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Soldiers Three

[ Roud 8340 ; Ballad Index DalC144 ; Thomas Ravenscroft]

The Pembroke Unique Ensemble, i.e. Dave Swarbrick with Sandy Denny, played the tune We Be Soldiers Three in 1968 at the Livingston Studios for The Young Tradition's LP Galleries. Heather Wood explained in the sleeve notes:

Pembroke for Wales (don't ask me why; it meant something at the time), unique because there was only Swarb (and Sandy very discreetly on piano) and ensemble because it was fairly together.

The whole album contains such brief “interludes” between the more “serious” traditional songs. This track was also included in 2003 on Dave Swarbrick's anthology Swarb!.

Trees sang Soldiers Three in 1970 on their CBS album On the Shore.

June Tabor sang Soldiers Three in 2005 on her CD Apples. She commented in the liner notes:

First printed in Deuteromelia (1609).

At the beginning of the 16th century the Netherlands were part of the most powerful empire on earth, that of Charles V (1500-1558). It was during his reign that the persecutions and wars began. More than 150 years of violence and brutality followed as the great powers of Europe fought in and for those territories. Finally the land was partitioned, the South annexed by France, the north becoming modern-day Holland and the central part, eventually, Belgium. A degree of stability was achieved but the habit of fighting wars here continued. Mercenaries returning from the troubled Low Countries, penniless, thirsty and dangerous, were to be given a wide berth. “Pardona moy” was definitely a provocation, not an apology.

James Raynard sang We Be Soldiers Three in 2005 on his One Little Indian CD Strange Histories. He commented in his liner notes:

We Be Soldiers Three is a song by Thomas Ravenscroft, a 16th English composer. The French “pardonnez-moi, je vous en prie” is roughly “excuse me if you please”. I started with original words and melody but built a chorus for this with bits half snatched from a related tune.

The Witches of Elswick sang Soldiers Three in 2005 on their second and last album, Hell's Belles. They commented in their liner notes:

Becky got this from her dad, Paul Stockwell, who got it from Thomas Ravenscroft's Deuteromelia of 1609. We thought it was about tight-arsed Northeners complaining about the price of a pint down South, but it seems that oral transmission has led us astray. The original refers to some scary Dutch soldiers who had “lately come down from the Low Country” around the time of Henry VIII. You had to be polite to them lest they beat you up…

Lyrics

The Witches of Elswick sing Soldiers Three

We be soldiers three,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
We be soldiers three
With hardly a penny of money.

We be soldiers three,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
Lately come down from the North Country
With hardly a penny of money.

Here, good fellow, I'll drink to thee,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
Here, good fellow, I'll drink to thee,
With hardly a penny of money.

Here, good fellow, I'll drink to thee,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
Unto the good fellows wherever they be,
With hardly a penny of money.

He who will not pledge me this,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
Pays for the shot, what ever it is,
With hardly a penny of money.

Charge them again, boys, charge them again,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
Charge them again, boys, charge them again,
With hardly a penny of money.

Charge them again, boys, charge them again,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
As long as there is any ink in my pen,
With hardly a penny of money.

We be soldiers three,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
We be soldiers three
With hardly a penny of money.

We be soldiers three,
Pardonnez-moi je vous en prie,
Lately come down from the North Country
With hardly a penny of money.

Links

See also Remembering The Old Songs: We Be Soldiers Three by Bob Waltz.