> Mike Waterson > Songs > Swansea Town

Swansea Town / Swansea Barracks / The Lass of Newcastle Town

[ Roud 1416 ; Ballad Index Pea547 ; VWML LEB/9/268/1 ; Bodleian Roud 1416 ; trad.]

Phil Tanner of Llangennith, Glamorgan, sang Swansea Barracks on a BBC recording made on May 20, 1949 at Penmaen. It was included on the anthology A Soldier's Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), in 1968 on his eponymous EFDSS album, Phil Tanner, and in 2003 on his Veteran anthology CD The Gower Nightingale. Peter Kennedy noted in the first album's notes:

Phil Tanner possessed a ringing tenor, a marvellous use of embellishment, a dramatic sense of shifting rhythm, and a crystalline delivery. Here he sings a come-all-ye which bears many traces of Irish composition. Indeed, we found a parody of the song in the Sam Henry collection (Songs of the People no. 612), from Country Antrim:

It was on the first of January last, I was going to Butler's Fair,
I spied this pretty fair maid, she was combing down her hair.
And as I gazed upon her, my heart with joy did fill,
She's the blooming Rose of Antrim, the flower of Corby Mill.

But apart from the last line of the verses there is hardly any similarity between Swansea Barracks and The Blooming Rose of Antrim / The Flower of Corby Mill [Roud 2928; Henry H612]; they have completely different storylines. Therefore Roy Palmer noted in the booklet of Tanner's anthology CD:

It has been suggested that a number of nursery rhymes mention Banbury because the printer, J.G. Rusher, lived there and inserted the name of his home town. Elsewhere a simple change converted The Sheffield Apprentice into The London Apprentice or moved The London Convict Maid to Bristol. Printers might leave a blank, as in The Lass of —shire, so that singers might insert their preferred locality. The Lass of — Town was issued by John Harkness of Preston and Birt (which could have been Thomas, Mary or George) of London, and no doubt by others. Birt’s version indicates the tune Irish Molly O. Phil Tanner had a truncated text, which lacked the returning lover who identifies himself not by a broken token but by a convenient scar. Suggestions that there is an Irish version of this song, as The Blooming Rose of Antrim, have proved unfounded, and Phil Tanner’s recording is apparently unique.

Oak sang this song as The Lass of Newcastle Town live at The Down River Folk Club, King William IV, Walthamstow on December 19, 1972, Oak's final gig. A recording of it was in included in 2003 on their Musical Traditions CD Country Songs and Music.

Mike Waterson sang Swansea Town in 1977 on his solo LP Mike Waterson with his niece Maria, Lal and Norma Waterson, Jim Eldon and Rod Stradling. This recording was in 1993 added to the Watersons' For Pence and Spicy Ale CD reissue, in 2000 to the anthology of Topic recordings, And We'll All Have Tea, in 2003 to the Watersons anthology The Definitive Collection, and in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Behind this is an Irish song, The Blooming Rose of Antrim [but see above—rz]. Old Phil Tanner, of the Gower Peninsula, South Wales, used to sing it, and perhaps it was he who moved the events to Swansea. Mike learned the song from a recording of Phil Tanner in the Folk Songs of Britain series (Topic 12T196) and added a final verse of his own. Incidentally, Phil begins the second line of the chorus as: “Search the universe all over.” Through mishearing, the Watersons sing “She's my universal woman.” Happy enough accident.

Jon Boden sang Swansea Barracks as the March 5, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day, acknowledging Mike Waterson as his source and noting:

Bellowhead have done this a few times—maybe we’ll get around to recording it at some point.

Andy Turner sang The Lass of Swansea Town as the January 31, 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

Phil Tanner sings Swansea Barracks

‘Twas down by Swansea barracks I alone one morning strayed,
A-viewing of the soldiers and I saw a pretty maid,
Her hair it was as black as jet, in ringlets hanging down,
She was a blooming rose of South Wales and a lass of Swansea Town.

Chorus (after each verse):
Her hair it was as black as jet, in ringlets hanging down,
Search the universe all over and her equal can’t be found.
She was a blooming rose of South Wales and a lass of Swansea Town.

I said, “My pretty fair maid what made you wander here?”
She said, “Kind sir I am watching for my bonny soldier dear.
Eight years ago he left me, when to Bermuda he was bound,
And he vowed he would prove faithful to the lass of Swansea Town.”

I said, “My pretty fair maid sad news I have to tell,
Your lover was my comrade and in the battle fell.
A cannon ball made him to fall and gave him his death wound,
And begged me to protect the blooming lass of Swansea Town.”

Then on the ground in agony this pretty maid did fall,
Saying, “I shall never rest until in my breast there strikes a cannon ball,
Eight years ago he left me when to Bermuda he was bound,
And he vowed he would be faithful to the lass of Swansea Town.”

Mike Waterson sings Swansea Town

'Twas down by Swansea barracks I alone one morning strayed;
I met a pretty fair maid while viewing the parade.
And her hair it was as black as jet in ringlets hanging down;
She was the blooming rose of South Wales and the lass of Swansea Town.

Chorus (after each verse):
For her hair it was as black as jet in ringlets hanging down.
She's my universal woman and her equal can't be found,
She's the blooming rose of South Wales and the lass of Swansea Town.

And I said, “My charming creature what makes you wander here?”
She says, “Kind sir I'm waiting for my bonny soldier dear.
Eight years ago he left me when's Bermuda he was bound,
And he promised he'd prove faithful to his lass of Swansea Town.”

And I says, “My charming creature sad news I have to tell,
Your lover was my comrade and in the battle fell.
A cannonball led him to fall and it gave him his death wound
And he asked me to protect his blooming rose of Swansea Town.”

And it's on the ground in agonies this pretty maid did fall,
Saying, “I'll never rest till in my breast there strikes some cannonball.
For eight years ago he left me when's Bermuda he was bound
And he promised he'd prove faithful to his lass of Swansea Town.”

“Fear not my charming creature, don't be in great alarm,
I'm your long lost William boy safe from the wars returned.
Eight years ago I left you when's Bermuda I was bound;
Now I've late returned to claim my blooming rose of Swansea Town.”

Final chorus:
“For your hair it is as black as jet in ringlets hanging down.
You're my universal woman and your equal can't be found,
You're the blooming rose of South Wales and the lass of Swansea Town.”

Oak sing The Lass of Newcastle Town

It was down by Fernham Barracks I alone one evening strayed,
A-viewing of the soldiers I spied a pretty fair maid.
Her hair it was as black as jet, in ringlets hanging down;
She was the blooming rose of Tyneside and the lass of Newcastle Town.

Well, I said to her, “My pretty fair maid, what makes you wander here?”
She said, “Kind sir, I'm looking For me bonny soldier dear.
Eight years ago he left me when to Bermuda he was bound,
And he swore he would prove faithful to the lass of Newcastle Town.”

Chorus:
And her hair it hung three-quarters long, in ringlets hanging down.
Search the universe all over, Her equal can't be found.
She was the blooming rose of Tyneside and the lass of Newcastle Town.

Well, I said to her, “My pretty fair maid, sad news I have to tell.
Your lover was a comrade and in the battle fell.
A cannonball caused him to fall and give him his death wound
A he begged me protect the bonny lass of Newcastle Town.”

Oh then on the ground in agonies this pretty fair maid did roll,
Saying, “I never will rest ‘til in me breast there strikes a cannon ball.
Eight years ago he left me when to Bermuda he was bound,
And he swore he would prove faithful to the lass of Newcastle Town.”

(Chorus)

Well, I've searched this country o'er and o'er, ‘cross many a hill and stile.
I've searched through Ireland and through Wales, full many a weary mile,
I've searched through England time and time ‘cross many a hill and down
But an equal yet I ne'er did get to the lass of Newcastle Town.

Acknowledgements

Garry Gillard transcribed Mike Waterson's version; he thanks Barbara Hindley for significant assistance.