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

came a-calling.

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!"



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,


Œmodernising¹ 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


Dear All

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.

Best wishes,

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 >

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

second question?"


Keep smiling, keep singing.