Saturday, 31 December 2011

39: The Bitter Withy

This is a song in which a young Jesus Christ gets embroiled in a spot of class warfare; versions have been collected from across England, and particularly in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, but this version is from Birkenhead. Janet Blunt collected the tune from a Mrs Haigh in 1921, with a fragment of the words; the manuscript is online as part of the English Folk Dance and Song Society's Take Six project. Another slightly more complete set of words is appended from a Miss Baines, also apparently of Birkenhead. Apparently they remembered it as part of the repertoire of street carollers.

Matthew Edwards (now resident on the Wirral and a fount of knowledge about all manner of songs) has done a bit of additional detective work:
I've managed to trace the sisters who gave this song, and two others (A Wassail Song and Christ Was Born In Bethlehem), to Janet Blunt in 1921. They were Annie Beatrice Haigh and Rosamond Kelk, daughters of a bank accountant, who lived in Claughton, Birkenhead in the 1870's. Their father, John William Kelk, was originally from Brigg in Lincolnshire, but both daughters were born in the Wirral.

They told Janet Blunt that they remembered the songs being sung by child waits at Christmas in the streets of Birkenhead 30 or 40 years earlier. Where the songs might have originated is now almost impossible to tell since the population of Birkenhead at that time had grown very rapidly in a short time with the new inhabitants coming from many different parts.

The idea of the child Jesus performing a miracle which leads to the death of children who scorn him is an interesting folk survival of an apocryphal tale of the life of Christ; a 1908 article by Gordon Hall Gerould in Publications of the Modern Language Association notes the resonance between the tale and accounts of the boy Jesus in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. As for Mary's administration of corporal punishment to Christ, the curse Jesus administers to the willow branch as it strikes him provides a good explanation of why willow rots from the inside out. (The picture of the willow above, incidentally, comes from a lovely blog about a beautiful garden in Pensby, Wirral.)

The Bitter Withy is #452 in the Roud folksong index.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

38: Christ Was Born In Bethlehem

This is another carol collected by Lucy Broadwood; the manuscript held in the Vaughan Williams Memorial library bears the simple note "as sung in Liverpool". Janet Blunt collected another version from a Mrs Haigh of Birkenhead with practically the same tune, though fewer words - the manuscript of this Birkenhead version is online as part of the EFDSS Take Six project.

Now, the thing is, this is quite a strange choice for Christmas, given that only 1 verse deals with the nativity, and the other 4 are about the crucifixion and resurrection - but Lucy Broadwood's version is catalogued "Christmas in Liverpool", and the version Janet Blunt collected from Mrs Haigh goes along with other carols Mrs Haigh remembered children singing in the streets around Christmastime, so this was clearly a seasonal song - reminding us that it's never too early to start looking forward to Easter!

Versions of this carol have crossed the Atlantic, with Cecil Sharp including a different variant in his English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, and it remains a popular Appalachian song. In other versions (particularly contemporary versions), the second verse does not include the direct reference to the Jews, tending towards "Judas crucified him", or "The mob they crucified him", but for the sake of archiving, I'm singing the words here according to the set given by Lucy Broadwood.

The image I've used above is a picture of a 1987 Nativity play from the Liverpool Echo.

In the Roud folksong index, this is #1122

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

37: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

A version of a well-known Christmas carol collected by Lucy Broadwood, pioneering folk-song researcher of the 19th and early 20th century. This tune is among her archived manuscripts in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library with the simple note, "Liverpool version", and together with another carol collected in Liverpool.

The words are sometimes attributed to Poet Laureate Nahum Tate (otherwise famous for trying to re-write Shakespeare plays without any of the politically contentious bits). This is because they were first published in Tate and Nicholas Brady's 1700 supplement to the New Version of the Psalms of David. According to Jeremy Dibble of the University of Durham, While Shepherds Watched was one of the first carols to pass over from from secular traditions into the church of England; it was the only Christmas hymn approved by the Church of England in the 18th century, and so gained wide circulation among ordinary people. There are many, many tunes used for the song, including 'Cranbrook' (now famous as the tune of 'On Ilkla Moor baht 'at'), and also a tune known as 'Liverpool' (no relation to the one I'm singing here), used enthusiastically in the carol-singing pubs around Sheffield at Christmas time.

The picture I've used above is from the Formby Times' coverage of the Formby Village Nativity 2008.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night is #936 in the Roud folksong index.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

36: Paddy Lay Back

"'Twas a cold and dreary morning in December..." Hugill, in Shanties of the Seven Seas describes this as "both a forebitter and a capstan song and a very popular one too, especially in Liverpool Ships". So close is the association between Paddy Lay Back and Liverpool, it's sometimes simply known as 'The Liverpool Song'. As a work song, it would have been used while hauling up the anchor by pushing the drum of the capstan around as in the image above (hence the line in the chorus "Take a turn around the capstan").

This version (with the line at the end of the chorus "We're bound for Vallaparaiser [i.e. Valparaiso] round the Horn" comes from the singing of Liverpool sailors engaged in the Guano trade. They'd sail to Chile around the horn to pick up Guano, which is the accumulated excrement of cave dwelling bats, birds, etc. - rich in nirates and excellent fertiliser. The mid nineteenth century rush for this resource saw ships returning to Liverpool with thousands of tonnes of the stuff.

This song is very popular in singarounds and shanty sings, and is usually accompanied by everyone in the crowd repeating the words at the end of each line: "'Twas a cold and dreary morning in December (December!) And all of my money it was spent (SPENT SPENT!)". Sitting here on my bill, I haven't attempted any of this repetition except in the chorus where I think I'd lose the timing of the thing if I hadn't. You can try it at home, but you might look a bit odd shouting "SPENT SPENT!" or "FRANCE FRANCE!" or whatever at your computer.

In the Roud folksong index, this is #653

Thursday, 8 December 2011

35: I Wish I Was Back In Liverpool

A major recurring theme in Liverpool's folk music is an encrusted layer of sentimentality. In fact, sometimes it feels as though there's an arms race to see who can come up with the most blatantly rose-tinted song about Liverpool - if so, this offering from Stan Kelly (to a tune by Leon Rosselson) blows its competition out of the water, albeit with a extremely heavy dose of tounge in cheek; in his song book, he describes it as a "soggy mess of neuralgia for the cultural mecca of the world". Still, it really hits the spot. It was used by The Spinners as a signature tune and also recorded by The Dubliners, so it's a very well known anthem to the city.

As part of the 2008 cultural capital of Europe celebrations, a group of mural artists from Belfast were brought to Liverpool to paint a series of striking murals expressing the history and culture of the city, and its connection to Ireland. The words of this song take pride of place in one of these murals, threading their way along the wall of the New Picket. (Part of the mural is shown above)

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

34: Whip Jamboree

This cotton screwing shanty (sung while packing cotton tight into the hold of a ship), with its account of a ship coming into dock in Liverpool, is included in Hugill's Shanties of the Seven Seas, as well as several other collections of shanties (for example R.R. Terry's 1926 The Shanty Book, Vol. 2). There has long been a debate over the words, which Hugill said were too obscene to print fully, leading to various speculative attempts to re-insert the filth. I have not gone down that highly tempting route, and instead have simply followed the version that passed into popularity in the Liverpool folk revival scene of the 1960s, when The Spinners included it in their repertoire - you can see them singing it in this short film about the Liverpool Folk Music Scene from the 1960s. Most contemporary Liverpool performances, I would say, stem from this Spinners version.

Fort Perch Rock is, of course, the coastal defence battery at New Brighton (the picture I've included above, taken from the excellent history website is of ships passing the Fort Perch Rock). Dan Lowrie's was, apparently, a popular playhouse on Paradise Street; this is what John Short of Watchet told Cecil Sharp, who included the song in his English folk-chanteys (1914).

Whip Jamboree is #488 in the Roud folksong index.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

33: The Banks of the Mersey

Apologies for being so late. My voice is wrecked at the moment.
Bit of a mystery this one (to me at least) - I saw a thread on Red and White Kop where someone explained that they had a tape of their grandad singing old Liverpool songs, and this was one of them. Another thread explained that the song began "I was born on the banks of the Mersey" and that led me to a more recent recording of the song and some sets of words on some Liverpool fan websites. But I still don't know anything about the song or its origins beyond this set of words and tune, so if anybody has any information about it (such as who wrote it), I'd be glad to know.

The photo looking down Althorp St and over the River Mersey is by Aidan O'Rourke.

Monday, 14 November 2011

32: Tommy's Lot

I'd meant to put this song up during the Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday weekend, but I was delayed by work. Still, I think it's worth putting up now. It's a song about the First World War written by Dominic Williams in the early 1980s. Apparently Dominic Williams was a former teacher at the Liverpool Institute, and a well-known performer on the folk club circuit in the north west of England. I personally learned this after hearing it performed by Liverpool folk singers Alun Parry and Vinny T Spen (organisers of the Woody Guthrie folk club at the Ship and Mitre), who said that they heard Dominic Williams performing it at a coffee shop on Smithdown Road.

The picture above is of the Liverpool "Pals' Battalions" on parade outside St George's Hall before the first world war. It was figured that people would be more likely to volunteer to serve in the War if they could sign up to fight alongside their friends - Liverpool was the first city to test the theory, with Lord Derby mounting a vigorous recruitment campaign for people to join up together with their mates and work colleagues. Within days, Liverpool had enlisted enough men to form four battalions.

Derby addressed the massed troops outside St George's Hall as they waited to depart: "This should be a Battalion of Pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool. I don’t attempt to minimise to you the hardships you will suffer, the risks you will run. I don’t ask you to uphold Liverpool’s honour, it would be an insult to think that you could do anything but that. But I do thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming here tonight and showing what is the spirit of Liverpool, a spirit that ought to spread through every city and every town in the kingdom."

Thousands of these volunteers would die on the battlefields of the Somme and Passchendale.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

31: Bonnet So Blue

A broadside ballad about a woman of Liverpool who falls in love with a Scottish soldier. What I sing here is based on a broadside printed by W. Armstrong of Banastre Street, Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. (As with many broadside ballads, no indication is given of tune, so I've used a tune that was used for the singing of a version of this song collected from George Edwards in the Catskills, NY - it has the virtue of being a beautiful tune, in my opinion at least, although I admit it has the shortcoming of being a tune from abroad! Such are the difficulties of fitting broadsides to suitable music.)

Some argue that the song's 'blue bonnet' is invoked as a Jacobite symbol - this theory is clearly reinforced by the use of the name 'Charles Stewart' for the soldier who wears the bonnet, although to be frank, it appears incidental to the main thrust of the song, which is an expression of impossible love.

Bonnet so blue sometimes bears the title 'Jacket so blue', and is sometimes set in other locales in the north of England (and occasionally London), although versions of the words which feature Liverpool have made the journey across the Atlantic. It is #819 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday, 31 October 2011

30: Old Mother Lee

A suitably gruesome choice for halloween, this tale of infanticide is in fact a children's skipping song (hence the wonderfully cheerful and rhythmic tune). The Spinners recorded a version of this song on their 1974 recording "The Spinners at the London Palladium".

The Spinners' album notes explain how the song came to be collected: "The girls of Kirkdale, Liverpool, whose brothers at Major Street school gave this to Tony Davis, had certainly not heard of Professor Child. However, their skipping is unmistakeably based on the 'Cruel Mother' ballad substituting the grim realities of 'forty police', 'the magistrate' and capital punishment for the ghostly children and the 'fires of hell' of the older form of the story." Children always seem to appreciate a grizzly tale, and as suggested, the song does appear to have developed from 'The Cruel Mother', Ballad #20 in Francis J. Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, in which a mother gives birth to an illegitimate child, kills it, and is subsequently damned.

(The picture I'm using above is indeed of a picture of the walnut tree (because of the recurring line 'down by the walnut tree'), though the tree is sadly not in Liverpool - I somehow doubt whether there are any, but correct me if I'm wrong?)

Old Mother Lee has a well known Irish relation 'Weela Wallia', and as a version of 'The Cruel Mother' is it #9 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday, 24 October 2011

29: My Liverpool

Brian Jacques, the Liverpudlian author of the Redwall series of books, was also a folk singer (he performed with the group The Liverpool Fishermen) as well as a radio presenter on BBC Radio Merseyside. This song was written by him and used as the theme for his radio show "Jakestown". It's rather a sentimental song, but you can see what a good writer Jacques was through some of the flashes of lyrical brilliance (I particularly like the line "a bus with a cargo of hangovers heading down to the docks"). The image above is the cover from a book of his writings (including this song) published in 1979.

The radio show that this song introduced was, like the man himself, unique - recordings of his beloved opera sat side by side with comedy and world music. Brian Jacques died earlier this year.

Monday, 17 October 2011

28: Robin and Gronny

A song about Robin and his Nan getting blind drunk, and Robin subsequently having to rescue his Nan from a ditch. Given to Frank Kidson in 1892-3 by Mr W.H. Lunt, one of his Liverpool informants, who learnt it from an old Lancashire woman (hence the Lancashire terms like 'hoo' for 'she'). It was published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society Vol. 2 No. 9 (1906). Elsewhere in what is now Merseyside, a different version (with similar words but a rather different tune) was collected in 1907 by Anne Gilchrist from a Mrs Sumner of Southport - I have used some of the words of that Southport version to complete the unfinished story in Kidson's version.

The tune and words appear to have a decent Lancashire pedigree; Kidson notes that the tune was used for a song by Charles Dibdin, Jr in 1801, and Wm Bruce Olson (in the Folk Music Journal Vol. 5 No. 2) has traced a variant of the words back to a manuscript from the 1690s.

Robin and Gronny is #1579 in the Roud Folksong Index.

Monday, 10 October 2011

27: Liverpool Judies

I've just come back to the UK from Gloucester, Massachusetts, where they have a fantastic Tuesday night shanty session, and so I feel very much in the mood for a shanty. This is a very well known Capstan shanty. Hugill gives several variants of the words and of the tune, and it turns out that the version I'm using is a compilation from a couple of sources; the words are those Hugill gives in Shanties and Sailors' Songs, and the tune is one of the variants (B) that he gives in Shanties from the Seven Seas.

The theme of the song is shanghaiing - that is, kidnapping people to work on ships. In this version, the sailor is drugged by a 'crimp' (the term used for this kind of kidnapper) and wakes up on board a ship bound around Cape Horn. Hugill tells us "In the 1840s, when this shanty probably came into being, New York's sailortown was notorious for its crimps and boarding house masters."

Hugill also offers some explanation of the particular meaning of 'Liverpool Judies' in this song: "The phrase 'The Towrope Girls' was a common one in the days of sail. When a ship was homeward bound with a favourable wind someone would remark 'Aye, the gals 'ave got 'old of our towrope, me hearties!' They were a sort of magnet, supposedly pulling with sailors and their ship twoards the land... In the case of this shanty the common Liverpool word for a young girl was used - 'Judy'.

This song is #928 in the Roud folksong index and different versions are sometimes known by the title 'Liverpool Girls' or 'Row, bullies, row'.

Friday, 30 September 2011

26: Romeo and Juliet

This retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story is specially chosen in preparation for the Everton v Liverpool derby match tomorrow. I wanted to find out more about this song ever since I saw the words on the Red and White Kop Liverpool FC song archive. Turns out its another song from the pen of Stan Kelly (who also wrote, among other things, Liverpool Lullaby). This song was included on the record "Liverpool We Love You", a tribute to the club which featured numerous songs alongside the voices of manager Billy Shankly, as well as many of the players and fans. In order to prepare the record, Stan Kelly travelled for a season with the team Home, Away, and in Europe. Lucky bugger.

It's been said that the Liverpool/Everton derby match is "the friendly derby", and that's largely on account of the large number of families that feature the mixed marriages joked about in the song. Unlike other local football rivalries, allegiances aren't tied to religious affiliation or city geography, and it's not uncommon for family members to support different teams, although the increasing antagonism and constant throwing of verbal abuse during the match (as well as the regular bloodbath on the pitch) has led to many younger fans like myself wondering if this talk of the "friendly derby" is just harking back to a golden age that never existed.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

25: The Liverpool Barrow Boy

Sometimes just called 'The Barrer Boy', this is popular song from the folk revival to the tune of the Irish polka 'Rakes of Mallow'. This song is featured in The Spinners' Song Book, where we are told: "The words are by Mollie Armstrong who takes the money on the door at the Spinners Club, Liverpool... Inspired by the sad sight of the Scouser barrow boys being hampered by the guardians of the peace in their profitable work of meeting public demand... A 'scuff' is a copper and a 'Judy-cop' a lady ditto."

The photo is from the Liverpool Museums website and is of fruit barrows around the side of the London Road TJ Hughes.

Monday, 19 September 2011

24: Haul the Bowline

Sticking to songs with a Bootle connection, this is a version of a simple and direct short haul shanty from Hugill's Shanties of the Seven Seas (from which the illustration above also comes); Hugill tells us he "learnt this many years ago from a certain Mr. Dowling of Bootle, who had sailed in the Colonial Packets". Elsewhere (in Sailors' Songs and Sea Shanties) he explains, "Until the end of the days of sail this shanty remained a favourite song for sheeting home the foresail and for other jobs calling for a few good pulls. The pull came on the word 'haul' at the end of each verse."

Haul the Bowline is #632 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday, 12 September 2011

23: The Bootle Air Raid Shelter Song

This kind of patriotic song may seem seriously out of step with modern sentiments, what with its references to "motherland" and the victory over Germany, with the tune lifted from Oscar Rasbach's music for Joyce Kilmer's "Trees" (you know, the poem that goes "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree" - Rasbach's setting was a big hit for Paul Robeson during the time of the war). All that aside, I've decided to include this air raid shelter song here anyway, because it's an important memorial to a big part of Merseyside's social history.

I got the words from Kiss Me Goodnight Sargeant Major: The Songs and Ballads of World War II, where Mrs Mary van Eker explains: "I was but a civilian who ran to the air-raid shelter every time the alert sounded. There was no author to this song really, someone sang a line and then someone sang another. It comes spontaneous to us here."

As Liverpool was such a strategically important bombing target for Nazi Germany, Bootle was very much in the line of fire, being at the northern end of the stretch of docks. Night after night the town was under a blanket of bombs, with the people of Bootle taking shelter in places like the basement of the Co-operative store on Stanley Road. On the 7th May 1941, the Co-operative basement shelter was full to capacity when the building above was hit. (The photo I'm using here records the wreckage at the site after the bomb hit.) At least 36 people died as a result; there is a memorial garden to the victims on Ash Street.

I include the song here because it's important to remember the spirit of the people of Bootle who were able to sing together as the bombs fell around them.

Monday, 5 September 2011

22: The Deck of the Baltimore

A song about a stowaway on a ship from Liverpool to New York. This version is learned from Liverpool ballad singer and former demolition worker Bruce Scott, who includes it on his album "My Colleen by the Shore". The sleeve notes for that album say that he learned it in the Criterion pub, Brunswick Road, from Noel Scanlon, a Kerryman living around West Derby Road. Stan Hugill also collected a version of this song (with the title "Bold MacCarteney") from Liverpool seaman Spike Sennit, with similar words but a rather different tune; that version was published in Spin Vol. 7 No. 4, 1969 (and recently reprinted in Bosun's Locker, a collection of Hugill's Spin contributions).

The City of Baltimore, on board of which the hero of our song stows away, was a transatlantic liner built in Glasgow and operating mostly out of Liverpool, sailing at first with the Inman Line. She made her first commercial sailing from Liverpool to Philidelphia in 1856, and was scrapped in 1885.

Versions of this song sometimes go by the title of 'The City of Baltimore' or 'Bold MacCartney' (with MacCartney being spelled in all sorts of ways, such as "MacCarteney" as seen above). It is #1800 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday, 29 August 2011

21: Seth Davy

A song written in the 1960s by Glyn Hughes about a real life street performer who sang, with his dancing dolls, at Bevington Bush just off Scotland Road toward the end of the nineteenth century. It's sometimes known as 'Whiskey on a Sunday'. As Gerry Jones writes on his Liverpool Lyrics website, "Seth Davy was a real person, he really existed, and he died a couple of years into the 20th century... I know the truth for a fact because, when I was a brand-new teacher in the Dingle in 1963, our old lollypop man told me that he had actually seen Seth Davy doing his stuff. So I have spoken to a first-hand witness."

Above is a picture of him at work - another great find by Matthew Edwards, this comes from a latern slide belonging to Ingrid Spiegl, widow of Fritz Spiegl (who arranged Johnny Todd for orchestra to create the "Theme from Z-Cars"). The picture (produced from the latern slide by Liverpool Museum) was used to illustrate an article about Seth Davy (sometimes spelled Seth Davey) in The Puppet Master, Vol. 16 No. 8, in which Peter Charlton writes the following:

"Seth Davey was a West Indian jig doller who really did sit astride an old packing case, outside the Begington Inn (known locally as The Bevvy), near 'Paddy's Market' off Scotland Road, hitting a plank with his fist whilst crooning unaccompanied as his dolls danced... Popular belief is that Seth Davey was West Indian, possibly Jamaican, though Ray Costello in his Black History, a history of Liverpool's black population, says that he was West African... We only know of two songs that he sang regularly and both of these were Minstrel songs... One of these was 'Who likes gravy on their taters?'... His other pick of the pops was 'Massa is a stingy man', from the repertoire of Dan Emmett, one of the stars of American minstrelsy. It is this song that Glyn Hughes based his song on:
'Oh Massa is a stingy man,
And all his neighbours knows it,
He keeps good whiskey in the house
An' neber says 'here goes it',
Sing come day, go day
God send Sunday
We'll drink whiskey all de week
And buttermilk on Sunday'"

This year's "Liverpool Discovers" art exhibition included a painting of Seth Davy by Gill Smith.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

20: St Mary of the Angels

A song by Tony Flanagan about a Catholic church which shut its doors, and the campaign to reopen it.

St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church was built in 1907 in the baroque style - a slice of Rome off Scotland Road, richly decorated with Italian marble carved by local Italian craftsmen. Much of the lavish interior was paid for by Amy Elizabeth Imrie (later known as Mother Clare Imrie of the Poor Clares after she became a nun), heiress to the White Star Shipping Line fortune.

In 2001 the Archdiocese of Liverpool shut the church as part of a programme of 'pastoral regeneration', and subsequently announced that it would never be reopened. In 2002 the Archdiocese had to be prevented from ripping out the interior decoration of the church by Liverpool City Council, and many locals campaigned long and hard for its reopening. Perhaps the most active and celebrated campaigner was parishoner Kay Kelly, who tied flowers to the gates of the church (as shown in the picture above) season after season as a sign of her hopes and prayers for the future of the church. She died last year. Tony Flanagan writes, "I wanted to leave a footprint in my songs of all the wonderful people that gave this city its character", and this song certainly shows the footprint of Kay Kelly, which is why I have included her photo above (from the Scottie Press website). Since 2009 the church has been used as a rehearsal space and education centre by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Monday, 15 August 2011

19: The False Knight

This tale of stranger danger was collected from Mrs Stanley of New Ferry (who also provided the version of Marco and Pedro that I used a few weeks back) and published in Dorothy Dearnley's Seven Cheshire Folk-songs in 1967. Pete and Chris Coe sang a similar version of the song on their album "Open the Door and Let Us In" (possibly derived from the same source, although there do appear to be some differences).

This is a local version of the traditional old ballad "The False Knight on the Road", most often associated with Scotland; in all versions, a child is met by a "false knight", that is, the devil in disguise; the child refuses to give ground to the devil or accomodate him in any way (generally being quite cheeky to him), and in the end wishes him back to hell. Francis James Child included "The Fause Knight on the Road" as ballad #3 in his multi-volume Popular English and Scottish Ballads, published between 1882 and 1898 - he provides 3 different versions of the same tale from a variety of sources. The Wirral version is slightly unusual in that the child is a girl rather than a boy (as in most other versions).

The False Knight is #20 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday, 8 August 2011

18: Rent Collecting In Speke

This is a song by Pete McGovern, who's perhaps most famous for writing the song "In My Liverpool Home". I don't know whether he wrote the music as well, or just the words - if anybody can place the tune as taken from another song, or knows that it's a composition of McGovern, I'd be interested to know. Like Back Buchanan Street, it is another tale from the period of slum clearance out of the heart of Liverpool and into the brave new world of planned towns. As city-dwellers were relocated there, Speke's population boomed from 400 to more than 25,000 by the end of the 1950s. It quickly got a reputation for being rough, run-down, and smashed up, and this song plays on that reputation. There's a recording of Pete McGovern singing this in the BBC documentary The Singing City, which tells the tale of how urban regeneration changed the face of Liverpool and its music making. Before McGovern sings the song, Ken Dodd remarks of these estates: "If you pay your rent two weeks on the run, a policeman comes and finds out where you got the money from."

The picture that I'm using above of the sadly underused South Parade in Speke comes from Geograph, and was taken by Sue Adair.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

17: Paddy West

This song is about a boarding house keeper in Liverpool who, in addition to offering board and lodgings, trained people in the art of blagging that they were experienced seamen. The version I sing here is, I thought, the one Stan Hugill gave in Shanties from the Seven Seas; but, having looked it up again, I can see that the words I'm using seem to have picked up bits and bobs from other places (possibly as a result of hearing people singing A.L. Lloyd's version of Paddy West).

Hugill explains some of the historical background of this song in his book Sailortown, a vivid description of the maritime districts of major port cities (thanks to KathyW and Matthew Edwards for helping me locate the relevant passages): "He professed to make a greenhorn - whether yokel, with heyseed falling from ear-holes, criminal on the run, or bank clerk - into a fully fledged Able Seaman in a matter of days. This was how he worked. His house was usually full of all the bums and stiffs of the neighbourhood. When he felt they had been around too long, he started their 'tuition' so that he could sign them away aboard an outward-bounder. First he would get the aspiraing candidate accusomed, as the song hints, to deep-sea fare, dressing him in dungarees, with a 'nice clean rope-yarn for a belt'. Practice in stowing canvas came next, Paddy sending him up to the attick to furl the 'main royal', or rather the window-blind. Further seamanship was acquired in the back-yard, where Paddy had a ship's wheel rigged up. The 'apprentice' had to stand by the wheel, and before he had spun it around twice, Paddy's wife would have thrown a bucket of ice-cold water over him... The 'boyo' next was called into the 'passage', where he would have to step over a piece of string, before entering the parlour or 'front room'. Here on a table stood a cow's horn, around which the candidate was ordered to march. The explanation of this ritual was that, when the mate of the outward-bounder asked our berth-seeking hero as to what parts of the world he had sailed, he could honestly answer that he'd 'crossed the Line' [crossed the equator] and been ten times around the [Cape] Horn'. But 'Don't tell him it was a bloody cow-horn!' Paddy would caution. Then the potential seaman was handed the papers of some real sailor - one who had been knifted or clubbed, probably, in some earlier drunken brawl. Paddy would give him a sea-chest full of second-hand gear - if there were two candidates, he would furnish one suit of oilskins between the two of them, telling them, 'I'll see to it that the mate puts yiz in dhifferent watches'... Of course, Paddy didn't go to all this trouble for nothing; he always receoved the 'Paddy Wester's' advance note, a month or two's wages."

Further to this, Hugill tells us that Paddy West apparently reinvented his training to respond to new technology - as steam ships became the norm, he'd have his potential sailors tossing coal into a swinging barrel.

It's usually agreed that Paddy West was a real historical figure; the American seaman Dick Maitland said that Paddy West was active in the 1870s keeping a boarding house around London Road, although others place him on Paradise Street or (as in the version of the song I'm singing) Great Howard Street.

Hugill tells us that this was sung both as a forecastle entertainment and as a work song (apparently as a capstan shanty, for pulling up the anchor). It is #3092 in the Roud folksong index.

Monday, 25 July 2011

16: I Like An Apple

Sasha Moorsom recorded a group of Liverpool children singing this skipping song in 1958 - the recording was used as part of Peter Kennedy's "A Roving" series. We also hear girls singing it in Denis Mitchell and Roy Harris' amazing 1959 documentary film "Morning in the Streets" (from which comes the picture above), filmed primarily in Liverpool and drawing on the extensive field research of Frank Shaw, who also includes this song in his book on Liverpool Children's Rhymes You Know Me Anty Nelly?

Versions of this song are found elsewhere (including London, East Anglia, and Ireland), and are sometimes known as 'Still I Love Him', 'The Black Shawl' or 'I'll Go With Him Wherever He Goes'. It is #654 in the Roud Folksong Index.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

15: The Testimony of Patience Kershaw

This song was written in 1969 by Frank Higgins, a blues singer and guitarist who lived in Birkenhead and frequented the Liverpool folk clubs (I don't know much more than that about him, if anyone who comes by here knows him or has information about him I'd be interested to find out more). The words are based on real testimony given to the Royal Commission into the Employment of Children at the Mines by Patience Kershaw of Halifax, aged 17 (by which time she had been working in the mines for more than 6 years).

This is Patience Kershaw's account in her own words: "All my sisters have been hurriers, but three went to the mill, Alice went because her legs swelled from hurrying in cold water when she was hot. I never went to day-school; I go to Sunday school, but I cannot read or write; I go to pit at 5 o'clock in the morning; I get my breakfast of porridge and milk first; I take my dinner with me, a cake, and eat it as I go; I do not stop or rest any time for the purpose; I get nothing else until I get home, and then have potatoes and meat, not every day meat. I hurry in the clothes I have now got on, trousers and ragged jacket; the bald place upon my head is made by thrusting the corves; my legs have never swelled, but sisters' did when they went to mill; I hurry the corves a mile and more under ground and back; they weigh 300 cwt; I hurry 11 a-day; I wear a belt and chain at the workings to get the corves out; the getters that I work for are naked except their caps; they pull off all their clothes; I see them at work when I go up; sometimes they beat me, if I am not quick enough, with their hands; they strike me upon my back; the boys take liberties with me sometimes, they pull me about; I am the only girl in the pit; there are about 20 boys and 15 men; all the men are naked; I would rather work in mill than in coal-pit."

Monday, 11 July 2011

14: Marco and Pedro

A song about two grumbling farmers, collected on the Wirral. I was first introduced to Marco and Pedro by Matthew Edwards, who brought it with him to sing at the singaround in The Lion Tavern, Moorfields. I asked him if he'd be kind enough to provide some notes to go along with it, so over to Matthew (I've put the text by him in a different colour so credit and blame can go where it is due!):

This song was collected by Dorothy Dearnley of Heswall from the "late Mrs Stanley of New Ferry" and published in her book, Seven Cheshire Folk Songs, Oxford, 1967 with a piano accompaniment. Mrs Stanley also contributed a striking version of the ballad, The False Knight, but otherwise nothing seems to be known about her. I understand that Pete Coe and Roy Clinging have tried unsuccessfully to contact Dorothy Dearnley, whose married name was Furber.

There is an unreleased BBC recording of Dorothy Furbur (sic) singing 'The Grumbling Farmers' for Seamus Ennis on 5 June 1957 (RPL LP 23494), which suggests that Dorothy Furber probably collected the song some time in the early 1950's.

There are only two other examples in the Roud Index of the song being found among traditional singers; George Gardiner collected it from J Boaden of Curry Cross Lanes, Helston, Cornwall on 31 May 1905. Mr Boaden had learned it from a Mr Curry of Helston who by that time was "long deceased". Arthur Williams collected two short verses of the song from Elijah Iles in Inglesham, Wiltshire in a version in which the farmers' names have been anglicised to Mark-O and Peter-O.

It is also a rarity among singers of the revival even though Frank Purslow included it in the popular EFDS song book Marrowbones in 1965, based on the version collected by Gardiner from J Boaden, but with the chorus shown as being the same for all three verses. I have a vague personal memory of Martin Carthy singing it which may be how I learned the tune, but I don't think he has recorded it. Ralph Jordan has recorded it on a long deleted LP, but I don't know which group he was with at the time. It seems that John Kirkpatrick has recorded it on his new CD 'God Speed the Plough'.

It was quite widely printed in the nineteenth century by broadside printers with examples from London, Portsea, Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool, Preston, Manchester, North shields and Edinburgh. [See, for example, the broadside version printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824.] The tune was well enough known to be used for the campaign song of the Tory candidate in the Coventry parliamentary election of 1826. In their revised edition of 'Marrowbones' Malcolm Douglas and Steve Gardham argue convincingly for a late eighteenth century origin for the song on the basis of a broadside printing by Evans of London whose known dates of operation were 1780-1812. Were it not for this early dating I would think the song belongs more to the post-Waterloo period of agricultural depression – although there is nothing unusual about farmers grumbling at any time!

To me there is also a rather "stagey" flavour to the song which makes me wonder whether it first appeared in a musical play or comic opera. The names of the farmers Marco and Pedro are so emphatically not English that I wonder about some topical reference being intended whose point is now thoroughly lost. They don't even belong to the same language – Marco is Italian or Greek, while Pedro is Spanish/Portuguese. If some kind of topical allusion was intended, the only rather improbable candidates I can put forward are Marco Bozzari (Markos Botsaris 1788-1823) and Dom Pedro (1798-1834), King of Brazil, both of whom were popular heroes in Britain.

The joke upon which the song is based is probably as old as the doctrine of physical resurrection itself; the Sadducees taunted Christ about the issue of who would be reunited with whom in the case of multiple marriages (Mark 12; 18-27). However the joke about a flood following a spell of dry weather can be traced to an aristocratic quip by the Irish baronet Sir John Hamilton designed to bewilder the Lord Lieutenant the 4th Duke of Rutland who was Viceroy from 1784-1787.

Whoever the following story may be fathered on, Sir John Hamilton was certainly its parent. The Duke of Rutland, at one of his levees, being at a loss (as probably most kings,princes, and viceroys occasionally are) for something to say to every person he was bound in etiquette to notice, remarked to Sir John Hamilton that there was "a prospect of an excellent crop; the timely rain," observed the Duke, "will bring everything above ground."

"God forbid, your Excellency!" exclaimed the courtier. His Excellency stared, while Sir John continued, sighing heavily, as he spoke; "Yes, God forbid! for I have got three wives under." (Personal Sketches of Jonah Barrington, Dublin, 1827) The same story is also cited as an example of rustic humour from Ayrshire and from North Carolina with a very similar punchline. 

The photo above is by the late Guardian photographer Don McPhee, and is of two farmers at a Shire Horse sale. It doesn't have a particular Merseyside connection, it's just one I've always liked and seemed to go rather well with the song.

Marco and Pedro/The Grumbling Farmers is #1390 in the Roud folksong index.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

13: We're All Bound To Go

This is an interesting combination of sea shanty and emigration ballad; I take the words (slightly abridged - feel free to contact me or leave a comment below if you're after the full set) and tune from Mersey shantyman Stan Hugill's Shanties and Sailor Songs. He writes: "This greatly liked windlass shanty came into being about the time of the Irish Potato Famine, when thousands of migranting Irish were passing through Liverpool heading for 'Amerikee'. Tapscott was a well-known packet agent of Oldhall Street, Liverpool, and publisher of the famous Tapscott's Emigrant Guide." Windlass shanties (also known as Capstan shanties - as far as I understand it, they're the same thing anyway) were work songs sung during the raising of the anchor.

Liverpool was, of course, a major point of departure for those setting sail for the New Worlds, with some estimates suggesting that between 1830 and 1930 nine million emigrants passed through the docks en route to the United States, Canada, and Australia. A plaque on the gateway to the Clarence docks commemorates in particular those Irish emigrants who passed through Liverpool during the time of the potato famine; it reads, "Through these gates passed most of the 1,300,000 Irish migrants who fled from the Great Famine and 'took the ship' to Liverpool in the years 1845–52. Remember the Great Famine".

In the Roud folksong index, We're All Bound To Go is lumped in with other shanties with the "Heave away my Johnny" refrains as #616.

Monday, 27 June 2011

12: Poor Scouser Tommy

Apologies to all bluenoses, but having put up a song with a close Everton association last week, it's time to even things out with a Liverpool F.C. song this week. Although the Rodgers and Hammerstein penned "You'll Never Walk Alone" is the song most indelibly associated with LFC, this home-grown tale of war, death, and the love of football is just as precious to fans. I'm singing it much as I learned it from attending matches and singing in The Albert pub in Anfield's shadow, but there's bound to be some debate about whether some of the words I'm using are correct (e.g. there are disputes surrounding whether the sun should be "Arabian", "Libyan", or even "Radiant"). I'm happy enough if people want to argue over what's right and what's wrong - there was massive debate and a lot of historical discussion after John Power from Liverpool band "Cast" recorded a version. Of course the main arguments today are about whether the song is being sung too fast, and some may accuse me of doing that here - although it's nothing like the light speed version some people rattle through on the Kop.

The song was put together in different stages; the earliest part of the song is the middle section, "I am a Liverpudlian, I come from the Spion Kop..." This was written and sung from the 60s onwards to the tune of 'The Sash My Father Wore' (although the crowd has definitely changed the rhythm of that tune somewhat). In the 70s the first few verses, starting with "Let me tell you the story of a poor boy...", were added to the tune of 'Red River Valley', thus creating the wartime tale we sing today. The final sections (to the tunes 'Scousers here, Scousers there, Scousers everyfuckingwhere' and 'All you need is love') commemorate a 1982 five-nil victory over Everton in which Ian Rush scored four goals.

(After a couple of punctual weeks, I'm once again very late with this week's song - sorry about that!)

Friday, 17 June 2011

11: Johnny Todd

This song was collected in the 19th century by Frank Kidson, who published it in his 1891 Traditional Tunes. His notes accompanying the song say: "Johnny Todd is a child's rhyme and game, heard and seen played by Liverpool children. The air is somewhat pleasing, and the words appear old, though some blanks caused by the reciter's memory have had to be filled up." It was apparently still known in Liverpool when Frank Shaw collected children's songs and rhymes for his 1970 book You know me Anty Nelly?

The tune is still engrained in the consciousness of the city. It was used as the theme for the 1960s police show "Z-Cars", which was filmed in the new town of Kirkby on the outskirts of Liverpool. The "Theme from Z-Cars" is now beloved to fans of Everton F.C., who adopted it for themselves, and it is played over the loudspeakers in Goodison Park when the teams run out onto the pitch.

The picture I've used above, which very fittingly depicts a lady standing on the Liverpool sands and looking out to sea, is a painting by the Liverpool-born Japan-based artist Brian Zichi Lorentz.

Johnny Todd is #1102 in the Roud Folksong index

Friday, 10 June 2011

10: McCaffery

A ballad about Private Patrick McCaffery, who was executed in front of Kirkdale Gaol on 11 January 1862. For the most part I have used the version given in Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl's Singing Island, which was collected by MacColl from Patrick Dodds of Birkenhead. It's pretty much compulsory if talking about this song to mention the rumour (probably no more than a myth) that it was/is a punishable offence to sing it in the British army. MacColl tells us, "I first heard this song sung by a group of Liverpool dockers who had been drafted into the army, and I noticed that a couple of them were standing guard very obviously outside a tent, and I bribed my way in with a half bottle of whisky and sure enough they were singing this song McCaffery." The tune used is essentially 'The Croppy Boy', although the version collected by MacColl is unusual in having a different tune for the first verse.

Roy Palmer, in The Rambling Soldier gives a pretty complete account of the historic events surrounding the song: McCaffery "was born in Ireland, near Mullingar. His family later moved to Carlow, where his father was the governor of a lunatic asylum. His mother died, and his father left for America, where he seems to have disappeared without a trace, after a minor scandal. Young Patrick soon moved to Mossley, near Stalybridge, in Lancashire, to join the household of a Mrs Murphy, who had wet-nursed him as a baby. He worked for a time in cotton mills at Mossley and Stalybridge, and then, inflating his age by at least a year to reach the statutory eighteen, enlisted in October 1860 into the 32nd Regiment... This was the Cornwall Light Infantry, which had its depot at Fulwood Barracks, Preston. On Friday 13 September 1861, M'Caffrey was acting as picket-sentry near the officers' quarters. The adjutant, Captain Hanham, came out to complain to M'Caffrey about the noise of some children playing, and asked him, first, to remove them, and second, to find out their parents' names. Hanham felt that M'Caffrey's complied with his orders in a half-hearted way, and sent him to the guardroom... M'Caffery appeared before his C.O., Colonel Crofton, the following morning, and was sentenced to fourteen days' C.B. [confined to barracks]. He seems to have gone quietly afterwards to his barrack room, taken his rifle, knelt outside, and coolly shot at Captain Hanham as he was crossing the barrack square with Colonel Crofton. Both officers were in fact hit, with the same shot, and mortally wounded."

The Liverpool Mercury gave this account of the execution outside Kirkdale Gaol:
"Immediately after the clock had struck twelve, the wretched culprit, followed by Calcraft [the hangman], walked, apparently firmly, upon the scaffold, whithe he was accompanied by Father Lanns, reciting prayers suitable to the occasion. A smile seemed to play upon his youthful countenance as he took a farewell look at this world. He was dressed in the prison garb, consisting of a grey jacket and trowsers. His mild countenance and boyish appearance elicited the sympathy on the part of the immense crowd. As soon as Calcraft, who was dressed in a suit of good black, had produced the white cap, the priest took from his breast a small crucifix, which the wretched culprit kissed with much fervour. His lips were observed to move in prayer until the rope was adjusted round his neck. The priest then shook him by the hand, Calcraft also bade him farewell in a similar manner, and everything being arranged, the bolt was withdrawn, and the unfortunate young man was launched into eternity, having been kept standing at the trap a much longer time than usual. He seemed to suffer a good deal, his struggles being great. The last words he uttered were - 'Blessed Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and soul. Jesus and Mary, have mercy on me!' When the bolt was drawn, shrieks burst from many of the spectators, and several of the females left the ground weeping and wringing their hands, apparently suffering intense agony at the spectacle they had witnessed. Thus ended the mortal career of one of the youngest criminals that ever expiated his guilt upon the public scaffold. After hanging an hour on the scaffold the body was cut down, and in the course of the afternoon was interred within the precincts of the gaol. Calcraft completed his disgusting task amid yells, hisses, and fearful imprecations from the mob... It is supposed that there were between 30,000 and 40,000 persons on the ground."

The groundswell of popular support for McCaffery, with much public opinion in the north west of England firmly behind his cause, gave rise to this song, a eulogy of sorts. It is #1148 in the Roud folksong index.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

9: The Bonny Grey

A song about a cock-fight. The words were carried on broadsides printed around 1850; see for example the version by Harkness of Preston. John Harland also gives a text in Ballads and Songs of Lancashire, Ancient and Modern, first published 1865 (see the 1875 second edition here). He writes: "This song celebrated a famous cock-fight in the days of 'the old Lord Derby' — Edward, the 12th earl — who was very fond of the sport, and who died in 1834... The song appears to indicate that the cock-pit in which the battle was fought was in Liverpool [at Jim Ward's, the inn kept by a pugilist in Liverpool]; and it is clear that the Earl and the Prescot lads backed the cock named 'Charcoal Black,' while the Liverpool folks supported the 'Bonny Gray,' which proved the victor." Of course, other versions of this song place the action elsewhere (one well-known version from further along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal is "The Holbeck Moor Cock-Fight"); however, given that Lord Derby's family seat was in Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool, and Prescot was on the edge of his estate, there is a certain geographical logic to this version of the song.

The tune I'm using is based on the one given in Frank Kidson's Traditional Tunes for "The Holbeck Moor Cock-Fight", though I have to admit to some deviation (as a result of personal repetition and subsequent drift in recall). Kidson notes the similarity with the air often used for 'The Bailiff’s Daughter', which seems to have been applied to these cock-fighting songs. Kidson also wrote back in 1891 that "the brutal sport of cock-fighting is happily now at an end. The following song is a relic of the past"; but of course, cock-fighting does still go on in northern cities, and no doubt elsewhere in the UK. (For the picture above I've chosen a painting from the National Gallery of Scotland by the Lancashire painter Robin Philipson because I think it really drags us into the middle of the fight.)

The Bonny Grey and its cock-fighting relations are #211 in the Roud Folksong Index.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

8: The Quality of Mersey

A traditional Merseyside song, the words reconstructed from childhood memories by Stan Kelly. I'm left at a bit of a loss as to the tune to use for this; Stan Kelly's songbook does suggest that the tune is close to 'The Banks of the Condamine', however something close to the tune of 'The Erie Canal' has been used (and suggested) by Stan Kelly at other times (who points out that he derived some of the reconstructed words from that song), and it's also this tune that's used by The Mersey Wreckers, who sing a longer version, augmented with some of their own words. I've gone along with that consensus and the tune I use here is pretty much 'The Erie Canal', mainly because I do enjoy singing the song this way.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

7: Van Diemen's Land

Stan Hugill, in his book Shanties from the Seven Seas, tells us that this transportation ballad was used as a forebitter (i.e. a song for entertainment sung around the fore bitts of a ship, as opposed to a work song), and was popular among Liverpool seamen. He prints this version with a very local flavour, collected from T.W. Jones of Liverpool. Those familiar with the later ballad "The Banks of Newfoundland" will note the similarities in both words and tune.

A letter of 1790 from Thomas Milburn to his father and mother in Liverpool (taken, printed, and distrubuted as a broadside), sets out the hardships of the voyage in grim detail: "I am arrived at this place, after a dreary passage on board the Neptune. Had I followed your good counsels I had never suffered so much distress and misery as I have done in my passage here, the bare reflection of which makes my blood run cold in my veins; and many times I had wished that I had died at home rather than to have lain at the mercy of such merciless tyrants... As an instance of our wretchedness it was customary among us when any of our comrades that were chained too us died, we kept it a secret as long as we could for the smell of the dead body, in order to get their allowance of provision… I was chained to Humphrey Davies who died when we were half way, and I lay beside his corpse about a week and got his allowance of provision and water during that time. There were about 140 died on the passage through extreme hunger and wretchedness."

Transportation to Van Diemen's land and elsewhere in what is now Australia was a common punishment for crimes such as theft and poaching, often in commutation of the death sentence. Between 1788 and 1868, the years that parts of Australia were used as penal colonies, more than 165,000 were shipped away there. Lancashire's cities provided a high proportion of those transported, so it's not a surprise to hear a Liverpool version of this song given that so many people from the city would have been sentenced in this way; however, the theme of a poacher being transported occurs regularly in many English songs such as Henry the Poacher, and versions of Van Diemen's Land existed elsewhere in the country, often given the name "The Poachers" or "The Bold Poachers". Various forms of the ballad were also printed for the broadside trade. Van Diemen's Land is #519 in the Roud Folksong Index.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

6: Back Buchanan Street

Another song for a changing Liverpool; this one was written by Harry and Gordon Dison for a BBC song writing competition in the mid-1960s, and was one of the entries selected to be peformed on TV.

It quickly found popularity around the city, which was in the midst of a 'slum clearance' programme moving people away crowded conditions in the inner cities to the nearby new towns of Kirkby, Skelmersdale (affectionately(?) known as 'Skem'), and Speke. In spite of the promise of improved living conditions, for many people there was an acute sense that communities were being broken up and that people were losing their homes and being ripped away from places they loved. This song gives voice to that sense of loss. (Given the present-day tearing down of swathes of Edge Hill, it has a new resonance.)

A recent article in the Liverpool Echo gives some of the context for this song: "Over 100,000 people began to leave the spiritual homes of their forefathers, bulldozed into the suburbs in the name of progress and slum clearance. The city’s skyline across its most visible and historic inner city districts would never be the same again. But this wasn't just about the loss of hundreds of famous streets as the Swinging Sixties dawned. It was about the separating of families, relatives, friends and neighbours who had lived together for a lifetime... These words struck a heartfelt chord with those who were now disappearing to the outer limits."

The photo used above is taken from the fascinating Lost Tribe of Everton and Scottie Road website (associated with the book of that name by Ken Rogers).

Sunday, 8 May 2011

5: Liverpool's an Altered Town

A broadside ballad of the 1830s, originally printed by Harkness of Preston; I first found this in Roy Palmer's book A Touch on the Times: Songs of Social Change. The tune is "Bow Wow Wow", regularly used for broadsides of this period.

The song is a little too, er, Gilbert and Sullivan? for my tastes. That's what it conjures up for me anyway. And I admit to cutting it down from 9 verses to 6 verses (those who want the full words, do feel free to get in touch with me). Nevertheless, I have personally lamented some aspects of Liverpool's change in recent years, particularly the compulsory purchase and demolition of Victorian homes in Edge Hill, and the enclosure of swathes of the town for the Duke of Westminster's cathedral to consumerism and chain stores, "Liverpool One". It's therefore interesting to hear a song sort of lamenting the rate and scale of change to the town back in the early part of the 19th century.

Over the course of the 19th century, Liverpool's docks expanded along the waterfront, while its population, swollen by movement from rural areas and immigration from Ireland (often en route to America and elsewhere) grew from under 100,000 to closer to 1,000,000 - above I've illustrated Liverpool as an increasingly sprawling mass by using an 1865 engraving by William Morris (whose work I wouldn't want to simplify here, but who certainly disapproved of the cramming of people into rapidly expanding cities to meet the needs of industrialisation). Of course, the emergence of Liverpool as a major city also led to much important civic architecture, and this is commemorated in the song: we hear reference to new church buildings and the grand Custom house, built on the site of Liverpool's old docks, and now itself demolished after suffering world war two damage. Today, you can look down a hole in the Liverpool One development to see the Old Dock (which this song insists was "The theme of many a sonnet") underneath. We also see reference to the expansion of land use for docks and commercial developments (such that the shoreline had receded beyond Jack Langan's, i.e. the pub run by Langan, the Irish Champion boxer, half a mile or more), and the introduction of the new police force in 1836.

It's worth noting that the enterprising people at Harkness of Preston also published very similar broadsides "Manchester's an altered town" and "Preston's an altered town", changing a few words here and there. Waste not, want not!

(I'm posting this one a couple of days late - apologies, hopefully won't become a habit!)

Friday, 29 April 2011

4: Poor Old Horse

This mixolydian tune, with some of the words, was collected by Frank Kidson from the singing of Mr Mooney of Liverpool. Frank Kidson (1855-1926) was one of the pioneering collectors of folk song in England, and it was in Liverpool, where he lived and worked as a picture dealer and pawnbroker, that he did some of his most important research. Alfred Mooney, a railway clerk, was one of his Kidson's key Liverpool informants.

The song is published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society Vol. 2 No. 9 (1906); although published under the heading "Sailor Songs", it is not the sea shanty of the same title ("They say old man your horse is dead..."), but its land-based relative. Originally the words were/are used by mummers in the 'Old Horse Play' around New Year's Day, sung in rural villages of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere. The mummers bring a wooden horse from door to door and sing of its demise - the death of the horse perhaps symbolising the death of the old year. The words found their way to the cities as street ballads on cheaply printed broadsides (the image I use above is taken from one of these broadsides): you can see copies printed by McCall of Liverpool and Kiernan of Liverpool in the Bodleian Library broadside collection.

So an interesting example of the Liverpool broadside printers' influence in bringing rural folk-song to the city, and with a tune that I haven't heard anywhere else (if anybody knows of this tune being used in other places or for other songs, I'd be interested to hear about it). Poor Old Horse, in its many different varieties, is #513 in the Roud Folksong Index.