Gross Chapel-British Grenadiers

Lyrics

Porterage down (1)
The dark gross chapel
He stepped streets around now
Sales person mobile

Porterage down
Dark gross chapel
He stepped streets around now

Was introduced by a woman loose-limbed, slim...

One woke up to a whitewashed ugly wall - whoosh!
Made worse by dirty postcards
Trapped in their town

They're embracing criminals in panicky hall
No temper for Fall group

I'll put you down
Porterage down
To the dark gross chapel
He stepped streets around now
Sales-person, mobile

I'll put you down
To the gross chapel

You were right said Peter
Dying for a smoke
But you shouldn't have said to the police
Jobs I do are little things
Like the chemist coming on insulted (2)
They were as fed up as I was
Waiting outside after putting blame on you

Porterage down
Ask him
I am ailing
Porterage down

(3)

Then let us fill a bumper, (4)
And drink a health to those
Who carry caps and pouches,
And wear the louped clothes. (5)
May they and their commanders
Live happy in their scaly years

Whene'er we are commanded
To storm the palisades (6)
Our leaders march with fusees, (7)
And we with hand grenades
We throw them from glacis, (8)
About the enemies' ears
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row,
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row,
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row,
For the British Grenadiers

Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row,
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row,
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row,
For the British Grenadiers 

I'll put you down. (9)

Notes

1. "Porterage" is a word that refers to what a porter does, carrying bags for people. In a military context, it is often used to describe labor that is demanded of, or often forced on, a local population by an occupying army. "Gross" is probably derived from the German "groß" which means large or great. It's possible that the words, in part, refer to a Fall gig in Germany ("They're embracing criminals in panicky hall/No temper for Fall group").

Hippie Priestess senses a possible anti-Yank theme:

According to this here website - http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-brandywine.htm- the marching song "British Grenadiers" was played before/during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 at which the British army successfully repelled US forces, leading to the temporary capture of Philadelphia by British troops. This makes me wonder if the sequencing that puts a solemn, shadowy rendition of "GB" at the end of side one and then begins side 2 with "U.S. 80's-90's", in which MES has a mild-to-medium gripe at the long-since independent USA, is actually one of Smith's cleverest moves. This is totally ruined on the current CD edition which slaps "Living Too Late" in between the two vinyl sides.

The lyrics to the Peel version differ slightly in parts, but where they do they are mostly inaudible, at least to my ears.  

^

2. In England, a "chemist" is often the equivalent of what is called a "pharmacist" in the United States, although chemists are also called "chemists."

^

3. The lyrics from this point on are closely adapted from the traditional marching song "British Grenadiers." A "grenadier" is a soldier who carries grenades. The song in its current form dates to the early 18th century. The original lyrics are as follows:

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world's great heroes, there's none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.
Those heroes of antiquity ne'er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.
Whene'er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis*, about the enemies' ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.
And when the siege is over, we to the town repair.
The townsmen cry, "Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.
Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health to those
Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the louped clothes.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers."
 
 
^
 

 

4. It is no longer very common to use "bumper" in this way, but it refers to a very full glass of wine (by extension, "bumper" refers to anything full or replete, hence the expression, "bumper crop.").  ^

5. A "loup" is a woman's mask, but this is probably just an archaic spelling of "looped," referring to lace or some such feature of a British Redcoat's uniform. ^

6. Here, "palisades" is probably being used in the obsolete sense of, according to the OED, "a strong, pointed, wooden stake fixed deeply in the ground with others in a close row, either vertical or inclined, as a defence." ^

7. A "fusee," more commonly called a "fusil," is a short musket.  ^

8. An embankment in front of a fort.  ^

9. A repeated offer of porterage, or something more sinister...the lyrics suggest a more complete story that we only get in snatches. This is an example of a Fall song with cryptic, yet entirely coherent, lyrics.  ^

 

Comments (17)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 02/09/2013
Just for the record, the Royal Military Chapel on Birdcage Walk, London (Wellington Barracks), aka the Guards Chapel, was hit by a V1 flying bomb on 18 June 1944. 121 people were killed.

http://www.westendatwar.org.uk/page_id__151_path__0p28p.aspx

I note this only because lots of people have said the song seems to obliquely reference a disaster of some kind in a chapel. If so, this would seem a strong candidate. But you'd struggle to make a clear link stand up.

Dan
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 23/11/2013
"Live happy all their years"

I'm hearing "Live happy in their scaly years"!
bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 27/11/2013
That has troubled me for a while...I knew it was wrong, but I didn't know what to replace it with.
Martin
  • 4. Martin | 15/01/2014
You could replace it with something which isn't "acaly"?
bzfgtI
  • 5. bzfgtI | 15/01/2014
Sorry, Martin, that was a typo. Thanks for catching it.
bzfgtI
  • 6. bzfgtI | 15/01/2014
"bzfgtl" is also a typo....
bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 15/01/2014
Crap! They automatically filled it in the second time. Why do they do such things?
Martin
  • 8. Martin | 16/01/2014
The verse beginning "Then let us fill a bumper" and ending "Live happy in their happy/scaly years" is absent from all recorded live versions up to October 1986, before and after the official studio release of the track. By which I mean to say, there's no help on the "scaly" word from live performances, least not up to now!
Martin
  • 9. Martin | 20/01/2014
One of the few variations I can pick out in the Peel version is MES singing "cratic chapel". Cratic means, according to the Collins dictionary, "a person who takes part in or is a member of a form of government or class". Of course, this adds nothing to our understanding of the song!
Martin
  • 10. Martin | 22/01/2014
Have gone through all the live versions of the song I have (most of them) and no sign of the "Then let us fill a bumper" stanza.
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
Thanks for your efforts, Martin. This site would be impoverished without the contributions of all the people who come here...

If it really is "cratic," that isn't an English word but is a suffix, of course, wirth basically the meaning you relate above (usually means a form of gov't, like "democracy" etc.). But the Greek kratia means "power," which could possibly be closest to the meaning MES intends...so akrasia, the "tragic flaw" so well known from Aristotle's poetics (or well known to academic types anyway), means something like weakness or lack of power, but has nothing to do with class or government. So "cratic" is cryptic and would call for some figgering...I think for now having it here in the comments will suffice, but I'll break out the Peel at some point and consider it. Are you fairly sure that's what he says?
thehippriestess
  • 12. thehippriestess | 16/07/2016
According to this here website - http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-brandywine.htm - the marching song "British Grenadiers" was played before/during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 at which the British army successfully repelled US forces, leading to the temporary capture of Philadelphia by British troops.

This makes me wonder if the sequencing that puts a solemn, shadowy rendition of "GB" at the end of side one and then begins side 2 with "U.S. 80's-90's", in which MES has a mild-to-medium gripe at the long-since independent USA, is actually one of Smith's cleverest moves. This is totally ruined on the current CD edition which slaps "Living Too Late" in between the two vinyl sides.
bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt | 19/07/2016
Hey Hip Priestess, I just wrote your name as Hippie Priestess above, then I noticed that's not what it is, and it doesn't say that on your blog either. Were you once Hippie Priestess, or have I just been reading your name wrong all this time? If so that's really odd. Anyway Hippie Priestess would be a great name for somebody if not you, although I just noticed that there isn't necessarily a Fall reference in there since you could have a hippie priestess...

Anyway thanks for the comment, excellent observation, I put it above where it will be the first thing one reads about the song...
John Coyle
  • 14. John Coyle | 12/02/2017
http://business.baylor.edu/james_moshinskie/gross.htm

This refers to the Gross undertakers' business, founded in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1874. There are several mentions of the Gross Chapel. Did MES get the title from this?

The Peel Session version of this remains one of my all time favourite Fall moments.
Martin
  • 15. Martin | 21/03/2017
Re: the sequencing of the track on Bend Sinister (see comments nos. 12 & 13 above). It should be noted that the original cassette release, which I still own, had Living Too Late at the end of side one. Also, although the CD has received a couple of repressings, the running order of the tracks was always GB/Living/US 80s...Only the vinyl has GB/US 80s.
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 25/06/2017
If you look at the sleeve notes to "Bend Sinister", there is a snippet of sheet music which is apparently the original of the words and music for "British Grenadiers", as amended in MES' hand.

The word "scaly" appears quite clearly.
Martin
  • 17. Martin | 05/10/2017
I'd like to reproduce, if I may, some comments and interpretations made by R. Totale on The Fall Forum back in 2004. Sorry, I don't have the link to the original thread there, but I copied it at the time and so here it is in its entirety:

"This is one of the more impenetrable of Fall lyrics, necessitating knowledge of the specific incidents to which it refers to grasp it fully. I think the invocations of Grail mythology and the Chapel Perilous do inform its imagery.

But I think it's essentially creating a Red Shift scenario in which seperate events are linked by a common location, as in Bremen Nacht. The events being a military funeral following a battle, and a fight in a venue in which fans of the other group on the bill attack the Fall and their supporters.

I don't think it can refer to the Wormhoudt massacre - wrong regiments, and MES is a stickler for historical detail.

Here's a lit crit style breakdown of some of its elements.

Porterage down
The dark gross chapel


Porterage down I've always assumed to refer to the dead body of a soldier being borne by coffin-bearers into the chapel.. But following my parallel theory, it could also refer to bouncers carrying out the victim(s) of a mid-gig fight.

He stepped streets around now
Sales person mobile


Juxtaposition of a site in which some dark historical event took place, perhaps now a venue. The "Sales person mobile" suggests the present day

Porterage down
Dark gross chapel
He stepped streets around now
Was introduced by a woman loose-limbed, slim


Either the woman introduced the dark gross chapel to MES, or she introduced the band on stage.. or both

One woke up to a whitewashed ugly wall - whoosh!
Made worse by dirty postcards
Trapped in their town


Crap hotel - typical of that encountered by a band on tour. But also.. a barracks I suspect, hence "trapped in their town"

They're embracing criminals in panicky hall
No temper for Fall group


Pissed-up crowd prefer the other act to the Fall - who are presumably criminals, yobs or aggressive types. Also hint of night rallies and the beer-hall putsch

I'll put you down
Porterage down
To the dark gross chapel
He stepped streets around now
Sales-person, mobile


I'll put you down
To the gross chapel


You were right said Peter
Dying for a smoke
But you shouldn't have said to the police
Jobs I do are little things
Like the chemist coming on insulted
They were as fed up as I was
Waiting outside after putting blame on you


Someone waiting outside seeking revenge after contretemps in venue?

Porterage down
Ask him! I am ailing
Porterage down

Then let us fill a bumper,
And drink a health to those
Who carry caps and pouches,
And wear the louped clothes.
May they and their commanders

Live happy all their years

Whene'er we are commanded
To storm the palisades
Our leaders march with fusees,
And we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis,
About the enemies' ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row,
For the British Grenadiers.


Ironic tribute to military might? Or sincere perhaps given Smith's grandfather's war record. MES has always notably had respect for the lower, working-class ranks of soldier

I'll put you down

Linking death and the military with male aggression in gigs and on the battlefield..

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