Joe Stead – The Ramblings of an old Codger. Volume Twelve - September 2001.
Issue number 12 huh? That’s a whole year of Ramblings some of you poor folk have had to endure. So does that make me another year older and another year wiser, or simply another year older and slightly more pedantic?
The evolution of song has been worrying me quite a bit recently. I see more and more of it and invariably it has been giving me concern. Songs are bound to evolve. They are in their own form living things and all living things evolve, at least until they become the ultimate killing machine like a crocodile or a shark – creatures that have remained the same since times before mankind. But as usual I digress.
So before I start slinging mud at others perhaps I ought to own up to one of my own gigantic gaff’s. I’ve been singing the song ‘Joe Hill’ for over 30 years. But twenty years ago I was singing it without due care and attention. After a concert in New York State in 1981 a member of the audience pointed out to me that the line “From Salt Lake City up to Maine” was wrong. I should be singing “From San Diego up to Maine”. I told my inquisitor “That it didn’t matter!” Oh how wrong! The good man looked at me incredulously, then simply shrugged his shoulders and walked away. That was kind of him, because of course it matters and it matters deeply. San Diego is in the furthest south west and Maine in the furthest north east. So the author was actually saying “Right across the country”. By moving the town to Salt Lake City I was reducing the area and the significance of that line by a half. There may be other hidden reasons too why Alfred Hayes wrote San Diego and if there are they escape me, but ‘San Diego’ he wrote and ‘San Diego’ I should have sung. I later chastised myself for my ignorance and wished dearly that I could have called the man back to apologise for my rudeness. Perhaps by some miracle he will read this! Believe me, I sing the right words today!
So what do you think about the ‘Band of Two’? Friends of mine – or at least they were until they read this! On a recent cd they sing ‘Dirty old Town’. I’m concerned as to the very presentation of the song in this instance. It’s performed at almost a breath taking galloping speed. The beauty of lines such as “I saw a train set the night on fire” is lost in the hurry to reach the next line. Kids of today would be unable to imagine the beauty of a 4-6-2 (wheel type) huffing it’s way along the line, smoke reaching 30 or 40 feet into the air with the glow of the fire box lighting up the night because they’ve never seen it. It’s a beautiful image. Ewan always sang the song very slowly. To rush the line and the song with it is a terrible shame. Ewan recorded this song in 1956 with Peggy Seeger and Alan Lomax among others and he would never have written two lines in the first verse that each end with the word ‘wall’. So why sing “I met my love by the gasworks wall “ when the correct line is “I met my girl by the gasworks croft?” OK I’m being very picky I know. But it is a simple example of a song changing character and somewhat demeaning to a writer of great verse. When MacColl wrote songs he painted pictures. If we are going to mass produce these pictures we should at least try to keep the details correct. However having said that I’ve changed a line in the song myself. Believing the song was written about Ewan’s home town of Salford I have always sung “Smelt the spring on the Salford wind” but listening again to the 1956 version with Peggy Seeger it would appear that the original words were “Smelt the spring on the smoky wind”
In August, at the Maryport Festival (and I’ll tell you about that later), I had the pleasure of meeting and singing with a group from Doncaster called Landlocked. They sing mainly shanties and other sea songs and By Jove they enjoy themselves. They convey this enjoyment to the audience, they are a super fun group and I would urge any booking secretary to employ them. But whilst on stage with them singing the shanty Valparaiso round the Horn I began to hear strange words. One singer was singing ‘Heave and Bawl’ another was singing ‘Heave and Haul’. They should have been singing ‘Heave a pawl’ and it transpired that none of them were singing the correct word and afterwards none of them cared much that they were doing it incorrectly. (Visions of me in New York 20 years ago). So is it a big sin? Well frankly I think it is and certainly a lot worse than the previous example. (Incidentally a ‘pawl is/were metal dogs, hinged at one end, at the bottom of the barrel of a capstan. These dogs dropped into position on a pawl - ring at deck level to prevent the capstan from running back under a particularly heavy load. Without pawls, running back would have caused death and injury to those working at the capstan). Now in my opinion if you are going to sing a sea shanty (or even worse record it) then it’s absolutely imperative that you use the correct terminology. People are going to hear your version of the song and as a result believe it to be correct. (Incidentally I now realise that I dropped a gaff on my own cd ‘Valparaiso round the Horn’. I talk about the ‘nipper rope’ being the rope that joined two capstans together. When in actual fact the name of the rope was the Messenger Rope – the ‘nipper’ was a rope attached to the Messenger Rope – a small mistake but a mistake nonetheless). Back to the plot. To my knowledge there is only one shanty that includes heaving and hauling. Shanties are work songs and in his job a sailor either heaved or he hauled. He seldom did both unless pumping on the Downton Pump. Then he would be both heaving on the wheel and hauling on the bell rope. (Thus in South Australia we sing Heave away, haul away). Landlocked excuse for singing the shanty incorrectly was even worse than the mistake itself. I was told they only sang shanties for fun, they weren’t professional, so it didn’t matter. Well I’m sorry boys it does matter and it matters a lot. But having said all that I would still urge you to book them. They’ve put a smile onto the face of shanties, that counts for a hell of a lot and eventually they will appreciate the importance of getting things right. Getting the important words right won’t stop them and their audiences having fun I’m sure of that.
But the biggest, boldest and brassiest mistake of them all came within my ear range a couple of years ago at Chippenham Folk Festival. Have you ever heard of the traditional song Belfast Mill which is sung to the same tune and words as the song written by Si Khan called Aragon Mill? Well I have! Both Judy Cook and myself approached the singer afterwards to advise him of the dreadful gaff his group were making. But he would have none of it. Belfast Mill it was and Belfast Mill it was staying. Now that is unforgivable. Taking a modern song written by an established author of songs and changing the name of the town is in my book not acceptable. Of course the singer we heard might not have been the guilty party – but he was unprepared to take the advice of those who knew better. (Oh God I’m back in America again circa 1981 – how my mistakes come back to haunt me!) In this instance of course it would be possible to record the song with the wrong name and thus escape paying the writer royalties. I’m sorry it’s not on. It’s simply not acceptable. Artistes must research their material.
When the ‘Irish’ pub scene flourished here in Britain a few years ago I was hopeful that the music would rub off onto those who had never been to a folk club and some of the audience and singers too might want to investigate the medium a little deeper. I hoped (sometimes I am an optimist) that the folk clubs and festivals would benefit. Somehow I think it has had a reversal affect. I wouldn’t mind betting that some bright spark changed the name of Aragon Mill to Belfast Mill simply to sing it in an ‘Irish’ pub. It doesn’t take too much imagination to do that. I also think it possible that the Band of Two have speeded up slow ballads (Dirty old Town etc) to keep the punters in Irish pubs happy. “Let’s get to the chorus line as quickly as possible, no point painting beautiful pictures to this lot!”
And what of Wild Mountain Thyme? Do you really believe that the original song said: “If my true love she would leave me, I would surely find another”? What a load of male chauvinistic clap trap! I can’t and don’t believe it. The verse describes how the lover walks all over the mountain picking all the flowers to build a bower by a clear crystal fountain. That’s really romantic. Not just some of the flowers but all of the flowers. The song is a love song and nobody in their right mind writes a love song telling their lover all those wonderful things only to say in the next verse that it’s ok if they piss off somewhere because they’ll soon find somebody else round the corner. I firmly believe that the original words were; “If my true love she would leave me, I would surely find no other”, and that (despite being the only person in the Universe doing so) is what I always sing. It makes more sense too. No, no, I’m sorry I won’t have it. Some incoherent bum somewhere heard the song, didn’t concentrate, didn’t think about the meaning and as a consequence the world has followed along like lambs to the slaughter. Why don’t people think about what they are singing?
So am I being pedantic? Please tell me. Where do we draw the line? Tell me of gaffs you’ve either made yourself or heard others make. It should make interesting reading.
The birthday party CD will be available by mid September. Apart from myself it features, Karl Dallas, Rahel Guzelian, Jon Harvison, Sum’v’us, Pete Coe, Danny and Joyce Macleod, Matt Armour, Mary Humphreys and Anahata, Kimbers Men, The Amazing Mr Smith, The Mollyhawks, Chris Manners, Gina le Faux, The Wilson Family, Archipelago and Paul Downes. Should you wish to purchase it I will be sending a separate e mail to you all shortly. In the meantime if you want to put your names down for a copy now then simply send a cheque for £10 to Joe Stead, Providence Place, Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire. HX6 1BA. This price includes post and packaging and is therefore a wonderful bargain. (Honest Guv!). If you live in America then contact Bud Manning at > firstname.lastname@example.org for information. I believe the price will probably be $18.50
MICK TEMS BENEFIT.
Nora and myself travelled down to Cardiff in August to join a whole bunch of singers, dancers and musicians performing for the Mick Tems benefit concert weekend. It was good to see Mick again. He came to the concert on Saturday afternoon and obviously really enjoyed himself. I had a chance to sit and talk to him for a while and he seems optimistic about the future. It will be a slow long haul however, he has after all suffered the most sever stroke that a human is able to have and survive. I doubt if I would be able to have the strength of character he has in this situation. There were a multitude of performers so I won’t bother to list all their names, but I would like to complement Sian Phillips for organising the event so well.
MARYPORT FESTIVAL! The weather was lousy but the camaraderie, the audience participation and the organisation was top notch. Shep Woolley has organised the festival for the last three years and every year it just gets better and better. Full marks again Shep, in fact eleven out of ten is under scoring your management and enthusiasm. The man works his socks off to make it work and keep people happy. My only criticism of Shep is that he does too much. He always takes a couple of friends along for the ride, but it’s Shep who runs around moving the PA’s, it’s Shep who dashes around finding chairs when inconsiderate workshop performers like myself demand seating for the audience and it’s Shep who does this that and everything else. I know the feeling though Shep. You think to yourself shall I get old Bert to this? Then you think “Oh hell what’s the point? By the time I’ve found him, prised him away from the conversation and pint he is presently enjoying, explained to him what I need him to do, point him in the right direction and then possibly have to lead him by the hand and explain it to him anyway …….. well I might as well do it myself”. But perhaps more importantly the town is now looking forward to us coming. I frequently got stopped in the street by complete strangers and welcomed back. Without Shep’s organisational skills this would never have happened.
Nora and I arrived in Maryport at lunchtime on Friday and together with George Wilson and Geoff Higginbottam, (again thanks to the organisational skills of Shep), we were filmed by Border Television for the local news programme that same evening. We also recorded a shanty for BBC Radio Carlisle. The sun was shining, it was a lovely day but the weather forecast for the rest of the weekend was as bad as the weather proved to be. Nora enjoyed watching herself on tele that evening – and of course so did I.
The church service which is normally held on the quayside in front of the church at 11am on Sunday morning was postponed until the evening due to the involvement of other churches – which was at a time when all the singers had left Maryport to go home! I understand this whole contrivance was set into motion by a meddling guest last year suggesting to the establishment that a Mid-night Mass should be held. So the 11am service never took place which was a great pity because the original morning service was a joy to behold. A lot of the performers were looking forward to it. However the vicar, David Bickersteth, is on my Ramblings mailing list and so it transpired that I was invited to attend the Sunday morning Eucharist to sing Paul’s Song (Corinthians 1 Chapter 13 set to music by Pierce Pettis). Nora took communion. As a lapsed but confirmed member of the Church of England I felt it to be hypocritical to do so. The sermon was very thought provoking and there are a couple of a myriad of points he raised that I would like to discuss further at this juncture. David pointed out that churches in America have car parks the size of supermarkets and many are completely full each and every Sunday. Yet religion is not taught in any schools. 40% of the American population attend church regularly. In Britain the figure is 7%. Yet the Americans encourage capital punishment, think nothing of being the world’s worst exponent of carbon gasses and are doing nothing to remedy either problem. Meanwhile in Afghanistan the Taliban have arrested and are threatening to execute a handful of Christians (Americans amongst them) who have been bold and brave enough to start teaching the Christian message in the local schools. I’ve long thought that Christians teach a religion of love whilst Muslims teach a religion of fear. I think we’ve got it right, and remember I’ve lapsed. I suppose these poor people will face a public execution of either beheading or even slow hanging. May God help them ‘cos we certainly can’t.
But what would you do if the Muslim religion finally took over the world and all people were forbidden to worship any other way than the Muslim way?
I just saw a sign outside a church that read “No God - No Peace, Know God - Know Peace.” I thought this rather odd, incongruous even, considering religion seems to be the common denominator for wars starting. Why is my God better than your God?
Talking of wars it’s good to see Nigel Mazlyn Jones still battling away in Camelford regarding the pollution of the water down there in Cornwall some 13 years ago. He was featured briefly talking about the problem again on Nationwide BBC News. Someone ought to tell Mr Blair that Nigel ain’t going nowhere – at least not until this problem is resolved. People need compensation. You can’t just go round polluting the water supplies with zinc and expect the public to take it lying down. Some people have brain damage as a result.
Whilst on the subject of television Both Nora and myself have been busy filming as supporting artistes again in August for a programme called Twenty Four Seven. Some observant friends also saw my amazing 2 second appearance in Mersey Beat crossing the footbridge which was filmed in March. I must have been pretty outstanding, even my mother saw it!
A toast for your man in Russia.
My dear old friend Hamish Imlach used to say "Cheemo" [which he said was Inuit for cheers] and "May the hairs on your arse grow to sweep the ground". I do miss him...
I very much enjoyed your story and shanties at the Maryport Festival of the Sea. It was a shame the weather wasn't any better but I hope you have plenty of venues with large audiences - you certainly deserve it. I would like to buy a CD. But would like to wait until school begins again and then with any luck I will be able to charge it up to school. I hope to be able to inspire my 9/10 year olds at Maryport Junior School to sing some of the shanties. Unfortunately I do not have the shanty quality of voice required. I will do my best but this is probably where the CD comes in .
I got a letter regarding a sick child in a New York Hospital which I was supposed to pass on to all 700 of you on my list. This was doubtless another hoax. Meanwhile I might have been sent the Sircam Virus passed on inadvertently by Bram Taylor and John Heydon. Bram kindly sent me the antidote as well, along with huge apologies for passing on the virus. Of course he was blameless – apparently the thing works of it’s own accord once you have caught it, at random seeking out addresses in Address Books. Strangely enough my antidote checked my computer and found me completely clean. I also got apologies from numerous others. (Please note I again ran my anti virus programme before sending out this newsletter).
So I have to wonder what this Sircam Virus is all about and exactly what it does or does not do. There is no denying that both John Heydon and Bram Taylor inadvertently sent me an e mail without knowing it. I looked up www.vmyths.com and low and behold it is listed there, not as a myth but they talk about the mass hysteria that has been raking through the internet since about mid-July concerning it. Have a look for yourselves it makes interesting reading.
WARNING, CAUTION, DANGER, AND BEWARE!
“Gullibility Virus” spreading over the Internet!
WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Institute for the Investigation of Irregular Internet Phenomena announced today that many Internet users are becoming infected by a new virus that causes them to believe without question every groundless story, legend, and dire warning that shows up in their inbox or on their browser. The Gullibility Virus, as it is called, apparently makes people believe and forward copies of silly hoaxes relating to cookie recipes, email viruses, taxes on modems, and get-rich-quick schemes.
"These are not just readers of tabloids or people who buy lottery tickets based on fortune cookie numbers," a spokesman said. "Most are otherwise normal people, who would laugh at the same stories if told to them by a stranger on a street corner." However, once these same people become infected with the Gullibility Virus, they believe anything they read on the Internet.
"My immunity to tall tales and bizarre claims is all gone," reported one weeping victim. "I believe every warning message and sick child story my friends forward to me, even though most of the messages are anonymous."
Another victim, now in remission, added, "When I first heard about Good Times, I just accepted it without question. After all, there were dozens of other recipients on the mail header, so I thought the virus must be true." It was a long time, the victim said, before she could stand up at a Hoaxes Anonymous meeting and state, "My name is Jane, and I've been hoaxed." Now, however, she is spreading the word. "Challenge and check whatever you read," she says.
Internet users are urged to examine themselves for symptoms of the virus, which include the following:
The willingness to believe improbable stories without thinking.
The urge to forward multiple copies of such stories to others.
A lack of desire to take three minutes to check to see if a story is true.
T. C. is an example of someone recently infected. He told one reporter, "I read on the Net that the major ingredient in almost all shampoos makes your hair fall out, so I've stopped using shampoo. When told about the Gullibility Virus, T. C. said he would stop reading email, so that he would not become infected.
Anyone with symptoms like these is urged to seek help immediately. Experts recommend that at the first feelings of gullibility, Internet users rush to their favourite search engine and look up the item tempting them to thoughtless credence. Most hoaxes, legends, and tall tales have been widely discussed and exposed by the Internet community.
Courses in critical thinking are also widely available, and there is online help from many sources, including
Department of Energy Computer Incident Advisory Capability at
Symantec Anti Virus Research Center at
McAfee Associates Virus Hoax List at
Dr. Solomons Hoax Page at
The Urban Legends Web Site at
Urban Legends Reference Pages at
Datafellows Hoax Warnings at
Those people who are still symptom free can help inoculate themselves against the Gullibility Virus by reading some good material on evaluating sources, such as
Evaluating Internet Research Sources at
Evaluation of Information Sources at
Bibliography on Evaluating Internet Resources at
Lastly, as a public service, Internet users can help stamp out the Gullibility Virus by sending copies of this message to anyone who forwards them a hoax.
This message is so important, we're sending it anonymously! Forward it to all your friends right away! Don't think about it! This is not a chain letter! This story is true! Don't check it out! This story is so timely, there is no date on it! This story is so important, we're using lots of exclamation points! For every message you forward to some unsuspecting person, the Home for the Hopelessly Gullible will donate ten cents to itself. (If you wonder how the Home will know you are forwarding these messages all over creation, you're obviously thinking too much.)
ACT NOW! DON'T DELAY! LIMITED TIME! NOT SOLD IN ANY STORE!
I’m off to hospital tomorrow to have an operation on my left eye. I wonder if I’ll see things differently next month!
Keep smiling and keep singing.