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Sir Lionel / Bold Sir Rylas / Rackabello / Wild Hog in the Woods

[ Roud 29 ; Child 18 ; Ballad Index C018 ; Bodleian Roud 29 ; Wiltshire 734 ; Mudcat 50640 ; trad.]

Roy Palmer: Room for Company Roy Palmer: Everyman's Book of British Ballads Roy Palmer: Songs of the Midlands Jean Ritchie: Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians Alfred Williams: Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames

Roy Palmer printed The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove as collected in about 1845 from Benjamin Brown of Upper Wick, Worcestershire in his 1972 book Songs of the Midlands. He noted:

Text: from Benjamin Brown, Upper Wick, Worcs.; collected about 1845 (Child C). The informant, who was illiterate, had learned the ballad some 35 years previously. Tune: collected by Christie in 1850 (JFS VIII 250). The ballad has its roots in medieval romance, in particular in the poem Sir Eglamour of Artois. The old woman and her animal may link the tale with witchcraft.

Lonesome Luke and His Farm Boys from Richmond, IN, played the tune of Wild Hog in the Woods on 12 February 1931. This recording was included in 2018 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Anglo-American songs and tunes from Texas to Maine, A Distant Land to Roam. Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

This is a tune to an old-world ballad which has now,to all intent and purpose, disappeared from the lips of European singers (although it was collected in the UK from six singers between 1850 and 1905). Alfred Williams found a single text around the time of the Great War and his singer’s son, who remembered the song, was discovered in North Wiltshire in the 1960s.

Sadly, this recording is not generally available. The ballad has, though, survived quite well in North America; Sharp, for example collected four sets in the Appalachians. Professor Child called it Sir Lionel and suggested that it was related to the Medieval romance of Sir Eglamour of Artois as well as to several 16th century Scandinavian ballads.

Bold Sir Rylas is one of the many variants of Sir Lionel collected by F.J. Child. A.L. Lloyd sang it in 1956 on Volume IV of his and Ewan MacColl's anthology of Child ballads, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, reissued in 2011 on his Fellside anthology Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun. The original album's notes commented somewhat disdainfully:

Modern variants of this ballad show the degree to which a ballad can degenerate with the passage of time. The original ballad of Sir Lionel was, in all probability, based on the courtly romance of Sir Eglamour of Artois, though the ballad story has been so garbled that it is barely recognisable today. Its degeneration, perhaps through stage influence, has resulted in its current status as a comic burlesque, in which form it has survived more vigorously in the United States than in England. The changed mood is best illustrated by its various nonsense refrains. Gone are the lady in distress and the cruel giant; all that remains of this tale of medieval pageantry is a fight between a knight and a boar and an involvement with a wild woman.

The text sung by A.L. Lloyd was collected by Alfred Williams from Daniel Morgan of Wiltshire and appears in Williams' Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames, 1923. Williams notes that the “I an dan dilly dan” refrain is meant to interpret the sound of the bugle horn. This version is sung to a Sir Lionel tune of unknown provenance collected by Frank Kidson.

See Child (18), Volume I, p. 208 ff; Coffin, pp. 48-49; Dean-Smith, p. 105.

Johnny Collins sang The Jovial Hunter in 1975 on his Traditional Sound Recordings album Johnny's Private Army, reissued in 1998 on his Fellside anthology The Best of the Early Years.

Roy Harris sang The Jovial Hunter in 1975 on his Topic album Champions of Folly. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album notes:

In the Middle Ages a wild and shaggy folk tale of a monster-killing champion was turned into a courtly versified romance about a French knight, Sir Eglamour. Subsequently this aristocratic piece was once again democratised and became a folk ballad whose sundry versions were called Sir Lionell, Isaac-a-Bell, The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove, and—in America—Bangum and the Boar. In the mid-19th century, Robert Bell reported it as being particularly popular in Worcestershire and Warwickshire, and the version on which Roy Harris’s set is based was collected near Pershore, Worcestershire, about 1845. Francis James Child reprinted it in his great ballad compilation, and Roy saw it there, liked it, and learnt it. Having no tune for it—and indeed, the original Worcestershire informant had only recited the words—Roy made a melody for himself.

Nimrod Workman from Chattaroy, West Virginia, sang Biler and the Boar in 1976 on his Rounder album Mother Jones' Will. In 2011 this album was re-released on CD by Musical Traditions with eight additional tracks.

Eunice Yeatts McAlexander of Meadows of Dan, Patrick County, Virginia, sang an American variant, Wild Hog in the Woods, to Kip Lornell on 25 October 1976. This recording was published in 1978 on the Blue Ridge Institute album in their Virginia Traditions series, Ballads from British Tradition. She also sang it to Mike Yates on 7 August 1979, which was included in 2002 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs and tunes from Yates' Appalachian collection, Far in the Mountains Volume 1. He noted in the accompanying booklet:

Wild Hog in the Woods is an Old World ballad which has now, to all intent and purpose, disappeared from the lips of European singers (although it was collected in the UK from six singers between 1850 and 1905), but which has nevertheless survived quite well in North America (there are 4 versions in Sharp's Appalachian collection). Professor Child, who called it Sir Lionel, linked it to the Medieval romance of Sir Eglamour of Artois, as well as to various Scandinavian ballads of the 16th century.

Rackabello is one of the many variants of Sir Lionel. Martin Carthy sang it in 1996 on Waterson:Carthy's second album Common Tongue, with the Waterdaughters (Lal Waterson with her daughter Maria Gilhooley and Norma Waterson with her daughter Eliza Carthy) joining in on chorus. He noted:

Rackabello is found in F.J. Child as a single verse, so, with the help of every version I could lay my hands on, a shoe horn, a great tune from a Hertfordshire woman called Kathleen Williams (actually for the song The Crabfish) and a great band, the story of the slaughter of the giant's pet pig is given full rein. Don't know how long the victim was stuck up the tree, but the story doesn't stick around for the liberation, even if the victim has to. We'll never know.

Kate Rusby sang Sir Eglamore in 1997 on her CD Hourglass, in 2002 on her CD 10, and in September 2002 live at Leeds City Varieties Music Hall; a recording of which was released in 2004 on her DVD Live from Leeds.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Old Bangum in 2003 on their CD Twiddlum Twaddlum. They noted that:

Helen Hartness Flanders and Marguerite Olney collected this ballad (Child #18 Sir Lionel) from Alfred Ferguson in Middlebury, VT, 1942.

Jon Loomes sang Wild Boar in 2005 on his Fellside CD Fearful Symmetry.

Kieron Means and Sara Grey sang Quil O'Quay in 2005 on his Fellside CD Far As My Eyes Can See.

John Spiers and Jon Boden sang Bold Sir Rylas in 2005 on their album Songs and again in 2010/11 on their CD The Works. Jon Boden also sang it as the 14 August 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. They noted on the first CD:

From Folk-Songs of the Upper Thames by Alfred Williams. A nicely compressed version of Sir Lionel (Child 18). No tune survives but it seems to fit quite nicely (with a little gentle encouragement) to Enrico, a country dance tune from Dorset. Williams collected the text from Daniel Morgan who lived “amid the woods of Bradon.” Williams remarked that he had “spent pleasant hours in [his] cottage, during dark winter evenings, listening to the old man's songs, which he sang sitting on a low stool cutting out clothes-pegs from green withy, while his wife sat opposite making potato nets.”

This video shows them at Sidmouth Folk Week in 2012:

Wheeler Street sang Sir Eglamore in 2008 on their CD Complaints & Privileges.

The Demon Barbers sang Sir Lionel and the Boar in 2015 on their CD Disco at the Tavern.

Jeff Warner sang Wild Hog in the Woods in 2011 on his WildGoose album Long Time Travelling. He noted:

I learned this from the Rounder album Fuzzy Mountain String Band in 1971. The Fuzzies got it from traditional singer Taylor Kimble of southwest Virginia. It's an American version of the ancient British ballad Sir Lionel.

Ninebarrow sang Bold Sir Rylas on their 2014 CD While the Blackthorn Burns. They noted:

This is a song we've known and loved for a long time. It's actually a compressed version of an old ballad called Sir Lionel (Child 18).

We first heard it performed by Spiers & Boden, put to a Dorset country dancing tune. We've spent many long walks in the countryside humming and singing this since we first heard it on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards—in 2006 if we're not mistaken…

Those of a nervous disposition may choose to skip this track—or at least cover their ears for the last verse!

Alasdair Roberts learned Wild Hog in the Woods from the recording of Eunice Yeatts McAlexander, and sang lead vocals on this song as the title track on The Furrow Collective's 2016 digital single and album, Wild Hog. They noted:

This is an American version of the ballad which appears in F.J. Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads under the title of Sir Lionel, variants also exist under such titles as Bangum and the Boar, Old Bangum and Rurey Bain. It appears to have its origin in the Middle English verse romance of Sir Eglamour of Artois, written some time around 1350, in which one of the hero's tasks is to kill the Boar of Sidon; it is also somewhat reminiscent of the older Celtic legend of Diarmuid and the Boar. Our version was learnt by Alasdair from the singing of Eunice Yeatts McAlexander of Patrick County, Virginia, from an LP entitled Virginia Traditions: Ballads from British Tradition, released by the Blue Ridge Institute (BRI002), which was kindly sent to him by the Wales-based American musician Jeb Loy Nichols.

This video shows The Furrow Collective at The Borderline, London, on 3 March 2015:

Jon Wilks sang The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove in 2020 on his download single The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove. He noted:

These lyrics are an attempt to fit Benjamin Brown’s version to my own arrangement. For a more accurate reading, please see Roy Palmer’s book, mentioned [at the beginning of this page].

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings Bold Sir RylasSpiers & Boden sing Bold Sir Rylas

Bold Sir Rylas a-hunting went,
    I an dan dilly dan.
Bold Sir Rylas a-hunting went,
    Killy killy ko ko an.
Bold Sir Rylas a-hunting went,
To kill some game was his intent,
    With an I an dan and a dilly dan,
    Killy killy ko ko an.

Now bold Sir Rylas a-hunting went,
    All along and down alee.
And bold Sir Rylas a-hunting went,
    Down by the riverside.
Bold Sir Rylas a-hunting went,
To catch some game was his intent,
    Down in the grove where the wild flowers grow
    And the green leaves fall all around.

He saw a wild woman sat in a tree,
“Good lord, what brings you here?” said she.

“There is a wild boar in this wood;
He'll eat your flesh and drink your blood.”

“What must I do this boar to see?”
“Why, blow your horn, he'll come to thee.”

Well, he spied a wild woman sitting in a tree,
    All along and down alee.
“Good lord, what brings you here?” said she,
    Down by the riverside.
“Oh, there is a wild boar in this wood;
He'll eat your flesh and drink your blood.”
    Down in the grove where the wild flowers grow
    And the green leaves fall all around.

He put his horn unto his mouth,
He blew it east, north, west and south.

The wild boar heard him in his den,
And out he came with his young 'uns ten.

Well, he put his horn unto his mouth,
And he blew it east, north, west and south.
And the wild boar came out of his den,
Bringing his children nine or ten.

He fought him half that long summer day,
Till the wild boar fain would have run away.

Then bold Sir Rylas the wild boar fell on,
And bold Sir Rylas the wild boar fell on.
Then he fought him three hours all the day
Until the boar would have run away.

“Now since you've killed my pig,” said she,
“There are three things I'll have of thee,
Thy horse, thy hounds and thy fair lady.”

“Oh, now you have killed my spotted pig,
Oh, now you have killed my spotted pig,
Oh, there are three things I'd have of thee,
Your horse and your hound and your fair lady.”

“Well, now I've killed your pig,” said he,
“There's nothing more you'll have of me,
Nor my horse nor hounds nor fair lady.”

“Oh, now I've killed your spotted pig,
Oh, now I've killed your spotted pig,
Oh, there's not one thing you'll have of me,
Nor my horse nor my hound nor my fair lady.”

Then bold Sir Rylas on her fell,
He split her head down to the chin,
You ought to see her kick and grin.

Then bold Sir Rylas the wild woman fell on,
And bold Sir Rylas the wild woman fell on,
And he split her head down to her chin,
You should have seen her kick and grin.

Waterson:Carthy sing Rackabello

Young Rackabello to the woods he has gone,
Rackabello, Rackabello, riding all alone.

Chorus (repeated after every other verse):
(To me) Rye raddium rudy ida daddium
Di dye daddium rudy ida dandy

Rackabello down the wood late yester e'en,
Woman in the tall tree Rackabello seen.

“Woman oh why do you sit up so high?
Nobody living can come you a-nigh.”

“There's a wild boar living down in the wood,
Cut your throat and he drink your blood.”

Young Rackabello put his horn to his mouth,
Blew it to the north and blew it to the south.

Young Rackabello come to the wild boar's den,
There he saw the bones of a thousand men.

Wild boar struck, he began to run,
Thrashing down the tall trees as he come along.

Fought four hours on a long summer day,
Wild boar struck and he would have run away.

Young Rackabello drew the wee penknife,
Rackabello, Rackabello took away his life.

Rackabello riding through his own front door,
Up jumped the giant from the wild woods of Tor.

Up jumped the giant and Rackabello flew.
“You killed my little pig it's time for you.”

Into his rocks the giant then flew,
Swore to his soul he would tear him in two.

Rackabello, Rackabello drew the sword again,
Rackabello, Rackabello split his head in twain.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing Old Bangum The Furrow Collective sing Wild Hog in the Woods

Old Bangum would a-hunting ride,
    Derum derum derum.
Old Bangum would a-hunting ride,
    Ki-li-ko.
Old Bangum would a-hunting ride
With sword and pistol by his side,
    Derum ki-li-ko-ko.

There is a wild hog in the woods
    Diddle oh down, diddle oh day
There is a wild hog in the woods
    Diddle oh ooh
There is a wild hog in the woods,
Kills a man and drinks his blood,
    Come ok, cut him down, kill him if you can.

He rode up to the riverside
Where he a pretty maid espied.

I wish I could that wild hog see,
See if he'll take a fight with me.

He said, “Fair maid, will you marry me?”
“Ah no,” quoth she, “For we'd never agree.

Here he comes through yonder's march,
Spreads his way through oak and ash.

“There is a wild boar in yonder wood
He'd eat your bones, he'd drink your blood.”

Bangum drew his wooden knife
To rob that wild hog off his life.

Brave Bangum rode to the wild boar's den
Where lay the bones of a thousand men.

They fought four hours of the day,
At length that wild hog stole away.

Brave Bangum and the wild boar fought
At set of sun the boar was naught.

They followed that wild hog to his den
And there they found the bones of a thousand men.

He rode again to the riverside
To take that fair maid for his bride.

There is a wild hog in the woods,
Kills a man and drinks his blood.

Jon Wilks sings The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove

Sir Robert Bolton had three songs
Wind well thy horn, good hunter
And one of them, Sir Rylas,
Well, he was a jovial hunter

And he’s ranged all round the woodside
Wind well thy horn, good hunter
And in a treetop a lady he spied
For he was a jovial hunter

“Now what’s thou mean, fair lady?”
Wind well that horn good hunter
“Well, the wildest boar has killed my lord”
And thou art a jovial hunter

So he’s put his horn all in his mouth
Wind well that horn good hunter
And he’s blowed north, east and west and south
Did Rylas the jovial hunter

And the wild boar’s heard him in his den
Wind well thy horn good hunter
And he’s made the best of speed to him
To Rylas the jovial hunter

And they fought four hours in a long summer’s day
Wind well thy horn good hunter
Till the wild boar, feign, would’ve gotten away
From Rylas the jovial hunter

So Rylas drew his sword with might
Wind well that horn good hunter
And he’s fairly cut his head off quite
Did Rylas the jovial hunter

The from the woods a wild woman flew
Wind well thy horn good hunter
Saying, “My pretty spotted pig thou hast slew”
And thou art a jovial hunter

“If there’s one thing I demand of thee”
Wind well thy horn good hunter
“It’s that my sword and thy neck they shall agree”
Says Rylas the jovial hunter

So Rylas drew his sword again
Wind well thy horn good hunter
And he’s fairly cut her head in twain
Did Rylas the jovial hunter

In Bromsgrove Church they both do lie
Wind well thy horn good hunter
With the boar’s head on a spike nearby
To Rylas the jovial hunter

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard; thanks to Barbara (from Baltimore) and to Greer Gilman.