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Pompalerie Jig

[ Roud 18853 ; trad.]

Ray Driscoll of Dulwich, London, sang Pompalerie Jig to Gwilim Davies on 27 October 1993. This was included in 2008 on Driscoll’s CD Wild, Wild Berry and in 2020 on the Musical Tradition anthology of Gwilym Davies recordings, Catch It, Bottle It, Paint It Green. Davies noted on Driscoll’s CD:

This is unique to Ray’s repertoire and is also unique in treating the theme of the Battle of Waterloo in a more sardonic fashion. Ray learned this song during the war from an Irish singer in Wigan who earned the nickname ‘Pompey’ from his many renditions of this song. ‘Pompey’ would march up and down the bar singing and then someone would play the tune (possibly on a fiddle) between the verses.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Pompalarie Jig in 2012 on his CD of Shropshire folk music, Every Mortal Place. He noted:

And this brings us on neatly to an authentic eyewitness account of the Battle of Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington made the mistake of not dying at the height of his greatest victory, unlike Nelson, or General Wolfe, or Admiral Benbow, so he failed to capture the popular imagination and hardly gets a mention in folk songs. In fact he made sure of that by going into politics! So it’s pleasant to give him his due, however briefly, in this bragging swag gering ditty which likens the fighting spirit of the English soldiers to a dance.

The song was unique to Ray Driscoll, and the tune he sang it to is a version of the first half of the hornpipe usually called Boney Crossing the Alps. Somebody who had learned the song directly from Ray himself told me that he was very particular that the word in the first two verses was “moustachios”, which he claimed was the nickname amongst the English troops for Napoleon’s Old Guard, his personal bodyguard and the elite force of the French Army. A description of the time says “black moustachios and a ferocious expression were their characteristics”.

The whirligig was a round wooden cage, turning on a central pivot, that was used as a punishment in the army. You’d be stuck in there and spun round as fast as possible, causing all kinds of unpleasant eruptions. In meaning as well as in rhyme the word is a godsend, as I’ve taken the liberty of adding this chorus to the original verses. The second phrase of the tune was lying neglected in the way Ray sang it, and the melody soars gloriously to give the triumphant tale even more bags of swank.

Corinne Male sang Tantalary Jig on her 2015 CD To Tell the Story Truly. She noted:

Ray Driscoll collected this in an Irish pub in Leeds; it has the authentic sound of real experience, passed down through the years. He told me that the old man who sang it, known as Tantalary after his song, would sing one verse at one end of the bar and then march, accompanied by a drum beat from a friend, to the other end of the bar and about-face to sing the next verse. I can always hear that drum beat in my head when I’m singing it.


Ray Driscoll sings Pompalerie Jig

Wellington addressed us on the eve of Waterloo:
“We’ve the Grenadier Guards and Coldstreams and you have the Scots Guards, too.
And as for the old moustaches, why you shouldn’t give a fig,
You’ve your muskets, swords and bayonets and your Pompalerie Jig.”

And in the heat of battle on the field of Waterloo
Oh, we volleyed and we charged them and we ran them through and through
And as for the old moustaches, why, they squealed just like a pig,
At our muskets, swords and bayonets and our Pompalerie Jig.

And at the end of battle, old Boney said, “Tell me do,
However did you beat me on the field of Waterloo?”
And we said, “We’re glad you asked us for we knew you’d never twig.
It was our muskets, swords and bayonets and our Pompalerie Jig.”

And Boney sat and thought awhile and said to me, “My man,
I think I have the answer, pray correct me if you can.
It wasn’t your arms nor regiments for my armies were too big,
So the only thing that defeated me was your Pompalerie Jig.”

And how did they serve the veterans that did these daring deeds?
Why, they published us a Vagrancy Act to furnish all our needs,
All passed by act of Parliament, by the Tories and the Whigs
And they left us all with nothing but a Pompalerie Jig.