Today, I felt somewhat metallic, so I went back to a tune I wrote back in the 70s. It’s been a while, so it’s a bit rough round the edges. (The fact that both the guitars are actually the same acoustic – a Gibson J160E – made it a bit harder on the fingers than it needed to have been, too.) Distorted lead is the way I originally wanted it, but I might do an acoustic version instead when I do it properly.
I sometimes think there should be a song to go with this, but never got round to writing some words.
This is my setting of a poem by William Butler Yeats. I posted a recording of it in 2015, when I was essentially making it up as I went along, but coming back to it after a year or two, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it.
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
Had it not been for Facebook, I might never have realized that so many people regard summer as starting around Midsummer. I suppose astronomical summer (as opposed to meteorological summer) explains why Springwatch feels so late in the season.
In a way, it’s very English to centre summer on the available daylight rather than meteorological patterns, since we’re usually pleasantly surprised by days on which it doesn’train. Though I suppose warmer rain has its advantages.
Having only troubled to look into this so late in life, I’m now wondering whether to celebrate the start of summer (again), regret the imminence of the solstice (light-wise, it’s all downhill from here), or wait a few days to wish you a happy St John’s Day (and maybe even St Peter’s Day a few days after). Or maybe I’ll just go back to not thinking about it at all. However, being in Cornwall at the time of Golowan probably makes the latter course of action impractical. I’m already in danger of extreme fascination with this world of Obby Oss (I’d love to have reproduced Charles Causley’s poem here, but you can find it in his ‘I had a little cat’ collection) and Obby’s connections with Old Penglaze and the Mari Lwyd. Not to mention Mirk of Lilleshall and his description of how St John’s Day turned from devotion to gluttony and sin. I think I’ll just leave that there.
[Article expanded and updated, July 2016. Updated again in August 2016. Remastered version of recording added February 2020, and I’ve given the updated song/article its own page here. See also this page for more background info.]
Words & Music by David Harley, copyright 1975, but based on Ron Nurse’s article (transcribed below) . All rights are reserved.
This is Harley in folkie mode. Ron’s article was written for the Shrewsbury Folk Club magazine in the 1970s. I believe his source material was in the Shrewsbury Chronicle archives, though there is also other material relating to the death of Thomas Anderson, notably in the Shropshire Gazetteer (also transcribed below). Sadly, Ron recently passed on, but I was at least able to sing the song in his presence, tell the story of how I came to write it*, and shake his hand at a Shrewsbury Folk Club reunion a few years ago. I transcribed Ron’s article for my Shropshire Blues blog – which has a lot to do with Shropshire, but not very much to do with blues or even cheese – but that blog doesn’t get much attention now I no longer live in Shropshire. So I reproduced it in the article you’re currently reading.
And yes, I know that Thomas A. Anderson is the real name of Neo in The Matrix, but I’ve never been quite sure what I could do with that information. 🙂
*In brief, I was sitting in my room in a nurse’s home in Bracknell, and came upon my copy of that magazine. Clearly, my social life at that point in my life lacked sparkle. Well, I was playing a lot of music, but hospital shiftwork did sometimes affect my ability to get out and about. Anyway, it occurred to me that the article would be a good starting point for a song. And indeed it was, except that having written that one folky song – or, as the dulcimer player Holly Tannen once remarked, “it sounds so old!” – people started to expect me to do more things like that rather than the strange mixture of shanties and blues that comprised most of my repertoire at that time. And that, folks, is how I started along the road to concentrating on my own songs rather than interpreting the music of others.
The discarded 1980′s studio version didn’t have first verse, had an alarming pre-echo in places, harshly recorded fiddle, and a so-so flute part. (I have no idea where that came from: I don’t remember working with a flautist on those sessions.) So I’ve abandoned it. However, the current version revisits that instrumentation (courtesy of a very versatile electronic keyboard, since I don’t play fiddle or flute), plus guitar, bouzouki and mountain dulcimer. Yes, Virginia, those are all real instruments added by the miracle of overdubbing. 🙂 Hat tip to Ann Merrill Gray, with whom I used to sing when living in Shropshire, and who lent me her dulcimer while I decided whether to buy one of my own. (I did, but it hasn’t appeared on an MP3 yet.)
Here’s a video based on a podcast.
A Load of Cobblers (and Tanners and Leatherworkers)
The first lines of the song make a little more sense if you know about the Shoemaker’s Arbour. This is a detail from the Arbour, in Shrewsbury Dingle, showing the somewhat dilapidated Crispin and Crispian (the latter more commonly known as Crispinian). The Dingle is part of the park known locally as the Quarry (and to the rest of the world as the Quarry Park). The Dingle is the part where stone was actually quarried. It’s now a rather attractive sunken garden, forever associated with the late Percy Thrower. As for what is known locally as ‘a mingle in the Dingle’ we’ll pass swiftly over that.
We’ll also tip hats to the ghost of Mrs Foxall, said to haunt the Dingle after being burned at the stake there in 1647 for witchcraft and the murder of her husband, and move on. Though perhaps one day I’ll uncover enough information about her to be worth a song.
Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of cobblers, tanners and leatherworkers. One version of their story is that they were executed in the third century AD for preaching Christianity to the Gauls, while earning their crust as shoemakers. An alternative version associates them with Kent (and Faversham in particular).
We are but images of stone Do us no harm We can do none St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we On the arch of the Shoemaker’s arbour
High above the river on Kingsland we stood On the gate to the hall of the shoemakers’ guild Where the bakers, the tailors, the butchers, the smiths And the saddlers too their guild arbours built. Each year in procession the guilds gave a show And marched through the town to the sound of the drum: Then it’s back to Kingsland to feast and carouse And enjoy the great day the guild members come.
We are but images of stone Do us no harm We can do none St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we On the arch of the Shoemaker’s arbour
On the 10th of June 1752 In a house called The Crown that stood on Pride Hill John Richards’ workmen received a week’s pay And there they stayed and drank their fill. When a redcoat patrol chanced to pass by The men mocked and reviled them with Jacobite songs And who struck the first blow no-one was sure But a bloody riot soon raged through the town.
The authorities trembled with passion and fear When news of this Jacobite outburst was known For the House of Hanover had won few hearts And the Stuarts still plotted to win back the throne. And so that same year, one raw day in December, The rebellious townsfolk of Salop looked on While below the old arch of the Shoemaker’s Arbour They made an example of Tom Anderson
Who was once spared by death on the field of Culloden Then joined the dragoons but deserted, they say, Only to die on the banks of the Severn By firing squad on a cold Winter’s day. When the black velvet suit was stripped from his body The Chevalier’s colours were beneath it, it’s said, Received from the hands of Bonny Prince Charlie Whose cause like young Thomas is broken and dead.
For it’s 200 years since Bonny Prince Charlie Died drunk and embittered, an old man in Rome While a century ago in the flowers of the Dingle The old arbour gateway found a new home. Now who’s to remember the Shoemakers’ Guild Or the Jacobite rebels who fought for a throne? And who’s left to grieve for Tom Anderson But these two hearts of stone?
We are but images of stone Do us no harm We can do none St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we On the arch of the Shoemaker’s Arbour
Black Velvet (article by Ron Nurse)
An article written by the late Ron Nurse for Issue 10 of the Shrewsbury Folk Club Magazine in 1973.
The two figures are of solid stone, but in spite of that fact, and the pious plea once carved between them (now almost effaced), some vandal has helped the hand of time to give them many a hard knock.
WE ARE BUT IMAGES OF STONE DO US NO HARM WE CAN DO NONNE
These images which represent St. Crispin and St. Crispian, and the arch of which they are part, once graced the entrance to the “Shoemakers’ Arbour”. But that was long, long ago: now they are part of the Dingle, that elegant centre piece of Shrewsbury’s Quarry Park. In its present position it does little to grace the orderly plots and rows of flowers, but the arch does have one thing in common with the flora of the Dingle, for it was transplanted here just as they were.
Years ago the arch stood on Kingsland, high on the other side of the river, and was the gateway to one of the many guild arbours that once stood there. Until well into the middle years of the last century the tailors, smiths, butchers, saddlers, and well as the bakers and shoemakers, had small fenced-off guild halls on the stretch of open ground that was Kingsland. These made a centre for all the drinking and merrymaking which took place after the show day procession of the Shrewsbury guilds. This took place on the second Monday after the Trinity Sunday, each year.
What scenes of revelry these old mutilated effigies must have seen in those far-off days, but then, can stone eyes see? Can stone hearts feel? Mayhap it is a blessing at times if they cannot.
One cold December day in the year 1752, a tall man dressed in a handsome suit of black velvet, was standing just below the shoemakers’ arbour on Kingsland. Despite the cold biting wind he was not alone, many others were braving the elements on this dull winter’s morn. Most were here of their own free will, but not the man in black, nor the row of scarlet-clad soldiers facing him.
Behind the soldiers a motley crowd of townsfolk stood silent, and waiting for the last act of a grim drama. Soon that black velvet suit would be stained a sodden red; clothing a corpse, as cold and lifeless as the two stone figures on the arch of the shoemakers’ arbour, overlooking this grim scene.
Sharp and clear across the river, the towers and spires rose above the huddle of buildings sheltering behind the ancient town walls. Sharp and clear on the frosty air rang out the musket shots, and the towers and spires of Shrewsbury flung back the sound. But Thomas Anderson did not hear the echo; did not feel the wind which now seemed to be blowing a little colder; and there was no warmth in the ray of sunlight that broke through the grey clouds, putting its finger on the grey stone arch and its inscription. “We are but images of stone, Do us no harm we can do nonne”.
Fate has a way; a path which each of us must follow to the end. She gives favours with one hand, then takes them back with the other. The victim of this grim drama had been spared from death on the battlefield of Culloden, but only to die here on the bank of the Severn. Shot down like a mad dog this raw December day. As warning to the people of Shrewsbury town that it was dangerous to think that a Stuart King could ever again sit on the throne of England.
It all started on the 10th of June 1752. The workers of John Ritchards, master builder, had received their pay at a pub called the ‘Crown’, which once stood on Pride Hill near the old ‘Butter Cross’. The day had been very hot, and building being thirsty work, it was no wonder that some of the hard-earned pay had been exchanged for liquid refreshment. Strong ale can lower the inborn sense for caution so that when a patrol of soldiers happened to pass by the pub, they became the butt for a stream of abuse and coarse with from the drinking men.
In 1752 the events of the 45 Rebellion, when Bonnie Prince Charlie marched his army as far South as Derby, in his bid to place his father on the throne, were just that few years past to be looked upon with a romantic nostalgia. Flora MacDonald, who helped to save the life of Charles Stuart, was a heroine in the eyes of the majority of the people of Britain.
[There is a hand-drawn illustration of the archway and the effigies here in the original article, but they haven’t survived the photocopying process very well. One of these days I’ll see if I can scan them in and clean them up in Photoshop, but in the meantime here is a photo of the arbour across the Dingle pond, to take their place. DH]
On the other hand, the Hanoverian Prince, the Duke of Cumberland, had made a dismal failure of the only victory he ever won in the whole of his military career. For the cruelties he ordered, or allowed, against the Highland Scots after the battle of Culloden had brought him the title ‘The Butcher’.
It was a fact that none of the early Hanoverian kings captured the least spark of respect or loyalty from their British subjects. The only thing in their favour was the fact that they were Protestants.
Then in the year 1750, Prince Charles Stuart renounced the Catholic religion and declared himself a member of the Church of England. Then in 1752 he was plotting to kill or capture the Hanoverian family, and place the ill-fated Stuart line back on the throne.
All these facts made the Whig authorities somewhat jittery. Watch was kept for any hint of the Stuart cause being supported by the people, the faintest sign of which must be stamped out quickly, before the fire could spread.
The affair which started at the ‘Crown’ in Shrewsbury would be looked upon as a demonstration in favour of the Stuarts, for some of the pub’s patrons were wearing white roses, and bawling Jacobite songs at the red-coated soldiery. It is on record that one of the songs they sang was this one, once very popular but now seldom heard.
OVER THE WATER TO CHARLIE
Come boat me o’er, come row me o’er Come boat me o’er to Charlie I’ll gie John Ross another bawbee T o row me o’er to Charlie
Chorus: We’ll o’er the water, we’ll o’er the water We’ll o’er the water to Charlie Come weal, come woe, we’ll gather and go And live or die wi’ Charlie
It’s weel I lo’e my Charlie’s name Though some there be abhor him But oh! To see ‘Auld Nick’ gaun hame And Charlie’s foes before him
I swear by moon and stars sae bright And the sun that glances early If I had twenty thousand lives I’d gie them a’ for Charlie
I once had sons, I now ha’e nane I bred them toiling sairly But I would bear them a’ again And lose them a’ for Charlie
[There’s a version from Mudcat including the melody. Ron didn’t have the advantage of the Internet when he wrote this article. – DH]
Needless to say, such conduct by the citizens of Shrewsbury could not be overlooked. Something had to be done to bring the common rabble back into line, and to show them to what end their traitorous action could lead them. Therefore the stage was set for the tragic even which took place six months later.
Thomas Anderson, the man in the handsome black velvet suit, was killed on that steep green slope, just downriver from the ‘Boathouse’, for more than one reason. He had deserted from Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons. It was alleged that he had taken part in the 1745 rebellion, and that when the black velvet was stripped from his body, a sash was found next to his skin: the colours of the Chevalier, given him for the part he had played in the bid to depose the Hanoverian King George II. But the real reason was to put fear into the hearts of the people of Shrewsbury, especially the ones who had the audacity to sing rebel songs before the red-coated troopers of the King.
Could these songs have once lit the fires of civil war in Britain? In 1752, some men thought so.
Ron Nurse (Article transcribed and very lightly edited by David Harley, to whom all errors may be attributed…)
The Death of Thomas Anderson
Here’s an account of the death of Thomas Anderson from the Shropshire Gazetteer.
One of the last executions that took place in this kingdom on account of the Stuarts, occurred in Shrewsbury … Mr. Thomas Anderson, a Yorkshire gentleman, from the neighbourhood of Richmond, had risen to the rank of lieutenant in Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons, and had deserted from it. This offence so unusual in an officer, must it is probable, have been visited with the extreme severity of military law. It originated in his attachment to the exiled family, for whose service he was also charged with enlisting men. His trial which lasted three days, commenced at Worcester on the 16th of November, 1752, and after the sentence he was removed to the town of Shrewbury, where orders were received for his execution. Several petitions for mercy were laid before the King, from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Worcester, and Shrewsbury, but these are supposed to have been very far from doing him service, as the political principles of the petitioners were more than suspected. On Monday, December 11, about ten in the morning he was conducted from the gaol to Kingsland under a guard, attended by the regiment. The mayor with his usual attendants was also present. Mr. Anderson was in asuit of black velvet, and behaved with great composure. His dying speech consisted chiefly of religious sentiments very properly expressed, but a few passages of it indicate his political sentiments. He prays God “to strengthen the ancient church, to encrease the members of the Royal family, and protect and guard the dearest P——-, (probably Prince Charles Edward,) wherever he goes. As to the late account from London” he says “that he is pre-advised of it, and can justly say that he is guilty only of one of the faults charged upon him.”
In his letter delivered to the sheriff on the morning of his execution, he holds the same language: “Nothing laid to my charge has been proved, except desertion.” He requests the sheriff to cause all that befell him at Shrewsbury, and the friendship shewed him by its worthy citizens during his confinement, to be inserted in the London evening paper. “The whole town, and you, with Lady Kynaston in particular, have an assurance of my since thanks. The rest is to assure you that I’m entirely resigned to die, annexed to an assurance that nothing gives me any material concern, solely an affection that I have offended a GOD who has always treated me so tenderly.” His last words were a request for silence, that he might exculpate Mr. Wilding, the governor of the gaol, from a malicious accusation of having treated him unkindly. “I now declare upon the word of a dying man, that both he and his wife used me with the greatest tenderness and humanity, during my confinement with him.”
Mr. Anderson then composed himself to death. Five soldiers were appointed to shoot him, but only three fired. The balls from two, entered one into each breast; the third shot him through the head. Some signs of animation still remaining, the commanding officer stepped forward with a pistol, and released him from all sensation: an action which was considered by the spectators, who deeply sympathized with the sufferer, to indicate a ferocious resentment against the deceased; but which may perhaps be more candidly ascribed to the humane desire of terminating his agonies. He was buried in St. Mary’s church yard on the same day. A strong feeling of indignation was excited in the regiment by the apostacy of Mr. Anderson. They would not permit the funeral procession to enter the church, that part of that fine service might be suppressed. In return, the curate, Mr. Brooks pronounced it all, without curtailment, at the grave.
I recently looked for that grave in the graveyard of St. Mary’s, but was unable to find it. In fact, the mossy condition of the gravestones made it difficult to identify any of the people interred there at that time.
A thread on the ‘You know you’re from Shrewsbury when…’ Facebook page drew my attention to Pauline Fisk’s fascinating My Tonight From Shrewsbury blog and in particular this article on the abolishing of The Old Shrewsbury Show. This grew out of the show organized by the Shrewsbury trade guilds in the Middle Ages, referenced in Ron’s article and in our song. However, the show was abolished around the time that the Shrewsbury Flower Show began. I have an idea that the end of the old show was mentioned in ‘Fairfield Folk‘ by Frances Brown, but I don’t have a copy of that book to hand.
The Shropshire Guilds page at Shropshire History also includes some interesting information on the show, and photographs of guildhalls that still survive in Shrewsbury and elsewhere in Shropshire, even though (to the best of my knowledge) the only surviving physical trace of the feast halls on Kingsland is the Shoemakers’ Arbour, transplanted to the Dingle by the newly-established Horticultural Cultural society around 1875.
Footnote: my wife recently linked to this article from an article of her own about the Shoemakers’ Arbour. To answer a question asked in a comment to that article, I’ve sung this song in many places in the past forty-odd years, but if it sounds familiar, that’s likelier to be because the tune borrows from the traditional carol ‘The Bells of Paradise’, which seemed appropriate because it was a song that Ron often sang.
This is a sort of West London blues for the 1980s that probably demands an authentic glo’al stop here and there, but I don’t think I could carry that off, in spite of many years living surrounded by Londoners. There again, I don’t think Lily Allen carries it off either, but it doesn’t seem to have harmed her career.
You don’t hear much about inhalant and solvent abuse nowadays – certainly not here in Cornwall – perhaps because there are plenty of more glamorous highs around, but it certainly hasn’t gone away. It was one of a batch of songs I wrote for a review in the 1980s, but didn’t offer it for consideration because the show was going into quite different directions. I’ve never performed it in public that I remember.
Words & Music by David Harley: Copyright 1981
I stay away from dear old dad
He’s out of a job and gets to feeling bad
And it don’t take much for him to lose his rag
He hits the beer from time to time
And mum takes it out on me and Brian
But when we’re not at home we don’t much mind
It’s their way of cooling out
Of course I haven’t worked since I left school
No jobs around, and I’m no fool
I can get more money on the street as a rule
It would really get right up my snout
Stacking crates and washing bottles out
Anyway I like to get out and about
Got me ways of cooling out
Dad thinks mum’s got the dropsy bad
There’s this smell of glue all round the flat
But I’m away down the road with me blowsing bag
If he asks I’ll say Bri’s into Airfix kits
And off I’ll go with me Evostik
Down the park with me packet of crisps
Got me ways of cooling out
Mum thinks I’m always down with a cold
She says I’m off me nut but then I’m never home
When I’m reeling round on a toluene high
But you’ve got to do something when it all goes grey
So I’m back down the road with Mick and Dave
The caretaker chases us off the estate
But we’re only cooling out
Dad’d go spare if he knew, I bet
But he’s too busy drinking himself to death
And mum only sees what she wants to see
That’s her way of cooling out…
Part of this popped up as a poem on social media this morning. (I expect it often does, but I just happened to notice it on Facebook.)
I often think I ought to learn it, but I probably won’t, for all the reasons described in the song/poem, not to mention an increasingly unreliable memory. Anyway, this is a version performed by the Weavers at Carnegie Hall during a reunion concert (probably in 1980).
And here’s a thread on Mudcat about the origins of the poem, set to music by Pete Seeger, who used these lines as a chorus:
How do I know my youth is all spent?
My get up and go has got up and went
But in spite of it all, I’m able to grin
And think of the places my get up has been.
The thread includes a couple of versions of the poem/lyric. According to a poster to that thread, it was written by Homer A. Shiveley in the 1930s and published in the local newspaper in West Union, Ohio.
Alas, my get up and go seems to want to go several times a night…
However, this is rather more country than country blues.
Old-ish country-ish version:
More recent version:
A trace of your scent still lingers on my pillow
And raises echoes in my memory
And I believe you’re missing me almost as much as I miss you
But I wish to God that you were here with me
The sun will surely rise on another soft blue morning
And lying in your arms is where I’ll be
With sweet dreams still in my eyes, I’ll wake and kiss your hair
But it’s a long cold night while you’re not here with me
This guitar once played for keeps, but since you changed my life
This guitar just plays for you, if that’s OK?
This guitar rang bells for losers, but there’ll be no more songs of losing
Though this guitar just plays the blues while you’re away
I suppose it’s appropriate to go back to this given the part of the country I now live in. 🙂
A setting of the poem by Rudyard Kipling. I have in mind a guitar accompaniment I’m not quite comfortable with yet, but this version is unaccompanied with some harmonies, and it may stay that way. The words and a few notes are available from this page. I believe Peter Bellamy used to sing a version set to ‘The White Cockade’, which I guess would readily lend itself to a more chorus-y version. In the 70s, I remember hearing a version to a different tune sung in Berkshire that used the second verse as a chorus.