Mad Martins

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The Leaping Swordsman



I am a leaping swordsman,
A real swashbuckling champion:
I slice the air with majestic flair,
Oh, you should have been there.

Sergeant McGrigor cut a dashing figure,
But I settled him with a thrust and a snigger;
With a pout and a grin, a slash and a spin,
I made him jump right out of his skin;
Oh, you should have seen me, man!

I took on all-comers, and passed their muster,
Each one of all five a fencing instructor;
Receiving no cuts, as I cut the mustard,
To leave them feeling both flummoxed and flustered;
You really should have been there, man!

I'm a verbal fencer, a sabre dancer,
More deadly than any Polish lancer:
I'll foil the aim of any chancer;
To my rapier wit, there's just no answer.

I am the leaping swordsman,
A real swashbuckling champion:
I slice the air with majestic flair,
Oh, you should have been there!

When I bested the best,
And reduced all the rest;
Oh, you should have been there!
You should have been there.

I am a leaping swordsman,
Just like a leaping salmon:
I grace the air with majestic flair;
Oh, you should have been there!

The grenadier called for a running leap,
But my standing leap became a flying leap;
For no hole is too deep, no gradient too steep,
No gap too wide for these legs to sweep;
Oh, you should have seen me man!

Three times he ran and three times he jumped,
But my standing jump really had him stumped;
Until the challenge he'd made ended in farce,
As the third time he ended up flat on his arse;
You really should have been there, man!

I'm a spring-heel jack, a jumping jack flash,
A jack-in-the-box, a jack of all blades.
Like Jack I'm nimble, like Jack I'm quick;
My leap is long, as my gait is slick.

I am the leaping swordsman,
Just like a leaping salmon:
I grace the air with a majestic flair;
Oh, you should have been there!

When I rose to the test,
And soared and impressed;
Oh, you should have been there!
You should have been there.

(Lyrics & Music: Gary Miller)

© 2017 Whippet Records

Copyright Control MCPS/PRS


Recording Credits

Gary Miller - Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Standard & Octave Mandolins, Hand-Claps
Iain Petrie - Bass Guitar, Drums, Whistle, Hand-Claps
Glenn Miller - Accordion
Jennie Beasty - Fiddle
Mick Tyas - Backing Vocals

Boxing fight [drawing and engraving], William Martin.

Sir William Wallace [graphite, ink and wash on paper], Jonathan Martin, 1830.


Additional Text

When William was four years old he was taken with his parents and grandparents to Ayrshire where his father worked as a foreman-tanner; the family living in a house at the end of the Brig of Doon. There he “often had the pleasure of seeing Robert Burns, but he thought he never saw him sober”. William remained there until he was about ten years of age, before he returned to Northumberland with his father Fenwick who enlisted for service in the American War. However, after three months Fenwick was wounded in quelling a mutiny, and discharged on a small pension, keeping an inn at Hartley for a time before moving to the Chancellor’s Head Inn at Newcastle where he was said to have taught the “sword and singlestick exercise”. Fenwick Martin was passionately fond of travelling, at one time he toured the country as a pedlar and at another drove cattle to market, as a result, the five children who survived infancy were each born in different places.

Nothing is known of William’s teenage years but by his early twenties he was working at Hurry’s ropery at Howden Dock, between Newcastle and Shields. William worked there for a year before enlisting in the Northumberland Regiment of the Militia in 1795, chiefly to obtain the bounty "by which he was able to pay off a distress entered on his father's goods", as his brother John put it. Like his father, William was a noted swordsman and a great athlete. While camped at Hendon near Sunderland he was engaged to teach some of the officers in fencing skills. Grenadier-Sergeant Alexander McGrigor, fencing instructor to the battalion, offended by this, challenged William to a dual. Meeting on Sunderland Moor, William displayed his prowess and extreme skill with the blade by cutting McGrigor twelve times without receiving a cut himself.

Later, at Lincoln, en route to Norwich, he defeated a challenge from an Irish dragoon, disabling his sword arm, again without receiving a cut.

Then, in Colchester, at a great fencing match between five instructors, in front of several thousand troops of horse and foot and artillery, it was arranged that William should fight each of the fencing-masters in turn…

“I began with McGrigor first, and presently settled him, and so on until I went through them all, and never received one cut by any of them. Then the officers ordered the men to lift me shoulder-high and give me three huzzahs at the end of every street of the garrison of Colchester.” (William Martin)

On another occasion, while at Hilston, near Hull, his friend William Buteland, the famous pugilist, told William that a grenadier of the Nottingham Militia had made a challenge to any man in the brigade to leap against him, and that they all thought William could beat him. William accepted the challenge. He asked the grenadier what kind of leap should be made and the grenadier answered, “A running leap”. William said that was not a fair leap so, after suggesting the kind of leap be decided by the toss of a coin and then winning said toss, he chose a standing leap...

“Then I ordered Buteland to go to a dyke and bring me a couple of stones about three pounds weight each. When they were brought me, I said, ‘Will you leap first or me?’ He said that I might. ‘Now clear the way soldiers’, I said, ‘as I dash the stones down with great force, and they may injure people whom they hit.’ I made my leap. It was to be the best of three: so he leaped the second time, and failed of his first: and the third he fell on his seat, and was 13 inches short. My leap was measured four yards and four inches.” (William Martin)

Video Clips

'The Leaping Swordsman' live at the Premiere of
'Mad Martins: The Story of the Martin Brothers'

The City Theatre, Durham, England, 5th October 2019