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The Light/Bold Dragoon / The Trooper and the Maid

[ Roud 162 ; Child 299 ; G/D 7:1470 ; Ballad Index C299 ; trad.]

Harry List sang The Light Dragoon to Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy in Framlingham, Suffolk, in the 1950s. This recording was released on the anthology Songs of Seduction (The Folk Songs of Britain Vol. 2, Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968). The first albums's booklet commented:

The British soldier turned the charming love ballad As I Roved Out into a plain-speaking and lusty song to suit his own taste. Early English folk song collectors were constantly encountering it and bowdlerising it. Rev. Baring-Gould was so perturbed to find a young woman playing an aggressive sexual role that he makes the dragoon into the seducer and wrote the following incredible stanza:

Your distance keep, I esteem you cheap,
'Though your wishes I've granted partly,
But no kisses for me from a chimpanzee,
The lady responded tartly.
Why, a ride dragoon is a mere baboon
And she boxed his ears fill smartly.

References: Titled The Bold Dragoon in Baring-Gould: Songs of the West (text re-written). Original words published Reeves: The Everlasting Circle p. 57. A distinct song is the ballad called The Lady & the Dragoon (also in Reeves from the Hammond Collection) which is Child No. 7 (Appendix). Related to the last of the “Child” Ballads The Trooper Lad (Child 299).

Another Harry List recording, made by Peter Kennedy in Swefling, Suffolk in mid-June 1955, was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Volume 23). Steve Roud commented in the booklet:

Often called The Trooper and the Maid, this song was collected frequently in Scotland and North America, but less often in England. Child prints the three earliest Scottish texts, dating from the 1820s onwards, and Bronson presents 27 tunes. The story is pretty much the same across all versions, although the ending is sometimes different. The young lady in Harry List's song seems quite happy with the proceedings, but in most other versions she asks the trooper when they are to be married, only to be answered with traditional put-offs such as “When cockle shells grow silver bells”, or “When apple-trees grow in the sea”. At least in the version from Newcastle in the 1840s (John Bell collection), the soldier's reply is a more kindly “When the king cries peace and the wars do cease”.

Jimmy McBeath sang the above mentioned The Trooper Lad to Alan Lomax in Elgin, Moray, on November 14, 1953. This recording was included on the anthology The Child Ballads No. 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Vol. 5, Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968) and, as The Trooper and the Maid, in 2002 on his and Davie Stewart's Rounder anthology Two Gentlemen of the Road. The booklet notes commented:

Greig-Duncan has six versions and interesting notes on this song (vol. 7, no. 1470). A young soldier is billeted on a very welcoming young hostess, with the predictable outcome. The vigorous, lilting tune is also used for The Brewer Laddie.

Ewan MacColl sang The Trooper and the Maid in 1956 on the Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume II. Like most of his tracks from this series it was reissued in 2009 on his Topic anthology Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger also sang it in 1956 on their Tradition album Classic Scots Ballads. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the Riverside album's booklet:

For many centuries, soldiers have been leaving young maidens just at the time when they were beginning to know one another quite well. That this should be the theme of numerous ballads is to be expected; this ballad is distinguishable from all the rest by reason of the soldier's obviously honest, but evasive-sounding, answers to the maiden's entreaties as to when she will see him again and/or when they will marry.

The ballad is known in Scotland to this day, and has been collected, though not very frequently, in the United States; it has not been reported from tradition in England in modern times. MacColl's version was learned from Jimmy McBeath, tramp and ballad singer of Elgin, Scotland.

Nancy Whiskey sang The Trooper and the Maid in 1957 on her Topic EP Nancy Whiskey Sings.

Peggy Seeger sang The Trooper and the Maid in 1957 on her Topic EP Troubled Love.

Robin Hall sang The Trooper and the Maid in 1960 on his Collector LP Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads: Some Ballads from the Gavin Greig Collection.

Archie Fisher sang The Trooper and the Maid in 1968 on his eponymous Transatlantic album Archie Fisher.

Dave and Tony Arthur sang The Bold Dragoon in 1969 on their Topic album The Lark in the Morning. They and A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

When the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reached Berkshire in March 1815, the Blues, who were stationed in Reading recalled their men, and they marched through the streets, headed by drum and fife bands. One group without a band, marched three abreast led by a fiddler playing The British Grenadiers. Such scenes were guaranteed to rouse the people to a frenzy of patriotism and admiration for the lads off to defend the country. If we believe the evidence of folk song, and Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd the soldiers were not slow to take advantage of the swooning young women. What young country girl could resist the magnificent uniforms of the Hussars and Dragoons. In the song the girl takes the initiative, and the bold dragoon is only too pleased to oblige. The tune used here is from the singing of Harry List, of Framlingham, Suffolk. The words from the Baring-Gould manuscripts are reprinted in James Reeves’ The Everlasting Circle.F.J. Child prints three versions of the song as No. 299 in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads, all three versions from Scotland, but England, Ireland and the upland American South had countless sets of this most popular song.

Mike Waterson sang The Light Dragoon at Folk Union One in 1969 (the Watersons' former own folk club held at the Blue Bell), which was recorded for the privately pressed LP Blue Bell Folk. The liner notes said that this was a song from the Watersons' repertoire.

Mike Waterson officially recorded this song in 1977 for his eponymous album Mike Waterson with his niece Maria, his sisters Lal and Norma Waterson, Jim Eldon and Rod Stradling singing chorus. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's notes:

A number of songs about sporting soldiers and saucy girls—The Trooper and the Maid, Seventeen Come Sunday, Pretty Peggy, The Bold Dragoon—run so close to each other as to be well nigh inseparable. In this one, the lady cheerfully takes the initiative in the seduction, a fact that worried some of the pioneer folksong collectors. The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, who came across two or three of the set in Devon, rewrote it so that the dragoon was the seducer, saying: “The original is too coarse for reproduction.” Mike Waterson's version is based on the one sung by Harry List of Framlingham, Suffolk, and recorded on Songs of Seduction (The Folk Songs of Britain Vol. 2, Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

The Watersons sang The Light Dragoon live at Folkfestival '76 Dranouter too; this track was included in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. The Light Dragoon is also on the first Waterson:Carthy CD, as sung by Eliza Carthy with Nancy Kerr playing fiddle; this track was reissued in 2003 on Eliza's anthology The Definitive Collection. Martin Carthy commented in the Waterson:Carthy sleeve notes:

Eliza got The Light Dragoon from a record of her Uncle Mike (Waterson), asking him later if it was OK and he was happy enough to give some more songs. The song itself is one of a batch where the woman is the happy seducer, a fact which so bothered some early collectors that they refused to publish it as it was—saying it was “far too coarse”—and only did so having edited it severely and made the dragoon the prime mover. It's from Suffolk.

And is was done by Eliza Carthy and Nancy Kerr on the CD Live at Fairbridge Festival, 1995, though it's not on either of their other recordings.

Harry List's nephew Fred List sang The Light Dragoon in a recording made by Keith Summers in 1971-77 that was included in 2006 on the Veteran CD Good Hearted Fellows: Traditional Folk Songs, Music Hall Songs, and Tunes from Suffolk, Mike Yates commented in the liner notes:

This is a version of the ballad that Professor Child titled Trooper and Maid (Child 299). Although Child's versions are all from Scotland he does mention an English broadside version, The Soldier and Peggy, which dates from the first half of the seventeenth century. Fred List learnt the song from his uncle Harry, who was recorded singing it by the BBC in 1951 (which is now available on the CD Songs of Seduction - Rounder 1778). A splendid Scottish version, sung by Bella Higgins of Blairgowrie, Perthshire, can be heard on the CD Hamish Henderson Collects (Kyloe 107).

Cyril Tawney sang The Bold Dragoon in 1976 on his Trailer album Down Among the Barley Straw. He commented in the sleeve notes:

Collected from Richard ‘Moses’ Cleave at the Forest Inn, Huckaby Bridge, Dartmoor, 1892. “Never shall I forget the occasion,” wrote Baring-Gould. “Mr Bussell and I drove across Dartmoor in winter in a furious gale of rain and wind, to Huckaby Bridge, in quest of an old man we had heard of there as a singer. We found the fellow, but he yielded nothing, and our long journey would have been fruitless had we not caught Richard Cleave and obtained from him this air, which cost me a bronchitis attack, that held me prisoner for six weeks.” The collecting of the song was not only fortuitous, but timely too. Not long after, Cleave hung himself in his father's barn.

In publishing his shortened and toned-down version of The Bold Dragoon Baring-Gould chose to use the air of another version, collected by William Crossing. Cleave's tune, however, was published in association with John Watt's text of I'll Build Myself a Gallant Ship (The Lowlands of Holland).

In James Reeves' The Everlasting Circle it is stated that Cleave's version of The Bold Dragoon was fragmentary, but this is a mistake. He supplied the full text as given here. It is also worth noting that the old pronunciation of ‘dragoon’, with the stress on the first syllable instead of the second, was the customary form among the traditional singers, the tunes being stressed accordingly.

Roy Harris sang this song as The Dragoon's Ride on his 1975 Topic album Champions of Folly. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

There are so many ballads about a dragoon’s high-handed treatment of a maid, usually named Peggy, that one wonders what was special about dragoons. The commonest title is The Trooper and the Maid, but as The Jolly Trooper it was already in print at the start of the 18th century. It’s known from Devon to Aberdeen in various slightly differing but clearly related shapes. A favourite Scottish set is The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie. The Rev. S. Baring-Gould had two versions from Dartmoor, “too coarse for reproduction,” he said. This is one of the West Country sets, which Roy Harris got from Cyril Tawney.

Roy Bailey sang The Trooper and the Maid on his 1976 album New Bell Wake.

Brian Peters sang The Dragoon's Ride on his 1997 album Sharper Than the Thorn. He commented in his liner notes:

The Dragoon's Ride appeared on Roy Harris' LP Champions of Folly in the 1970s, and comes from Devon courtesy of Baring-Gould's collection; the betrayal and hurt come through more strongly than in other versions of the song.

Karine Polwart sang The Light Dragoon in 2000 on Malinky's CD Last Leaves, 40 years after Robin Hall's album of the same name, see above. Their version is quite similar to Harry List's.

Dr Faustus (Tim van Eyken, Robert Harbron, Benji Kirkpatrick, and Paul Sartin) sang Trooper and Maid on their 2003 Fellside album The First Cut.

Jon Boden sang The Light Dragoon as the September 2, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in the project blog:

The first Waterson:Carthy album is, in my view, one of the great folk records of all time. Hearing the combination of Eliza and Nancy's fiddles with the massed Waterson vocals was a real inspirational moment for me. I've since got hold of Mike Watersons solo version which is also brilliant. I make no claims for the relative quality of my version here—it's a pale imitation at best, but it is a great song for the pub.

Pilgrims' Way sang The Light Dragoon (*not* The Light Dragon!) in 2011 on their digital download Fellside album Shining Gently All Around. They recorded it again for their 2016 Fellside CD Red Diesel.

Lyrics

Harry List sings The Light Dragoon Mike Waterson sings The Light Dragoon
on Mike Waterson

Oh, the light dragoon rode o'er the hill,
The moon was shining brightly,
There was a young lady, for she knew him by his horse,
Oh, because she loved him dearly.

Chorus:
Dearly o dearly,
There was a young lady, for she knew him by his horse,
Oh, because she loved him dearly

The light dragoon come over the hill
When the moon was shining clearly,
Well, there was a little lady and she knew him by his horse
Because she loves him dearly.

Chorus:
Dearly so dearly
There was a little lady and she knew him by his horse
Because she loves him dearly

She took him by the milk-white rein,
She led him to the stable.
“There's hay and corn for your horse, young man;
Let him eat while he is able.”

Well, she grabbed him by the nearside rein,
Taken him to the stable.
“There is hay and corn for your horse, young man;
He can eat now he is able.”

Able so able &c.

Oh, she took him by the lily-white hand,
She led him to the table,
“Here's cakes and wines for you, my dear,
Eat and drink now you are able.”

She taken him by the lily-white hand
Led him to the table,
“There is cakes and wine for you, my dear,
You can drink now you are able.”

Able so able &c.

She took the bottle into her hand,
Poured out the wine so clearly.
“Here's a health to yours and to mine,” she says,
“You're welcome home, my deary.”

Deary so deary &c.

Oh, she ran upstairs to make the bed,
Oh, to make it soft and easy.
How nimble she jumped into bed
For to see if it was easy.

Then she run upstairs for to make his bed,
Make it soft and comfy.
How nimble she jumped into the bed
For to see if it was easy.

Easy so easy &c.

Oh the light dragoon he ran upstairs,
He put off his army trousers;
How nimble he jumped into bed
For to do what he was able.

The light dragoon he ran upstairs,
Put his trousers on the table.
How nimble he jumped into the bed
To do what he was able.

Able so able &c.

They laid a-bed till the clock struck ten,
The trumpets they was a-sounding;
With her spirits high and her belly's low,
And she ran home to her mummy.

Well, they laid in bed and the clock struck one,
Trumpets they was a-sounding.
Well, her spirits they was high but her belly it was low
And she ran home to her mammy.

Mammy her mammy &c.

“Oh, where have thou been all this long night?”
Enquired her anxious parents.
“O h,I've been along with the light dragoon
Because I loved him dearly.”

Spoken: Loved him dearly.

“It's where ha' you been all this live-a-long night?”
Enquired her anxious parents.
“I've been along with the light dragoon
Because I loves him dearly.”

Dearly so dearly &c.

Jimmy McBeath sings The Trooper and the Maid The Watersons sing The Light Dragoon
on Folkfestival '76 Dranouter

A trooper lad come here last nicht,
An, oh, but he wis weary.
A trooper lad come here last nicht,
When the moon shine brght on clearly.

A light dragoon came over the hill
When the moon was shining clearly,
Well there was a little lady and she knew him by his horse
Because she loves him dearly.

Chorus (after each verse):
Bonny lassie, I lie near ye yet,
Bonny lassie, I lie near ye,
An ah'll gar aa yer ribbons reel
On the morning or ahleave ye.
Chorus:
Dearly, oh dearly
Well there was a little lady and she knew him by his horse
Because she loves him dearly

For she took the horse by the bridle ring
An led him till a stable.
She giev him corn an hie tae eat
As muckle as he wis able.

She's grabbed him by the nearside rein,
She has taken him to the stable.
“Here is hay and corn for your horse, young man,
He can eat now he is able.”

For she took the trooper by the hand,
Led him till a chamber,
She gied him a stoop o ile tae drink,
For love it felt like tinder.

And she taken him by the lily-white hand,
Led him to the table.
“Here is cakes and wine for you, my dear
To drink now you are able.”

She took the bottle into her hand,
Poured out the wine so clearly.
“Here's an health to yours and to mine,” she says,
“And you're welcome home, my dearie.”

For she made the bed baith lang an wide
An shaped it like a lady.
She took her wee coatie ower her heid,
Sayin, “Trooper, are you ready?”

And she ran upstairs for to make his bed,
Make it soft and comfy.
How nimble she jumped into the bed
For to see if it was easy.

For he took of his beltit coat
Likewise his hat and feather.
He's leant his sword against the door
An, on he's doon aside her.

But the light dragoon he ran upstairs,
Put his trousers on the table.
How nimble he jumped into the bed
For to do what he was able.

For they werena an oor intae the bed
An oor but an a quarter
When the drums come soundin up the street
An ilka beat got shorter.

They laid in bed and the clock struck one,
Trumpets they was a-sounding.
Her spirits they were high and her belly it was low
And she ran home to her mammy.

For she took her wee coatie ower her heid,
An followit him up tae Sterling,
But she grew say foo that she couldna boo,
An he left her in Dunfermline.

“Oh where've you been all this live-long night?”
Enquired her anxious parents.
“I've been along with the light dragoon
Because I loves him dearly.”

“When will ye come back again,
My ain dear sodjer laddie?
When will ye come back again
An be yer bairnie's daddie?”

“Haud yer tongue, ma bonny young lass,
Dinna let this partin grieve ye.
When heather growes on yonder knowes
It's then ah'll come an see ye.”

Roy Harris sings The Dragoon's Ride

In the dragoon's ride from out the north,
With riding he was weary,
He came onto a fair maid's door
And he callèd up his dearie.

Chorus:
Dearie, dearie,
He came onto to a fair maid's door
And he callèd up his dearie

How the maid came down all in the night,
The moon was shining clearly.
She opened the door and let him in
For she loved her love right dearly.

Dearly, dearly, &c.

Well, she took his horse by the bridle rein,
She led it to the stables.
She says, “There's oat and hay for him
To eat while he is able.”

Able, able, &c.

She says, “There's cake and there's wine for you,
There's corn and hay for horses.
Bread and ale for the king's soldiers,
Aye, and there's pretty lasses.”

Lasses, lasses, &c.

Well, she went upstairs for to make her bed,
She made it warm and easy.
Down the stairs she quietly called,
“My dear dragoon, I am ready.”

Ready, ready, &c.

Well, they spent the night till the break of dawn,
They saw the moon full grieving.
“Hark, I hear the trumpet's sound!
Sweet maid, I must be leaving.”

Leaving, leaving, &c.

“Oh, when will we, love, meet again?
When will we be married?”
“When cockle shells turn silver bells,
Then you and I shall be married.”

Married, married, &c.

“What have I for a Saturday night?
What have I for Sunday?
What have I for all the week,
And what have I for a Monday?”

Monday, Monday, &c.

“Here's half a crown for a Saturday night,
Sheep's head and lungs for Sunday,
Bread and cheese for all the week,
But the devil of it for a Monday.”

Monday, Monday, &c.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the Mike Waterson transcription and to Susanne Kalweit for the Folkfestival '76 Dranouter transcription.