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Tommy

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy]

Tommy 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 commented in the album's sleeve notes:

The origin of the name Tommy Atkins for an English soldier is lost in the mists of time. One story is that the Duke of Wellington chose it when asked for a random name to fill in a specimen identity paper; another, that it derives simply from the initials of the Territorial Army. This song highlights the hypocrisy of a society which despised its soldiers in peace-time but would cheer them from the rooftops in time of war. The tune is a combination of folk and music-hall influences.

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.

Jon Boden sang Tommy as the March 26, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

A nice bit of timeless satire from Kipling (tune by Bellamy as usual). Interesting that so fervent an imperialist could also be so scathing about idle class hypocrisy. He was nothing if not a complex character (as was Bellamy).

Lyrics

O I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
Well I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
    Well it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' “Tommy, go away”;
    But it's “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
    When the band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    It's “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

So I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but they 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' “Tommy, wait outside”;
    But it's “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper's on the tide,
    When the troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
    It's “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms what guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Well, is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
    Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' “Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?”
    But it's the “Thin red line of 'eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
    When the drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    It's the “Thin red line of 'eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

Well, we aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
We're just single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
    While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' “Tommy, fall be'ind”,
    But it's “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there's trouble in the wind
    When there's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
    It's “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there's trouble in the wind.

Now you talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about them cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
Thatte Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
    But it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' “Chuck him out, the brute!”
    But he's a “Hero of 'is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
    Well' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    But' Tommy ain't no bleedin' fool—you bet that Tommy sees!