Banks Of The Nile


We continue our military theme and Jon says of this one, “Derek Schofield invited Fay and I to sing at the Vaughan Williams concert at Cecil Sharp House a few years ago. I learnt this then to sing with Fay – she has subsequently recorded it on Looking Glass.”

This is another from Vaughan Williams’ collection that Martin Carthy saw fit to revive, this time with the Falklands conflict as his inspiration. You’ll see from Mainly Norfolk that The Young Tradition and Fotheringay both got there before him, but I like Martin’s notes. I’m also intrigued by Bert Lloyds entry and the fact that some women did apparently do exactly as the girl was planning to do and follow their men aboard ship. I’m also intrigued as this is another where there is clearly an Irish version as per the penultimate verse in Fay and Jon’s versions. Elsewhere it’s England or unspecified. I note the other lyrical variations and came up with another version, although the source of it is unspecified, I was rather taken with it especially the couplet,

Let a hundred days be darkened and let maidens give a sigh
It would melt the very elements to hear the wounded cry

Those of you minded to sing this out and about might be able to construct a bit of an epic from the various verses on offer, although whether there’s any merit in that only your audience will decide.
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19 Responses to “Banks Of The Nile”

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

    Poignant little song….easy listening despite the topic……and, as Simon suggested, I’ll mix and match the verses from the various versions for my final version to sing.

  2. Shelley says:

    Another one for the “to learn” list methinks.

  3. Alan Rosevear says:

    Fay gave a great performance of this at Topsham on Sunday and I realised that the tune is basically the same as the version of “Botany Bay” that I have just learnt through Paul Wilson from the Baring-Gould collection (Devon version – I was brought up in Exeter). So what a bonus, I just need to learn a few extra words and I get a second song out of the tune. I suspect that the Vaughan-Williams/Heild path has given a more accurate 21st cent rendition of the old tune than mine – but that’s the folk process for you.

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    I have a version of this – well known to everyone I suspect! – on Sandy Denny’s The Music Weaver album. Prefer that tune, but intrigued too by the girlish following into war. That couplet quoted above is stunning language & imagery. Thanks for the pointer as can easily be missed on first hearing.

  5. Sadie says:

    I love this song, but what war does it refer to? When did Ireland or England fight in Egypt? Intriguing…

  6. Diana says:

    Another war – this time most likely the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882. This was the war in which General Gordon was killed at the siege of Khartoum in 1885.

    A fine rendition of this song by Jon.

  7. judith Inman says:

    Our dear Queen Victoria would not give medals to the women who had fought as crew on board ship so they were airbrushed out!
    Or so I have heard.

  8. Diana says:

    I am sure you are right Judith about the airbrushing, only “men” fought in wars in her day. Do I detect a note of sarcasm with the “dear”.

  9. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    What a beautiful song, and beautifully sung. Another one to learn.
    Many officers and men who set out with the British army to the Crimea, just a little over 150 years ago, were accompanied by their wives and sweethearts . Officially, women were ordered off the troop ships at a stop over in Varna, but there is little doubt that many bribed, disguised or smuggled themselves back on board. Cholera was raging in Varna and on the army’s return , most of the women who were left would be dead.
    A Mrs Duberly, and her maid, accompanied her husband, a captain in the 8th Hussars, onward to the battle zone, and her diary later became an important record of events leading up to the Charge of the Light Brigade, highlighting the appalling conditions endured by the troops, fighting cholera and dysentery as well as the opposing army.

  10. Diana says:

    I know that you are correct in what you say John, and it is interesting to read so many details. I was trying to answer Sadie’s question albeit from last June, to which I believe I gave a valid answer cos the song is about the Nile. Gosh these words sound a bit harsh. Sorry John! It is clear that women have followed their menfolk into war zones for quite some time.

  11. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Not at all Diana. I have recently read again Cecil Woodham Smith’s ‘The Reason Why’, an account of the Crimea War, and in particular, The Charge of the Light Brigade, compiled from letters and diaries. I expect I felt the need to bore somebody with what I had learnt.
    Although we have all heard of the care of the wounded by Florence Nightingale and other nurses, in fact the facilities for sick and wounded were woefully inadequate, and the wives and sweethearts would have provided much of that care. They thus provided a useful service to the army, to whom the wounded were an inconvenience.
    This was The Crimea in1854, so I do not suppose much had changed by the Egyptian war in 1882. War is a bloody business, and always has been.

  12. Diana says:

    Abject apologies John, as usual I got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I thought that your were saying I had picked the wrong war. I always liked history at school, although I did make a huge blunder when the teacher asked me where Christopher Columbus sailed from and my answer was “Portsmouth” and I got a hit upon the head with my notebook! I still managed to pass all my history exams though.

  13. Reynard says:

    Sadie and Diana: the song probably refers to the Battles of Abukir in the Napoleonic Wars in 1798 and 1801. See the song’s notes in the Traditional Ballad Index for a thorough explanation.

  14. Diana says:

    Thanks for the tip, I will endeavour to find said link. Golly we keep going back in time – another century earlier now. What happened in the 1600s I wonder? As I wrote (what a strange looking word that is) previously Reynard, enjoy Monday.

  15. Diana says:

    I stand or rather sit corrected. Cripes what a lot of information those notes provide.

  16. Reynard says:

    Thank you, Diana. I bought the ticket more than two months ago and I’m really looking forward to see Bellowhead. Now I just wonder how I can safely get my Chinese xylophone-playing doll to the concert so that she can meet Pete Flood’s doll.

  17. Diana says:

    That sounds extremely intriguing Reynard. That should be quite a meeting. What kind of doll does Pete have? I expect it is one that plays the drums. If your doll is carrying a xylophone (unless she leaves it at home) I don’t think they will let you in.

  18. Reynard says:

    Pete’s doll is the Bellowhead mascot. The footer of the Bellowhead homepage has a picture of her. And just above that is a Jools Holland video of New York Girls where you can see her performing with Bellowhead at 3:00-3:02 minutes.

  19. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Cholera /smallpox/dysentery/diphtheria/starvation/Ebola/ corvid….the big man up above is having a bit of a laugh ain’t he!
    How tragic that the wives and girlfriends died and how heart rending must that have been when the soldiers found out.

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