Link to Living Tradition Homepage





PETER WOOD - The Green Linnet

PETER WOOD - The Green Linnet
Blackhall Publishing ISBN: 9780957618756

Subtitled Napoleonic Songs From The French Wars To The Present Day, this informative and intriguing book does exactly that, plus a lot more.

Starting with the Revolutionary wars that brought Bonaparte to prominence, Pete systematically follows the chronology from there through to Waterloo and beyond, drawing the reader’s attention to innumerable songs and broadsides inspired by this man who caught the public imagination with almost every breath he took. Along the way there is speculation as to why some songs survived while others (often as good or better, in the author’s opinion) did not; he follows the course of song scholarship as it pertains to the subject, and illustrates the often significant impact that certain folklorists have had over the years on all our understandings of Napoleonic song. This is just to take a few of the aspects that caught my attention.

As singers, many of us will undoubtedly be fascinated by the different versions of familiar songs to be found throughout the book, and even more by the large number of broadsides that don’t seem to have survived in the oral tradition – I’m sure that some singers will be inspired to bring some of these back to life, and this is another value that the book has – it has a lot of potentially very singable material between its covers, and in the case of the less recognisable songs, Pete often gives the tunes they were meant to be sung to.

In fact, there are so many different aspects to this book that any attempt to enumerate them all would be to write the book again, and you’ll be far better off to just go out and buy it. For the scholars and the curious, he quotes his references at the back, there’s a fulsome bibliography and a full list of songs, showing whether they exist in the oral tradition or as broadsides, giving first lines and the printers and composers, where known. As a former lecturer in genetics, Pete’s certainly followed up the ancestry of the songs. He’s even followed them through the various comic compositions that are always welcome as light relief, and right down to Abba and Mark Knopfler. This is sound scholarship with a light touch. And where else could you find references to the Bellerophon, the ship that brought the conquered Napoleon to England, as the “Billy Ruffian” or even “Bald Orphan”?

Criticisms? Yes, there are a few, but insignificant ones really: the proof reading could have been a little better (but then he has often followed the broadside spellings verbatim, and they’re not all they could be); and there were points at which I disagreed with his analysis of a song. For example, he views the Isle Of Saint Helena as deriding Bonaparte and taking pleasure in his downfall – somehow I’ve always seen it as regretting his fall, but that’s just my view. He also spends a lot of time trying to ascribe origins to particular songs – were they Irish or English? In some cases the well researched answers are surprising and will reveal some evidently quite common delusions, at other times I felt it really didn’t matter – they’re great songs and if they’ve ended up being sung all over these islands and beyond, that just shows how good they are.

All this is just nit-picking on my part. I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it unreservedly; it tells the story of a man who (quote) “not only dominated Europe when alive, but for a long time afterwards”, and it tells the tale from our point of view, as singers and listeners with an interest in this very human tale. Buy it.

John Waltham

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 110 of The Living Tradition magazine.