Jack in the Box

Down in the workhouse when I was a lad
No tongue can relate all the pleasures we had
Dry bread, and Bastille soup by the bowl
And a flogging or two for the good of our souls x2

A tale I recall of those happy times
And an orphan lad always to mischief inclined
He was ever in line for a kick, at the best
And the poor workhouse master could scarcely find rest

Till came the day one of the other lads died
“Aha!” says the master, “I’ll settle your pride!”
He shut up the lad in the dead-house to stay
Alone with the coffin until the next day

But what should Jack do but open the box
He takes out the corpse, and with it swaps clothes
Props it up on the rail at the top of the stairs
Then he hops in the box and the winding-sheet wears

And when it grew dark, the master came up
With a plate for Jack, some victuals to sup
Holds it out to the corpse on the rail
Who says not a word, but stands stiff, cold and pale

“Well, take it!” the master says in surprise
“I should think you’d be starving by now, damn your eyes!”
Then up leaps Jack, who was lying so still
And says “If he wunna eat it, I will!”

When the master heard this he got such a fright
He let go of the plate, and turned whiter than white
Gave a terrible shriek, such a fright did he get
Fell back down the stairs and near broke his neck

Wasn’t that a sad fall for a man such as he
So kind to his charges, with his boot so free?
So pity the poor who must live on the Roll
And think on the guardians and pray for their souls

A half-written song of mine based on a story of Knighton workhouse from ‘An idler on the Shropshire borders’, by Ida Gandy. Told to her by Ellen Hughes (nee Jordan) 1864-1940 also known as Granny Hughes. Many thanks to her great-granddaughter Denise Lewis of the Memories of Shropshire FB group for the information and photograph.

The song doesn’t have a tune yet: in fact, I think I might just fit it to the well-known ‘Down-derry-down’ tune used for  various nautical songs including ‘The Dreadnought’/’Flash Packet’/’Liverpool Packet’/’Flash Frigate’… Though I guess it’s more naughty than nautical.

(c) David Harley

Llanfair Wakes

There was a man, long years ago, lived up in Skyborry
David ap-Evan was his name, a farmworker was he
Those days in Llanfair Waterdine each year they held a fair
And David dearly wished to go and see the wonders there.

“Gaffer, today is Llanfair Wakes; I’d dearly love to see
The doings that I’ve heard of there, if you can just spare me.”
Said farmer, “Not this year; why, mon, myself I have to go.
While I’m away, you must stay and scare away the crows.”

So David went down to the field, though he thought it wunna fair
And while he stood and grumbled, he saw a stranger there.
“David, it’s the Wakes today: why aren’t you at Llanfair?”
“Cos gaffer says to stay home, these ruddy crows to scare.”

Says the stranger, “Come with me, for I mean you no harm,”
And straightaway he called the crows and shut them in the barn.
So David went down to the Wake, and coming to Llanfair
He’d scarce been minutes in the place when he met the farmer there.

When he told the farmer what had passed, the mon began to rail:
Says he, “You think I’m simple, but I’ll not believe that tale!”
So back they went together, and the farmer said no word
Till they opened up the old barn door, and out flew all the birds.

“David, this is Devil’s work,” said farmer with a frown.
“I think you’d best be on your guard next time he comes around.”
Sure enough, before too long back the owd devil did roll,
A-tempting him to this and that till he feared for his soul.

One day as he was sowing wheat, the Devil told him straight,
“David, you must let me have half your crop of wheat,
So tell me which is my share, and you may keep the rest.”
“Why, take the roots!” said David, and so he came off best.

And sure enough the Devil came by as he was planting spuds.
Surely thinking this time he’d do himself some good.
“I’ve a mind to try some tater pie” says he, being cute,
“And I’ll not be caught out twice, me lad, so this time you’ll take the roots.”

Says David, “Twice I’ve bested thee, and third time pays for all:
But there’s a job you’ll do for me, if you mun take my soul.
Fetch me water from Llanfair up here to Skyborry,
And for summat to carry it in, this owd sieve I’ll give to thee.”

Owd Joseph tried, and tried his best, but no water could he bring.
“Third time pays for all,” said David with a grin.
“Uncle Joe, I’ve bested thee: you’d best be on your way,
And if you call this way again you can bring some tater pie!”

In course of time old David died, and when they read his will
It said “When I die, fling my heart onto the owd dunghill.
A raven and dove will fight for it, and then by that you’ll know:
If the dove wins, I’m for heaven; if the raven, for Uncle Joe.”

“And when my corpse you come to take, dunna go by the door,
Nor yet by any window, nor by any path or road.
And when you come to bury me, you’d best be on your guard:
Be certain not to lay me in church, or in churchyard.”

So they took some slates from off the roof to lift him through the gap,
And carried him along the dykes, and not by any path.
They laid him with his head in church, his feet in the churchyard,
And there he lay until at last Llanfair church was restored.

This is based on another story from ‘An Idler On The Shropshire Borders’, by Ida Gandy, told to her by a Mr Powell from Treverward, about halfway between Clun and Llanfair Waterdine. I’m not sure yet whether to put a tune to it or leave it as a recitation – poem seems a bit too grandiose a name for it. 🙂

According to Wikipedia,  “Skyborry” is an anglicisation of the Welsh for barn – ysgubor”. Llanfair or Llanvair means St Mary’s Church, while Waterdine denotes a place by the water.

(c) David Harley

Twm Siôn Cati 

A man of resource and a thief well-famed
Tregaron my home, Twm Siôn Cati my name
Your horses and cattle are all of my game
But rich and respected I’ll die, just the same

In an ironmonger’s shop in Llandovery fair
A fancy I took to a porridge pot there
Said the man “Oh, I have three of the best”
And one I admired above all of the rest

But before I ventured to lay money down
I examined the pot above and around
“Oh no, my good man, this won’t do for me:
There’s a hole in this pot as you plainly may see.”

He peeked in the pot, said “Your pardon I crave,
But no hole can I find, as I hope to be saved.”
“If you put in your head, you’ll see it quite plain…”
So he put in his head and tried once again.

But the man had such brains, his head hardly would fit
So I rammed the pot down, meaning but to assist:
The while that he struggled to free himself there
I tiptoed away with the other pair.

But as I departed, my pots in my hand,
Some advice I gave, as I left him to stand:
“Indeed, there’s a hole, for if there were not,
However could you put your head in the pot?

A story from George Borrow’s ‘Wild Wales’ about “the Welsh Robin Hood”, though Borrow didn’t seem to like him very much. Samuel Rush Meyrick tells a rather different version of the same story in ‘The History of Cardiganshire’ (1907). I wrote this at some point in the 70s, but haven’t put a tune to it so far.

(c) David Harley

Easy Jack [demo]

Words & music (c) David A. Harley

Originally written in the early 1980s for a revue directed by Margaret Ford, but not used. Because I wanted to reflect the sort of rough humour I often encountered in various industrial settings around that time, it originally included a reference to a misogynistic ‘joke’ I’d heard about a female worker described as ‘the factory bike’, not because I found it amusing, but because it was the way people often talked in those settings. When I found the song again, I decided that any authenticity it added wasn’t worth the discomfort.

Jack-easy is slang for very easy. If I remember correctly, it was also the name of a strip cartoon in one of the tabloids about a stereotypical British workman.

Bread and beer and a roof for your head
Easy, Jack, easy
Spinning a lathe until you drop dead
Easy, Jack, take it easy

Three pound an hour while you’re on your feet
Easy, Jack, easy
And all the chips and beans you can eat
Easy, Jack, take it easy

When I was still young and in my prime
Easy, Jack, easy
I’d knock out those countersinks ten at a time
Easy, Jack, take it easy

Now I’ve got wise and a rick in my back
Easy, Jack, easy
I keep two on the table and eight on the rack
Easy, Jack, take it easy

Here comes the foreman, the king of the shop
Easy, Jack, easy
I’d give a day’s pay to see his pressures drop
Easy, Jack, take it easy

When you get your ticket, take it from me
Easy, Jack, easy
Leave eight on the table and two up your sleeve
Easy, Jack, take it easy

David A. Harley



Apprentice Song [demo]

Written many years ago for a revue, but not used. The tune is basically ‘Tramps and Hawkers’. Vocal needs work. Or maybe it should stay as a poem.

(c) David  A. Harley

Fetch the rolls: make the tea: grab the end of that
And sand it till your fingers bleed, if you think you’ve planed it flat.

Call yourself apprentice? Lad, I’d be ashamed
If I knew so little, to be called by such a name

Never mind the splinters: In a year or two
You’ll have quite forgotten that they ever bothered you.

Hands as hard as English oak, muscle, skill and guile:
That’s what makes a craftsman; but not you, for a while

 Cut yourself, you silly sod? Take care, if you please,
And don’t bleed on the timber: do you think it grows on trees?

Call yourself a craftsman? No, lad, never you.
Though if you try your hardest, one day you might scrape through

 So you’ve got your piece of paper? I hope I’ve taught you well,
And I won’t deny you’re willing: no doubt time will tell.

Call yourself a craftsman? That’s as may well be…
Another year, or five, or ten, and then perhaps we’ll see…

David A. Harley

‘One Step Away’ released

Please forgive the absence of fanfares and fireworks, but ‘One Step Away (From The Blues)’ is now officially released, only three decades or so after it was first recorded for an album never released. Unlike the recent album ‘Tears of Morning’ and the single ‘Moonflow VI’, it’s available on Amazon and Apple Music, among other sites such as Spotify, as well as Bandcamp.


  • Me on acoustic guitar, vocal and electric slide guitar
  • Don MacLeod on acoustic lead guitar
  • Bob Theil on 12-string acoustic guitar

David Harley

One Step Away – a new old single…

Back in the 1980s, a handful of us – Bob Theil, Don MacLeod, Pat Orchard, Bob Cairns and myself – got together to record an album. Not a band album as such, but one that would represent the work of each of us as songwriters. Unfortunately, the album was never released because of contractual issues: it’s a pity, because there was some excellent stuff on it, in my unbiased opinion.

Fast forward to 2021: having reluctantly come to the conclusion that at my age and in my state of health, it’s unlikely that I’d do any more serious gigging even if life returns to something nearer to normal, so I’ve started to work on releasing some music digitally.

The first steps involved a couple of releases on Bandcamp:

  • The album Tears Of Morning, featuring songs and a few instrumentals, most of which have some connection with Shropshire, including my settings of verse by A.E. Housman and ‘W.H.B.’ – Bill Golembeski’s very kind review for folking.com is here.
  • The single ‘Moonflow VI‘ started life as a lengthy instrumental partnered with Bert Jansch’s ‘Needle of Death’ but took on a life of its own as the acoustic and resonator guitar duet ‘Moonflow III‘ (included on Tears of Morning), then acquired a couple of extra electric guitars, by which time it was in its 6th iteration.
  • My intention is that ‘One Step Away (From The Blues)’, though it will be released only a few weeks after ‘Moonflow VI’, will receive a wider digital distribution, though it will also be available on Bandcamp. It’s one of my tracks from the 1980s album mentioned above, remastered to the best of my ability, and it has a more contemporary edge than the ‘Tears of Morning’ album. It will be released on Friday 12th February 2021. (Wheal Alice Music WAM03-21)
    • Words & music by David Harley
    • Vocals, acoustic guitar and electric slide guitar by David Harley
    • Acoustic lead guitar by Don MacLeod
    • 12-string acoustic by Bob Theil
    • Produced, engineered and mixed at Hallmark Studio, London.

Here’s a live-ish video of ‘One Step Away’ coupled with another song that I haven’t commercially recorded yet.

CDs by Mal Brown

Some years ago now, I reviewed for Sabrinafu an excellent CD by Mal Brown called Sharp Stones and Tender Hearts.

He recently sent me a couple of his earlier CDs. Rule Changer is another music CD, and it’s just as good as the later album, with a generous 19 tracks, most of them written by Mal (including his setting of Walter de la Mare’s ‘Trees’ and the co-written ‘Johnny Jones’ Rabbit’, plus the traditional ‘Angels’. Mal’s excellent lyrics are supported by some fine tunes, some sounding almost traditional, some leaning towards music hall, but all good singable songs, with some sympathetic instrumental backing and classy harmonies.

Poems, Pies and Peas is a collection of poems and monologues, mostly without music. Not usually my thing, but this includes some hilarious content. I was particularly gratified to learn the real story of the Mona Lisa. 🙂

Prices and contact details as follows.

1CD – £10
2CDs – £15
3CDs – £20

Plus post and package.

  • Email – malbrownace@gmail.com
  • Phone – 01743 861159.

David Harley

Commercial links

Well, it’s a long time since I’ve done this… (Not since I did some cassette albums in the 1980s.) But I’ve finally started making some recordings commercially available.

Here’s a video: an introduction to my Tears of Morning album, a collection of songs and settings, most of which have a Shropshire connection. The album itself is available from Bandcamp, as is the single Moonflow VI (and as will be the forthcoming single ‘One Step Away’, though that will be more widely available).

Here’s a podcast link which is essentially the same message as the video, but a little longer and even less visually interesting. 😀

I’ll be adding links to this page as they go live. If I remember.

David Harley