Monday, January 4, 2010


by Elena Santangelo

The title track in DOWN AMONG THE DEADMEN, Colonial Revelers second CD, almost sounds like it was composed for a Pirates of the Carribean movie, but actually it's 300 years old, dating from the reign of Queen Anne of Britain. (Some sources attribute the lyrics to John Dyer, and he may have contributed verses, but he would have been 14 when Queen Anne died, so chances are, some version of the song was already in circulation).

The original opening lines were
Here's a health to the Queen
And a lasting peace,
May faction end and wealth increase.

At the time, many factions were warring for control of Britain, especially since Anne had no children and did indeed die in 1714 leaving no heir to the throne. Later in the century, during the American Revolution, the song became popular with Loyalists on both sides of the Atlantic. "King" was substituted for "Queen" but the sentiments were the same--a plea for all sides to make peace and bring back prosperity instead of throwing money after costly wars (a lesson we could still learn today).

The verse goes on to urge

Come, let's drink while we have breath,
For there's no drinking after death.

But you might argue, what about the refrain? Isn't that a threat?

And they that won't with us comply,
Down among the deadmen let them lie.

Not much of one, it turns out. The "deadmen" were the empty bottles that piled up on the floor under tavern tables. The lyrics go on to toast women, food, drink and Bacchus, the god of pleasure himself. This isn't a song of war but of merrymaking.
ELENASANTANGELO is the principal music researcher and arranger for Colonial Revelers.

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