Bonny Mary O Argyll – do you know the words?
Bonny Mary O’ Argyll is a song I remember being sung at (grown-up) parties when I was growing up. I also remember singing it with gusto from the back of army four tonners when I went on exercise with 207 Battery RA, AKA the Glasgow gunners.
Some years ago I spent ages years ago trying to find all the words, to no avail. However a more recent search showed loads of videos. It seems that filming your old army pals singing it in the pub has become a thing, so I was able to decipher some of the words from a bunch of Arglls veterans on youtube!
There’s another traditional folk song also called Bonny Mary O’ Argyll. However this version seems to have started with the Highland Light Infantry who had their depot in Maryhill Barracks. It seems to have spread to other regiments in the 1950s and 1960s. I guess national service also brought it back to civilians, because most of the people in my parents generation knew it when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s.
I recall there being a couple more verses to Bonny Mary, and from watching several youtube videos there are variations depending on who is singing it. So if you know any different verses for Bonny Mary O’ Argyll please share them in the comments.
Anyway, here is the video that I used to help me remember the lyrics to Bonny Mary O’ Argyll. It’s short and raucous, a load of ex-soldiers (from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who have adopted it as their regimental song) singing in the pub!
Bonny Mary O’ Argyll
Hey you the wee man with the big stick in your hand,
won’t you play me a simple melody
to remind me of the girl I left behind me,
won’t you play a simple melody
Oh I’m coming back Bonny Mary,
I’m coming back to you–
I’m coming back to good old summer town
where the bagpipes are playing auld lang syne
I know she will be waiting to see me with a smile
Oh We’ll roam the hills together,
among the purple heather,
Bonny Mary O Argyll.
Now we held a grand procession and marched before the Queen.
Ten thousand kilted warriors the likes of which you’d never seen.
at first they thought we were Zulus from land beyond the Nile
until they heard us singing Bonny Mary o’ Argyll,
Oh we’re all Scotsmen, everyone’s a Scotsman!
Buffalo Bill fae Maryhill, never worked and never will.
Aye man, believe it if you can,
we’re the hielan jocks wi’ tartan socks, Scotsman everyone!
I noticed while researching political/strike folk songs from the Durham coalfields a while ago that there is often no definitive version; the songs vary organically, with much minor change from place and time and source. This seems somewhat true of sea shanties too as far as I can ascertain. Though I’m not an expert.
I suppose that’s what happens when they’re usually sung from memory rather than song sheets. We twist and embellish to suit times and places and audience.
Group singing generally encourages improvisation. The funny, pertinent or interesting alternatives get adopted – it’s very common in football crowds, for example, or at festivals.
This is the normal and invariable course of the folk process. That’s why no bugger ever sings “waltzing Matilda and carrying a water-bag”, even though those are the words that Banjo Paterson wrote.
As Andrew Hadley says, it’s not just random drift, but can be creative change. For example, among the many versions of The Greenland Whale Fishery there is:
Oh, the losing of that sperm-whale fish
It grieved our captain sore,
But the losing of those five jolly tars,
Oh, it grieved him ten times more, brave boys,
Oh, it grieved him ten times more.
And the better known theme of:
“Oh, to lose four men,” the Captain sighed,
“It grieves my heart full sore;
But, ah! to lose the whale,” he cried,
“It grieves me ten times more, brave boys,
It grieves me ten times more!”
I would assume the first to be an earlier version, with the second turning it on its head for comic effect.
This is Not a highland light infantry song.
It’s the regimental anthem for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The video is from one of our reunions.
Brian, thanks for the comment. I’ve edited a bit to make your point clearer on the video. The HLI also sang it, one of my Uncles did his national service with the HLI in the early 50s and they sang it too. It was pretty popular with several Glasgow TA units I exercised wth around 1990, including the Argylls (D Coy 3/51).
My brother was a Gordon Highlander 3rd generation and they all sang this song Bonnie Mary o Argyle
The R.H.F Sang it to but we have different words a bit saucier lol
We held the grand procession as we marched before the Queen a hundred thousand Scotsmen the best you’ve ever seen she thought we were the zulus from the land beyond the Isle till she heard us singing bonnie mary of argyle I were all Scotsmen everyone’s a Scotsmen buffalo Bill from Maryhill he’s never worked and he never will hi ho believe it if you will we were heiln jocks in tartan socks Scotsmen every one.were a shower of b^stards b”stards are we we don’t give a f☆☆k for the syph or the pox our moto is spread disease were Happy so happy when the knobs on the job were happy so happy
Probably some one else will put the other verses down if they read this Probably say I have wrote it wrong to lol
Longest way up shortest way down.
Having hung around with Territorial KOSB, the following was a verse:
Through the day and through the nigh, wi’ our brasses shining bright,
We set out to Milton Bridge in battle order;
It was there we had a laugh, we were stationed with the RAF,
We’re the 1st Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers