I’m not one of those trad singers that revels in songs about everyone being miserable and then dying a horrific death. I found this fairly sentimental broadside about a soldier returning from the war and finding that his wife doesn’t welcome him. Has she stopped caring? Has she found someone else?
No. She still loves him. She just didn’t recognise him under his gigantic beard. They hug. They kiss. It’s a happy ending. And I just thought it was rather sweet. Nothing more complicated than that, really.
The tune is ‘Burton Ale’. Which is a lovely tune (that took a little bit of bending in places, but it fitted in the end) that I can’t find any reference to, except on a gloriously bonkers album of traditional English tunes by James Last called ‘Last of Old England’, which I highly recommend to anyone who is as unhinged as I am.
It was in the evening of a wintry day,
Then just returning from a long campaign,
Allen, over tired and weary with the way,
Came home to see his Sally once again.
His tattered arms he carelessly threw down,
And viewed his Sally with enraptured eyes ;
But she received him with a modest frown,
She knew not Allen in his rough disguise.
His hair was knotted and his beard unshorn,
His tattered 'coutrements about him hung ;
A tear of pleasure did his cheeks adorn,
And blessings fell in torrents from his tongue.
“Am I so altered by war's cruel trade,
That you your faithful Allen have forgot ;
Or has your heart upon some other strayed?
Ah! why escaped I from the murdering shot?”
When thus he spoke, her wonted colour fled,
She ran and sunk upon her Allen's breast,
All pale awhile, she looks like one that's dead
He kissed, she breathed, and all her love confessed.
“Yes, my delight, though altered as thou art,
Reduced by war's dread carnage to this state,
Thou art the golden treasure of my heart,
My long lost husband, and my wished-for mate.”
from Joy & Jealousy,
released November 5, 2013
Traditional arranged by James Bell.
I'm a musician based in Oxford, UK. I play guitar and sing. I've been writing and recording songs since 1988 and adapting English traditional music since 2006. I perform solo and with the band James Bell & The Half Moon All Stars.