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GUEST,Lighter Help: Twa Recruiting Sergeants - How old? (70* d) RE: Help: Twa Recruiting Sergeants - How old? 31 Aug 13


Thanks for the texts, Reinhard.

Bell Robertson had one of the most extensive folksong repertoires in British history (400 songs), but she was apparently not musical and would only recite. (Recitation by non-singers must have been pretty common even if collectors had little to say about it.)

"A" is an unrelated ditty with the "over the hills" refrain attached.

"C" seems like some kind of inspirational midpoint: it combines the popular refrain (added perhaps, as in "A," simply because it was catchy and familiar) with complaints about farm life - but the army is otherwise absent. The complaints would fit in well with the "Sergeants," but it's hard to imagine that, in this version, all the familiar stanzas have been forgotten, leaving only two otherwise unattested(?) ones.

I wonder if the volume notes shed any light on these relationships.

"D," of course, is merely the refrain. Placing it with this song is presumably arbitrary.

Which leaves John Wight's "B" as the only other early text of Jeannie Robertson's song. Each contains a minor element absent from the other. Robertson's lyrics are more polished. ("Ill-syed" rhymes with "hillside" and means poorly strained.)

Wight's recruiter urges the plowman to ditch his whole family, but Robertson's sergeant frankly suggests a more traditional (and perhaps more appealing) inducement to enlist - to escape a careless paternity:

Laddie, gin ye hae a sweetheart wi bairn,
Ye'll easy be rid o' that ill-spun yarn:
Twa rattles o' the drum, and that'll pay it a'!
Sae list, bonnie laddie, and come awa'!

The appearance of Queen Victoria somewhat encourages the suggestion that the song is a mid to late 19th century creation in spite of   "France and Spain" in the leftover chorus.

Had the newer words been written in response to any specific war (Crimean War, Indian Mutiny, etc.), convention should have dictated some direct reference.

Jack, yes, it's more about bothy life than about recruiting. But both themes are present. The sergeants' timeless mendacity adds bite to the the truthful description of hard conditions on the farm. And that makes the call to head "over the mountain and over the main" even more attractive. (The promise of better room and board in the service is summed up in America by the phrase "three hots and a cot.")

Yet "catching" recruits and the sergeants' inability to snare more than 42 of them implies the singer's skepticism about the whole process.

There's a not-unusual shift in perspective from the third-person (the sergeants did such-and-such) to the first (Laddie, come awa'!). Thus the singer can unconsciously enjoy playing both the the calculating tempter and the wry skeptic. I certainly do.

In Jeanie Robertson's version it's one of the greatest folksongs. No wonder it's become "standardized."


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