Grand Conversation With Napoleon


Jon admits this is “One of the wordier Napoleon songs but a cracking tune and some really nice details. Interesting that the song’s sympathies seem to shift right at the end of the song – editorial perhaps? Certainly it seems pretty pro-Bonaparte in the opening verses.”

I’d say this is one of several wordy Napoleon songs and there’s at least one other epic that also seems to hedge its bets called The Deeds Of Napoleon. It suddenly lurches into a verse about the ‘Norfolk Hero’ (Nelson) and then back to recounting Boney’s triumphs and ultimate downfall.  You’ll find it on this Mudcat thread. I’ve pondered on here before about whether he was viewed sympathetically in England, as he certainly was in Ireland. Mainly Norfolk carries some sleeve notes from Tony Rose that make the point that he’s far more often sung about than Wellington, or indeed the English Victory at Waterloo. He must have appeared as a larger than life character at the time and arguably had a greater affect on Europe than anyone since the Romans, or perhaps Charlamagne, but then the former gave the latter a massive head start. Whether he was a true champion of the revolution or simply an egomaniacal tyrant, or a combination of the two is open to debate. The Napoleonic wars, were undoubtedly bloody and terrible, with appalling loss of life, but the name suggest the French Emperor was the instigator, which he probably mostly wasn’t. Mind you I’m no expert. It’s another bit of history to go into my over stuffed projects file. Anyway I really like this song and recall first hearing Barry Dransfield’s version. It caused me some grief when compiling the Folk Awards 2006 CD as it followed the rather beautiful but quiet conclusion of John Tams A Man Of Constant Sorrow. Let’s just say Barry doesn’t hold back, but at 8.00 minutes it got my attention.


25 Responses to “Grand Conversation With Napoleon”

  1. Dave Eyre says:

    I think I might have made this point before. Joe Heaney used to say that the Irish were sympathetic towards Napoleon because they were “looking for a liberator” and they saw Napoleon in that role.

  2. Vivien says:

    As AFSAD comes to an end I would like to thank Jon, Simon and all contributors for such an entertaining and informative start to my days for the last year. I’ll miss it dreadfully. Thanks everyone.

  3. StephenH says:

    Thanks so much for doing this one, Jon. I absolutely love this song and I have been meaning to learn it since hearing Barry Dransfield’s version. Much as I love BD’s version, I think your equally fine rendition will be easier to learn from. And yes, I can but heartily echo Vivien’s comments above.

  4. Espanyolgas says:

    If anyone would like some pro-Napoleon history, listen to the Napoleon podcast.

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    Not quite my type of song, but wonderfully well sung, Jon, and wordily well-written. A useful website with over 300 narrative and interconnecting histories is History World. It has a comprehensive potted history of Napoleon’s life via this link:

  6. Walter Olson says:

    Thank you so much for this tremendous series. I am going to miss it terribly when it ends.

  7. Maureen Musson says:

    It seems Bonaparte certainly had charisma; one of my ancestors, Nicholas Lelean of Mevagissey, a sea captain, was captured by the French and held prisoner for 14 years. Letters that he wrote home are still held in the family. Once, during a time when plans for exchanging prisoners were being discussed, Nicholas saw Napoleon Bonaparte and was surprised at the effect the Emperor’s magnetic personality had upon him. He had often said before he was captured that “he felt he could slay the tyrant”, yet such was the fascination of Napoleon’s personality and majesty of his bearing that he now “felt he could have placed his hand under Napoleon’s feet”. All his hatred for the great enemy of England had melted away.

  8. Nick Passmore says:

    Splendid! Another fine version can be found on “Grand Conversation” by Mick Ryan & Paul Downes (WildGoose WGS355CD)

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Maureen: What a wonderful ancestral anecdote! Gems such as this have really added to my overall enjoyment of this project and give the songs colour and context. As SRD said under the Midsummer Concert entry, I too have greatly benefitted from the erudite & entertaining comments. The sum of the whole has been even greater than the parts and I have been immensely grateful to have been one of those parts throughout. So thanks to Jon, Fay & other guest singers, thanks to Skyman and the excellent administrators, and thanks to you all!

  10. Diana says:

    Another interesting slice of history The poetry was excellent and it was sung well.

  11. Phil says:

    It’s a curious tune, this one – seems to waver between G, C and F. I think it’s essentially the same tune as The Cuckoo’s Nest / The Bedmaking, & I put them together when I sang it for 52fs last November:

    Grand Conversation / The Bedmaking

  12. Linda says:

    Admin please could you tell us when the site will actually disappear ?

  13. Diana says:

    Have just been listening to June Tabor sing “The Bonny Bunch of Roses” on the sampler CD “This is Folk too!! which has a similar theme to today’s song. Found this interesting!

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    Enjoyed this song more the second time around; and also Phil’s pacier version (“interpretation…after Tony Rose, … with the hornpipe-ish timing of the original dance tune brought more to the fore”) which leads nicely into ‘The Bedmaking’ The song is rather verbose – ‘written’ as Phil says – so I think a bit more pace aids audience accessibilty.

  15. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    @Phil…………..ref your link….yep….definite trace of Cuckoos Nest and another song springs to mind with a similar tune ‘The history lesson’.
    I must mention the lung power of your friend ‘Bontempi’ on the drone…I didn’t hear him pause for breath for the whole 5m20secs!
    Your flute sounded ok as well.
    Phil/fluter……when you gonna arrange another ball.

  16. Phil says:

    Hi all… Another year goes by and the anniversary of Waterloo rolls round again.

    I wanted to remix my recording of the Grand Conversation, but it turned out that I didn’t keep the original sound files, so I’ve been limited to a few tweaks. You may hear the Grand (Tweaked) Conversation – together with the Bonny Bunch of (Tweaked) Roses, not to mention Boney’s Re-Recorded Lamentation and the All-New Plains of Waterloo – here:

    52 Folk Songs: Indigo

  17. […] (a few days behind but I’m sure you’ll forgive me!) is one of many that I learned from Jon Boden.  It is really fun to sing although learning the words took a few days.  I won’t go into […]

  18. Simon says:

    This is just a tester folks having reset the time to British Summer Time as I forgot to do that when the clocks changed.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    Hello Skyman! Muzza emailed me yesterday saying comments could no longer be submitted, so this is a test! Lol.

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    Yeh! Test worked! Now there is a shedload of spam on here could do with taking down… but I do not include myself in this, of course! It puts me off posting my pearls of wisdom, though I have been rather busy so not been on for a while. I will attempt to find the odd folky gem. Off to tell Muzza he can post!

  21. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    Oh how we miss those pearls of wisdom Janie!

  22. OldMuzza (NWSurrey UK) says:

    Grand conversations with Napoleon eh!……

  23. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Aha….pressed button before I told you my enthralling news….Gas board fitters due at 1pm-5pm to fit new gas and electricity meters…I’m sure it’s just a ploy to palm a smart meter onto me (despite resistance).
    Blimey….I have done more clutter moving in these last two hours than I have done in 20years!….so that’s what a gas meter looks like!
    Trouble is….I have just realised I’ve stacked it all in front of the boiler that I will need to get to in order to relight the pilot light (Old blokes-I ask yer!)………
    and thunderstorms are forecast after the last few hot, humid days!

  24. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Wowee…still hot and humid in lil ole Surrey and no sign of rain even next weeK!
    Hosepipe ban in Kent & Sussex already!
    How do they manage in Australia/California/ Africa!

  25. OldMuzza(NWSurret UK) says:

    UK Weather…wettest Spring for years and barely a warm sunny day this year so far and nearly mid summer!….and then look at my comments for 2024…you couldn’t make it up!

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