> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Cells


[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on Cells at the Kipling Society]

Cells is a poem from Rudyard Kipling’s book Barrack-Room Ballads. Peter Bellamy sang it in 1976 on his third album of songs set to Kipling’s poems, Peter Bellamy Sings the Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. This track was included in 2002 on the Free Reed anthology This Label Is Not Removable. Bellamy noted on the original album:

That Monday Morning Feeling is vividly described by an inhabitant of the guard-house whose remorse is tempered by the triumph of his treatment of the arresting officers. C.B.: Confined to barracks. Pack-drill: a rigorous but standard punishment. Button-stick: a device on which metal buttons were supported during polishing. The traditional song Boston City lent something of itself to the melody.

Peter Bellamy and Cockerdale’s Keith Marsden sang Cells in 1990 on his privately issued cassette Soldiers Three.

Tundra sang Cells in 1980 on their Greenwich Village album The Kentish Songster. They noted:

Thanks to Martin Winsor for the tune and to Paddy Harris from whom we first head this crackling song. It’s from Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads and is the sorry tale of a poor squaddie led astray by the evils of drink. Every performance of the song evokes those halcyon days when we did a Saturday night pub residency in darkest Chatham.

Dave Webber sang Cells on the 1995 album of Barrack Room Ballads and other soldier’s poems of Rudyard Kipling as set to traditional tunes by Peter Bellamy, The Widow’s Uniform. He noted:

It has been said (not always as a compliment) that Kipling would have made a superb composer of music-hall songs. Perhaps, on this evidence, he was and no-one realised it at the time. A lighter side of Army discipline in poignant contrast to Danny Deever.

Jon Boden sang Cells as the 8 December 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.



I’ve a head like a concertina: I’ve a tongue like a button-stick:
I’ve a mouth like an old potato, and I’m more than a little sick,
But I’ve had my fun o’ the Corp’ral’s Guard: I’ve made the cinders fly,
And I’m here in the Clink for a thundering drink and blacking the Corporal’s eye.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
With a second-hand overcoat under my head,
And a beautiful view of the yard,
O it’s pack-drill for me and a fortnight’s C.B.
For “drunk and resisting the Guard!”

I started o’ canteen porter, I finished o’ canteen beer,
But a dose o’ gin that a mate slipped in, it was that that brought me here.
’Twas that and an extry double Guard that rubbed my nose in the dirt;
But I fell away with the Corp’ral’s stock and the best of the Corp’ral’s shirt.

I left my cap in a public-house, my boots in the public road,
And Lord knows where, and I don’t care, my belt and my tunic goed;
They’ll stop my pay, they’ll cut away the stripes I used to wear,
But I left my mark on the Corp’ral’s face, and I think he’ll keep it there!

My wife she cries on the barrack-gate, my kid in the barrack-yard,
It ain’t that I mind the Ord’ly room—it’s that that cuts so hard.
I’ll take my oath before them both that I will sure abstain,
But as soon as I’m in with a mate and gin, I know I’ll do it again!

Mad drunk and resisting the Guard—
’Strewth, but I socked it them hard!
So it’s pack-drill for me and a fortnight’s C.B.
For “drunk and resisting the Guard.”