British National Airs

A Collection Lyrics for the UK’s National Airs that BBC Radio 4 used to start broadcasting at 0530 with an opening theme tune known as the ‘UK Theme’, which is a compilation of British National Airs – listen to it, I doubt you will be disappointed:


(A sort of Great British Musical Sandwich of National Airs)

Introduction: based on the first few notes of ‘Early One Morning’ played on horns and trombones.

‘Rule Britannia’ starts on woodwind, joined by the strings.

‘Air from County Derry’ (an originally wordless Northern Irish tune which is often erroneously called Danny Boy) played by the English horn, accompanied by harp; and after four bars the solo violin enters with ‘Ye Banks and Braes’ (an Scottish Air), which, with a certain harmonic accompaniment, fits note for note with the ‘Londonderry Air’ which continues at the same time: a musical coincidence, not a political comment.

This United Kingdom harmony is interrupted by a side-drum roll and gives way to an English double counterpoint: the solo piccolo starts off with ‘What Shall We Do with The Drunken Sailor’ (a traditional tune in the Dorian mode), against which the upper strings play ‘Green Sleeves’ (surely the most English tune of all, and also in the Dorian D minor).

This English duet then subsides into a side-drum diminuendo, leading into ‘March of the Men of Harlech’, on brass and percussion. Again the Celts stick together, for the woodwind march in and over the top of the Welsh tune with ‘Scotland the Brave’.

At the end of this section the horns, followed by strings, briefly allude to ‘Early One Morning’, which is then played by the horns and bassoons.

The strings quietly start up again with ‘Rule Britannia’, over which the solo trumpet reminds us of the ‘Trumpet Voluntary’, which by now has surely achieved the status of an English national air – and the whole orchestra then enters with a fortissimo version of ‘Rule Britannia’, though the trumpet again slips in the final bars of this voluntary at the very end.

BBC4 UK Theme Tune (please note this music is (c) BBC 2006)

Early One Morning

An English Folk Song with lyrics first found in publications as far back as 1787. A broadside ballad sheet in the  Bodleian Library, Oxford, dated between 1828 and 1829 had the title “The Lamenting Maid” and refers to the lover leaving to become a sailor.

The now well-known melody was first printed by William Chappell in his publication National English Airs c.1855-1859. The melody may be derived from an earlier song “The Forsaken Lover”. Chappell wrote in his later Popular Music of the Olden Time:


Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, I heard a maid sing in the valley below.
‘Oh, don’t deceive me, oh, never leave me! How could you use a poor maiden so?’
Oh gay is the garland, fresh are the roses, I’ve culled from the garden to bind on thy brow.
Oh, don’t deceive me, Oh, never leave me! How could you use a poor maiden so?
Remember the vows that you made to your Mary, Remember the bow’r where you vow’d to be true.
Oh, don’t deceive me, oh, never leave me. How could you use a poor maiden so!
Thus sung the poor maiden, her sorrow bewailing, Thus sung the poor maid in the valley below:
‘Oh don’t deceive me! Oh, never leave me! How could you use a poor maiden so?

Rule, Britannia


When Britain first, at heaven’s command, Arose from out the azure main,
Arose, arose, arose from out the azure main, This was the charter, the charter of the land,
And guardian Angels sung this strain:

Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.
The nations, not so blest as thee, Must in their turn, to tyrants fall,
Must in their turn, must in their turn, to tyrants fall, While thou shalt flourish, shalt flourish great and free,

The dread and envy of them all.

(Chorus) Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves. Still more majestic shalt thou rise, More dreadful, from each foreign stroke,

More dreadful, more dreadful from each foreign stroke As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.

(Chorus) Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.
Thee haughty tyrants ne-er shall tame; All their attempts to bend thee down,
All their attempts, all their attempts to bend thee down, Will but arouse thy generous flame,
But work their woe and thy renown.

(Chorus) Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.
To thee belongs the rural reign, Thy cities shall with commerce shine
Thy cities shall, thy cities shall with commerce shine All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.

(Chorus)Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.
The Muses, still with freedom found, Shall to thy happy coast repair,
Shall to thy happy coast, thy happy coasts repair, Blest isle! with matchless beauty crowned,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.

Danny Boy

In 1910, in Bath, Somerset, the English lawyer and lyricist Frederic Weatherly initially wrote the words to “Danny Boy” to a tune other than “Londonderry Air”. An alternative story is that his sister-in-law Margaret Enright Weatherly sent him a copy of “Londonderry Air” in 1913 and Weatherly modified the lyrics of “Danny Boy” to fit its rhyme and meter.


Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling. From glen to glen, and down the mountain side, the summer’s gone and all the flowers are dying, ‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
But come you back when summer’s in the meadow, Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow,
Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow, Oh, Danny Boy, oh, Danny Boy, I love you so.
And if you come, when all the flowers are dying, And I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying, And kneel and say an ‘Ave’ there for me.
And I shall hear, thou’ soft you tread above me, And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me, I simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Ye banks and Braes

“The Banks O’ Doon” (Modern Scots: The Banks o Doon) is a Scots song written by Robert Burns in 1791, sometimes known as “Ye Banks and Braes” (after the opening line of the third version). Burns set the lyrics to an air called The Caledonian Hunt’s Delight


Ye banks and braes o bonnie Doon, How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair,
How can ye chant ye little birds, And I sae weary full o care,
Yell break my heart ye warbling birds, That wanton through the flowery thorn,
Ye mind me o departed joys, Departed never to return.
(Verse 2)
Oft hae I roved by bonnie Doon, To see the rose and woodbine twine,
And And ilka bird sang O its love, And fondly sae did I o mine.
Wi lightsome heart I pulled a rose, Full sweet upon its thorny tree,
And my false lover Stole my rose, But ah! He left the thorn in me.

What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor

“Drunken Sailor”, also known as “What Shall We Do with a/the Drunken Sailor?” or “Up She Rises”, is a traditional sea shanty. It was sung onboard sailing ships at least as early as the 1830’s.


What’ll we do with a drunken sailor,
What’ll we do with a drunken sailor,
What’ll we do with a drunken sailor,
Earl-aye in the morning?
Way hay and up she rises
Patent blocks o’ diff’rent sizes,
Way hay and up she rises
Earl-aye in the morning
1. Sling him in the long boat till he’s sober,
2. Keep him there and make ‘im bale ‘er.
3. Pull out the plug and wet him all over,
4. Take ‘im and shake ‘im, try an’ wake ‘im.
5. Trice him up in a runnin’ bowline.
6. Give ‘im a taste of the bosun’s rope-end.
7. Give ‘im a dose of salt and water.
8. Stick on his back a mustard plaster.
9. Shave his belly with a rusty razor.
10. Send him up the crow’s nest till he falls down,
11. Tie him to the taffrail when she’s yardarm under,
12. Put him in the scuppers with a hose-pipe on him.
13. Soak ‘im in oil till he sprouts flippers.
14. Put him in the guard room till he’s sober.
15. Put him in bed with the captain’s daughter*).
16. Take the Baby and call it Bosun.
17. Turn him over and drive him windward.
18. Put him in the scuffs until the horse bites on him.
19. Heave him by the leg and with a rung console him.
20. That’s what we’ll do with the drunken sailor.


“Greensleeves” is a traditional English folk song. A broadside ballad by the name “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves”, registered by Richard Jones at the London Stationers’ Company in September 1580, and the tune is found in several late 16th-century and early 17th-century sources, such as Ballet’s MS Lute Book and Het Luitboek van Thysius, as well as various manuscripts preserved in the Seeley Historical Library in the University of Cambridge.


Alas, my love, you do me wrong, To cast me off discourteously.
For I have loved you well and long, Delighting in your company.
Greensleeves was all my joy Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold, And who but my lady Greensleeves.
Your vows you’ve broken, like my heart, Oh, why did you so enrapture me?
Now I remain in a world apart But my heart remains in captivity.
I have been ready at your hand, To grant whatever you would crave,
I have both wagered life and land, Your love and good-will for to have.
If you intend thus to disdain, It does the more enrapture me,
And even so, I still remain A lover in captivity.
My men were clothed all in green, And they did ever wait on thee;
All this was gallant to be seen, And yet thou wouldst not love me.
Thou could’st desire no earthly thing, but still thou had’st it readily.
Thy music still to play and sing; And yet thou wouldst not love me.
Well, I will pray to God on high, that thou my constancy mayst see,
And that yet once before I die, Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me.
Ah, Greensleeves, now farewell, adieu, To God I pray to prosper thee,
For I am still thy lover true, Come once again and love me.

Men Of Harlech!

“Men of Harlech” or “The March of the Men of Harlech” (Welsh: Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech) is a song and military march which is traditionally said[1] to describe events during the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle between 1461 and 1468, when the castle was held by the Lancastrians against the Yorkists as part of the Wars of the Roses.


Men of Harlech! In the Hollow, Do ye hear like rushing billow. Wave on wave that surging follow
Battle’s distant sound? Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen, Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen,
Be they knights or hinds or yeomen, They shall bite the ground!
Loose the folds asunder, Flag we conquer under! The placid sky now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder! Onward! ’tis the country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us Honor’s self now proudly heads us, Freedom, God and Right!
Rocky Steeps and passes narrow, Flash with spear and flight of arrow
Who would think of death or sorrow? Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over, Let the earth dead foemen cover. Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow! Strands of life are riven!
Blow for blow is given In deadly lock, or battle shock, And mercy shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary, Would you win a name in story?
Strike for home, for life, for glory! Freedom, God and Right!
Scotland The Brave
Hark, when the night is falling
Hear, hear the pipes are calling
Loudly and proudly calling
Down through the Glen.
There where the hills are sleeping
Now feel the blood a-leaping
High as the spirits
Of the old highland men.
Towering in gallant fame
Scotland my mountain hame
High may your proud standards
Gloriously wave!
Land of my high endeavour
Land of the shining river
Land of my heart forever
Scotland the brave!
High in the misty highlands
Out by the purple islands
Brave are the hearts that beat
Beneath Scottish skies
Wild are the winds to meet you
Staunch are the friends that greet you
Kind as the light that shines
From fair maiden’s eyes.
Far off in sunlit places
Sad are the Scottish faces
Yearning to feel the kiss
Of sweet Scottish rain.
Where tropic skies are beaming,
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming
for the homeland again.