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> Steeleye Span > Songs > Female Drummer
> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Female Drummer
> Frankie Armstrong > Songs > The Female Drummer

The Pretty Drummer Boy / The Female Drummer

[ Roud 226 ; G/D 1:182 ; Henry H497 ; Ballad Index DTsoldma ; MusTrad MT320 ; VWML HAM/2/1/14 , PG/5/219 ; Bodleian Roud 226 ; GlosTrad Roud 226 ; Wiltshire 306 , 493 , 690 ; Mudcat 103199 , 115213 ; trad.]

Norman Buchan, Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger Katherine Campbell: Songs from North-East Scotland Karl Dallas: The Cruel Wars Gale Huntington: Sam Henry's Songs of the People John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads Roy Palmer: The Rambling Soldier Frank Purslow: The Wanton Seed Steve Roud, Julia Bishop: The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Ken Stubbs: The Life of a Man Mike Yates: Traveller's Joy

Harry Cox sang The Female Drummer at home in Catfield, Norfolk, in 1955 to Ewan MacColl. This recording was included in 2000 on his Topic anthology, The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud noted:

A firm favourite with 20th century traditional singers, being found all over England, quite commonly in Scotland, but more rarely in Ireland and North America. Nearly all the major 19th century broadside printers included it on their sheets, which probably accounts for the song's remarkable textual stability across time and space. The earliest known printing is on an Evans (London) broadside of about 1810 in the Madden Collection at Cambridge University Library.

Lal & Norma Waterson sang The Pretty Drummer Boy in 1965 on the Watersons' album A Yorkshire Garland. This recording was included in 1999 on the CD reissue of Lal & Norma Waterson's LP A True Hearted Girl. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was not unheard of for girls to dress as boys and enlist in the army or navy. Christiana Welsh fought for Marlborough with distinction and ended up as a Chelsea pensioner. Another bold Amazon, Hannah Snell, being wounded during the West Indies campaign against the French and Dutch, extracted the bullet from herself to avoid being unmasked as a woman. The dashing Mary Read served as both soldier and sailor before she became notorious as the Female Pirate. None of them, however, had the charm and sauciness of the female drummer boy, whose ballad, travelled as far north as Aberdeen where Gavin Greig reported it as “well known”. Percy Grainger got this present version from a Yorkshire-born singer on the “wrong” side of the Humber, at Barton [in Lincolnshire].

Malcolm Douglas corrected this in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Female Drummer:

So far as I can tell, Grainger noted the song once only; from a Mrs Mary Hawker, at Broad Campden in Gloucestershire [ VWML PG/5/219 ] . Perhaps Bert wanted the Watersons to think that it was a Yorkshire song.

And the Digital Tradition comments:

Collected by Percy Grainger and sung by A.L. Lloyd and the Watersons. This is one of the many songs in which a young girl dresses up as a man and joins the Army. This one is special because there's no lover involved nor does she become pregnant. The second verse refers to the habit punishing the young servicemen (drummer boys, midshipmen etc.) for petty offenses with lashes on the bare bottom while being bent over breech of a cannon. I would really like to know how she pulled off the trick of not being found out.

Jon Rennard sang The Female Drummer Boy live at the Bate Hall Folk Club in Macclesfield, in November 1970. This was released in 1971 on his Traditional Sound album The Parting Glass.

Steeleye Span learned this song from the Watersons and recorded it in 1971 with the title Female Drummer for their second album, Please to See the King; it was also put on the B-side of their single Rave On. The song starts with something close to a rock riff and has the melody played in Ashley Hutchings' bass with Maddy's joyful voice intermingled with Peter Knight's soaring violin. Steeleye Span performed this live for the BBC radio programme “Peel's Sunday Concert” on 15 September 1971. This programme was included as bonus CD on the 2006 reissue of Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again.

This is Steeleye Span performing Female Drummer live on Ainsdale Beach near Southport on 30 June 1971; a rare opportunity to see Martin Carthy with an electric guitar:

Peter Bellamy sang Female Drummer in 1969 on his third solo LP, The Fox Jumps Over the Parson's Gate. He accompanied himself on Anglo concertina. A.L. Lloyd noted:

Girls who dress as men and enlist in the army or the navy aren't simply a longing fantasy of soldiers and sailors starved of female company. Notably in the eighteenth century there were several examples of this in real life, and some of the many songs on the theme are based on actuality. Whatever that's so or not with the present saucy piece, we do not know, but it has been a favourite for some two hundred years. Gavin Greig reported it as “well-known” in Aberdeenshire, Percy Grainger recorded a good set of it in Barton, Lincs. […] The present version is from Norfolk, from redoubtable Harry Cox.

Mary Ann Haynes sang The Female Drummer (recorded by Mike Yates in the singer's home in Brighton, Sussex on 7 July 1974) on the Topic anthologies Sussex Harvest (1975) and My Father's the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Series Vol. 11, 1998).

Walter Pardon sang Female Drummer (recorded by Bill Leader, Peter Bellamy and Reg Hall in the singer's home on 3 August 1974) on the Leader LP Our Side of the Baulk (with the title I'll Beat the Drum Again) and in an alternative take on his Topic CD A World Without Horses.

Frankie Armstrong sang The Female Drummer in 1975 on her Topic album Songs and Ballads. She also sang it live in Sweden in May 1978, which was published in 1980 on her album And the Music Plays So Grand. A.L. Lloyd noted on the first album:

Evidently a great favourite, this song, not so long ago. “Well known in Aberdeenshire,” said Gavin Greig. Hammond found versions in Somerset. About the same time, Grainger heard it in Lincolnshire. Frankie got her version from the singing of Harry Cox of Catfield, Norfolk. It goes back at least to the eighteenth century, and there’s a broadside of it, c. 1790, in the Bodleian Library. The adventurous girl who disguises herself as a drummer-boy runs her risks with admirable lightness. One version of the song has: “In pulling on my breeches, it causes me to smile, To think I lay with a thousand men and a maiden all the while.”

Harry Upton of Balcombe, Sussex, sang The Female Drummer to Mike Yates in 1975-1977. This recording was included in 1978 on his Topic album Why Can't It Always Be Saturday? and in 2015 on his Musical Traditions anthology of the same name, Why Can't It Always Be Saturday?. Mike Yates noted in the accompanying booklet:

Many traditional singers have known this song. According to the Scots collector Gavin Greig it was “well known in Aberdeenshire” and English versions have turned up all over the place. The words appeared on a large number of mid-Victorian broadsides and, according to A.L. Lloyd, it appeared on a sheet from 1790, a copy of which can be found in the Bodleian Library. However, Steve Roud traces the earliest text to a sheet, dated c.1810, which was printed by Evans of London and which can be seen in the Madden Collection at Cambridge University Library. This later date is of interest, because a Mary Anne Talbot, one of many ‘female soldiers‘ produced her autobiography, titled Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot in the name of John Taylor, related by herself in 1809. Evans’ Female Drummer sheet could have been based on this biography or, more likely, it could have been produced to cater for the interest in such soldiers that the book had produced.

Bill ‘Dodger’ Brabbing sang The Female Drummer to Keith Summers at the Hare & Hounds in Fromlingham in 1975. This was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Summers' 1972-79 Suffolk recordings, A Story to Tell.

Linda Adams sang The Female Drummer in 1978 on her and Paul Adams' Fellside album Among the Old Familiar Mountains. This track was also included in 2002 on the Fellside anthology of the soldier in song from the English Civil War to the Falklands, Enlist for a Soldier.

The Clutha sang The Sodger Maid on their 1996 CD On the Braes.

Dianne Dugaw sang The Female Drummer on her 2001 album of fighting and sailing women in song, Dangerous Examples.

The Revels sang Run the Riggin' Again in 2002 on their 2002 CD Homeward Bound.

Rob Williams sang I'll Pull Off My Hat and Feathers in 2012 on his album of songs collected in 1905 from Jane Gulliford of Combe Florey [ VWML HAM/2/1/14 ] by the Hammond Brothers, Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Andy Turner learned The Female Drummer from Peter Bellamy's album and sang it as the 27 May 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

The Dovetail Trio sang this song as When I Was a Young Maid in 2014 on their eponymous EP, The Dovetail Trio. Their version seems to come from Margaret Jeffrey of Blairgowrie as recorded by Hamish Henderson in 1956 [Tobar an Dualchais 20185/1] . This video shows them at the Wheelhouse on 4 January 2014:

Belinda Kempster and Fran Foote sang Female Drummer on their 2019 CD On Clay Hill.

Lyrics

Harry Cox sings The Female Drummer

So I'm going to be a soldier in uniform quite new
And if they let me have a drum I’ll be a drummer too,
To rush into the battlefield with a broadsword in my hand
And to hear the cannons rattle and the music sound so grand.
The music sound so grand, the music sound so grand
To hear the cannons rattle and the music sound so grand.

When I was a young girl the age of sixteen
From my home I ran away to go and serve the Queen,
To go and serve the Queen like another private man.
“I think you’d make a drummer, so just step this way young man.
Just step this way young man, just step this way young man.
I think you’ll make a drummer so just step this way young man.”

They led me to my office and lit me up to bed,
But laying by a soldier's side I never felt afraid.
But pulling off my old red coat, I used to laugh and smile
To think myself a drummer yet a female all the while.
A female all the while, a female all the while.
To think myself a drummer yet a female all the while.

My waist long and slendy and fingers long and small,
So very soon they taught me how to play the best of all.
I played all on my kettledrum as other drummers played.
I played all on my kettledrum and I’ll beat the drum again;
I’ll beat the drum again; I’ll beat the drum again.
I played all on my kettledrum and I’ll beat the drum again.

They sent me up to London to be guard o’er the Tower,
And there I might have been until this very day and hour.
A young gal fell in love with me. She said I was a maid.
She went straightway to my officer my secret betrayed,
My secret betrayed, my secret betrayed.
She went straightway to my officer my secret betrayed.

My officer he sent for me to hear if this was true,
And I all for to beat him a tale already knew.
“Here’s a pension for your reward,” he smiled as he said.
“It’s a pity we should lose you such a drummer as you made.
Such drummer as you made, such drummer as you made.
It’s a pity we should lose you such a drummer as you made.”

“So fare you well, my officer, you have been kind to me.
Fare you well, my comrades, you ne’er forgot shall be.
Should the British army fall short of any man,
I'll put on my hat and feather and I'll beat the drum again;
I'll beat the drum again; I'll beat the drum again.
I'll put on my hat and feather and I'll beat the drum again.”

The Watersons sing The Pretty Drummer Boy

I was brought up in Yorkshire and when I was sixteen
I ran away from home, my lads, and a soldier I became
With a fine cap and feathers, likewise a rattling drum
They learned me to play upon the rub-a-dub-a-dum

Chorus (after each verse):
With a fine cap and feathers, likewise a rattling drum
They learned her to play upon the rub-a-dub-a-dum
With her gentle waist so slender, and her fingers long and small
She could play upon the rub-a-dub the best of them all

And it's many is the pranks that I saw amongst the French
And boldly I did fight, my boys, although I'm but a wench
And in buttoning up my trousers so often have I smiled
To think I lay with a thousand men and a maiden all the while

And they never found my secret out until this very hour
For they sent me up to London to be sentry at the Tower
And a lady fell in love with me and I told her I's a maid
And she went unto my officer and my secret she betrayed

He unbuttoned up my red tunic and he found that it was true
“It's a shame,” he says “to lose a pretty drummer boy like you.”
So now I must return to my mam and dad at home
And along with my bold comrades no longer can I roam

Steeleye Span's Female Drummer

I was brought up in Yorkshire and when I was sixteen
Oh I ran away to London and a soldier I became

Chorus (after each verse):
With my fine cap and feather, likewise my rattling drum
They learned me to play upon the rub-a-dub-a-dum
With my gentle waist so slender, my fingers long and small
and to play upon the rub-a-dub the best of them all

And so many were the pranks that I saw among the French
And so boldly did I fight, my boys, although I'm but a wench
And in buttoning up my trousers so often have I smiled
To think I lay with a thousand men and a maiden all the while

But they never found my secret out until this very hour
When they sent me off to London to keep sentry o'er the Tower
When a young girl fell in love with me and she found that I was a maid
She went up to my officer my secret she betrayed

He unbuttoned then my red tunic and he found that it was true
“It's a shame,” he says, “to lose a pretty drummer boy like you”
So now I must return to my mum and dad at home
And along with my bold comrades it's no longer can I roam

Peter Bellamy sings Female Drummer

I'm going to be a soldier in my uniform quite new
And if they let me have a drum I'll be a drummer too,
For to march into the battlefield with a broadsword in my hand
To hear the cannons rattle and the music sound so grand.
The music sound so grand, the music sound so grand,
To hear the cannons rattle and the music sound so grand.

Now when I was a young girl the age of sixteen
It's from my home I ran away to go and serve the Queen
And the officer who enlisted me said, “You are a nice young man;
I think you'll make a drummer, so please step this way, young man.
Just step this way, young man, just step this way, young man,
Oh, I think you'll make a drummer, so just step this way, young man.”

They led me to my officer, they lit me up to bed,
But laying down by a soldier's side I never felt afraid.
And in a-pulling off my old red coat I sometimes had to smile
For to think myself a drummer yet a female all the while.
A female all the while, a female all the while,
For to think myself a drummer yet a female all the while.

My waist so neat and slender and my fingers long and small
And very soon they taught me how to play the best of all.
I played all on my kettledrum while other drummers played,
I played all on my kettledrum and I'll beat the drum again.
I'll beat the drum again, I'll beat the drum again,
Oh, I played all on my kettledrum and I'll beat the drum again.

So they sent me up to London to be guard o'er the Tower
And there I might have been until this very day and hour,
But a young girl fell in love with me, then found I was a maid
She went straight to my officer and my secret betrayed.
My secret betrayed, my secret betrayed,
Oh, she went up to my officer and my secret betrayed.

So my officer he sent for me to hear if this was true
And I all for to tell to him a tale already knew.
“Here's a pension all for your reward,” he smiled as he said,
“It's a pity we must lose you, such a drummer as you made.
A drummer as you made, a drummer as you made,
It's a pity we should lose you, such a drummer as you made.”

So fare you well, my officers, you have been kind to me
And likewise all my comrades, you ne'er forgot shall be.
And should the British army fall short of any man
I'll put on my hat and feathers and I'll beat the drum again.
I'll beat the drum again, you know I'll beat the drum again,
I'll put on my hat and feathers and I'll beat the drum again.

Harry Upton sings The Female Drummer

When I was a little maid, the age about sixteen
I gave my service up for to go and serve the Queen
𝄆 I 'listed in the army like any other man
And very soon they learnt me how to play upon the band 𝄇

They showed to me my quarters, they showed to me my bed
To sleep beside my comrades I never felt afraid
𝄆 When pulling off my red coat which causes me to smile
To think myself a soldier and a maiden all the while 𝄇

They dragged me up to London for to keep guard at the Tower
And I had not been there 'bove four and twenty hours
𝄆 'Til a young girl fell in love with me, I told her I was a maid
She straightway to my officer the secret she betrayed 𝄇

My officer he came to me to ask if it was true
I said, “Kind sir, I told to her the same she told to you”
𝄆 Then pulling off my red coat which causes me to smile
To think myself a soldier and a maiden all the while 𝄇

Farewell to you my officer, you have been good to me
Farewell to you my comrades and you again I'll see
𝄆 And if you fall in battle and you'll want any help or maid
I'll put on my hat and feather and I'll beat the drum again 𝄇

Bill ‘Dodger” Brabbing sings The Female Drummer

Now when I was a young girl at the age of sixteen
I left my home and parents to go and serve the Queen
I enlisted in the army just like another man
And very soon they learned me to beat upon the drum
To beat upon the drum, to beat upon the drum
And very soon they learned me to beat upon the drum.

Now going to bed at night I used to often smile
To think myself a drummer yet a female all the while
Yet a female all the while, Yet a female all the while
To think myself a drummer yet a female all the while.

They took me up to London to guard the London Tower
That is where I should have been this very day and hour
If not for a young damsel who fell in love with me
And straight way to my officer my secret she betrayed
My secret she betrayed, my secret she betrayed
And straight way to my officer my secret she betrayed.

The officer he came to me and he wants to know if it's true
For the same I says to the officer and the same as I says to you.
“Here’s a pension for your bravery.
And should we ever want a drummer again
We'll send for you!”

The Dovetail Trio sing When I Was a Young Maid

When I was a young maid about the age of sweet sixteen
I wanted for to go and serve my country and my queen.
I listed in the army, a drummer boy to be,
And they learnt me to play upon the rum-a-dum-a-dee.

Chorus (after each verse):
With my big hat and feather, if you had only seen,
You’d have sworn from your very heart a young man I had been.
My waist was slim and slender, my fingers thin and small,
And I could rattle up the drummer dee the best among them all.

When I was in the guardroom, where oft times I had been,
I never was afraid for to lie down with any man.
While taking off my trousers, I often gave a smile
For to think I was a soldier and a maiden all the while.

They sent me down to London, I was scarcely three days there
When a maiden fell in love with me because I was so fair.
I told her I was a maiden, a maiden she replied,
And she went and told my officer, the secret she destroyed.

My officer he sent for me to ask me was it true;
I told him that it was, what other could I do,
I told him that it was, he smiled and shook his head,
“It’s a pity for to lose you, such a drummer boy you made.

“So here is a pension, you have it from the king,
And here is another one, you have it from the queen.
And if ever you be married and ever have a son,
You can send him to the army for to rattle up the drum.”

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Lal & Norma Waterson by Greer Gilman.