Roll The Ol’ Chariots

Roll The Ol’ Chariots

The real name for this song is “A Drop Of Nelson’s Blood”… It was most commonly used as a “stomp and go” chantey, useful at the capstan or any other job where the men were bodily moving along – a “runaway” job, as it were.  The first verse was pretty much always the same, but subsequent versus were added to the whim of the chanteyman.  The song appeared within other traditions but we need not go into that now beyond what I once learn some time ago that it had originally been a negro spiritual called “The Golden Chariot”.  If this is true, then the melody had moved on in the traditional folk sense of being reused… The spiritual versus featured such lines as: “If the sinner’s in the way, then we’ll stop and take him in (three times), and we won’t drag on behind.”  And “If the Devil’s in the way then we’ll roll it over him…” and so on.  I’m really not sure which version came first, for it was certainly not unheard of for hymns to use the melody and format of a popular folk song as much as the other direction…

 

Nelson’s Blood” was a slang term applied to rum after the Battle of Trafalgar – 1805 – where Admiral Lord Nelson was shot and killed by an enemy sniper.  They had packed his corpse in a barrel of rum to preserve the body in order to bring him home from the Mediterranean to England and thus a State funeral and burial.  Allegedly, the barrel was dry when they arrived home, it sometimes happening that sailors would steal away into the hold and tap a small hole in a rum barrel to sip a bit… It was said that the sailors had sipped every drop of Nelson’s Blood, or so the legend went…

 

The somewhat original sea lyrics would go as follows:
Oh a drop of Nelson’s Blood wouldn’t do us any harm
Oh a drop of Nelson’s Blood wouldn’t do us any harm
Oh a drop of Nelson’s Blood wouldn’t do us any harm
And we’ll all hang on behind!
Chorus:
So we’ll roll the old chariot along
We’ll roll the golden chariot along
We’ll roll the old chariot along
And we’ll all hang on behind!

 

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 night in the jail…
Oh a nice watch below…    (remember this was shipboard)
Oh some time with the girls…

 

However, while we keep to the general feeling, we do simplify the chorus and we ad versus to our fancy…

 

Well a drop of Nelson’s Blood wouldn’t do us any harm.
Well a drop of Nelson’s Blood wouldn’t do us any harm.
Well a drop of Nelson’s Blood wouldn’t do us any harm.
And we’ll all hang on behind!

And we’ll roll the old chariot along
We’ll roll the old chariot along
We’ll roll the old chariot along
And we’ll all hang on behind!

 

Oh a plate of Irish stew wouldn’t do us any harm…
A cold pint of Guinness wouldn’t do us any harm…
A nice shot of Bushnell’s wouldn’t…
A night at the Gris…
A night with the Jovial Crew…
A night with the girls…
A night with a wench…    (And we’ll all hang on her behind!)
And a little bit of nookie…
If ya want to do it now, better do it in the back…
Oh a night in the jail wouldn’t do him any harm…

 

Ad nauseum…

 

 

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