Category Archives: folk music

“We’re taking names …”

Here’s The Hill:

New U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Friday warned the international governing body’s members against crossing the U.S.

“There is a new U.S.-U.N.,” she said during her first speech at U.N. headquarters. “We talked to the staff yesterday and you are gonna see a change in the way we do business.”

“Our goal, with the [Trump] administration, is to show value at the U.N.,” added Haley, the former GOP governor of South Carolina. “The way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure that our allies have our back as well.

“For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names.”

To those of a certain age, a certain political “bent”, a certain cultural awareness, that takes us back — all the way to 1962.

There it was:

Oh we’re meeting at the courthouse at eight o’clock tonight:
You just come in the door and take the first turn to the right.
Be careful when you get there, we’d hate to be bereft,
But we’re taking down the names of everybody turning left.

Oh we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society—
Here to save our country from a communistic plot!
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks:
To get this movement started, we need lots of tools and cranks.

What goes around, comes around. 

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Elsewhere, I found myself trying to maintain the difference between an “engineer” and a “mechanic”. To that end I rattled off this:

My Dear Old Dad completed his apprenticeship as a locomotive fitter for LMS. That “qualified” him to be a Chief Petty Officer running three Packard high-octane engines on an MTB (= PT boat) up the war-time Aegean. I never heard him claim to be an “engineer”, or more than a “tiffy” (= artificer). In all truth, I’d rather a time-served mechanic worked on my vehicle’s engine than a desk-bound engineer — and so would some engineers of my acquaintance.

I think I also had in my head an ear-worm of Cyril Tawney’s Lean and Unwashed Tiffy (there was once a Youtube of this, but it seems to have been lost at sea):

61iw6i0bbyl-_sx425_I’m a lean and unwashed tiffy
I come up from Plymouth Town
I can fix it in a jiffy
If you’ll hand that spanner down
If you’ll hand – that spanner down.

Cyril acquired that first line from … Bill Shagsper, no less:

Old men and beldams in the streets
Do prophesy upon it dangerously:
Young Arthur’s death is common in their mouths: […]
Another lean unwash’d artificer
Cuts off his tale and talks of Arthur’s death.

It also crosses my mind there’s a further dimension of English social history in the word.

The OED has its earliest citation from John Gower:

And so forth of the remenant
Of al the comun poeple aboute,
Withinne Burgh and ek withoute,
Of hem that ben Artificiers,
Whiche usen craftes and mestiers,
Whos Art is cleped Mechanique.

One’s mestier is one’s trade, by the way — which survives in modern French as métier. So artificier and métier: two English acquisitions from (Norman-)French at the end of the Fourteenth Century. And that, of course, was the time, the end of the process, when the Norman aristocracy merged their language with the Saxon peasants.

But I’m wondering if we can go a bit further. The Black Death was the lubrication that transformed feudal servitude into one of wage-labour. I’m looking here at Philip Ziegler’s monograph on The Black Death:

Another point to which Thorold Rogers attached particular importance was the ease with which the peasant could escape from his manor in the chaotic conditions of the English countryside in 1349 and 1350. This ever-present if unvoiced threat must have made the landlord far mor amenable to the peasants’ pleas for better conditions of work.

The Establishment attempted to push back with the (ineffectual) Statute of Labourers — one of the best examples in history of dead-letter legislation. Ziegler, again:

The object of the statutes was to pin wages and prices as closely as possible to a pre-plague figure and thus check the inflation that existed in England of 1349-51. The Government realised that this could never be achieved so long as labourers were free to move from one employer to another in search of higher wages and so long as employers were free to woo away labourers from their neighbours with advantageous offers.

The essential clue there to why the Statute of Labourers could not work is is use of the word “employer” rather than, perhaps, “lord”.

The working man, then, could aspire to this new status: craftsman, mestier, artificer.

But what about “engineer”?

The OED gives its first citation to c1380 — remarkably contemporary with Gower, but at this stage specifically as:

A constructor of military engines; a person who designs and constructs military works for attack and defence.

Consider: two World Wars facilitated the development of the modern aircraft. Out of the Cold War and the associated Space Race we got everything from non-stick saucepans to the internet. During the Fourteenth Century the spread and sophisticating of gunpowder meant warfare and defences had to change. Enter the “engineer”.

The American usage of “engineer” for — specifically — the driver of a locomotive or the manager of a ship’s steam-power is illustrative of something akin. In both cases (trains and steam-ships) in early applications the steam-boiler was a damnably dangerous appliance of science. One didn’t rise to such a level of expertise without a long and onerous apprenticeship, for which one could proudly congratulate oneself.

Somewhere around here I have an aged bit of early-’60s vinyl, and Joanie Baez telling of Georgie’s fate on Engine 143:

51utcgazigl-_sx425_Up the road he darted, into a rock he crashed:
Upside down the engine turned; and Georgie’s breast did smash.
His head was against the firebox door, the flames are rolling high:
I’m glad I was born for an engineer, on the C&O road to die.

Youtube seem to have that one blocked, so we’ll have to suck it up with The Man in Black (no great loss, then: and it was a Carter Family song before Joanie):

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Filed under folk music, History, Johnny Cash, Literature, Music, Oxford English Dictionary, railways, reading, United States

Here’s to you, Robert Zimmerman

Two neat comments—

Heading out on Highway 61:


Source: New Yorker morning cartoon, by David Sipress.

And here’s a couple who’ve done rather well in life:


Source: Tweet by Miche Doherty @miche, “Irish actor with geekish tendencies. Citizen of the world.”

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Filed under folk music, Music, United States, US Elections

None of the best were just that

Well, it started here


Bears in woods? Papal denomination? Politicians moving lips?

By one of those iTunes mind-reading quirks, this was playing:

It could have been the well-smoked, mature voice, in a different context, and a different key:

Sad, isn’t it? when everyone and everything has to fit one particular narrow category?

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A tale of two Sams


You wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

She has one of the most published faces in the Tory Press, but today’s front page of The Times did her no favours:

The next time David Cameron asks his speechwriter to find an example of a famous business that has set itself up in a tax haven, helping to deprive Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs of millions of pounds, he may be given an answer a little too close for comfort. 

Smythson, the upmarket stationer where Samantha Cameron works as a highly paid “creative consultant”, has upped sticks from the UK for Luxembourg, one of Europe’s biggest tax shelters.

Company filings have revealed that Smythson, where the prime minister’s wife has worked for nearly two decades, is owned through a complex structure of trusts in Luxembourg and the Channel Islands.

This arrangement is likely to have helped the leather goods business, where a python-skin handbag will set well-heeled customers back £2,000, to avoid UK taxes.

The company is not accused of any wrongdoing — and there is no suggestion that Mrs Cameron has any involvement in the business’s tax affairs — but the news will nonetheless be an embarrassment to the prime minister, who has made clamping down on tax avoidance a feature of his premiership.

That is “news” only after the disaster that was Stefano Pessina putting the Boots in:

Pessina lives in Monte Carlo, with a fortune estimated at £7.5bn. Boots was targeted by tax campaigners when it moved its formal tax residence from Britain to Switzerland following Pessina’s private equity-backed buyout in 2007. Last year when Pessina merged Boots with US group Walgreens, there were plans to move the headquarters from the US to Switzerland for tax reasons, although the idea had to be abandoned in the face of a US political row and a potential customer backlash.

The weekend row started with Pessina, the 74-year-old acting chief executive of the newly-merged Walgreens Alliance Boots, saying that if Labour politicians acted in the way that they spoke “it would be a catastrophe”.

But the real horror must be the comparison of the two images above, both apparently from the same photo-op (“opening the Hong Kong outlet of Smythson”). The photographs are both credited to ImagineChina/Rex. On the left there is the web version, on the right a scan of the print edition.

The latter is a crying shame of a PSD (a Photoshop disaster).

On the other hand …

I find myself reflecting on a chain of coincidence:

  • Samantha Cameron (née Sheffield) is the elder daughter of Annabel (née Jones, and — a divorce and remarriage later — Viscountess Astor).
  • The Viscount Astor, William Waldorf Astor III, is the grandson of Nancy Astor.
  • Nancy Astor was the topic Hamish Henderson (or A.N.Other, for there are other claimants) celebrated in D-Day Dodgers:

Altogether now:

You’re England’s sweetheart and her pride:
We think your mouth’s too bloody wide…

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Filed under David Cameron, folk music, History, Quotations, Times

Travel on, through leaves and over bridges of time

Paul ClaytonDone laid around, done stayed around
This old town too long;
Summer’s almost gone, winter’s coming on.

Where he got it from is anybody’s business, but Paul Clayton slapped his copyright on it. There’s a long, long story in how the song came to be, narrated in glorious and excruciating detail by Bob Coltman.

They were all at the game in the early folkie years: even the sainted Pete Seeger sailed close to the wind with Wimoweh. So much so, there was a variant on that old morality, Keep your hand on your ha’penny, urging young song-writers to Keep your hand on your copyright.

Itin the Paul Clayton context, was Gotta Travel On. And therein, too, lies a story. On 31st January 1959, Robert Zimmermann was at a Buddy Holly concert at the Armory, in Duluth, Minnesota. On this tour Holly opened his set with an acoustic version of the Clayton-copyrighted Gotta Travel on. Two days later, Buddy Holly performed the same set at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. That night Holly, Richy Valens and The Big Bopper were killed when their aircraft crashed.

220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Self_PortraitOn 5th March 1970 Bob Dylan (transmogrified from the young Robert Zimmermann) was at Columbia Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, and recorded three minutes and eight seconds of Gotta Travel On, for the Self Portrait album. Not one of the Bobster’s better efforts.

If I had to choose a version (and in this context I probably do), it would be the way I first heard it, as Done Laid Around, from The Weavers 1958 album, with Erik Darling depping for Seeger (who’d offed himself over the music policies dictated by Vanguard Records, and over a cigarette advertisement). I can’t see how to load up that version.

It’s a very elastic piece: you can have it frantic, as Bill Monroe did it:

Or, as I’d prefer it, more reflective and laid-back, as the re-booted Kingston Trio did in 1965:

– — oO0 — –

So, yesterday, we were  off twenty miles up-country, and up-hill nearly four hundred feet, to Harrogate.Unknown

As far as I could see, the grain along the route hasn’t been harvested yet — but that can’t be long delayed. What I noticed — this much higher, perhaps a fraction cooler — were the leaves, especially on the oaks, were browning. There was a larger leaf-fall than I’d seen in York. Winter’s definitely coming on in these parts. And the winds getting round to the north.

Then, for reasons that are far too complicated to explain, but made perfect sense at the time, I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s short-story, Long Walk To Forever.

– — oO0 — –

O.K., class, everybody eyes down. Look at that opening sentence:

They had grown up next door to each other, on the fringe of a city, near fields and woods and orchards, within sight of a lovely bell tower that belonged to a school for the blind.

 Where’s the fore-shadowing there? Any other images that might be significant? You’ve noted them down? Back to the text:

“Could you come for a walk?” he said. He was a shy person, even with Catharine. He covered his shyness by speaking absently, as though what really concerned him were far away — as though he were a secret agent pausing briefly on a mission between beautiful, distant, and sinister points. This manner of speaking had always been Newt’s style, even in matters that concerned him desperately.

“A walk?” said Catharine.

 “One foot in front of the other,” said Newt, “through leaves, over bridges—”

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Filed under Britain, fiction, folk music, Kurt Vonnegut, Literature, Music, weather, Yorkshire

Lies, damn lies, and an extra layer

Mallett: extra layer

The University of York’s Department of Mathematics suggests the quotation wasn’t Disraeli, but may have been Sir Charles Dilke in 1891 — though they find analogues going further back.

Even so, there are things more deceitful, more lying than statistics: graphs. We had fine examples appended to Isabel Hardman’s piece, Jobs figures: good news on employment, bad news on wages. Significantly she saw the issue entirely in terms of  “the political debate”.  If there’s anything deliberately more misleading than a statistical graph, it is a political-statistical graph.

Speccy graphs

The upper one, allegedly on job creation, is as specious as it gets. As the next line down says, we are not talking of jobs being created, we are looking at “cumulative change in employment level”. When that is decoded, it’s not the same thing.

On Tuesday of this week, we had this:

Figures from the IPPR thinktank show that the growth in self-employment in the UK has been the fastest of all western European countries over the past year, a trend that is expected to continue when official labour market figures are published on Wednesday.

The number of self-employed has grown by more than 1.5 million in the past 13 years to 4.5 million and now accounts for more than 15% of the labour force.

 When Sarah O”Connor of the Financial Times got her sharp little teeth into that, she was less than impressed:

An average 7,700 people in the UK became self-employed each week over the past year. If these trends continue, the UK will soon look more like southern and eastern European countries, which tend to have much higher rates of self-employment, the think-tank said.

About 17 per cent of the Spanish and Portuguese workforces are self-employed, while the proportions in Italy and Greece are 23 and 32 per cent respectively.

… economists disagree about why this shift has happened and whether or not it will persist after the economy fully recovers.

Some argue that many of the newly self-employed are in fact barely working at all, which would suggest there is more slack, or untapped potential, in the economy than the 6.5 per cent unemployment rate would suggest.

Put that another way: for many, self-employment is just a waiting-room, either for a delayed retirement or for a properly-paid permanent job. It is certainly not a sign of a healthy, properly-functioning, industrially-based economy.

Elsewhere, courtesy of the Resolution Foundation, the FT blows the gaff:

Where the jobs aren't

That shows the further one travels from London, the less likely one finds a permanent job; and therefore one has to turn one’s hand to other ways of staying ahead of Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms”.

Which brings me to my second observation.

sdMy first proper teaching job was in the North-East. I was told by a colleague that the book to read was Sid Chaplin’s The Day of the Sardine. My original copy has long gone AWOL, and a re-read is well overdue.

More to the point, Alan Plater took the outline from Chaplin, added songs by Alex Glasgow, and came up with the superb Close the Coalhouse Door. Productions still tour, and still pack ’em in. Several fine songs came out of that: the one making my current ear-worm is Ours! Ours! Ours! Ours! Ours!. And, yes, I have been here before. The point of the lyric (which recites the progress to the 1947 nationalisation of the pits) is that the miners, like the rest of us cogs in the machine, are doomed to perpetual disappointment:

— When its ours, Geordie lad, when its ours:
There’ll changes bonny lad, when its ours!”

— Are you sure we’ll be all right? Is the future really bright?”

— (Oh, for God’s sake, man) We’ve won this bloody fight!
An’ its ours, all ours!

By the time I was in the North-East all those nationalised pits were being closed. The Wilson government was thrashing round to provide alternative employments — the running jokes in the back end of Coalhouse involve the Great Teesside Conurbation and par-foom factories.

What goes around, comes around.

Where that second graph above is so corrupt, so weaselly, so misleading is the sure-fire assumption that we are now at the bottom of any wages cutting. From here on, it’s all onwards and upwards.

As if.

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