Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, August 2005)

Last week, my neighbor made it back from serving in Iraq. He's fine -- but he doesn't want to talk about it.

Some things never change -- like wars. The current Iraq situation is almost exactly parallel to the Irish situation around the time of the Black and Tan wars, right down to the minority religion that had had authority and now wants separation if it can't retain power. But some things do change: My neighbor and his wife were in touch the whole time; she knew when he started home -- and knew that the ordeal was over. It hasn't always been so -- there are all the Riley ballads about men and women separated for years and finally finding each other again. We've had some in this column, and after a while, they start to sound rather alike.

Except when you get one with a great tune. That's this one. I first heard it from Daithi Sproule on A Heart Made of Glass; he claims authorship of the melody (though there is a bit of the old Scots song Dainty Davy in there, plus hints of the actual tune of the piece). But Daithi had a Newfoundland text -- and the Newfoundland versions are damaged; they end around stanza five of this version, with the girl lamenting her dead love. Daithi, no fan of war, probably liked that -- but this is the proper ending. I sort of learned this version from Willie Scott, only to find as I prepared this column that what I ended up with is neither Scott nor Sproule. It probably tells the story better than either, though.

I've shown this in D, with EADGBE tuning. I don't play it that way. I play it fingerstyle on the 12-string guitar, using a "third hand capo," which covers only the A, D, and G strings, to play in DADGAD tuning (the 12-string is tuned a whole step low). I've absolutely fallen in love with that trick (the really sneaky part is, it's hard to get a good G chord in DADGAD, but with the third hand capo, a regular G chord, or A chord, or even D chord works -- but you also have the "DADGAD" D and A chords available). The result is one of my three or four best guitar pieces, I think. If you want to see how easy it is to play great fingerstyle guitar, or fool around with DADGAD, this is a fine way to start.

I can't claim this as an old-time song; it isn't. There is the one Scots version, several from Newfoundland -- and one from Michigan, where I was born, so I'm going to pretend it's from my heritage.

This is, more or less, for my neighbor, and all the survivors.

Bloody Waterloo

Complete lyrics:
A lady fair was walking along the banks o' Clyde,
The crystal tears fell frae her e'en as I passed by her side;
I saw her wav'ring bosom, these words being kind and true;
She said, "I'm afraid my Willie's slain at bloody Waterloo."

A sodger there was walking; he did the fair maid spy.
He said, "My dear, what aileth thee? Thy bosom doth heave high."
"I've lost my ain dear Willie, he's the lad I do lo'e true.
And I hae nae heard frae Willie lad since he sailed for Waterloo. "

"What were the marks your Willie wore?" the sodger did enquire.
"He wore a Hielan bonnet, with a feather standing high.
His big broadsword hung by his side o'er his dark suit o' blue,
These were the marks my Willie wore when he sailed for Waterloo. "

"If that's the marks your Willie wore, I saw his dyin' day.
Six bay'nets pierced his tender briest afore that he doon lay.
Then haudin' oot his dying hand, cried, 'Some Frenchman's slain me noo.'
'Twas I that closed your Willie's e'en at bloody Waterloo."

"Oh Willie, lovely Willie! " -- and she could say nae mair,
She threw herself doon on the ground, those awfu' tidings bare.
"Death open wide your jaws and swallow me up too!
Since my Willie lies a mould'ring corse at bloody Waterloo."

"Stand up stand up, my fair maid; my dearest, dinna froon!
An op'nin' up his great coat, his tartans they hung down;
His big broadsword hung by his side o 'er his dark suit o' blue,
"I am your long-lost Willie lad wha' sailed for Waterloo.

"Stand up stand up, my fair maid; my dearest, dinna froon! "
An op'nin' up his great coat, his tartans they hung down;
"Noo since we're met we'll never part till death shall us divide
And hand in hand in wedlock banns along the banks o Clyde. "

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