Arthur McBride and the Sergeant / The Recruiting Sergeant
Martin Carthy sang Arthur McBride and the Sergeant on his 1969 album with Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen; this was reissued in 2001 on the compilation The Carthy Chronicles. Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick also played this in 1976 as an instrumental on Dave Swarbrick's first solo album, Swarbrick, and played the song in 1992 on their video 100 Not Out. A live recording from Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, USA, from the early 1990s was included on their 2011 CD Walnut Creek. Martin Carthy wrote in the original album's sleeve notes:
I have always assumed that this highly subversive song was from East Anglia, but in fact I don't know. It is probably 18th century in origin and I learned it from Redd Sullivan, who sang it with great wavings of the arms—the folk world's Joe Cocker? The tune at the end is French.
A 1970 recording of Arthur McBride by Redd Sullivan can be found on the album of songs from the BBC radio series Folk on Friday.
The Exiles sang Arthur McBride in 1966 on their Topic album Freedom, Come All Ye.
Planxty sang Arthur McBride in 1973 on their first album Planxty. They noted:
Arthur McBride is an anti-recruiting song from Donegal. This version was collected by P.W. Joyce in his native Co. Limerick in the early 19th century and printed by him in his collection.
Paul Brady sang Bonny Woodhall in 1976 on his and Andy Irvine's eponymous album Andy Irvine Paul Brady. Frank Harte noted on the album's sleeve:
After the landlord s agent, probably one of the most hated persons in Ireland was the recruiting sergeant. The Irish peasant, destitute of worldly possessions and ground down by poverty, was forced of necessity to fight for a power which he despised. The ballad maker, being aware of this, was not slow to express his feelings in some of his most vicious ballads, always with a sarcastic edge. The earlier ballads such as this one, Mrs McGrath, The Kerry Recruit and Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye, set the tone for the later anti-recruiting songs such as Sergeant William Bailey and The Tipperary Recruiting Sergeant, written during the 1914-18 war, when England was attempting to enforce conscription in Ireland.
The sarcasm of the song cannot hide the terrible conditions under which soldiers were forced to serve after they had accepted the shilling, and Arthur's words –
I would not be proud of your clothes,
For you've only the lend of them as I suppose,
And you dare not change them one night for you know
If you do you’ll be flogged in the morning.
are only too true when one considers that twenty five lashes with the cat-o-nine tails was the minimum punishment and a staggering 1500, the legal maximum. All this for eightpence a day.
The song was collected in Limerick by P.W. Joyce about 1840. On account of its phraseology, he was disposed to think that it came from Donegal. The version sung here by Paul is one which he heard in America.
Dick Gaughan sang Arthur McBride in 1976 on the fundraiser album for the Folk Review magazine, The Second Folk Review Record.
Danny Spooner, accompanied by Mick Farrell, sang Arthur McBride in 1978 on their album Limbo. He noted:
Everyone admires the pacifist, especially when he proves his pacifism by beating his antagonist into the ground. There are a couple of versions of this one, and it has been recorded a number of times. It is on this record because after a fine night at the Dan O'Connell folk club an Irish lad said he'd buy a record if we recorded it. Quick as a flash, [Mick] Farrell agreed.
Tony Rose sang The Recruiting Sergeant on his 1982 album Poor Fellows. He noted:
The recruiting sergeant of the 18th and 19th centuries enjoyed a popularity roughly akin to that of an eelworm in a potato patch. To ensnare the unwary recruit he had to be capable of both silver tongued guile and ruthless skulduggery… only the desperate volunteered! But not everyone was taken in…! There's splendid irony in this most violent of anti-militaristic songs. This version is to be found in Roy Palmer's The Rambling Soldier and I'm indebted to the Somerset group White Cockade for bringing it to my notice.
John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris sang Arthur McBride on their 1989 Topic album Stolen Ground. This track was also included in 1994 on his Topic anthology A Short History of John Kirkpatrick where he noted:
During the 1960s the British magazine Folk Scene asked many leading singers to submit their favourite song. This was A.L. Lloyd's choice.
Chris Foster sang Arthur McBride in 2003 on his Tradition Bearers album Traces.
Mike Bosworth sang Arthur McBride in 2004 on his album of songs from the Sabine Baring-Gould Collection, By Chance It Was.
This version I learnt from the singing of Bert Lloyd. Sam Fone of Mary Tavy [in Devon] sang a very similar version titled Arthur Le Bride [which was collected in 1892 and can be found in Sabine Baring-Gould's Songs of the West].
Ewan McLennan sang Arthur McBride in 2010 on his Fellside album Rags & Robes. He noted:
The compelling story of this song seems to recur again and again in the traditional repertoires of man of the English-speaking countries—it was clearly an issue that was commonly experienced over the centuries. This particular version is from Ireland.
German duo The Hoodie Crows sang Arthur McBride on their 2016 CD On the Wing. They noted:
The story of Arthur McBride—cousin of the nameless narrator—is a true classic of Irish folk music. For our arrangement we pilfered from various sources, mainly Planxty and Paul Brady. If more people took the fight to the warmongers themselves and enjoy life to the full like Arthur McBride and his cousin, the world would be a better place for sure.
|Martin Carthy sings Arthur McBride and the Sergeant||Tony Rose sings The Recruiting Sergeant|
I once knew a fellow called Arthur McBride
As we were a-walking down by the seaside
So gay and so gallant we went on our tramp,
And as we were a-walking down by the sea sand
“What ho, my good fellows,” the sergeant did cry,
“What ho, my good fellows, if you would enlist,
“Oh well it's now, my brave fellows, if you want to enlist
“And it's then you will also go decent and clean
“Oh no, my good sergeant, we are not for sale,
[ “And if we were stupid and took your advance,
“And you need not be talking about your fine pay
“And it’s no good you bragging to me of your clothes
“And you need not be talking about your fine clothes,
“If you would insult me without any word,
“Oh well I'm blessed,” says the sergeant, “if I allow more of that,
But before they had time for to pull out their blades
Oh we laid the little drummer as flat as a shoe,
And as for the drummer, oh we diddled his pow,
And as for the weapons that hung by their side,
Note: Martin Carthy sang the additional verses 6 and 7 shown in brackets on the Walnut Creek live CD.
Danny Spooner sings Arthur McBride
Well, I once knew a fellow called Arthur McBride,
He and I went a-strolling all by the seaside,
Looking for pleasure and what may betide,
And the weather was pleasant and charming.
Right gaily and gallant we went on our tramp,
We met Sergeant Harper and Corporal Gramp
And a little wee drummer who beat up the camp
With his row-dee-dow-dow in the morning.
“Well good morning, young good fellows,” the sergeant he cried,
“The same to you, sergeant,” was all our reply.
There was nothing more said and we went to pass by
And continue our walk in the morning.
“Well now, my young fellows, if you would enlist,
There's a guinea in gold as I'll smack in your fist,
And a crown in the bargain to kick up the dust
And drink the Queen's health in the morning.”
“Oh no, mister sergeant, we aren't for sale,
We'll make no such bargain and your bribe won't avail.
We're not sick of our country, we don't wish to sail,
Though your offer is pleasant and charming.
“For if we were so stupid to take your advance,
It’s right bloody slender would be our poor chance.
If you wouldn’t scruple to send us to France
Now to get us all shot in the morning.”
“Well now, you young braggarts, if you say one more word,
I'll swear, by the heir, to draw out my sword,
I'll run you all through with my strength will afford
So now, you young buggers, take warning!”
Well, we beat his old drummer as flat as a shoe
And made a football of his row-dee-dow-doo.
And as for the others, we knocked out the two,
Yes, we were the boys in that morning.
Then we took all the weapons that hung by their side,
And slung them as far as we could in the tide.
“The devil go with you,” says Arthur McBride,
“For spoiling our walk in the morning.”
Ewan McLennan sings Arthur McBride
Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride,
As we went a walking down by the seaside,
Now mark what followed and what did betide For it being on Christmas morning.
Out for recreation, we went on a tramp,
There we met Sergeant Napper and Corporal Vamp
And a little wee drummer, intending to camp,
For the day being pleasant and charming.
“Good morning, Good morning!” the sergeant did cry
“And the same to you gentlemen” we did reply,
Intending no harm but meant to pass by
For it being on Christmas morning.
But says he, “My fine fellows if you will enlist,
It's ten guineas in gold I will slip in your fist,
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust
And drink the King's health in the morning.
“For a soldier he leads a very fine life
And he always is blessed with a charming young wife.
He pays all his debts without sorrow or strife
And always lives pleasant and charming.
“And a soldier he always is decent and clean
In the finest of clothing he's constantly seen
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean
And sup on thin gruel in the morning.”
“But,” says Arthur, “I wouldn't be proud of your clothes
For you've only the lend of them as I suppose.
And you dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do you'll be flogged in the morning.
“And although that we are single and free
We take great delight in our own company,
And we have no desire strange faces to see
Although that your offers are charming.
“And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you would have no scruples for to send us to France
Where we would get shot without warning.”
“Oh now!”, says the sergeant, “I'll have no such chat
And I neither will take it from spalpeen or brat.
For if you insult me with one other word
I'll cut off your heads in the morning.”
Then Arthur and I we soon drew our hods
And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades,
When a trusty shillelagh came over their heads
And bade them take that as fair warning.
And their old rusty rapiers that hung by their side
We flung them as far as we could in the tide.
“Now take them out, Devils!”, cried Arthur McBride
“And temper their edge in the morning.”
And the little wee drummer we flattened his pow
And we made a football of his row-de-dow-dow.
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to row
And bade it a tedious returning.
And we having no money, paid them off in cracks
And we paid no respect to their two bloody backs,
For we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks
And left them for dead in the morning.
And now to conclude and to finish disputes
We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits.
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the morning.
(repeat first verse)
Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard, with thanks to Ruth Bygrave and Wolfgang Hell for further suggestions and corrections.