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Where Have All the Drinking Songs Gone?

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When I walk into a bar, the first thing I notice is the level of noise. Music blasts my eardrums. Sportscasts beam from the flat screens hanging on the walls. Part of the other kind of noise are the vain conversations.

Today people do not go to pubs, bars, dives, or taverns to meet in community with their fellow beer loving brethren. They instead show up for shallow conversations, which they hope will lead to a bedroom other than their own. Or they chat to drown away the harshness of the day. One of the downfalls of American society is the lack of community and camaraderie. Perhaps drinking songs could help rouse this community spirit?

As a fan of beer and fellowship, I would love to have a true neighborhood pub, but, alas, there are none to be found. As with many in my generation, I have never been able to experience the type of community that a real pub can offer. We have had to live vicariously through Hollywood movies and stories passed down from older generations about pubs of the bugone days. The more I see and hear of these old establishments, the more I long to experience them.

Where I live there is a great amount of culture available, but after ten years of experience in my town I have yet to find a pub/bar that is the center of the community. There needs to be a resurgence of such establishments, we don’t need to worry about finding the best prices for happy hour, we need to worry about finding the best place to build community.

The Internet has helped change our culture greatly, and many of these changes have been amazing, but many more have contributed to the downfall of real community. Bars, coffee shops, and restaurants now offer free Wi-Fi to help lure us away from our homes and continue to be patrons of these establishments. Yet when we actually do show our faces in public we have our heads buried in laptops, netbooks, and iPads (this is especially true of coffee shops).

How great would it be to return to being a real community, to interact with each other on a more personal level, share the hardships of life, drink and sing together.

My generation has missed out on the greatness of drinking songs. I can’t remember anyone ever trying to teach me beer songs or attempt to stir up in me the desire to learn these folk songs of old; rather, it was Hollywood and my own personal reading that has driven me to learn more about old drinking songs. Because of the research I have done on drinking songs, specifically Irish drinking songs, I was able to sing along on St. Patrick’s Day this year when I went out with my friends. Walking into the pub with the ability to sing along immediately gave me the feeling of belonging and community.

I believe that popularizing the drinking song and the public house (pub) will strengthen our communities again. People will be more in touch with each other and not feel as much like a stranger.

I leave you with lyrics from my current favorite drinking song:

Big Strong Man

Have you heard about the big strong man?
He lived in a caravan.
Have you heard about the Jeffrey Johnson fight?
Oh, Lord what a hell of a fight.
You can take all of the heavyweights you’ve got.
We’ve got a lad that can beat the whole lot.
He used to ring bells in the belfry,
Now he’s gonna fight Jack Demspey.

That was my brother Sylvest’ (What’s he got?)
A row of forty medals on his chest (big chest!)
He killed fifty bad men in the west; he knows no rest.
Think of a man, hells’ fire, don’t push, just shove,
Plenty of room for you and me.
He’s got an arm like a leg (a ladies’ leg!)
And a punch that would sink a battleship (big ship!)
It takes all of the Army and the Navy to put the wind up Sylvest’.

Now, he thought he’d take a trip to Italy.
He thought that he’d go by sea.
He dove off the harbor in New York,
And swam like a great big shark.
He saw the Lusitania in distress.
He put the Lusitania on his chest.
He drank all of the water in the sea,
And he walked all the way to Italy.

He thought he take a trip to old Japan.
They turned out a big brass band.
You can take all of the instruments you’ve got,
We got a lad that can play the whole lot.
And the old church bells will ring (Hells bells!)
The old church choir will sing (Hells fire!)
They all turned out to say farewell to my big brother Sylvest’.

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About Chris Ballard

  • Chloe

    Sounds like you need to join a Reenactment group 🙂 I end up singing these songs every weekend around open fires with a lot of beer flowing- often interesting international tipples when my group ventures into Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, Belgium, Germany and Malta. It’s a hive of activity in the evenings and people from any country feel they can just wander over to someone elses campfire and join in. …alternatively, come to Newcastle, England! Plenty of folk sessions here! and an AWESOME pub called the Cumberland Arms, which reeeally knows good beer. 🙂 …in fact, just come to England and google a singaround or pretty much any country pub.

  • I’m working on learning a few pub drinking songs on my ukulele. It has all the great things I need: a sense of fun, no need for a great singing voice, and what I hope is the chance to create the sense of community when enjoying a good drink with a good friend.