Dream of Napoleon


Jon says, “Eliza Carthy taught me this and we performed it a fair few times. It nearly made it on to Rough Music but not quite. I’m hoping to meet up with Liza over the summer and get another version of this with her on lead.” Recorded versions of this seem really thin on the ground, so if anyone can add here please do so. I’ve picked up reference to it being in a book called Songs The Whalemen Sung by Gale Huntington and said volume is certainly available. Richard Thompson has a version on the RT: The Life And Music Of boxed set. I’ve picked up the lyrics as well and a footnote that Napoleon was a hero to the Irish (the enemy of my enemy.) I’ve also picked up the suggestion that Napoleon was far from unpopular with many of the English and a quick aside that without Nelson’s elevation to national hero, revolutionary fever may just have crossed the channel. I’m sure the historians out there can add to that and possibly to the history of the song, as I’ve come up pretty blank so far. Mudcat has some general threads about Napoleon, here’s one, but I can’t winkle out any specifics on Jon’s chosen song. Still it’s a good choice and I think the concertina (the Maccann Duet again) adds a finely judge accompaniment.

You can buy the August digital album now from all good download stores:



23 Responses to “Dream of Napoleon”

  1. Reinhard says:

    Sam Larner sang Napoleon’s Dream at home in Winterton in a BBC recording in 1958/69. This was included on the Caedmon/Topic LP A Soldier’s Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8), and in 1974 on his Topic LP A Garland for Sam. Aconrding to A.L. Lloyd’s sleevenotes, Larner “was fascinated by Bonaparte’s downfall” but she sleeve notes gave no further information abut the song’s history.

  2. Reinhard says:

    I just found via the Mudcat “Doppelganger” thread a link to the Wakipedia entry for the poem Bellowheady. Have fun!

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    Did have fun, Reinhard! Thanks!

  4. Phil says:

    My education continues! I do the Bonny Bunch of Roses, Boney’s Lamentation and occasionally the Grand Conversation, but I’d never heard this one. Very nice.

  5. muzza says:

    So where’s the video with Jon cast adrift on the foaming deep? disappointed or what!
    Loved the song and the concertina accompaniment……just how do you clever fellows play chords that are not the melody, as you sing.
    I note that several contributors above are singers themselves……and if any are on youtube….perhaps they would share the link…….I’m having a go at “laying down” my repertoire for posterity……..voice already on it’s last legs….NForest82

  6. Blue Scouse says:

    For me the best yet.

    I loved Eliza’s Ratcatchers version, but this eclipses it.

    The project is just getting better.

  7. Dave R says:

    Steve Turner recorded this on ‘Braiding’ (Fellside FE058) accompanied by concertina. It’s part of a suite called 1812 which also includes Napoleon’s grand March, Bonaparte’s Crossing the Rhine, Bonaparte’s Escape from Russia, and Bonaparte’s Retreat.

  8. Matt Quinn says:

    There is a version on CD of the Sussex singer Gordon Hall singing this song. His way of adding as many syllables as possible to every word means that his version (whilst having the same number of verses and practically the same wording as Jon’s version and Sam Larner’s version) lasts for 6 minutes.

    It is available on the Veteran Records CD called ‘When the May is all Bloom’ VT131CD, which is an compilation album of Sussex singers including Bob Copper, Ron Spicer, Louie Fuller & Gordon Hall.

    Gordon Hall’s version of this song is called ‘The Grand Conversation on Napoleon’.

  9. Matt Quinn says:

    Ignore my post above about the song called ‘The Grand Conversation on Napoleon’.

    Different song entirely.


  10. Matthew Edwards says:

    Actually Matt, Gordon Hall did record ‘The Dream of Napoleon’; its on a posthumously issued CD ‘Good Things Enough’. It is in Gordon’s inimitable style, and well worth the effort of listening to. I think the CD is still available from Veteran, or Musical Traditions. and there is also a good review by Rod Stradling at the Musical Traditions website.

    I guess Gordon had a thing about Napoleonic ballads; the CD includes a 12’33” version of ‘The Plains of Waterloo’ – not much shorter than the original battle itself!

    Matthew Edwards

  11. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Dream of Napoleon from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 59 records of Dream of Napoleon in the Library.


    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 1538, this rises to 78 records. It was notably sung by Sam Larner from Norfolk, and is also known as ‘One Night Sad and Lonely’ or ‘Napoleon’s Dream’.


    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 archives.

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.

    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit http://www.efdss.org/front/access-the-library-online/access-the-library-online/115

    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or library@efdss.org.

  12. Christopher John Bridgman says:

    Re: Dave R’s comment, Steve Turner is a massively under-rated and forgotten club singer who made three LPs for Fellside and also a cassette that I can’t track down. Bonaparte’s Retreat is also known as The Warlike Lads of Russia. I learned it with a few variations from Nic Jones and it became a favourite of The Sealed Knot back in the 1970s when I was parson of Sir Marmaduke Rawdon’s Regiment (for the King but not too Papist!)

    Jon, do you know another song from Steve Turner’s repertoire called The Keepers and the Drivers? It’s a great chorus song about a high Victorian hunting party and the shenanegans they get up to in the pub afterwards.

  13. Tony Toole says:

    Steve Turner is neither forgotten nor under-rated down here on Gower! He appeared at the Gower Folk Festival last year to great acclaim (as has Jon) and is coming to the Halfpenny Folk Club on 24th October – we’re all looking forward to that.

    Very much enjoying following your project Jon. Napoleon’s Dream is one of my favourites (got it from an old Topic recording which has a spoken interjection of ‘old England’ in the line ‘from the land of thy sires where they boast they are free’).

  14. Terry McDonald says:

    August 15th – Napoleon’s birthday. Clever!

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    I found this rather lovely Eliza Carthy/Ratcatchers’ version on YouTube, Wath Folk Festival 2007:


    But also a very nice unaccompanied & clearly-sung version here by one Gavin Atkins. Scroll down a bit and you’ll find it under the song’s lyrics:


    Apparantly, Richard Thompson recorded it on ‘The Songs Pour Down Like Silver’ (2006) which is Part 4 of the 5 CD/Book/Boxed Set entitled “RT” & not to be confused with ‘Pour Down Like Silver’ ‘cos it ain’t on that album!

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    PS If you click on Songs, Tunes & Videos at the top of Gavin Atkins’ weblog page, you will find other songs and singers of mainly sea-type songs. I’ve sampled Gavin Davenport’s ‘British Man of War’ – excellent! – & Gavin A’s early Aug 2011 post of John Connolly’s ‘Fiddler’s Green’, which Jon sings somewhere on here! Gavin’s blog looks good, esp if you like boats!

  17. Diana says:

    Liked this one – interesting words and a pleasant tune. Well sung.

  18. Diana says:

    @Reinhard: Have you ever listened to Steve Knightley and Show of Hands? You might find you like them.

  19. Dave R says:

    “on his brow there shone valour and rigour”
    Valour and vigour seems more likely, and sounds better.

    (I see DT has rigor – but it has a battle of Marien lo too.)

    Great song.

  20. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Hi Lindy Lou……….we seem to be leapfrogging each other….I still check AFSAD daily

  21. Jane (Maryland, US) says:

    Unfortunately the Bellowheady link no longer works. But this was another wonderful song, and the Eliza Carthy/Ratcatchers version was also superb. That video was followed on YouTube by a live Bellowhead performance of London Town. (Sigh) Several years too late and on the wrong side of the Atlantic, but at least we can see a virtual live performance.

  22. Linda says:

    Hope you followed the link Jane popped a comment on Cruel Knife

  23. OldMuzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Ha Lindy Lou…you lured Jane down from the mountain by the Paul Sartin link…where the promise of red meat has failed before!

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