Category Archives: O my name is

NS07: Danny Deever

Another Bellamy setting of a Kipling poem. The poem, which is said to be based on a true story, vividly brings out the horror of a public hanging – a contorted black shape, a whimpering cry, men shivering and fainting as they watch. But it’s not anti-hanging; it’s not even anti- this particular hanging, except in the sense of pitying what the poor man has been reduced to. The nearest thing to a narrative voice in the poem is the voice carrying the refrains (“For they’re hanging Danny Deever” and so on) – and that third voice makes it quite clear what we’re to think of Danny Deever:

They’re hanging Danny Deever – you must mark him to his place,
He shot a comrade sleeping, you must look him in the face
Nine hundred of his county and the regiment’s disgrace
They’re hanging Danny Deever in the morning.

(Gawd love yer, Rudyard, but I ain’t reproducin’ your bloomin’ vernacular punctuation for nuffink.)

Nine hundred of his county and the regiment’s disgrace – that line is at the heart of the poem, and really explains what it’s doing. To execute a man is a terrible thing; to turn out first thing in the morning, stand at attention and watch a man being executed is a terrible experience. But, in the world of the poem, it’s what the soldiers must do, when one of their number disgraces them; it’s another burden that they take on themselves. Which is a nasty theme, frankly – the self-pity of the strong, the thug’s troubled conscience – and would make for a nasty poem. I think what just about rescues this poem – making it both brutal and humane, instead of just brutally sentimental – is the vividness of Danny’s suffering and the fellow-feeling of his comrades. In this poem as in My boy Jack, Kipling’s compulsion to turn all the dials up to eleven results in something both moving and troubling.

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Filed under not a folk song, O my name is, Peter Bellamy, Rudyard Kipling

FS02: The death of Bill Brown

“The death of Bill Brown” is an eighteenth-century song about an encounter between a gamekeeper and two poachers. The gamekeeper, Tom Green, shot and killed one of the poachers; his friend, who is supposed to be singing this song, went back the next night and shot Tom Green.

I learned the song from Peter Bellamy’s version; you can see him performing it here. Bellamy (or his source) doctored the song fairly extensively, particularly the melody: as collected it had quite a jolly upbeat tune, complete with a fol-de-rol refrain. I think Bellamy’s minor-key tune and his aggressive, declamatory reading fit the song much better, so I followed him.

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Filed under folk song, O my name is, Peter Bellamy, traditional

FS01: Lord Bateman

The second or third time I heard this song, I completely lost track of time. When silence fell, Bateman having finally married his Sophia and vowed never again to range the ocean, I shook my head like a dog waking up; I’d heard every note, but it felt as if I’d been sitting there for hours. (It was Nic Jones’s version, which comes in at a little under seven minutes, but even so.) Something about the steady forward motion of the story coupled with the swinging repetitions and returns of the melody… I’m drifting off now just thinking about it. Using repetition is something folk music teaches you, I think. James Yorkston once said the two bands he’d most like to play in were Planxty and Can, and in many ways they’re not that far apart.

The song is my version of Nic Jones’s version of one of the many versions of Child 52 (most of which aren’t about anyone called Bateman), with the tune borrowed from Joseph Taylor’s version, some lyrics borrowed from Jim Moray’s version and the musical influence of Dave Bishop. (I think that’s everyone.) It’s unusual among the old ballads in having a happy ending; really, the narrative doesn’t have much drama in it at all, or not by modern standards – I guess at the time it was composed the idea of Sophia packing up all of her gay gay clothing and making it all the way from Turkey to Northumberland was a marvel in itself.

Anyway, here it is; see what you think. (I can’t promise to induce a trance state.)

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Filed under Child ballad, folk song, Nic Jones, O my name is, traditional