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Danny Deever

[words Rudyard Kipling, music trad. add. Peter Bellamy; notes on Danny Deever at the Kipling Society]

Danny Deever is a poem from Rudyard Kipling’s book Barrack-Room Ballads. Peter Bellamy sang it on his third album of songs set to Kipling’s poems, Peter Bellamy Sings the Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. He noted:

The first of the ballads to appear in print, and possibly still the most respected—certainly the most gripping. It describes a military execution, employing the ancient Question/Answer form, the questioner a green young soldier, the answers given by a tough old Colour-Sergeant—but perhaps he’s not so tough as he would like us to think? The tune is from the North of England, usually sung to the ballad Derwentwater’s Farewell.

Peter Bellamy re-recorded the song in 1990 for his privately issued cassette Soldiers Three. This track was also included on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

Ken Campbell sang Danny Deever in 1981 on his and Chris Miller’s Topic album The Piper’s Maggot to the tune of James Scott Skinner’s Cradle Song.

Jolly Jack sang Danny Deever in 1983 on their Fellside album Rolling Down to Old Maui.

Brian Peters sang Danny Deever 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. Dave Webber noted:

One of Kipling’s ‘smash hits’, it made a huge immediate impact when first published. Even those detractors who deem Kipling a versifier rather than a poet generally concede this to be an exception. Kipling witnessed and reported military executions, though the poem’s eponymous victim is fictional. The routine was exactly as recorded here in fine, horrifying detail.

Jon Boden sang Danny Deever as the 11 July 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.


Danny Deever

“What are the bugles blowin’ for?” said Files-on-Parade.
“To turn you out, to turn you out”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What makes you look so white, so white?” said Files-on-Parade.
“I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
    The regiment’s in ’ollow square—they’re hangin’ him to-day;
    They’ve taken of his buttons off an’ cut his stripes away,
    An’ they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

“What makes the rear-rank breathe so ’ard?” said Files-on-Parade.
“It’s bitter cold, it’s bitter cold”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What makes that front-rank man fall down?” said Files-on-Parade.
“A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of ’im round,
    They ’ave ’alted Danny Deever by ’is coffin on the ground;
    An’ ’e’ll swing in ’arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound—
    O they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’!

“’Is cot was right-’and cot to mine”, said Files-on-Parade.
“’E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
“I’ve drunk ’is beer a score o’ times”, said Files-on-Parade.
“’E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ’im to ’is place,
    For ’e shot a comrade sleepin’—you must look ’im in the face;
    Nine ’undred of ’is county an’ the regiment’s disgrace,
    While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

“What’s that so black agin’ the sun?” said Files-on-Parade.
“It’s Danny fightin’ ’ard for life”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
“What’s that that whimpers over’ead?” said Files-on-Parade.
“That’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now”, the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ’ear the quickstep play,
    The regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;
    Ho! the young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer to-day,
    After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.