Songs

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These are some of my songs. Some use familiar tunes; for others, I have given a link to a downloadable PDF; contact me if you would like the tune in ABC format. You are free to sing them, or circulate them, up to the (unlikely!) point of  making any money out of them.

List of songs

A Tin of Sardines.
Aberfan.
Senghenydd.
Gorse and Heather
A Dangerous World
Victims of War
Y Blotyn Du (The Black Spot)
Don’t try it at home
 

 

A Tin of Sardines

Tune: Shoals of Herring

O it was fine and a pleasant day
I was working hard in the garden
When it came to teatime then I stopped and said
I think I’ll go and find a tin of sardines

Well I searched the cupboard and what did I find?
I found nothing even rhymed with sardines
So I put on my coat and got out the car
I was hunting for a tin of sardines

In the busy traffic and the one-way streets
To the Co-op store I soon  was faring
On the  canned fish shelves I found my prize
It was there I found a tin of sardines

O I bought some sardines and came out the shop
By my car there stood a traffic warden
O no I said, don’t give me a ticket
I only stopped to buy a tin of sardines

And when I got back home I went to open the tin
I didn’t think the job would be a hard one
But the ring pull broke, and the tin opener failed
I couldn’t open up the tin of sardines

So I tried a chisel, but I cut my thumb
So I swore and said I beg your pardon
There is little pleasure and the kicks are many
When you’re opening a tin of sardines.

O I’m in the kitchen, I’m a desperate man
Staring at that bloody tin of sardines
With my thumb in plaster, what can I do?
I think I’ll have some cheese on toast instead.

(Last line, spoken, can be varied at will – scrambled eggs, bread and jam, beans on toast, whatever)

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Aberfan

 On Friday 21 October 1966, a colliery tip, on the hillside above Aberfan, collapsed, killing 116 children in Pantglas school, as well as 28 adults. Verse 5 takes some poetic licence with the numbers.

For the tune (PDF), click Aberfan

It was a bright October morning
The autumn leaves were turning brown.
And all the news that I heard that day
Was about a place called Aberfan.

The school bell tolls, the children running
As with their friends they laugh and play
On the hill above, the tip stands silent
The start of just another day

Unaware of the danger threatening
The children gathered in the hall
They sang of all things beautiful
They sang of creatures great and small.

The coal tip moved so swift and suddenly
It crushed the school beneath its weight
For years the warnings were unheeded
They left the children to their fate

Two thousand rescuers scrabbling hurriedly
But every crevice had been filled
Two hundred bodies, mainly children
A generation had been killed.

For fifty years the tip had stood there
A brutal monument to the miners’ toil
They knew the dangers underground
But not the ones above the soil

The tips have gone now, and the mines are silent
The valley sides are green and wild
And yet I hear, blowing through the branches
A mother weeping for her child

 

 

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Senghenydd

The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster occurred in Senghenydd, near Caerffili (Caerphilly), Glamorgan, Wales at 8 a.m. on 14 October 1913, killing 439 miners. It is the worst mining accident in the United Kingdom.
For the tune (PDF), click Senghenydd

In the town of Senghenydd the colliery’s silent
The pit wheel stopped winding a long time ago
But let us remember that October morning
When four hundred miners were killed down below.

At eight in the morning a young boy has wakened
He has to get ready to go off to school
His father and brothers had gone to the colliery.
Then there came a loud rumble that shook all the walls.

What was that noise Mam? the young lad he asked her
But his mother had turned as white as a sheet
She clung to the table, too frightened to answer
Outside all the neighbours ran down the street

Down at the pit-head the crowd quickly gathered
Gazing with dread at the terrible sight
The force of the blast had ruined the buildings
Would all their menfolk come home tonight?

Nine hundred and fifty went down the mineshaft
Into that hell-hole to hew out the coal
Four hundred and thirty-nine miners were killed
Leaving women and children in grief to grow old.

For three long weeks they searched through the workings
Risking their lives until all hope had gone
Just seventy two bodies, broken and battered,
Only known by the clothes they had worn

An enquiry followed, the owners were guilty
For the dangerous conditions allowed underground
Methane and coal dust had caused the explosions
The mine owners were fined just twenty-four pounds

Now empty chairs sit close by the table
And empty jackets that hang on the door
And empty hearts that yearn for their loved ones
Fathers and sons who will come home no more.

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Gorse and Heather

 This song is based on the saying ‘When the gorse is not in bloom, kissing’s out of season’.
For the tune (PDF) click Gorse and Heather
Note that there are two parts to the chorus which can be separated – so you can have either one or the other, or both.

When the nights draw in, and bonfires burn,
And damp mist fills the air
I met a girl, by the golden gorse,
And coal black was her hair

Chorus
And now let us all rejoice and sing and this is the reason
For the golden gorse it is in bloom and kissing’s now in season
So come rain or shine, wind or weather
We’ll go roaming you and I, through the gorse and heather

When the cold winds blow and snowflakes fall,
And streams are laced with ice
I kissed that girl with the coal black hair
Beside the golden gorse

When the soft rain falls in the bluebell wood
And the birds sing all around
When the sap is rising and the green buds swell
Then I laid her on the ground

In the lazy days, when curlews cry
Purple heather was our bed
When skylarks fly in a cloudless sky
My girl and I were wed.

Now many years have passed away
As the seasons run their course
And although our hair has turned quite grey
We still kiss beside the gorse.

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A Dangerous World

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Tune: Fourpence a day

Chorus
Floors may be slippery, kettles may be hot
Knives may be sharp and water may be wet
Peanut butter may have nuts, or so the labels say
Isn’t it a dangerous world we live in today.

When I was a young man and I was in my prime
I’d jump on moving buses, I did it all the time
They stopped you doing that, they said it did you harm
They don’t know what fun it is each time you break an arm.

I bought a hammer yesterday when I was in the town
I thought it was a bargain for it cost me just a pound
When he said “You need some safety gear” it shook me to the core
With goggles, gloves and safety boots it cost me fifty more.

I’ve got a nice new mower and it sits out in the shed
The manual weighs twenty pounds and says it must be read
I went to sleep while reading it, the rest you ought to know
The manual fell from my hand and broke my bloody toe.

I saw a road sign yesterday, it told me to take care
Dangerous bend, steep hill ahead, you must engage low gear
Accidents this year so far, two hundred and forty three
It took so long to read that I drove into a tree.

I had to mend a fuse, just the other night
The instructions said “For safety’s sake, be sure to do it right;
Switch off the power at the mains, while doing the repairs”
I did, but then it was so dark I fell right down the stairs.

My song is almost over, there’s more things you ought to know:
Snowballs, comkers, sunbathing – they all have to go.
You want to lead a long long life so do as the doctor said
Don’t smoke, drink, or eat too much – you might as well be dead.

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Victims of War

Tune: A young sailor cut down in his prime

1. As I was walking down by the Royal Arsenal,
Early in the morning though warm was the day,
When who should I see but a gallant young soldier,
Wrapped up in a shroud, and cold as the clay.

Chorus
Then beat the drum slowly and play the pipes softly,
And play the dead march as you carry him along;
On top of his grave place a bunch of white lilies,
Just a young man cut down in his prime.
(Subsequent veses italicised words replaced as indicated)

2. Along the edge of a field a young boy is walking
Tending the goats that his family own
Under the soil, death lies waiting
Another young boy who is not coming home.
Chorus as v1 until...
Just a young boy cut down in his prime.

3. In the middle of the market a young man is standing
He’s fighting for freedom, or so he’s been told
He mutters a short prayer and touches a button
Another young man who will never grow old
Chorus as v1

4. On a far away mountain a woman is weeping
Waiting for her daughter, who has not come home
Death came from the sky on the day of her wedding
Just a young woman who will never come home.
…her,,
Just a young woman cut down in her prime.

5. In the ruins of a building, a blind man is sitting
His wife and his children are lying there, dead.
He puts out a hand and he touches their faces,
They were sheltering terrorists, that’s what they said.
them, their
Innocent people cut down in their prime.

6. On the beach, by the poolside, tourists have gathered
Their only thought is to lie in the sun.
Children and mothers, old men and lovers,
So far from home and they died by the gun.
…them, their,
Innocent people cut down in their prime.

7. So let’s shed a tear for these victims of war
Let’s not forget those left behind
Let’s shed a tear for all of these people
All of these people cut down in their prime.
Then beat the drum slowly and play the pipes softly,
And play the dead march as you carry them along;
On top of their graves place a bunch of white lilies,
All these people cut down in their prime.
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Y Blotyn Du (The Black Spot)

I got this song from an excellent record, Caneuon Llofft Stabal (Stable-loft Songs) , of recordings made in the 1950s and 60s of the singing of farm-workers. The songs were in Welsh, but the LP included a transcription of the Welsh words and a literal translation. This is my adaptation of that translation, in which I have attempted to retain (or mimic) some of the patterns of the sounds of the Welsh. The record is now available as a CD (accompanied by another LP of Plygain carols) on SAINSCD2389 – unfortunately without the text and translation.

This song is from the singing of Tom Davies (from Cwrtnewydd, Ceredigion) in 1966, who learned it in c. 1895. It seems to have been translated from an English broadsheet in C17 by “Sampson Edwards the Weaver” and may refer to a murder in Penryn, Cornwall in 1618.

Jeremy Dale, March 2013

For the tune (PDF) click Y Blotyn Du

A story I’ll unfold About a sailor bold
A cruel tale I have to tell Of murder and of gold

There was a poor farmer With a farm down by the water
His only son away had gone, The wide world for to wander

For seven long years he wandered To where the cannons thundered
A pirate wild on the ocean wide And many a ship he plundered

By storm and water riven By seas and weather driven
Their sails all rent, their rigging wrecked, At last they found a haven.

To his sister’s house he went, To test her was his intent
He said to her “Is your brother here? With a message I am sent”

She answered with alarm I fear he’s come to harm
But I’ll know him sure if he comes here. He’s a black spot on his arm

He bared his arm straight way, “I’m your brother” he did say
She welcomed him with open arms And bade him there to stay

When he showed her all his plunder Her eyes were wide with wonder
You’re just in time to save the farm, You must go and tell your father

He went next day at dawn To the house where he was born
A stranger then he was to them With his hair and beard unshorn

Said the father to the mother Here’s a chance like no other
We’ll kill him when he sleeps and then We can steal all his plunder

When the night it was quite dark They took a knife so sharp
The mother brought the lantern bright The father pierced his heart

His sister came there early Bearing gifts so fairly
I’m looking for that man so fair Who came last night quite newly

Her father answered straight “No man came here last night”
“O yes, I swear it was my brother fair You surely can’t deny it.”

I saw he had a black spot, And gifts that he had brought
That he had seized upon the seas From the battles he had fought

The old man began to swear There’s no way we can repair
What we have done, killed our own son His fate we now must share

The mother began to moan, I bore him in my womb
I share the guilt, I held the light, The gallows must be our doom
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Don’t try it at home

This song was inspired by a comment at Whitby 2018 by one of the performers that at a recent gig, after singing Greenland Whale Fisheries, they had received feedback from the audience that they shouldn’t be promoting whaling. They said that perhaps we should preface songs with a disclaimer that we do not advocate the activities described in the song. This could clearly apply to a wide range of folk songs.

For the tune (PDF) click Don’t try it at home

There was a rich nobleman’s daughter
Fell in love with a poor servant lad
Her father really objected
So he chopped off the poor boy’s head.
Don’t try it at home (x2)
To decapitate lads
Is regarded as bad
So don’t try it at home.

I once met a wealthy young widow
Who said she’d a piano to mend
I don’t know much about pianos
But I fixed her double entendre.
Don’t try it at home (x2)
That wealthy young widder
Will have you for dinner
So don’t try it at home.

Johnny was a bold pirate
On the Caribbean sea
He took many prizes in many disguises
But his leg was cut off at the knee.
So Don’t try it at home (x2)
If you don’t like being lame
Stick to video games
Don’t try it at home.

Polly was an innkeeper’s daughter
Who loved a sailor so bold
While he was asleep, her parents did creep
And they killed him for his silver and gold
Don’t try it at home (x2)
She’ll scream and she’ll moan
Till to Bedlam she’s gone
So don’t try it at home.

If you want to be a folk singer
If you’re really determined to sing
You must be aware that the people out there
Will always believe everything.
(So tell them)
Don’t try it at home (x2)
Make sure that they know
When homewards they go, that they
Don’t try it at home.
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