Danny Deever


As Jon points out, “It’s unusual to have a piece about the horrors of capital punishment that isn’t in fact anti capital punishment. A subtle and troubling poem brought to life by Bellamy’s brilliant tune.” Although the soldiers clearly take no pleasure in the coming events, this is what became known as a Barrack-Room Ballad. Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem in 1890, it may, however, have been started before then. Generally ascribed as being set in India its detail does somewhat match the execution at Lucknow in 1887 of a Private Flaxman. Such spectacles as an execution in front of the regiment, were probably used as the ultimate deterrent, to reinforce the strict discipline. You will naturally find lots of stuff about Kipling with a simple Google of the title, but this is a rather interesting piece about Bellamy’s adaption of his poems.

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33 Responses to “Danny Deever”

  1. Muzza says:

    A great poem and performance…………Kipling certainly had the eye to record “everyday” things that we normal folk would not consider important or would shy away from recording. When you learn “history” through this sort of song……it certainly sticks in the mind.
    Oh dear………another one to try and learn!……yesssssssssss

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  4. Phil says:

    Great to see (and hear) this. I do one of Peter Bellamy’s own songs (MySpace), and there’s a bit of a discussion of Bellamy’s work on Mudcat at the moment.

    Could I ask what kind of concertina Jon’s playing here?

  5. Simon Dewsbury says:

    I was hoping you were going to do this one! Stunning version at Birmingham in May with the Remnant Kings.
    Is there any other sort of music where someone could take on a project like this? Maybe jazz but even that woud be quitedifferent, not a resource in the same way.

  6. admin says:

    To answer Phil I refer you back to the post of 2nd July as you’ll find a link to more information about the concertina there. (That is, if this is as I suspect the same instrument.) Hope that helps.

  7. Phil says:

    Yes, it sounds like the same MacCann duet.

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’m with Muzza on this one… a great tale, well told in song. Kipling has fallen out of some popular favour from when I was a lass at school, and certainly from my parents day – rather unfairly, I think, as he understood and portrayed the ordinary soldier’s lot very well (as my father, who was in the 2nd World War, likewise educated me). It IS subtle and unusual. I’m glad you included this, Jon.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    Having just googled ‘Private Flaxman’ here is a link which tells all one needs to know about Danny Deever:


    with notes on the song text:


    I’m even more impressed now, this song ranking as the one with greatest impact on me so far, along with Rose In June. Quite an education. You are choosing well, Jon.

  10. Piers Cawley says:

    I’m looking forward to more of the Bellamy/Kipling stuff. I know Jon does “The Land,” but I reckon he has a fabulous version of “Loot” in him as well.

  11. admin says:

    Thanks Jane and Phil for the links. I’ve realised I got Lucknow wrong above but have corrected it.

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    Nivver even noticed – shows how much attention I’m paying to my own links! Still, I was ‘awaiting moderation’…nivver noticed that either. Didn’t feel a thing! Hahahaha!

  13. Julia Taylor says:

    I agree with Jane Ramsden that this is the song with the greatest impact so far, and with Muzza that it’s a great way to learn History. I looked up the lyrics immediately and printed them out and sat with them in front of me listening to the song. I often teach poetry to young teenagers and it puts me in mind yet again of what a wonderful resource the Folk Ballad is.

  14. Neil says:

    I am all with Piers here I have only ever heard Jon ‘sing’ The Land as prep and as a sound check, never heard him finish it properly – one of my favourites. Regrettably almost all of Peter Bellamy’s Kipling stuff is now out of print and although there is a Yank woman who tries hard but somehow it needs an English (or Indian) voice to do it justice. More please Jon

  15. Piers Cawley says:

    The Land is in my repertoire, but I’m wary of recording it as part of my afolksongaday.com inspired repertoire project ‘cos I’m not sure of the copyright situation. Same goes for my favourite of Bellamy’s poetry settings – “The Old Songs”, which is a poem by Bob Copper, and another that I know to be in Jon’s repertoire.

    Oh! There are treats in store.

  16. Andrew Smith says:

    Beautiful song

  17. Mike Wild says:

    A great rendition of PB’s song. i always reckoned he took the tune jock of hazeldean which is related to never Loved you more form the Norther music traditions.

    I always thought of it in the same sense as McCafferty which my Dad sang. the inevitability of the penalty for breaking the rules once you solemnly sign up to something.

  18. Piers Cawley says:

    @Mike Wild – the tune to this one is one of the tunes for Derwentwater’s Farewell. Check out Pete Morton’s version on the second Urban Folk album for one excellent rendition.

    Hmm. That album appears to be rather hard to track down – you can apparently order it directly from Harbourtown, but I can’t seem to find anywhere you can listen to it first. They’re a quite brilliant pair of albums though. If you like Jon and John, you should love them.

  19. Yehudit says:

    Bellamy’s version of “Road to Mandalay” would make a fantastic Bellowhead song.

  20. Julia Taylor says:

    Just listened again, four months on. And I have to report: little class of 12 year-olds were blown away by it!

  21. Jane Ramsden says:

    57-year-old woman blown away by it again, let alone class of 12-year-olds!

  22. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @Jane…………I can’t even remember being 57….let alone being blown away.

  23. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: There are days I don’t want to remember I am 57, but BEAR in mind, running round after 10+ rescue cats surely reminds me. I am crackered! Not blown away? My charms must have faded… hahahahaha! Can’t fail to be blown away by some of the songs on here – timber shivering!

  24. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Dare I say it…… but…………….new evidence has come to light which proves that Danny Deever didn’t do it……………My friend Matty Groves and I demand a re-write!

  25. Phil says:

    I did this myself a while back, although without accompaniment. Amazing song.

    Danny Deever (52fs)

    I’m focusing heavily on Kipling/Bellamy songs for my current ‘album‘; I’ve done seven so far, with two more to come. That’s on top of Danny D. and the other three Kipling/Bellamys I did earlier in the year (Dayspring Mishandled, St Helena Lullaby and My Boy Jack).

    To see all my Kipling settings click this tag.

  26. Diana says:

    I do like Kipling’s poetry but this was was a sad one. What a terruble way to kill anyone by hanging (but there are no good ways of killing people). Jon has a lot of pathos in his voice with his rendition.

  27. Linda says:

    Just found A Liverpool Folk Song A Week, can recommend

  28. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey) says:

    Ok……..I’ve jumped a day ahead yet again…but couldn’t resist Danny Deever…….
    This is teaching ‘yer granny to suck eggs’ but there was an excellent programme on TV this week…all about Kipling. He returned to India, aged 16, to re join his parents after an unhappy schooling in England………..very much a misfit and unhealthy….more luck than judgement, he got a job on a military/colonial magazine.
    He mixed with ‘common’ soldiers as compensation for his inability to join the army and ventured into the night time Indian community where few white folk dared to go.
    His short stories, quite scandalous and only lightly veiled, reflected the racy goings on in the officer/diplomatic community.
    Such opportunities when the hot season came and the ladies were dispatched to the cool hills amid many young officers, training and awaiting posting leaving their husbands behind to garrison the towns on the hot plains….oooer Matron.
    He did the lot…drugs, sex, opium…………his poems are not flights of fancy……they are accurate reporting.

  29. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Scary stuff ..public executions…hard to believe that the condemned were always calm and strong…..must have been very distressing when the victim couldn’t face it and lost their nerve and composure!

  30. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Poor old Danny Deever…we think of you at least once a year young fella…….hang in there !

  31. OldMuzza(WSurrey UK) says:

    Aha….Yorkshire Jane’s links Ref Private Flaxman, didn’t open for me ….the story really gives an insight to the song and poem, and well worth reading.
    Perhaps this link will work for you

  32. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    They keep coming….great poem and great rendition of the song

  33. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    This sends a chill through me every time it comes round…If Danny actually did it then I suppose that was the punishment in those days…just seem so final to walk out on a hot sunny morning to know that in ten minutes you wont be there any more…..and Goodness knows where you will be!
    Great poem and rendition.

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