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Bill ’Awkins

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on Bill ’Awkins at the Kipling Society]

Bill ’Awkins is a poem from Rudyard Kipling’s book Barrack-Room Ballads. Peter Bellamy sang it as a duet with Chris Birch on his third album of songs set to Kipling’s poems, Peter Bellamy Sings the Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. This track was also included on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes. Peter Bellamy noted:

Another Question/Answer song, but of a somewhat different character [than Danny Deever], more redolent of the cheeky ’alls than the Grand Tradition. I have composed for it a tune of at least equal splendour and dignity. Ahem. (This ballad was composed later than the others, and appeared in Kipling’s second volume of Poetry, The Seven Seas, in 1896.)

Peter Bellamy and Keith Marsden re-recorded the song in 1990 for Bellamy’s privately issued cassette Soldiers Three.

Dave Webber and John Morris sang Bill ’Awkins on the 1995 album of Barrack Room Ballads and other soldier’s poems of Rudyard Kipling as set to traditional tunes by Peter Bellamy, The Widow’s Uniform. Webber noted:

Among the least well known of the collection, this song shows Kipling’s ability to encapsulate a way of life in one small episode: a proletarian comedy of manners in four stanzas.


Bill ’Awkins

“’As anybody seen Bill ’Awkins?”
    “Now ’ow in the devil would I know?”
“Well ’e’s taken my girl out walkin’,
    An’ I’ve got to tell ’im so—
    I’ve got to tell ’im so.”

“D’yer know what ’e’s like, Bill ’Awkins?”
    “Now what in the devil would I care?”
“Well ’e’s the livin’, breathin’ image of an organ-grinder’s monkey,
    With a pound of grease in ’is ’air—
    An’ a pound o’ grease in ’is ’air.”

“An’ s’pose you met Bill ’Awkins,
    Now what in the devil ’ud ye do?”
“Why, I’d open ’is cheek to ’is chin-strap buckle,
    An’ bung up ’is both eyes, too—
    An’ bung up ’is both eyes, too!”

“Look ’ere, where ’e comes, Bill ’Awkins!
    Now what in the devil will you say?”
“Well it ain’t fit an’ proper to be fightin’ on a Sunday,
    So I’ll pass ’im the time o’ day—
    I’ll pass ’im the time o’ day!”