my collection which I picked up in that shop. I’d actually discovered the shop even before I became a student, having come across it on a visit to Oxford a few months earlier. It’s funny what one remembers after 35 years. I can’t remember much about my visit to the college, but I do remember having something to eat and a couple of pints of Morrells in The Grapes. then sitting on the grass by the canal reading E.H. Carr’s What is History?  And while, sadly, I cannot recall Professor Carr’s answer to that vexed question, I’m pretty sure the two LPs I bought in Garon Records that day were The Watersons and Among the many attractions at the fair will be a really high class band.

Generally the records I bought from Garon were in pretty good nick, the exception being a dreadfully beat up copy of Peter Bellamy’s Tell it like it was. This was in such a bad state that I think I only played it a couple of times. But that was sufficient to introduce me to two Bellamy classics, ‘Courting too slow’ and ‘On Board a 98′. Bellamy wrote his own tune for both of these, finding the tune which Vaughan Williams had collected for this song “unimpressing”. I was surprised, therefore, when I found the tune in Sharp’s English County Folk Songs, that it was a perfectly acceptable tune which fitted the song rather well. I learned it immediately, and have been singing it on an off ever since, either on my own or, for a few years in the 1980s, with Chris Wood on fiddle. It seems like a suitable song to post here on the eve of Trafalgar Day.

Vaughan Williams had the song from a Mr Leatherday (sometimes given as Latterday), a sailor of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in 1905.

On Board A '98, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr Leatherday, 1905. From the Full English archive.

On Board A ’98, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr Leatherday, 1905. From the Full English archive.

Needless to say, I think, the song can be found in nineteenth century printed sources at Broadside Ballads Online, the Bodleian Library’s revamped and much improved ballad site; see http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/search/roud/1461

On Board of a Ninety-Eight, printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials

On Board of a Ninety-Eight, printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials “between 1813 and 1838” from the Bodleian collection.

One of my wife’s ancestors was a Greenwich Pensioner, although not a resident of Greenwich Hospital itself. In the 1841 Census John O’Leary’s wife and five children are listed as living in Portsea; while he, we imagine, was off at sea. In 1851 his occupation is given as Greenwich Pensioner – one assumes he had “done his duty, served his time”, although whether he now “blessed his fate” we can’t know. He and his family were all living in New Rents, Ashford, Kent. This is a really strange coincidence – Ashford is my home town, and I certainly would have had ancestors living in the town in 1851; Carol had been unaware that any of her forebears had any connection with Kent, still less Ashford. The association seems to have been shortlived, however, as the O’Leary family were no longer in Ashford by the time of the next census in 1861.

On Board a Ninety-Eight

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina