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O'er the Hills (and Far Away)

[ Roud 3098 , 8460 ; Ballad Index Arn017 ; trad.]

There are basically two related songs called Over the Hills and Far Away sharing the same tune, though the first is also known with other titles.

The first song (Roud 3098) is about being recruited to go a-soldiering. One version from Thomas d'Urfey's Wit & Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20) has the title The Recruiting Officer, or The Merry Volunteers and starts with the line “Hark! now the drums beat up again”. Martin Carthy sang it with the title O'er the Hills on his 1971 album Landfall. He commented in his sleeve notes:

The Bold Poachers and Here's Adieu to All Judges and Juries come from roughly the same time in history, being early 19th century transportation songs from Norfolk and Sussex respectively. They convey, along with O'er the Hills (which hails from the late 17th century), something within the simple factual almost journalistic framework of the writing, more than simple resentment at being forced to leave home, proving for me the truth of the maxim, that it's not what a song says, necessarily, but what it does that counts. Thousands of songs have very little apparent, but layers and layers underneath. O'er the Hills was taught to me by Geoff Harris at the Brentwood Folk Club.

Strawhead sang Over the Hills and Far Away in 1978 on their Traditional Sound album Fortunes of War. They commented:

The ultimate in effective recruiting songs, as its message is “volunteer now or be conscripted later”. The tune was the only one that Tom Tom the Piper's Son (of nursery rhyme fame) could play—but at last he'd picked a good one!

The complimentary reference to “Galloway” probably dates this variant to about 1706 but its inclusion in a 1719 collection points to its continuing popularity.
(Pills to Purge Melancholy, Vol. V)

The New Scorpion Band sang Over the Hills and Far Away in 2008 on their CD Master Marenghi's Music Machine. They noted:

This famous tune was first printed in Thomas d'Urfey's Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy in 1706, under the title Jockey's Lamentation. An example of the ‘Scottish’ or ‘Northern’ tunes frequently called for by broadside ballads of the time, it quickly became very popular, appearing in several ballad operas, including John Gay's Beggar's Opera of 1728. From its text, our version dates from the same period as d'Urfey's, the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). Anne's time on the throne was dominated by the War of the Spanish Succession, during which the Duke of Marlborough gained his famous victories over Louis XIV's France. The tune has survived to the present day as the children's song Tom, Tom the piper's son.

Jon Boden sang Over the Hills and Far Away as the February 18, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

Popularised by John Tams in Sharpe, which I loved. But I heard this first from Carthy so it will always be Queen Anne for me.

This YouTube video show John Tams with Barry Coope singing Over the Hills and Far Away at East Grinstead's Chequer Mead Theatre on November 16, 2010:

The second song (Roud 8460) is about Tom the piper's son who only could play the tune Over the Hills and Far Away. Today the tune and title is mostly known as this children's song that cites the original song and has taken over its name. Shirley Collins sang it in the duet version from The Beggar's Opera on her 1967 album The Power of the True Love Knot. She commented in the album notes:

Tom the Piper. who supplied John Gay with such a super tune for The Beggar's Opera is more than a nursery rhyme figure. For Tom has been the Fool in mummer's plays for many centuries, and description show him traditionally in “a bonnet, red-faced, or turned up with yellow, something like red muffettees at his wrists. Over his doublet is a red garment, like a short cloak with armholes and with a yellow cape, his hose red, and garnished across and perpendicularly on the thighs with a narrow yellow lace.” The Beggar's Opera song is a duet between dashing highwayman MacHeath and winsome, trusting Polly Peachum (“Polly his passion requited”). They take one verse each in the hayloft, and in the duet the chorus should be superimposed over a reprise of the verse. Dolly's hurdy-gurdy arrangement with the melody “upside down” gives a hint of this.

Martin Carthy sang this version too, this time with Isla St Clair and chorus, on the 1979 video 70 Golden Nursery Rhymes. This recording was included in 2001 on the anthology The Carthy Chronicles. The latter's accompanying book commented:

Much adapted and adopted, this variant of the Pied Piper tale made its way into the first great literary work based on English traditional song, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Curiously that line about “the only tune that he could play” ended up as the denouement to several murder ballads including versions of The Two Sisters and The Elfin Knight.

Over the Hills and Far Away was also sung by Tim Hart on his album Drunken Sailor and Other Kids Songs. This track was later reissued on the CD Favourite Nursery Rhymes and Other Children's Songs (which is a compilation of most of his two nursery rhyme albums).

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sing O'er the Hills
on Landfall
Strawhead sing Over the Hills and Far Away

Hark! now the drums they beat again
For all true soldiers gentlemen,
To list and enter into pay,
Over the hills and far away.

Hark! now the drums beat up again
For all true soldiers gentlemen,
Then let us list, and march I say,
Over the hills and far away.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
O'er the hills and o'er the main,
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain.
Queen Anne commands and we obey,
Over the hills and far away.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And it's over the hills and o'er the main,
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain.
Queen Anne commands and we'll obey,
Over the hills and far away.

You gentlemen who have a mind
To serve a Queen that is good and kind,
Come join with us and march away,
Over the hills and far away.

Hear that brave boys, and let us go,
Or else we shall be prest you know;
Then list and enter into pay,
And over the hills and far away.

The constables they search about
To find such brisk young fellows out;
Then let's be volunteers I say,
For over the hills and far away.

He that is forced to go to fight
Will never win true honour by it,
For volunteers will win the day
Over the hills and far away.

He that is forc'd to go to fight
Will never get true honour by't,
While volunteers shall win the day
When over the hills and far away.

Although our friends our absence mourn
We with all honour shall return,
And we shall sing both night and day,
Over the hills and far away.

No more from the sound of the drum retreat,
While Marlborough, and Galloway beat
The French and Spaniards every day
When over the hills and far away.

(repeat first verse)

For if we go 'tis one to ten,
But we return all gentlemen,
All gentlemen as well as they
When over the hills and far away.

Martin Carthy and Isla St Clair sing Over the Hills and Far Away on 70 Golden Nursery Rhymes Tim Hart sings Over the Hills and Far Away

Tom, he was a piper's son,
He learnt to play when he was young;
And all the tunes that he could play
Was Over the Hills and Far Away.

Oh Tom, he was a piper's son,
He learned to play when he was young;
And the only tune that he could play
Was Over the Hills and Far Away.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Over the hills and a long way off
The wind shall blow my top-knot off

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Over the hills and a long way off
The wind shall blow my top-knot off

Tom with his pipe made such a noise
That he pleased both the girls and boys;
They all stopped to hear him play
Over the Hills and Far Away

Now Tom with his pipe made such a noise
That he pleased both the girls and boys;
And they did dance when he did play
Over the Hills and Far Away

Tom on his pipe played with such skill
That those who heard him couldn't keep still.
As soon as he played they began to dance;
Even the pigs began to prance.

Now Tom did play with such a skill
That those nearby could not stand still
And all who heard him they did dance
Down through England, Spain and France

As Dolly was a-milking a cow one day,
Tom took his pipe and began to play.
So Dolly and the cow did The Cheshire Round -
The pail was broke and the milk ran on the ground.

(repeat first verse)

Tom, Tom, the piper's son,
Stole a pig and away he'd run.
The pig was eat and Tom was beat;
Tom went howling down the street.

Shirley Collins sings Over the Hills and Far Away

Tom, Tom, the piper's son,
Played to me when I was young;
And the only tune that he could play
Was Over the Hills and Far Away.

Were I laid on Greenland's coast
And in my arm embraced my lass,
Warm against the eternal frost,
Too soon the half year's night would pass.

Chorus:
And I would love you all the day,
Ev'ry hour would kiss and play,
If with me you'd fondly stray
Over the hills and far away.

Were I sold on Indian soil,
Soon as the burning day would close,
I could mock the sultry toil,
When on my charmer's breast reposed.

(Chorus)

Over the hills and a long way off
The wind doth blow my top-knot off

Links

Some other Over the Hills and Far Away pages:

http://www.contemplator.com/england/faraway.html
http://www.contemplator.com/england/overhls.html
http://www.btinternet.com/~Nick_Brooke/songbook/overhill.htm

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from Martin Carthy's singing by Garry Gillard.