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The Captain with the Whiskers

[ Roud 2735 , V12549 ; G/D 1:87 ; Henry H660 ; Ballad Index Wa069 ; VWML FK/16/205/1 ; Bodleian Roud 2735 ; trad.]

The London broadside printer James Catnach lists They Marched Through the Town in his 1832 catalogue of songs [VWML RoudBS/B27305] and an undated broadside printed by Catnach is in the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection [VWML FK/16/205/1] ; see the lyrics below. In this early version the Captain's facial hair is not yet mentioned.

Sam Larner of Winterton, Norfolk, sang a fragment of The Captain's Whiskers in 1958-60 to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. This recording was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:

If this is the chorus to As They Marched Through the Town, it was an American music-hall song, written by Haynes Bayly and Sidney Nelson in 1869. Roud lists 39 instances, and only that collected by Fred Hamer from a Mr Hill, of Tetford, Lincs, in 1967, is not a North American entry. If it isn’t that song—then I have no idea!

A 1979 London live recording of Shirley Collins singing The Captain with the Whiskers was included in 1998 on her and her sister Dolly's Durtro CD Harking Back, in 2002 on her Fledg'ling 4 CD anthology Within Sound, and in 2006 on their Fledg'ling CD Snapshots. She commented in the second album's booklet:

There were the words only in a book—the tune just came into my head as if I've always known it. It's a perfect fit I think! A funny thing too—I sang it at the Horsham folk club one evening, and Terry Potter's mother Marjorie was there. She came up afterwards and sad she was glad to head The Captain as she hadn't heard it for a great many years. “Not that tune,” I said. “Oh yes,” she replied. Spooky! I learned recently that Henry Burstow sang it, although as far as I know it wasn't noted down.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Captain with the Whiskers on his 2017 Fledg'ling CD Coat-Tails Flying. He commented in his liner notes:

A woman's song from the singing of Shirley Collins. For a long time I had known a dance tune of this title, from the playing of a couple of traditional musicians and as a morris dance from Brackley, and was sure they must be a song lurking behind it somewhere. Eventually I spotted it on Shirley's 2002 box set for Fledg'ling Records called Within Sound. She'd found the words in a book with no music, so had made up a then herself. In fact she told me recently that she'd dreamed the melody, and woke up one morning with it running in her head. Her setting of the words fits far more sweetly than the tune I knew, so I've stuck with the contents of her dream.

It turns out that this is an American song, written around the middle of the nineteenth century, with words by W.J. Florence and music arranged by T. Comer. The given tune is similar to the ones I used for I Wish They'd Do It Now and The Wearing of the Green, and as people were always setting songs to tunes people already knew to help them along their way, presumably that's what happened here. Some of the old printed versions include a fourth verse where the captain comes back, but it's so badly written, and so twee, that I suspect this is an effort by another hand to give the story a happy ending. The poignant longing at the end of the third verse leaves far more to the imagination.

Magpie Lane sang The Captain and His Whiskers in 2017 on their CD Three-Quarter Time. They commented in their liner notes:

The Captain and His Whiskers was written in the 1820s by Thomas Haynes Bayly and Sidney Nelson, and became a great favourite on the Confederate side during the American Civil War. Our version was collected in New Hampshire from Lena Bourne Fish, in 1941; we first heard it sung by Michelle Soinne and Andy Cheyne. The song’s tune also became popular in its own right—our arrangement starts with a version from Brackley in Northamptonshire, where it was used as a Morris tune.

Lyrics

Broadside They Marched Through the Town

They marched through the town with their banners so gay,
To the casement I ran, just to hear the band play,
And I peep'd thro' the blind very cautiously then
Lest the neighbours should say that I look'd at them.
Oh! I heard not the tune tho' the music was sweet,
For my eyes at the time had a much greater treat,
For the troop was the finest that e'er I did see,
And the Captain, by chance, caught a sly glimpse of me.

When we met at a the ball I of course thought it right
To pretend that we never had met till that night.
But he knew me at once I perceiv'd by his glance,
And I look'd down and blush'd when he ask'd me to dance.
Oh! I sat by his side at the close of the set
And the sweet words he breath'd I can never forget,
My heart was enlisted & could not get free
For the Captain, by chance, caught a sly glimpse of me.

Sam Larner sings a fragment of The Captain's Whiskers

… his whiskers took a sly glance on me.
Took a sly glance on me,
Took a sly glance on me,
Oh the Captain with his whiskers took a sly glance on me.

Spoken: (laughs) … My mother and father used to sing that

John Kirkpatrick sings The Captain with the Whiskers

They marched through the town with their banners so gay,
I went to the window to hear the band play.
I peeped through the blinds very cautiously then
Lest the neighbours should say I was looking at the men.
I heard the drums beat and the music so sweet
But my eyes just then had a much finer treat:
The troops were the finest that ever I did see
And the Captain with the whiskers took a sly glance at me,
Took a sly glance at me, took a sly glance at me,
And the Captain with the whiskers took a sly glance at me.

When we met at a the ball I of course thought it right
To pretend that we never had met before that night.
But he knew me at once, I could tell by his glance,
And I bowed down my head when he asked me to dance.
He sat by my side at the end of the set
And the sweet words he spoke I shall never forget,
My heart was enlisted and could not break free
When the Captain with the whiskers took a sly glance at me,
Took a sly glance at me, took a sly glance at me,
When the Captain with the whiskers took a sly glance at me.

Now they've marched from the town and I saw him no more
But I think of him often and the whiskers that he wore,
And I dream all the night and I think all the day
Of the love of the captain who is now far away.
I hold it in mind how my heart did skip with glee
When the Captain with the whiskers took a sly glance at me.
I remember with superabundant delight
How we met at the ball and we danced all the night,
How we danced all the night, how we danced all the night,
How we met at the ball and we danced all the night.

And I hold it in mind how my heart did skip with glee
When the Captain with the whiskers took a sly glance at me.