The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove – Roud 29

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Sometimes a title just catches you, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s just me, but this one tickles me good and proper. Maybe it has to do with memories of friends from Bromsgrove when I was a teenager – good friends; a funny bunch – but the idea of there being a proud knight roaming Bromsgrove Town and plucking troubled ladies from trees… It’s all a bit Monty Python.

Feel free to listen on Youtube. If you’d like to buy a download of the track, you can do so below, via Bandcamp.

It’s a good song, though, and one that has survived for a lengthy time. This is possibly the oldest song I currently have in my repertoire. A Child Ballad [Child 18], it has been through countless names and changes, and is thought to date back to a poem called Sir Eglamour of Artois, probably written around 1350.

Much like the knight in the narrative, this wonderful old song has done plenty of roaming, largely up and down the M5 corridor here in the UK, before hopping over to North America. Take a look at the VWML website for this entry and you’ll see just how well-travelled the jovial hunter of Bromsgrove is.

He’s also changed his identity a number of times, too. You can look him up under the names Sir Lionel, Bold Sir Rylas, Bangum the Boar Slayer, Sir Egrabell, Sir Eglamore, Rackabello… the list goes on.

It has been recorded countless times. It’s one of those songs where you can listen to two different versions and not realise that you’re listening to something born of the same origin. Take the recording of “Bold Sir Rylas” by Spiers & Boden, and stick it in a playlist alongside “Wild Hog in the Woods”, recorded by The Furrow Collective (I’ll do it for you – take a look below) and see how many differences you spot. Then scroll down to The Demon Barbers… and suddenly we’re into reggae. Very jovial.

By the time it reached the Midlands, Bold Sir Rylas had, for whatever reason, become “The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove”. The version that I’ve recorded here is my interpretation and arrangement of the song as it appears in Roy Palmer’s book, Songs of the Midlands. Roy notes that it was collected from Benjamin Brown in Upper Wick, Worcestershire, in around 1845. Not much is known about Benjamin, but Roy writes that he was an illiterate fellow who had learnt the song some 35 years previously. So we can say with reasonable confidence that Sir Rylas had been jovial in Bromsgrove since at least 1810.

The story is an odd one, and although it may depict with some accuracy a fairly typical night out in Bromsgrove, it probably has more to do with witchcraft. Here’s what I reckon happens.

Sir Rylas goes for a wander, and before too long he spots a woman in a tree. (Having spent a fair amount of time studying old songs now, I’m not at all surprised by this swift turn of events. The question is not so much, “Why is a woman in a tree?”, and more, “Well, why not?”)

She tells him that a wild boar has killed her hubby, so he blows on his horn and summons the boar to a fight. The fight takes four hours and the boar almost gets away, before Sir Rylas finally cuts his head off. This prompts the arrival of a “wild woman” (also in the trees – must be a Bromsgrove thing), who shouts that he’s killed her “pretty spotted pig” (a line that is hard to sing with a straight face).

Rylas responds with quite a tasty one-liner (one of those comebacks you think up afterwards and wish you’d managed at the time): “If there’s one thing I ask of thee, it’s that my sword and thy neck shall agree”. And so he lops her head off, too.

And then, without warning, everyone’s found dead in Bromsgrove churchyard.

The end.

Quite the story, eh? I hope you get as much out of it as I have. And, perhaps take a warning by me: if you’re in Bromsgrove and you spot a wailing woman in a tree, it’s probably best to steer clear.

The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove – lyrics

These lyrics are an attempt to fit Benjamin Brown’s version to my own arrangement. For a more accurate reading, please see Roy Palmer’s book, mentioned above.

Sir Robert Bolton had three songs
Wind well thy horn, good hunter
And one of them, Sir Rylas,
Well, he was a jovial hunter

And he’s ranged all round the woodside
Wind well thy horn, good hunter
And in a treetop a lady he spied
For he was a jovial hunter

Now what’s thou mean, fair lady?
Wind well that horn good hunter
Well, the wildest boar has killed my lord
And thou art a jovial hunter

So he’s put his horn all in his mouth
Wind well that horn good hunter
And he’s blowed north, east and west and south
Did Rylas the jovial hunter

And the wild boar’s heard him in his den
Wind well thy horn good hunter
And he’s made the best of speed to him
To Rylas the jovial hunter

And they fought four hours in a long summer’s day
Wind well thy horn good hunter
Till the wild boar, feign, would’ve gotten away
From Rylas the jovial hunter

So Rylas drew his sword with might
Wind well that horn good hunter
And he’s fairly cut his head off quite
Did Rylas the jovial hunter

The from the woods a wild woman flew
Wind well thy horn good hunter
Saying, “My pretty spotted pig thou hast slew”
And thou art a jovial hunter

“If there’s one thing I demand of thee”
Wind well thy horn good hunter
“It’s that my sword and thy neck they shall agree”
Says Rylas the jovial hunter

So Rylas drew his sword again
Wind well thy horn good hunter
And he’s fairly cut her head in twain
Did Rylas the jovial hunter

In Bromsgrove Church they both do lie
Wind well thy horn good hunter
With the boar’s head on a spike nearby
To Rylas the jovial hunter

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