Other people’s songs: The utterly wonderful Arthur McBride

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: “Arthur McBride” is a folk song probably of Irish origin, also found in England, Scotland, and North America. A. L. Lloyd described it as “that most good-natured, mettlesome, and un-pacifistic of anti-militarist songs”.

The first to record the song was The Exiles in 1966 on the album Freedom, Come All Ye.  This video is not available in the UK, but is available in the USA and probably some other countries.


I have however found it in the UK on Spotify under the heading “The Exiles Playlist” lifted from the album “Freedom come all ye”.  If you are in the UK or anywhere else that does not have the above video available do try and find it on Spotify.  It is a solo violin accompanying one vocalist – and is an utterly brilliant performance.

Aaron: It was recorded by many others during the British folk revival of the late 60s-70s, including Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, Planxty and Paddy Reilly.

The song took on a new life when Paul Brady adapted a long version from Carrie Grover’s A Heritage of Songs. Carrie Grover had been recorded for the AFC Archive by both Alan Lomax and Sidney Robertson Cowell. Lomax recorded Grover’s version of “Arthur McBride and the Sergeant” in April, 1941, at the Library of Congress

To read more about the piece and hear Grover singing it go here  (After you have finished reading our article of course!)

It was included on the 1976 album Andy Irvine/Paul Brady. Here is a live version from 1977 which really shows off Brady’s talent

Tony: I do hope you have had a chance to hear the Exiles performance, so that you have a real contrast with this version.  Both are utterly brilliant in their own genre, and it shows how songs of this nature can be transformed and re-evaluated into the style of the day.  I am utterly in awe of both performances.   As for the guitar technique revealed above, oh for such dexterity and musical understanding.  Don’t you dare to listen only to part of this truly wonderful recording.  I’ll add the lyrics below in the hope that they’ll be of interest.

Aaron:Bob, perhaps unwisely attempts to copy Paul Brady’s adaptation on the album Good As I Been To You

Tony: “Perhaps unwisely” is right – Bob cannot match the virtuosity of Brady’s version.  That’s not to say Bob is not is good performer of course, but the Paul Brady performance is one of the absolute masterpieces of the genre.  Besides which, Bob’s guitar, which has been re-tuned from the standard, is, I think, fractionally out of tune on one string.  Although maybe that is just my hearing.

Aaron: Recently the song has become regarded as a Christmas song, with several artists including it on Christmas albums and singles.

Tony:  That is quite a surprise – a feeling of a change of the time signature because of the way the accompaniment works.   It’s got that 1-2-3 1-2-3 feel but is no so spread out I think it would actually be written as 12/8 rather than 6/8 – certainly the whole feel of the piece is utterly different.

I love this version as well – what a morning I’m having listening to two utterly stunning versions of this traditional piece.   I’m sorry neither of them are by Bob, but he doesn’t have a monopoly on brilliance.

The lyrics are below, but perhaps I might add a little something about the line “Threw it in the tide for to rock and to roll” which may lead to a thought that this is a modernised version of the lyrics.

In fact “to rock and to roll” and indeed “rocking and rolling” is a 17th century phrase that was used to describe the motion of a ship.  It was later used to describe sexual intercourse (or “making love” as it was known in politer circles) before moving on to being use as a name for the form of music popularised in the 1950s by Bill Hayley and others.  But here we are back with the original meaning.

Lyrics for this as with all songs of this era can vary from one source to another.

Arthur McBride

Oh, me and my cousin one Arthur McBride
As we went a-walking down by the seaside
Now mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning

Out for recreation we went on a tramp
And we met sergeant Napper and corporal Vamp
And the little wee drummer intending to camp
For the day being pleasant and charming

"Good morning, good morning, " the sergeant did cry
"And the same to you gentlemen, " we did reply
"Intending no harm but meant to pass by"
"For it being on christmas morning"

But says he, "My fine fellows if you would enlist"
"It's ten guineas of gold I will slip in your fist"
"And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust"
"And drink the king's health in the morning"

"For a soldier he leads a very fine life"
"And he always is blessed with a charming young wife"
"And he pays all his debts without sorrow and strife"
"And always lives pleasant and charming"

"And a soldier he always is decent and clean"
"In the finest of clothing he is constantly seen"
"While other poor fellows go dirty and mean"
"And sup on thin gruel in the morning"

But says Arthur, "I wouldn't be proud of your clothes"
"For you've only the lend of them as I suppose"
"And you dare not change them one night for you know"
"If you do you'll be flogged in the morning"

"And although that we are single and free"
"We take great delight in our own company"
"And we have no desires strange faces to see"
"Although that your offers are charming"

"And we have no desire to take your advance"
"All hazards and dangers we barter on chance"
"For you would have no scruples to send us to france"
"Where we would get shot without warning"

"Oh now, " says the sergeant, "I'll have no such chat"
"And I neither will take it from small penal brats"
"For if you insult me with one other word"
"I'll cut off your heads in the morning"

And then Arthur and I we soon drew our hods
And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades
When a trusty shillelagh came over their heads
And bade them take that as fair warning

And their own rusty rapiers that hung by their sides
We flung them as far as we could in the tide
"Now take them up devils!" cried Arthur McBride
"And temper their edge in the morning"

And the little wee drummer we flattened his bow
And we made a football of his rowdy-dow-dow
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to roll
And bade it a tedious returning

And we haven't no money paid them off in cracks
And we paid no respect to their two bloody backs
For we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks
And left them for dead in the morning

And so to conclude and to finish disputes
We obligingly asked them if they wanted recruits
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the morning

Oh, me and my cousin one Arthur McBride
As we went a-walking down by the seaside
Now mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning

Footnote: Aside from this blog, Untold Dylan also has a very active (and excellently moderated) Facebook page.  If you don’t know it just go to your search engine and type in Facebook Untold Dylan.

Previously in this series…


  1. Brady has the superior guitar technique but I wouldn’t say his more extended and elaborate fills add anything to the song and Dylan’s vocal is much superior. Brady has the “better” voice but he sings the melody more than the lines where as Dylan sings the lines, sings the conversation so much more pointedly. Further although with more ruts and gravel he does sing the notes.

  2. I really agree with patirck_ford: Dylan’s vocal is much superior. I don’t want a filly pretty vocal for this story. I want grim, gritty, growling, and meancing — and that’s Bob.

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