Music to Write Realmgard to: A Drop of Nelson’s Blood

Please do not drink the Admiral.

A rather incongruous combination of drinking song and Christian hymn (the “roll the old chariot along” part of the song apparently originating as a gospel song that proved popular with the Salvation Army), A Drop of Nelson’s Blood refers, unsurprisingly, to British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson.

Famous for signalling to his fleet that “England expects that every man will do his duty” —

J.M.W.'s painting "The Battle of Trafalgar."
The signal flags spelling out the conclusion of the message “U-T-Y and ‘End of Message.'” are visible on the Victory‘s mainmast in J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805: J.M.W. Turner. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Public Domain.

— then promptly dying in the course of doing his duty, Horatio Nelson is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest war heroes. It is worth noting that, despite being fatally shot, he did win at Trafalgar.

Which sets the scene nicely for today’s music, A Drop of Nelson’s Blood.

After dying at Trafalgar, Nelson was transported back to England in a cask of either brandy or rum. Supposedly, the sailors aboard the ship would sneak drinks from said cask. I guess the distinct aftertaste of Dead Guy isn’t enough to dissuade you from a chance at the good stuff when you’re stuck in the floating hell that is the 19th-century Royal Navy.

Hence, “Nelson’s Blood” refers to liquor, and the fact that a drop of it wouldn’t do us any harm is basically an exhortation to keep drinking.

As is invariably the case with folk music, there are infinite variations of the song. In particular, the list of more things that “wouldn’t do us any harm”, while usually alcoholic, inevitably changes between versions.

And, of course, because it’s both a drinking song and a sea shanty, it’s very much a crowd song.

But the lyrics do usually follow this kind of pattern:

“Well, [Thing] wouldn’t do us any harm. [3x]
And we’ll all hang on behind.

And we’ll roll the old chariot along [3x]
And we’ll all hang on behind.”

Again, this is one of those things (i.e. music) that’s easier to demonstrate in song that in text, so here’s A Drop of Nelson’s Blood performed by Sea Shanty and Pirate Cosplay Aficionados The Jolly Rogers:

This version has a bit of a preamble, though said preamble does at least explain the Crowd Song aspect.

Though I’m still not sure why pirates of all people are hanging onto chariots, of all things…

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2 thoughts on “Music to Write Realmgard to: A Drop of Nelson’s Blood

  1. I was happy to realize that I recognized this song! Longest John’s, a British singing group, was where I heard it first.
    I don’t know either why pirates are holding onto their chariots when they are on a literal ship, but, they are pirates, which can account for most of their odd behaviors! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I also know the Longest Johns version, but I used one of their songs for a post from a couple days ago and I’m trying not to repeat artists.

      I thought maybe “chariot” was a poetic term for a ship or a boat, but I haven’t seen anything that suggests that.

      Liked by 1 person

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