CHAPTER 11:Three Cheers and a Tiger for Billy Barlow
More about Sam Cowell – One Recorded Occurrence of Billy in India – Fanciful Musing on the Possibility of Billy’s Tune Being Heard at The Relief of Lucknow. Billy Barlow in the Crimea – Sam Cowell’s American tour – Blondin and His Team of Little Ducks -The Burning of Billy’s Costume.
At a time when his popularity was at its height, Sam Cowell decided on a trip back to America. It was 1860, and he had been away from his childhood home for twenty years. The tour, for various reasons, was financially disastrous, even though he was just as popular in America as he was in England. For Billy Barlow, Cowell’s tour was a crucial step in his journey through history. Before discussing Sam Cowell’s American tour a small divergence is worth while.
Billy Barlow in India
In 1859, during the Indian Mutiny, a Mr. Rolls toured India performing for the English army. The army bands, as was the custom of the time, fought as ordinary soldiers, entertaining their comrades when lulls in the fighting permitted. At one of these eye-of-the-storm concerts the band of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, 53rd battalion, accompanied the entertainer, recorded only as Mr. Rolls, while he sang Billy Barlow and Reuben Wright.
These two songs out of Sam Cowell’s repertoire would have been familiar, and were well received. The fact that the battalion band provided the accompaniment is actually an assumption, but it is based on the diary of Lance Sergeant M Devery, who notes that Mr. Rolls gave him a bottle of Burgundy when he left a week later. Devery later became bandmaster of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, so it would seem that he was in charge of the music on the day that Billy Barlow was sung on the battlefield in India.
Paying musicians with alcohol is an established and widespread custom. Back in England it frequently proved to be the downfall of many great and many lesser stars. Devery noted that a few days after Mr. Rolls’s visit, the band had a drinking spree and beat their drums madly in a wild all-night session.
A legend, that became a play and a song, called Jessie’s Dream, tells us that at the Siege of Lucknow during this same Indian rebellion, a young Scotswoman lay dying on the ground. There was seemingly no hope for her and her companions when she raised herself up and cried,
“Dinna ye hear it? The pipes of Havelock sound!”
They were playing:
The Campbells are coming, O-ho! Oh-ho!
From – The Campbells are Coming words and air Anon
As already noted, this song, in both its phrasing and in its tune, is very much like:
| Let’s go a-huntin’ says Risky Rob
Let’s go a-huntin says Robin to Bob
Let’s go a-huntin’ says Dan’l to Joe
Let’s go a-huntin’ says Billy Barlow.
Could it be that the poor girl heard Mr. Rolls, far away over the hills singing this less familiar version of Billy Barlow? Surely not ! The usual version was probably the one he sang. I don’t know the actual dates of Mr. Rolls’s tour — only the date of that one recorded performance which was not the same as the date of the relief of Lucknow. Also I have no proof that Sam Cowell produced this Billy Barlow song — just the nagging thought that he could have, that a rat-catcher Billy Barlow would have been a natural progression for Cowell.
We do know that Mr. Rolls had at least two Sam Cowell songs in his repertoire. Anyway, the Scotswoman and her friends were rescued and that should be enough of a miracle for anybody.
Billy Barlow at the Crimean War
Billy Barlow had been to a scene of conflict already, and as a soldier. A Billy Barlow song dating from 1855 has him at Sebastopol serving as advisor at the Crimean War. He is apparently American and he travels by way of England, where he is welcomed by Queen Victoria, to the consternation of Albert, who got “confoundly jealous”. Arriving at the battle, he is welcomed by all sides before settling in to a peacemaking role, working with the British.
Then I went to the army at Sebastopol,
Oh dear I’m Ragged I know
Then Raglan and Canrobert sent, sirs, to me,
Oh dear you’re ragged we know,
Says I, I was with Scott all through Mexico,
Oh dear I’m ragged I know,
Billy is called home to America by President Pierce, who fiercely reminds him that the American policy is “non-intervention”. The President had to be fierce on account of the rhyme, but America did remain neutral in this affair. It is interesting to note that Billy is already a veteran soldier, having been to the Mexican War in 1846. There is no author given for this Billy Barlow song, although it shares many verses with one of Sam Cowell’s. George Coppin was also known to have sung Billy Barlow songs about the Crimean War, but the fact that Billy is American points to Cowell, who thought of himself as American.
The salute “Three Cheers and a Tiger ” comes from 19th-century America. It is interesting to note that a song credited to an Edward Clifford, set during the Civil War, and dated 1865, seems to be an adapted version of the same song. These wars and uprisings were to prove mere training grounds for Billy, skirmishes where he could hone his skills as a chameleon, changing colours, switching sides, marching along with one band of men or another, and all the time reporting on all he sees. Long ago in ancient times, Woden is said to have studied the battles of Men in his quest for all knowledge.
Barely had the drunken tattoo of the band ofthe King’s Shropshire Light Infantry faded away, than back in America the terrible Civil War was looming. Billy was about to Follow the Drum as once, on the streets of London, he had sung about it.
IN THIS SECTION:
HEY HO RAGGEDY-O:
A Study of the Billy Barlow Phenomenon
(written by Joy Hildebrand)
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