Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: The Drinking Song

A distressing feature of modern life is the dearth of good contemporary drinking songs. People still sing when they get together to drink, of course, whether it be karaoke or those less structured, impromptu performances that range from the jolly to the maudlin. What I mean, though, is that there are few contemporary songs written with the sole purpose of adding zest to a good old drink-up.

A pity in many ways when you consider all that this art form has given us. For one thing, American patriotism would have a very different tone without the drinking song. The Star-Spangled Banner itself is a drinking song, after all. Although Francis Scott Key's verbose and orotund question (yes, it is still flying. The Brits haven't taken Baltimore yet) is deemed more appropriate on solemn occasions, the tune really is that of an 18th century drinking song To Anacreon In His Heaven.

To ANACREON in Heav'n, where he sat in full Glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That He their Inspirer and Patron wou'd be;
When this Answer arriv'd from the JOLLY OLD GRECIAN
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
"No longer be mute,
"I'll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,
"And, besides, I'll instruct you like me, to intwine
"The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS's Vine.

Try singing that next time you are being given a full-on dose of US-style patriotism. The enormous vocal range needed to sing the song properly (so far as I know, no other national anthem is quite such a bastard to perform) is just the thing to weed out those who have been intwining Bacchus and Venus rather too liberally, especially given that the Greek-inspired original doesn't really scan.

however, iven the innumerable sporting occasions at which the Star-Spangled Banner is performed I wonder if anyone has ever felt tempted to treat the crowd to the original version of the song. I suspect not, for the Americans do not necessarily find that sort of thing funny. A pity, really, as a good bout of drunken revelry would make that great nation just that bit better.

Then there is Garryowen, which has become so inextricably linked with the US Seventh Cavalry that the name appears on the regimental crest. You can see why the roistering, swash-buckling tune became such a military favourite, though I'm not sure we should allow a unit best known for a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Sioux to appropriate it wholesale. Especially as they changed the lyrics to make them more martial. Custer was a teetotaler too, which rather serves him right.

If the song belongs to anyone, it's to the late 18th century Limerick rakes (now that would a military unit to strike fear into anyone's heart. For such an unprepossessing place, Limerick has a rather louche history, incidentally. Around the same time that Garryowen was first sung it boasted one of the liveliest Hell Fire Clubs in Ireland ).

From this promising start, the Irish soldiers in the British army adopted the song (the Wikipedia entry claims it was first used as an accompaniment to military action by Hugh Gough during the Peninsula War; I've no idea whether or not that's true, though Gough was crazy enough to charge at the enemy to the strains of an Irish drinking son, and was a Limerick man to boot) In its time, the song has been associated with various infantry and cavalry regiments across the English-speaking world.

Anyway, the point is that appealing as it is to picture soldiers going into battle to the sounds of a drinking song we would all do well to use similar tunes in our daily lives. As I suggested at the start of this post, we could do with some modern drinking songs of our own. We'd have to lose the references to Bacchus, and the classics, of course, if we're going to appeal to contemporary tastes. But a few verses roaring defiance at politicians, the Daily Mail, the Guardian and the other prigs who would have us all sipping mineral water would go down well.

Until such time as I feel inspired to write a Trollied Tuesday drinking song, however, let's adopt Garryowen as this blog's official anthem.

Our hearts so stout have got us fame
For soon 'tis known from whence we came

Where'er we go they fear the name

Of Garryowen in glory.

Instead of spa, we'll drink brown ale

And pay the reckoning on the nail;

No man for debt shall go to jail

From Garryowen in glory.

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