Popular songsters and the British military: The sase of 'The Girl I Left Behind Me'

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Abstract

Bands of the British military adapted a number of popular songs for use in particular ceremonies. The Girl I Left Behind Me was used in farewell ceremonies for soldiers and sailors from the late 18th century until the early 20th century. It was played when ships left home ports, and on the departure from any long term posting, becoming an almost formal acknowledgement of the adage “a sailor has a girl in every port”. The use of The Girl I Left Behind Me in this context is one of the first aspects of British military band performance to be standardised across the services. At a time when instrumentation, repertoire, arrangements, pitch and even military signals differed between regiments, this song was ubiquitous at farewell ceremonies not just across regiments, but across different branches of the military (Army, Navy and Royal Marines). Military arrangements did not feature vocalists, relying instead on audiences already being familiar with the song’s lyrics from popular songsters. This chapter examines five versions of The Girl I Left Behind Me, dating from French Revolutionary Wars (1793–1802) to World War I (1914-1918). It examines how the song changes over time and how this reflects its altered role and meaning for different audiences.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCheap Print and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century:
Subtitle of host publicationA Cultural History of the Songster
EditorsPaul Watt, Derek B Scott, Patrick Spedding
Place of PublicationCambridge UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages205-222
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781107159914
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Music
  • military
  • history
  • songster
  • British
  • Australia

Cite this

Skinner, A. (2017). Popular songsters and the British military: The sase of 'The Girl I Left Behind Me'. In P. Watt, D. B. Scott, & P. Spedding (Eds.), Cheap Print and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century: A Cultural History of the Songster (pp. 205-222). Cambridge University Press.