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Fighting for Strangers

[trad. arr. Hart / Prior / Knight / Johnson / Kemp]

Steeleye Span recorded Fighting for Strangers in 1976 for the last (and one of the finest) album of their ‘classic’ line-up, Rocket Cottage. A live recording from their 1991 tour was released as the CD Tonight's the Night. Another live recording from St. David's Hall, Cardiff on December 6, 1994 was released on the video 25 Live: The Classic Twenty Fifth Anniversary Tour Concert.

This song is a tragic military montage of three songs segued together against layers of percussive over-dubbing. The results were both experimental and exciting. The chorus is from Our Captain Cried All Hands, which can be found e.g. on Martin Carthy's album Byker Hill.

Lyrics

Chorus:
What makes you go abroad fighting for strangers?
When you could be safe at home free from all dangers.

A recruiting sergeant came our way
To an inn nearby at the close of day,
He said, “Young Johnny you're a fine young man.
Would you like to march along behind a military band,
With a scarlet coat, a big cocked hat,
And a musket at your shoulder?”
A shilling he took and he kissed the book;
Oh poor Johnny what'll happen to you.

A recruiting sergeant marched away
From the inn nearby at the break of day.
Johnny went too with half a ring;
He was off to be a soldier, he'd be fighting for the King
In a far off war, in a far off land,
To face a foreign soldier.
But how will you fare when there's lead in the air;
Oh poor Johnny what'll happen to you?

Chorus

Oh the sun shone high on a barren land
As a thin red line took a military stand.
There was sling shot, chain shot, grape shot too,
Swords and bayonets thrusting through.
Poor Johnny fell but the day was won
And the King is grateful to you.
But your soldiering's done and we're sending you home;
Oh poor Johnny what have they done to you.

Oh they said he was a hero and not to grieve
Over two wooden pegs and empty sleeves.
They carried him home and they set him down
With a military pension and a medal from the crown.
You haven't an arm, you haven't a leg,
The enemy nearly slew you.
You'll have to go out on the streets to beg;
Oh poor Johnny what have they done to you.

3× Chorus

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the lyrics.