Brave Wolfe


Jon recalls “Ian Woods and I used to sing this at the Half Moon. Or rather Ian Woods would sing it and I’d sort of mumble along in harmony having never quite got round to learning the words…”

He’s following the Watersons here as Mainly Norfolk will reveal. You’ll note the alternative version from Martin Carthy, which follows the same story thread but with different words. There’s also a different song, again recorded by Carthy that seems to originate from the other side of the Atlantic, where this action and the resulting death of the general took place. The battle was actually one of the decisive actions of the war in Canada. As such it seems slightly short on the detail, as a degree of cunning and surprise won the day. According to Wiki Wolfe was wounded in three places and died, but not before noting the routing of the French forces. There is another ballad that focuses on his grieving betrothed, although he quite possibly entered that ‘arrangement’ out of convenience before heading off to war. He seems an intriguing and complex character, undoubtedly a hero to the British and commemorated with statues and paintings. At this point I’d like to hear from any Canadians regarding his status across the water, which I’m guessing is tempered by cultural duality. I picked up some interesting notes on Mudcat somewhere suggesting that the British spied some washer women and used their route to scale the cliffs outside Quebec. A Scottish soldier who could speak French fooled the sentries and surprise and the upper hand was gained. Again, I’d like to know whether this has any grounding in reality, or is simply a yarn. Still, a rousing song this one.



25 Responses to “Brave Wolfe”

  1. Rosie says:

    Nice version of this. Well sung.
    Must admit though, that the Strawhead version takes some beating!

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, that’s got to be one of your best renditions of the whole venture, Jon, & unaccompanied too, which will please some right royally! Pretty impressive!

  3. Peter Walsh says:

    I’ve found out about a 1960 double album by Alan Mills (Canada’s Story In Song) with two songs of interest here, Brave Wolfe has the Martin Carthy / Dave Swarbrick lyrics (the final ‘I die in pleasure’ as sung by Alan, changes to ‘I die contented’ from Martin and Dave), and this is followed by General Wolfe, where the General entreats his ‘men of honour come follow me’ and later laments that he ‘died a death that I wished to share’. The latter is sung unaccompanied. Thanks to Spotify for the means to hear these versions!

  4. Peter Walsh says:

    Sorry Jon, forgot to mention that your performance was fantastic!

  5. Phil says:

    Excellent stuff.

  6. Diana says:

    Interesting when these songs tell a story of actual events even if embellished. Jon did a nice version with rather an unusual melody.

    It’s Spring!!! Blizzards here, east wind, snowing since 2.30am. and piling up everywhere.

  7. Muzza(N.W.Surrey. UK) says:

    The thought of the events to which these songs apply is terrifying and so I don’t enjoy this type of song despite great singing by Jon Boy!
    As for embellishments (Diana)..just how heavy would this have been to carry around!
    ‘Here’s a hundred guineas, all in bright gold’

  8. Peter Walsh says:

    Still sounds as good as the first time I heard it a year ago!

    I’ve only just returned to the site to play catch-up and must immediately convey my sympathies to John and Diana. You have both been bold to do the right thing and prevent any prolonged suffering.

  9. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    One of those great narrative ballads that wets your appetite and sends you off to the history section of the book shelves for more information. Beautifully sung Jon.

    Diana, it sounds as if you are having a ‘pleasant gale’ as mentioned in the song. Just a thin coating of wet snow here. The mountains are obscured by cloud, but I imagine they are getting a good covering. It is traditional here to greet dawn on Easter Sunday on the top of The Black Hill. (2,105 ft) Could be interesting if we do not get a rapid thaw.

  10. Diana says:


    Muzza I suppose it just a different point of view – I love history in any form – and this was a case in point but take your remark about the gold guineas – that certainly would have been heavy to carry around- but how nice to have!

    Pewter the wanderer returns – I do thank you for sympathy and know that the decision was right. It wasn’t taken lightly but realise it was for the best.

    John I do hope you make it to the top of The Black Hill. Hopefully there will be a rapid thaw – at least here there has been an improvement and I can see the hills for the first time since yesterday.

  11. judith Inman says:

    Great song and singing
    Does any one know the ballad from the fiancees point of view?
    I remember hearing it but have lost my copy?

  12. Jan says:

    Still one of my favourites, this, and one I enjoy singing. I love the ‘hundred guineas all in bright gold’, but nobody would have to carry it all around if they shared it out as Wolfe seems to be asking. The poor chap didn’t get to see much of that particular battle as he was wounded early on.

    No snow here in Lincolnshire, just lots of much-needed rain, so I’m not complaining. I hope the snow clears in time for all the traditional Easter celebrations I remember as a child decorating hard boiled eggs to roll down Otley Chevin in Yorkshire.

    Have not heard the ballad from the fiancee’s point of view, but I would be very interested to, so hope somebody comes up with it!

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    Is this the other Wolfe song?


    Bad news is come to town, bad news is carried
    Some says my love is dead, others say she’s married
    As I was a-pond’ring on this, I took to weeping
    They stole my love away whist I was sleeping

    Love, here’s a ring of gold, long years I’ve kept it
    Madame, it’s for your sake, will you accept it?
    When you the posy read, think on the giver
    Madame, remember me, for I’m undone forever

    Then away went this brave youth, and embarked all on the ocean
    To free Americay was his intention
    He landed in Quebec with all his party
    The city to attack, being brave and hardy

    He drew his armies up in lines so pretty
    On the Plains of Abraham back of the city
    At a distance from the town where the French would meet him
    In double numbers who resolved to beat him

    Montcalm and this brave youth together walked
    Between two armies they like brothers talked
    Till each one took his post and did retire
    It was then these numerous hosts commenced to fire

    Little did he think death was so near him

    When shot down from his horse was this our hero
    We’ll long regret his loss in tears of sorrow

    He raised up his head where the cannons did rattle
    And to his aide he said, “How goes the battle?”
    His aide-de-camp replied, “it’s ending in our favor”
    “Then,” says this brave youth, “I quit this earth with pleasure”

    Tune on Mudcat at

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    Or is it the Ash Hutch/Albion version?

    Ashley Hutchings

    The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
    And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave
    Awaits alike for the inevitable hour.
    The paths of glory but lead to the grave.

    The fleet was a floating forest
    Spread before me on the Thames
    And Greenwich bells saluted all her proud departing sons.
    I stood upon the hillside with my spyglass misted o’er
    And I turned to make my way to home once more.

    Oh to cross the line
    And defy the tide forever.
    To take the paths of happiness
    And walk away the pain.
    If for one last time
    You could hold these hands together
    Content to scale the heights of home again.

    It’s hard to lose your loved one
    To a nation’s grateful heart
    For now you are a sweetheart and you never more to part.
    Your virtue she may trade on and your life’s loss she may be
    But she’ll not hold you half any more than I.

    Last night I dreamed you lay with me
    Your head upon my breast;
    You had not thought of trading me for glory in the west.
    The park was then our Eden and the stars a guileless game
    We charted them until the comet came.

    This land may want you for a hero she can call her very own
    To glory of in ballads and do honour to in stone.
    But I have no need of gratitude and grace and nothing more
    I want my love beside me as before.

    Source: The Albion Band, Light Shining.

  15. judith Inman says:

    The |Ash Hich/albion Band sounds more familiar .
    SHe was left a peropetual mourner of the countries hero…so no chance of any other life for her.
    So its very near. Thankyou

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    You’re welcome, Judith.

  17. Phil says:

    I love this song, & fell in love with it all over again when I heard Jo Freya’s version – well worth seeking out.

    Here’s my take on it: General Wolfe

  18. Muzza (N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    @Phil……..’The brothers’ didn’t help you much with the chorus…I can just see them….eyes closed..tankards in hand..held up by the bar….bullied into joining in..
    and that last note….the concertina gave it away as I could hear it ‘breathing’ for you….you rascal…what would Pavarotti say!

  19. Diana says:

    Still a good song. Also not much change in the weather except it did not snow today but it is still piled up in places and the east wind is still here.

  20. Diana says:


  21. Jan says:

    Thanks, guys, for your supportive comments re yesterday’s post. Jane, thanks for the osteopath suggestion, I know someone who may be able to help with that but we were waiting to see what the neurologist had to say before ging down that route.

    Still love Brave Wolfe, and am now about to pursue the Mudcat link re the sweetheart’s point of view- next project is to learn one of those versions. At present the favourite is Jane’s Battle of Quebec as above.

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Jan. You’re welcome, and rooting for a solution for your daughter. It is good you got to see one specialist via GP. Nerves may be involved, but there may not actually be anything wrong with any nerve, save being affected by some other issue. It must be hard sometimes for a doc to know where the problem lies to refer appropriately. Both doc and nerve specialist will have differing knowledge of bio-mechanics but, if it’s not bio-mechanical, an osteo will know… or a chiropractor. Only diff is that the latter will employ X-rays and such, which osteo does not. Chiropractic a bit more techie and treatment less gentle, but aims for fast results. You pays your money and takes your choice acc to your personality and preferences. Worth a punt, as you have already considered. I’m a qualified reflexologist, but that is no use towards you getting a diagnosis! Good luck.

  23. Jan says:

    Jane – neurologist has ordered a brain scan, to rule out MS ( but is pretty confident it’s not that anyway) and blood tests for B vitamin deficiency, and is now suggesting it might be ‘functional weakness’ as nothin is structurally wrong but nerve messages not getting through. Treatment is basically graded exercise to get the movement back. Will try the osteopath when test results are in. It seems to be one of those ‘we know what it is, but not why it is’ ailments – typically, as we both have ME although hers is very much better than it was.

  24. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Jan: Sensible neurologist looking at brain & blood. You want to be assured holistically as it were that nothing systemic. If it’s sthg bio-mechanic affecting nerve message tranmission, physio/osteo may be able to ‘free up’ & they also suggest appropriate exercises when necessary. Thankfully, I didn’t get any to do! I am not a great exercise person, unless it’s gotta be done. Much nicer lying on a therapy table having one’s back manipulated to mend itself! ME… another mean old scene…

  25. Brian Kell says:

    Great song Jon, been singing it for years. Got it from the watersons l.p. most listeners are horrified by the story these days so it doesn’t get out much now. I like your style on this song.

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