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A Drop of Nelson's Blood facts for kids

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"A Drop of Nelson's Blood" is a sea shanty, also known as "Roll the old chariot along" (Roud No. 3632) The origins are unclear but the title comes from the first line: A drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm. Often described as a “walkaway” or “runaway chorus” or “stamp and go” sea chanty.The song features on the soundtrack of the 2019 film Fisherman's Friends. The chorus comes from the 19th century Salvation Army hymn, 'Roll the old chariot'. This song developed into a shanty.

Composition

The verses are things the sailors would miss while at sea for a long time with each line being repeated 3 times. The last line is always "And we won't drag on behind", although some versions say "we won't hang on behind".

Nelson's blood

Following his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson's body was preserved in a cask of brandy, or rum, to allow transport back to England. ‘Nelson’s blood’ became a nickname for rum, but it can also mean Nelson’s spirit or bravery.

The shanty was sung to accompany certain work tasks aboard sailing ships, especially those that required a bright walking pace.

Song text

Refrain:

Traditional verses:
A drop of Nelsons blood, wouldn't do us any harm,
A drop of Nelsons blood, wouldn't do us any harm,
A drop of Nelsons blood, wouldn't do us any harm,
An well all hang on behind

chorus
So we'll roll the old chariot along,
So we'll roll the old chariot along,
So we'll roll the old chariot along,
An well all hang on behind!

Additional verses:
Oh, a plate of Irish stew, wouldn't do us any harm
Oh, a nice fat cook, wouldn't do us any harm
Oh, a roll in the clover, wouldn't do us any harm
Oh, a long spell in the gaol
Oh, a nice watch below
Oh, a night with the gals
Oh, we'd be alright if we make it 'round the horn
Oh, we'd be alright if the wind was in our sails
Well, a night on the town wouldn't do us any harm
If the Devil’s in the way, We'll roll right over him!
We'll be all right when the skipper's in his grave

Origins

RollTheOldChariot
Sheet music for Roll de Ole Chariot Along (1901 version)

The term 'Roll the chariot' was used by religious groups in the 19th century in England. The Primitive Methodist preacher William Clowes (Primitive Methodist) mentions the phrase several times in his journals (1810 to that of 1838) describing his work spreading the word of God. In the 1880s, 'Roll the old Chariot' was used by the Salvation Army as a campaign hymn. At around the same time Gospel singers from America were touring in the UK, singing gospel songs.

‘Roll the old chariot along’

Refrain:
Roll the old chariot along
And we'll roll the old chariot along
And we'll roll the old chariot along
And we'll all hang on behind.

If the devil's in the way, We'll roll it over him x 3
And we'll all hang on behind.

Early recordings (Gospel version)

One of the oldest known recordings, dates from the early 1920s and is held by the Library of Congress. The wax cylinder was donated by Robert Winslow Gordon

  • An African-American spiritual version was recorded by Paul Robeson in the 1920s
  • 1930 Roll the Old Chariot Along by Rev. T.T. Rose
  • Fela Sowande titled ‘Roll de ol chariot’ was recorded in the 1950s

In print

  • An early publication of the song in America was published in 'Cabin and plantation songs' (1901).
  • Alec John Dawson in an article that was published in The Standard in 1906.
  • The song is mentioned by James Madison Carpenter in his collection of songs published in 1920.
  • According to John Greenway in his book Folk Nation: Folklore in the Creation of American Tradition, it became a protest song for the coal miners.

Notable recordings (shanty version)

  • 1978 American folksinger, Mary Benson of Portland, Oregon, used the shanty on her album 'Sea Songs Seattle' by Folkways Records.
  • 1983 Jim Mageean and Johnny Collins sang Roll the Old Chariot on their album, Strontrace!.
  • 2006 Jarvis Cocker appeared on the album Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys
  • 2013 The Wellington Sea Shanty Society released a version of the song on their album Now That's What I Call Sea Shanties Vol. 1.
  • Waltz, Robert B.; David G. Engle. "Roll The Old Chariot". The Traditional Ballad Index: An Annotated Bibliography of the Folk Songs of the English-Speaking World, hosted by California State University, Fresno, Folklore, 2007.
  • "Roll the Old Chariot" Roud Folksong Index, hosted by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML)
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