Joe Stead - The Ramblings of an old Codger. Volume Nineteen - April 2002.
David Scott Cowper, an ex public school boy who insists on wearing a shirt and school tie beneath his sailing garb, was yachtsman of the year in 1991. David is presently on a solo circumnavigation of the world accompanied by the Joe Stead CD 'Valparaiso round the Horn'. He said it would help to ge him round the awkward bits. David has actually taken the most difficult route heading eastwards, he therefore intends to reach Valparaiso before heading round the Horn. I wish him well.
Dates for the diary. We (Kimber's Men) intend to spend Easter at the Foel recording studios in mid Wales finishing our CD.
Friday 12th April. The Dog and Partridge, Bollington, Cheshire. - Kimber's Men
Monday 15th April. The Shaw Inn, Barnsley - Kimber's Men
Friday 19th April. The Barge + Barrel - Kimber's Men, Joe Stead and Shep Woolley
Sat/Sun 4/5th May. Rochester Sweeps Festival - Joe Stead
Friday 10th May . The Grove Inn, Holbeck, Leeds - Kimber's Men
Monday 20th May The White Lion, Swinton, Manchester. - Joe Stead
Friday 31st May. The Cock Inn, Stony Stratford. - Joe Stead
I've had a most enjoyable March with gigs in Dewsbury and Huddersfield with Kimber's Men and solo in Bolton, Seaford, Heybridge Basin, Horsham, Gillingham and Bough Beech. In Horsham Lawrence Long conducted a 'Parkinson type' interview before my spot which was a joy to do. It might be an interesting idea for all folk club organisers to sit down for 5 or 10 minutes with the guest to simply chat about folk music and the old times. It certainly broke the ice with the audience - not that my audiences normally need to have their ice broken - but it was nonetheless an enjoyable experience for all.
Spring is in the Air and the Lib-Dems are seriously considering making cannabis a legal drug. If not legal, they are certainly threatening to decriminalise it. Will this help or set back their aspirations of governing the country? Consider the following points.
1. The New Labour Party and The Conservative Party are now all but one.
They have the same ideas and principles and both are showing distinct signs of decline in popularity. (Why they don't just form one party is almost beyond me). We presently have a government and no opposition.
2. Millions of people smoke cannabis every week. Millions of people might easily be persuaded to vote for an altogether new government especially if they think that the alternatives have failed miserably for the last 40 years or more. (Which is my view).
3. Millions of pounds leave these shores every month to line the pockets of drug dealers and criminals in far off exotic islands. There is nothing governments, customs or police can do to prevent it. Meanwhile you and I pay for this in a big way in additional taxation.
4. If cannabis is legalised and sold in shops, drug dealing by criminals will be dealt a severe blow and we will all (especially those that don't smoke marijuana) benefit from the huge sums the government will raise by taxation. Except we all know that whichever government is in power they will surely waste this new vast source of income.
Will legalising cannabis result in a huge increase in its use? Well some might say "I hope so", as cannabis is after all a relaxant drug which causes no real harm. But I would suggest that as so many people are already smoking it illegally each week legalising it will make little to no difference whatsoever. The underage kids who today buy cannabis from the street corner will be too young to purchase it from their local chemist (or wherever). And if the sale of cannabis by street dealers is undermined under aged people will find it in short supply from any other source other than the licensed shops that sell it. It could easily result in a lowering of smokers especially amongst the young. It might however result in an influx of people from foreign countries coming to Britain to benefit from the new laws and as we already have an influx of refugees seeking asylum this would not be a good move. I would however like to think that this would only be a short termed problem that would resolve itself in time, especially when other countries follow our lead. When you consider that children as young as ten are now smoking cannabis it would surely be a benefit to remove the source from which they obtain it from the street corner. I've never smoked cigarettes in my life but removing cannabis from ten year olds would surely reduce the number of children that smoke.
There has been very nice feed back from various people about the 'Ramblings
Past' chapters that started a couple of months back. I'm glad you are
enjoying them. (Chapter Three follows later). Curiously no sooner do I
mentioned McCarthyism in last months 'Ramblings Past' than I get letters
from Phil Cooper and Caryl P Weiss in America both of whom sent me the
following letter from Ronnie Gilbert. It is interesting in the last
paragraph to read that Ronnie Gilbert is saying exactly what I said in
October. Americans need to review their Foreign Policy attitudes.
"The FBI Knocks Again" by Ronnie Gilbert
For the second time in my life--at least--a group that I belong to is being
investigated by the FBI. The first was the Weavers. In 1950, we recorded
a couple of songs from our American/World folk music repertoire,
Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" and the Israeli "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena," and
sold millions of records. Folk music entered the mainstream, and the
Weavers were stars.
By 1952, it was over. The record company dropped us, and television
producers stopped knocking on our door. The Weavers were on a private yet
well-publicised roster of suspected entertainment industry Reds. The FBI
This week, I just found out that Women in Black, another group of peace
activists I belong to, is the subject of an FBI investigation. Women in
Black is a loosely knit international network of women who vigil against
violence, often silently, each group autonomous, each group focused on the
particular problems of personal and state violence in its part of the
Because my group is composed mostly of Jewish women, we focus on the Middle
East, protesting the cycle of violence and revenge in Israel and the
Palestinian Territories. The FBI is threatening my group with a grand jury
investigation. Of what? That we publicly call Israel's military
occupation of Palestine illegal? So does the World Court and the United
Nations. That the Israeli policy of destroying hundreds of thousands of the
Palestinians' olive and fruit trees, blocking roads, and demolishing homes
promotes hatred and terrorism in the Middle East? Even President Bush and
Colin Powell have gotten around to saying that. So what is to investigate?
That some of us are in contact with activist Palestinian peace groups?
This is bad?
The Jewish Women in Black of Jerusalem have stood vigil every Friday for
thirteen years in protest against the occupation. Muslim women from
Palestinian peace groups stand with them at every opportunity. We praise
and honour them, these Jewish and Arab women who endure hatred and frequent
abuse from extremists on both sides.
We are not alone in our admiration. Jerusalem Women in Black is a nominee
for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Bosnia Women in Black, now ten
years old. If the FBI cannot or will not distinguish between groups who
collude in terrorism and peace activists who struggle in the full light of
day against all forms of terrorism, we are in serious trouble.
I have seen such trouble before in my lifetime. It was called McCarthyism.
In the hysterical atmosphere of the early Cold War, anyone who had signed
a peace petition, joined an organisation opposing violence or racism, or
raised money for the refugee children of the Spanish Civil War--in other
words, who had openly advocated what was not popular at the time--was fair
In my case, the FBI visited the Weavers' booking agent, the recording
company, my neighbours, my dentist husband's patients, my friends. In the
waning of our career, the Weavers were followed down the street, accosted
onstage by drunken "patriots," warned by friendly hotel employees to keep
the door open if we rehearsed in anyone's room so as not to become targets
for the vice squad. It was nasty. Every two-bit local wannabe G-man
joined the dragnet, searching out and identifying "communist spies."
In all those self-debasing years how many spies were pulled in by that
Nary a one.
Instead, it pulled down thousands of teachers, union members, scientists,
journalists, actors, entertainers like us, who saw our lives disrupted, our
jobs and careers go down the drain, our standing in the community lost,
even our children harassed. A scared population soon shut their mouths up
tight. Thus came the silence of the 1950s and early '60s, when no notable
voice of reason was heard to say, "Hey, wait a minute. Look what we're
doing to ourselves, to the land of the free and the home of the brave,"
when not one dissenting intelligence was allowed a public voice to warn
against fanatic foreign policies we'd later come to regret, would be
regretting now, if our leaders were honest.
Today, another dragnet is out, and we are told that certain civil liberties
may have to be curtailed for our own security. Which ones? I'm curious to
know. The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech or of the press?
The right of people peaceably to assemble?
Suddenly, déjà vu: Haven't I been here before?
Hysterical neo-McCarthyism does not equal security, never will. The bitter
lesson that September 11's horrific tragedy should have taught us and our
government is that only an honest re-evaluation of our foreign policies and
careful, focused, and intelligent intelligence work can hope to combat
operations like the one that robbed all of us and the lives of more than
5,000 decent working people. We owe the dead that, at least.
As for Women in Black, we intend to keep on keeping on.
Ronnie Gilbert lives in Berkeley, California, and is writing a memoir.
She, Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, and Pete Seeger toured together in 1984 as
H.A.R.P. The live recording, "A Time for Singing," has just been reissued
in a much-expanded version by Appleseed Records. It should be worth taking
a look at.
On a more sinister note we also have to ask ourselves here in Britain if we
are prepared, should it happen, to blindly follow the Americans into
attacking Iraq. Mr Blair was given an overwhelming majority. He seems to
think he can do whatever he likes. Sorry I've got that wrong! I should
have said "Mr Blair does exactly whatever he likes!"
RAMBLINGS PAST - CHAPTER THREE.
When I was nine or ten years old I was quite a reasonable footballer. I
always knew then that one day I would play for Charlton Athletic, either as
a star striker or the perfect goalkeeper, so I could never understand why
Mr Donovan our sports teacher insisted on playing me as centre half in the
school football team. I actually made the school team a year early and
started out as a left winger. I didn't mind this at all, I mean I couldn't
kick very well with my left foot, but at least I was in the forward line.
Then in my last year at school he moved me back into the defence. Not my
preference at all; but I stuck it out because I was certain that I would
pass my Eleven Plus examination with flying colours and go to either Roan
or St Olaves Grammar School where my football education would prosper under
the correct tutelage. Actually looking back on it I don't think poor Mr
Donovan knew an awful lot about football. I mean he never coached us or
anything like that. He simply picked a team and we did the rest for
ourselves out on the pitch.
The Eleven Plus examination was a method of selection of school children at
the tender age of ten or eleven to decide whether they would go onto
Grammar School, where they would learn foreign languages, like Latin and
German or whether they would pass for a Secondary School, where they would
learn to be accountants and bank managers, or whether they would pass (and
I use this 'pass' word with a certain amount of tongue in my cheek) to the
Secondary Modern School to become car mechanics, plumbers, heating
engineers or road sweepers. Of course those that 'passed' for the last
section of students were generally assumed to have failed the examination
and thus the Labour government brought in Comprehensive schools in the
1960's where all students went to the same school. Instead of bringing the
standards of education up this method actually brought the standard of
education down, but as the exams were made easier to pass nobody really
noticed. Children of parents with abundant money went to Private schools
and moved onto University anyway - so they weren't affected, indeed if
anything they did even better as the opposition for top jobs became weaker.
So I was determined to go to either Roan or St Olaves because they played
soccer. Rugby was not on my agenda. Had I gone to St Olaves I would have
been in the same year and very possibly in the same class as Martin Carthy
MBE. However my hopes were very much dashed when I found that I had
'passed' as a 'Grammar Marginal'. This in effect meant that I could go to
a grammar school if they had room for me after the bright boys had been
selected. Of course every grammar school had to make room for a limited
number of Grammar Marginal's and thus I suddenly found myself going for an
interview at Aske's Grammar School in New Cross. To my utter amazement I
passed, although I don't remember if I said anything comprehensible at the
interview. Thus I suddenly found myself going to a school that did not
play football and I prepared myself for the fifteen man game.
Because I was quick and very lean I played in the three quarter line on the
wing. Strangely enough again it was the left wing and again I made the
school first team a year earlier than a lot of the pupils. I have to
confess I enjoyed it and thus when I left school to become an apprentice
heating engineer (which only proved the 11+ system was a failure) I joined
the Old Askeans Rugby Club. Back in 1959 it was an immensely strong club
with about seven teams that played regularly every Saturday from September
through until May. I started in the seventh team, ostensibly as a winger,
but got moved into the forwards - whence I stayed. Unfortunately now, some
forty years later, the club has all but disappeared.
Then one Friday in February 1960 the club held it's annual rugby club
dinner. This was nothing more than a steak and mushroom pie with a few veg
thrown in, but it turned out to be an immensely important day in the growth
of Joe Stead the folksinger. Before this time I had always slunk away from
the games immediately after they finished, never contemplating the joys of
the ritual booze up which in those pre-breathalyser days were the real
reason that most of the guys played the game. I had drunk the odd beer of
course but nothing like 'serious'. That night I got rather drunk indeed I
have to confess I did partake in quite a lot of ale. I remember my mother
in her old fashioned way had advised me to drink a pint of milk before I
went out that evening to 'line my stomach'. I hate milk on it's own, but I
duly obliged to keep her quiet.
I guess the meal started at 8pm and went on for about an hour or so, after
that we left the dining room and went to the bar. The whole evening is
understandably a bit of a blurr now, but apparently when the serious rugby
songs had been exhausted (and our club was renowned as a great singing
club) which was long after we had determined that Aunty Mary had a Canary
up the leg of her drawers, and after we decided that 'Choir boys we find
exciting', and after 'The hairs on her dicky dido' had hung down to her
knees for at least seventeen verses, and certainly after ' Stand by your
beds here comes the Air-vice Marshall' I apparently filled the vacuum with
songs such as 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore, Kum Ba Ya, Swing Low Sweet
Chariot and Brennan on the Moor'. My folk singing career in public had
started and I really don't remember anything about it! Apparently I was
still there at three o'clock in the morning teaching the Harlequin Number
Eight (and an English International to boot) the whole of Brennan on the
Moor, which apparently he mis-sung the next day whilst running out onto the
pitch at Twickenham as Brennan on the Whore. In those days rugby players
thought nothing of getting incredibly drunk the evening before an important
game and probably thought even less of changing the concept of Irish
traditional music. As I have mentioned in previous Ramblings - he would
not be the last. But I had become a celebrity overnight, a veritable star,
a celebrity in my own lifetime, and life would never ever be quite the same
again. I turned up at the club the next afternoon to be greeted as a hero
and was expected to lead the singing thereafter. A duty I performed with
much honour for at least five years or more. It was in itself an important
part of the folk tradition. There is nothing in the dictionary to insist
that folk songs cannot be crude or sexist. Sea shanties certainly were
both. We don't employ such tactics in these more enlightened days, but the
singing of songs passed down in a traditional way in the bars of rugby
clubs was truer to the definition of folk music than writing modern songs
and learning them from compact discs is today.
In those far off halcyon days I sung Swing Low Sweet Chariot very
frequently after rugby matches. The song has subsequently almost become
the National Anthem of the English Rugby team and I have to wonder if it
was me who introduced the song to the rugby world. The Old Askeans were a
very popular side who played a very high standard of rugby and in my
somewhat short career I played against and sung with rugby players from
Wales, Ireland Scotland, South Africa, indeed players from all over the
world. Some were internationals and some were probably the worst rugby
players on planet earth. The songs, which in those days were an integral
part of rugby life, were normally of a guttural nature at the start of the
evening so I pride myself as having brought just a little culture into
their lives as the evening wore on.
I remember once in the lower sides playing against a guy who only had one
arm. A one armed rugby player. There's guts for you. In the few years I
did play rugby I had a great time although sidelined for a season with a
knee cartilage injury sustained in Teignmouth. I organised a Sunday team
called 'The Two Magnificent Sevens Plus One'. We had our own jerseys too
and due to popularity had a second team called 'The Terrible Square Root of
Two Hundred and Twenty Five'. I remember the second team played a pub side
from Fulham that turned up with three Irish internationals and a South
African trialist. We lost by rather a lot. They were crazy fun days and I
was sorry to leave them behind me. Leave them though I did and I'll tell
you why in another chapter.
(To be continued).
You're not a fascist, you remind me of Hilaire Belloc, warts 'n' all (that
is a compliment by the way).
A poem for you, and a question: Why is the 'folk club' scene scared of
anyone who raises their voice, gets angry or is under 50? It's going to
die if it doesn't change its attitude!
Cheers Attila (the stockbroker).
(for Richard Castle)
Not the normal victims -
not this time.
Not the forgotten people:
the ones who put you there,
ground down now as before,
eighteen years of misery,
four years of betrayal.
Theirs is a routine, everyday suffering.
You¹re used to that .
Hospital waiting list, neighbourhood terror,
drugs overdose, the normal things.
You know how to deal with them.
They are sent to a spin doctor
and forgotten, along with their votes:
after all, you say,
they¹ve nowhere else to go...
But it wasn¹t them.
Not this time.
An unusually comprehensive capitulation
to the moneylenders in the temple
even by your nice, Middle England,
modernising¹ ecumenical standards, Mr. Blair.
This time, your friends connived
in the murder of some of their own -
for, yes, it was a first class inferno
in Carriage H.
And though safety before profit
and re-nationalisation without compensation
would bring a belly cheer of relief and hope
from everyone who entrusts their living bodies
to these everyday cylinders on wheels
and such a measure
would be one of the most popular governmental decisions
in British political history
you remain loyal.
Loyal as the puppet to the hand.
Loyal to the faceless, murderous thugs of capital
who lurk behind every New Labour smile.
The IMF. The City. The banks.
You don¹t care about us.
You dance on the graves of the Paddington dead
with talk of tube privatisation
and air traffic control privatisation
- the vapid sheep say nothing
and those who speak the truth
are called extremists.
And even after Hatfield
when the country is crying out for justice
when police want to prosecute
the filthy profiteering usurer scum
who murder our people
you do nothing.
My kind of Labour government
would re-nationalise the railways without compensation
imprison the entire board of Railtrack
and try them,
not for corporate manslaughter,
but for crimes against the people,
reopen the Northwich salt mines
and send them to slave there for life
with loop tapes of Phil Collins' greatest hits
and slow motion videos of Crystal Palace reserve games
as their only respite.
You are not my kind of Labour government.
I want something else.
And I want it now.
I got the following letter, along with a lot of other people, from Mary
Dickinson. You may already have seen it, if not it should be of interest
to you. It's about the silly "Two in a Bar Rule" which threatens to
undermine the natural presentation of folk music, or any other kind of
music in public houses. It is particularly relevant to folk music
enthusiasts as it threatens to undermine our heritage. I'm in complete
empathy with the contents, but I have to wonder why so many owners of
public houses are so loathe to obtain a musical performance license from
their local authority. Such licenses to my knowledge do not cost a
fortune. I believe here in Sowerby Bridge the license is about £100 a
year. It would be nice of course if the powers that be simply agreed that
music by more than two people could be played for nothing. Preventing
people from singing in a bar if there are more than two singers is
ridiculous and smacks of fascism. Americans will probably be amazed to
discover that such a stupid rule is seriously administered. Mary asks
readers to fax or write their MP's. You can still do this, but as the
initial reason for the letter has now passed I have omitted the relevant
The 'Two in a Bar' rule was enforced by an appeal court last week, making
it illegal for more than 2 people to sing in a bar on any one occasion.
The maximum penalty is a fine of £20,000 and a 6 month prison sentence -
The ruling was such that anyone joining in with impromptu music in a pub
session or club is deemed to be a 'performer' - so more than one person
joining in with a chorus song is against the law! To try and overturn this
nonsense, folkies and friends of folkies everywhere are being asked to
contact their MP now ... keep reading, it's easy.
If you can spare a few minutes to send an email/fax to your MP you might
help the folk tradition remain a living tradition.
Apologies again - hope you aren't offended by this intrusion on your time.
Mary Dickinson, Everyman Folk Club
You can now re read all my previous Ramblings from issue number one
onwards! To do this simply contact my web page > www.joestead.com
I asked my solicitor that if I gave him £500 would he answer two rather
silly questions for me. His answer was "Yes of course I will, what's the
Keep smiling, keep singing.