The Banks of the Nile

Fay Hield follows the fine old tradition of unaccompanied (‘a cappella’) singing in this video of the traditional song ‘The Banks of the Nile’.

This song dates back to at least the early 1850s and deals with a common theme – the young girl who wants to dress up as a soldier so she can accompany her young man as he goes to war. Here are Fay’s lyrics:

“Hark, I hear the drums a-beating and love I must away,
I hear the bugles calling me, I can no longer stay.
We are bound down to Portsmouth town, it’s many’s a weary mile,
To join the British army on the banks of the Nile.”

“William, dearest William, don’t leave me here to mourn,
You’ll make me curse and rue the day that ever I was born.
I will cut off my curly locks and come along with you,
I’ll dress me self in velveteen and go to Egypt too.”

“Nancy, lovely Nancy, with me you cannot go,
Our colonel’s given orders: no women are to go.
We must forget our own sweethearts all on our native isle
And fight for King and Country on the banks of the Nile.”

“Cursed be the wars, my love, and how they first began,
For they have robbed old Ireland of many’s a brave young man.
They’ve taken our own sweethearts all from our native isle
And their bodies lie a-mouldering on the banks of the Nile.”

“When the wars are over, it’s home we will return,
Back to our wives and our sweethearts we left behind at home.
We’ll roll them in our arms all for a little while
And go no more to battle on the banks of the Nile.”

There are a number of other recorded versions of the song, with variations on the lyrics, and Mainly Norfolk has some of them (you can see some similar themes and lines in the traditional song ‘High Germany‘). There is a discussion of the origins of the song on Mudcat Café here.

Fay Hield’s website is here. She is often seen performing with her partner Jon Boden, of Bellowhead fame, who has already been featured in this series.

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Published by

Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

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