Joe Stead - The Ramblings of an old Codger. Volume Seven - April 2001.

Dirty Linen ran a sea shanty feature called 'Mahogany Meat and Weevily Bread' in their Spring edition written by Steve Winick. (Dirty Linen, for those British readers who are unaware, is an American music publication from Baltimore second to none, well second perhaps to Sing Out, but that would depend on your preferences). Six recent releases by: Stan Hugill, The Boarding Party, Scutlebut, Jimmy Crowley, Bob Zentz and yours truly were given the once over. This is what they (Steve) had to say.

Joe Stead, a disciple of Hugill's and a fine singer himself, has produced an album of shanties with a difference. Titled 'Valparaiso round the Horn' it goes further that the essentially random arrangement of songs on most shanty albums. It is instead an account of a voyage around Cape Horn on a wooden sailing vessel in the year 1860, with narration, music and especially song. Stead's singing is strong and commanding, and he does a fine job on a whole range of familiar shanties, from "Paddy Doyle's Boots" to "Shenandoah" and from "Paddy Lay Back" to "Leave her Johnny leave her"

At appropriate moments, he includes forebitters like "Rolling down to old Maui" and "Andrew Rose", explaining each time his reasons for straying from the shantyman role. His chorus of rough and ready voices include John Bromley and Neil Kimber, and Gina Le Faux adds fiddle where needed.

There's no arguing with the music, and the narration is almost as good.

Points of interest, such as the first day of the voyage, the famous "Dead Horse" ceremony, and the final pumping out, are explained in the narration, and tidbits of information are doled out about individual shanties.

Sometimes Stead's information is partial. He speaks as if only sailors who were shanghaeid celebrated Dead Horse, due to their first month's salary having gone to pay off the crimp. But other sailors got in on it too, because their first month's pay had been given to them as an advance and spent before they set foot aboard. So for all hands the ceremony celebrated the beginning of paid employment. Stead also says that "Leave her Johnny leave her" was for the final pump out of the ship, but I've heard tell of it being used to warp the ship into dock. Still, Stead's narration is usually complete and never wrong, which is much better than you get on many sea-dog CD's. This one comes highly recommended for the most original presentation of familiar material. - Steve Winick

I've been talking to Eric Cowell of Brewhouse Music a bit recently. His label has been responsible for two superb sea shanty cd's by The Mollyhawks and The Shanty Crew. Both have come with excellent instructional books and a real treasure to anyone interested in this kind of material. Now is it strange, or am I just asking for trouble, when I ask why, and how it can be, that a prime national American magazine is prepared to give such an in depth review when our own fRoots magazine dismissed both Eric's albums as inconsequential and limited my own review to a few, admittedly reasonably favourable, lines? Well the answer must be simple. FRoots is always pushing on and crossing new borders. This is fine, I'm pleased they do.

Music is always moving on and it is pointless being stuck in the stone age forever. But they seem to dismiss some traditional material out of hand.

You don't have to be able to play and sing like Martin Carthy (although it obviously helps) to be a singer of folk songs. Dirty Linen once said about me "This is old-school folk music with a capital F, but surprisingly fresh". Well do you know I'm really very proud of that comment. I am old-school folk music and when folk clubs give me the opportunity to sing with them they invariably show great appreciation afterwards. Some are very surprised, delighted even, at the evening we've created together. The songs and the audience are the important part of any performance and the singer simply the instrument that connects the two.

Many years ago fRoots, or Folk Roots as it was in those days, started to publish a Top 20 of folk albums. Pete Seeger wrote and told them that a 'top twenty' was just plain stupid. They obviously took no notice of him because they continued with the practise. But a top twenty in folk music is unfortunately not always governed by the performance given. There are some simply wonderful albums out there by unknown or lesser known artistes if the public takes the time and care to look for them. This is not a new phenomenon - it has always been the case. In Britain we do at least also have the EFDSS magazine who are prepared to stick more firmly to the tradition and most local magazines give exposure to those releases that fRoots either dismiss or ignore. Eric Cowell (Brewhouse) wrote to me recently…….. "Did you know that Virgin spent £2 million pre release of the truly amateurish Mediaeval Babes? It hit pop and classical charts within a week of release. Virgin spent £250 thousand pounds making a film of the recording of Four Seasons by Nigel Kennedy. They then gave the film free of all charge to selected TV channels. An hour that the TV companies did not have to pay for. The album topped the Classical charts within a month of release. Not just here in Britain but in US, Canada, Australia etc".

It's plainly obvious that the likes of Fellside, Brewhouse and my own Private Label cannot even dream of competing with this.

So I would draw your attention to a new release that will be on the market from April 1st. Free Reed have kindly sent me a complimentary copy of the new (and first) Martin Carthy Collection. A four cd pack that comes together with a quite wonderful book with a fine forward by Colin Irwin entitled 'The Carthy Chronicles'. It retails at £39.99 and I cannot praise it enough. It is just wonderful. If you can afford to buy it contact them now. Do yourself a favour and strike whilst the iron is hot. A lot of the tracks have never been released on record before. It is a collectors dream. Drop Neil Wayne an e mail @ . I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

My own travels in March were curtailed somewhat by the dreaded Foot and Mouth. I had been planning a trip into Shropshire to perform the Valparaiso show at Minsterley Village Hall. Hopefully we will now do it sometime in the Autumn. But that apart I had three very interesting folk club gigs in such diverse places as Lowestoft, Barnsley and Ryton near Newcastle. It was wonderful to see, meet and sing with so many old friends who turned up out of the woodwork. At Lowestoft members of The Mollyhawks showed up together with long lost friends from Sowerby Bridge plus one club member who had not been to the club for 15 years, whilst at the other gigs club stalwarts turned out in their plenty. What was really great was the enthusiasm at all the clubs to join in and sing choruses. It is always a delight to play Barnsley. They even join in the verses of songs they've never heard before! The best lip reading club in the country?

I also did a spot of filming in March for the BBC. A new series entitled 'Silver Command'. I have no idea when it will be shown or if they intend to keep the same title for the programme. Rumour has it that it might be issued with a different name.

Now what of the immediate future? I'll be at the celebration of Eric Winter's life on April 1st at The Church Inn in Stalybridge. The event starts at 2pm and continues on into the evening. I'm hoping to pop over to Lancaster on Easter Saturday to do a spot with The Mollyhawks at the Shanty Festival. I'm booked at Rochester Sweeps Festival during the first weekend in May. May 5th (3-5pm) 'Liverpool to Valparaiso' in the Visitors Information Centre, and then the same day (8.30-11pm) Fort Pitt Grammar School. Sunday May 6th (8.30-11pm) Visitors Information Centre with Bob and Kathy Drage.

And now to the letters! My last missive certainly got a lot of you putting fingers to computer keys. The teachers income debate rumbled on despite the fact that I hardly mentioned teachers in Volume 6, well not a lot anyway. The main response was to my problem of where to put my vote if a General Election is called this Spring. Four wonderful replies. But first the teaching issue because two letters came which I think are worth including if only because they display the diversity of attitude amongst those that read The Ramblings.

Dear Joe,

Get to read the 'Ramblings' as you send them to my husband (Attila).

I am Head of Popular Music at Brighton College of technology, employed specifically because I am a working musician so that is a skill I still pursue. However, I am told that my duties at college are (although will not be limited to):


2 tutorial sessions a week.

student pastoral care.

student assessment.

curriculum development.

management of learning programmes.

student auditions.

educational guidance.


preparation of learning materials and student assignments. marking of assignments & exams. management and supervision of student visit programmes. research and other forms of scholarly activity. marketing activity. consultancy. employment of departmental staff (6). staff welfare. leadership and staff management. administration including registration, end of month documents and personal professional development.

I have 26 students.

A big responsibility? Yes. However, despite the fact that I run a whole department I am on a 0.5 salary and get paid 11,000 pa. Am I complaining? Yes, but not about the money. I'm complaining at the exploitation of someone who does all that, has all the responsibility - if one of my lecturers cocks up guess who has to sort it out - and works a 60 hour week as a 'part-timer'. I love my subject, I love my students, I love teaching. Will I continue? How can I? I thought I could change the bureaucratic system from within but realise that so many people who go into teaching do so precisely because they dislike the youngsters and love the paperwork. My sympathies are with your wife. I hope I can escape before I am in the same position. Robina Baine




I am heartily sick of hearing about teachers and the like who want to retire early because of ill-health, or more commonly, stress. I find it intriguing that such people are invariably in jobs where such retirement is tolerated, such as teaching and other state occupations.

There is nowhere near the same rate of incidence of the phenomenon among, for instance, self-employed owners of businesses. These people are far too busy making a living and safeguarding the jobs of their employees. SOP WHINGING and get on with the job - or else get out of it and make way for someone with more dedication. By the way, I have two daughters who taech, so I know the job is not made any easier by govenrment red tape. Please remove me from your circulation list. Don Haines


I've printed Don's letter exactly as it arrived. I find it interesting that people who disagree with me vehemently also immediately cancel the newsletter. Don appears to have missed the point somewhat. He suggests that unhappy teachers should get out of the job to make way for someone else. Well that is exactly what they are doing Don and my wife Nora might well be following the pattern herself very soon - the problem is others are not taking their places and, if Rabina is right, those who do enter the trade are not dedicated anyway. I'm also intrigued by the notion of self-employed people being "too busy making a living and safeguarding the jobs of their employees". I wonder if Don has ever heard me sing 'The much maligned capitalistic boss'? If he has I'll bet he didn't like it.

A few months ago we were joking about the American Presidential Election.

A lot of us however, myself definitely included, were unhappy with the final result. The joking has stopped now and reality is setting in.

President Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gases has provoked almost universal outrage. It is a very definite signal that the new US administration is prepared to act unilaterally with scant regard to the sensibilities of the rest of the world. I'm sure my Democratic friends in America are equally as appalled

What do you think? Has anyone written a decent song about it yet?

Now to the four letters about our own forthcoming General Election. If May 3rd is to be the date we will all know very soon. The first is from a university student in Sunderland, the second from a well known folkie who supplies strings and things, the third from a well known folkie who plays 'em, and last another very long but extremely funny letter from my old pal Jonesy in New Zealand. At the end of the day they all say much the same thing. But I think they are all worth reading although Jonesy, having been away from Britain for a few years, might be just a little disillusioned regarding the income of the British farmer. Will these letters help you decide which way to vote or will you simply vote the same as always?


Hi Joe,

Please excuse my naivety but I am personally in favour of a coalition government (as opposed to the four-yearly lets vote for whoever we disagree with the least routine). At least this would give the government one less reason why they consistently foul things up...that being "Well we're trying our best, but the last Government screwed things up so badly it's taking us longer/more money than expected". I personally have no preference of political party, I take after my mother's school of thought in that department - "they all lie just as much as each other", and this opinion only seems to have been strengthened since the last election. Successive governments seem to spend increasing amounts of time/money/effort trying to silence the inevitable sleaze stories and never actually do anything constructive. Time and time again we hear "schools are failing us", "the NHS is failing us", "the judicial system is failing us". Why is it that we pay so much of our hard-earned money through taxes and yet we get little (or even nothing) of what we were promised in all the election hype. If we're not happy with the service we get from a business/shop we are within our rights to request a refund or some other form of compensation. What do we get for a shoddy government? - an even worse one next time around.

Well, just my 2 pence Worth

Matt Burgess, Sunderland, UK.


Hello Joe,

Your comments on your lack of faith in the Labour Government just go to reinforce what I have believed for most of my life. All party politics (irrespective of which party) are crap, a sham, a pack of lies and corruption. I have been, at various stages in my life, a student, a teacher, a musician, a singer, a craftsman, an actor, and a businessman. Through my association with music, the arts and entertainment, it is not surprising that most of my similarly associated friends and colleagues have been actively anti-Tory, particularly through the Thatcher regime. It was, let's face it, very fashionable to slag off the Conservative Government, but there were many times when I found myself biting my tongue on being confronted by "the grass is always greener" faction. I can't help noticing that these people seem to have gone very quiet now that they've supposedly got what they wanted. Could this be because everything's now hunky-dory? Hmm.. I think not! It's very understandable (nay, laudable!) that those who have lived solely through the Tory years should wish to experience something different. It is entirely in our nature to resist the status quo and rebel against the previous generation including the regime which is the product of that generation. For my own part, I lived (as you did, Joe) through a previous Labour Government and, thinking back, I don't remember those times as being particularly wonderful. Oh sure, I enjoyed myself, but that was more to do with my age at the time rather than who was running the country! I was all for having a Labour Government this time round because I felt that it might serve to prove once and for all that it's party politicians (particularly those in power) who are at fault. I have to laugh when I hear leading Labour ministers wriggling away from awkward questions - for these are the very people who only a short time ago were demanding straight answers! It's very easy to be honest whilst in opposition, but how many can retain that honesty when in power? There is no doubt that power corrupts - I regularly count my blessings that I have not been cursed with the affliction of power. Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Robert Mubabe, Slobodan Milosevic, Ferdinand Marcos... I'm sure all these people were once nice pleasant little boys with good clean futures ahead of them. I regard most politicians with the deepest contempt. If they spent more time looking after our interests rather than feathering their own nests and fighting each other, we might all have a better chance. John Humphrys for prime minister! That's what I say... although on second thoughts, maybe Basil Fawlty would do a good job. At least we could all have a good laugh! PS. And whist on the subject of comedy: How cruel of you to be so unkind about poor Anne Widdecombe. She's the best stand-up comic I've come across in ages (please don't take "come across" too literally!). The secret of good comedy is that it should be delivered "straight" and, in this respect, she excels - it's almost as if she really believes what she's saying. What a wonderful woman! Nigel Thornbory



I can't quite see why you are having a problem with deciding who to vote for. Surely anyone with the slightest predilection for fairness, equality and democracy would have to adhere to the basic socialist principle of having a level of direct taxation that will benefit the weakest members of society without over-taxing those who are "making things happen." The only party suggesting at the last election (and still are) that perhaps direct taxation could actually rise a tad is the Lib Dems. Look no further. By a rough calculation in my head that would mean, for the average-waged family, missing two pints of beer a week (one if you live in the S.E.), or, perhaps, letting the kids walk home from school instead of starting up, from cold, a gas-guzzling people -carrier twice a day to drive a quarter of a mile to keep them from the non-existent, tabloid-fuelled threat of bogey men on every corner. You're quite right. New Labour have not delivered - they are turncoats and sycophantic to a leadership that is almost Thatcheresque in its inability to say sorry/we got it wrong. Add to this the incredible Tony-cronyism, and I cannot personally believe this, the desire to privatise the tube and air traffic control and you have an almost seamless extension of the last, hated regime. When I was first becoming politically aware the most radical group in the UK was the Young Liberals. Remember Peter Hain. Look at his current views. He might as well be Francis Pym! But most of those YL'S are now middle-aged and in the post -Cold War era have still stuck to their guns. Social Democacy IS a revoluton...we think we've got it, but we ain't yet. Your loving son, Paul Downes




Wotcha Joe.

How you doing? Well, you've had the floods, now it's the foot and mouth plague, so look out for locusts - they're next on the list! If you see anybody in a multicoloured coat then follow the bastard and he'll lead you to a land of milk and honey where everybody earns 24K a year, there are no foxes, the grass is greener and the sheep are good sports! Interesting ramblings this month: I get the impression from two of your readers that it is a sin to earn 24K a year and that you should stop your moaning and be grateful your wife gets paid at all! As for Keith Farley's comment that because only a small percentage of foxes get tortured and ripped to bits it must be OK, well words fail me. Can you imagine St Peter at the Pearly Gates and Adolf Hitler comes up: St Pete: "You can't come in here, mate. You killed and tortured loads of people during the war."

Adolf: "Vot? But it vos only a small percentage of ze people in ze vorld! Vot's your problem, chum?" St Pete: "Oh, sorry mate. Well, if it was only a small percentage then that's alright, you can come in after all. Sit over there next to Genghis" Going back to the 24K a year thing. That amount would be adequate if it wasn't for the chunk taken in tax - it does appear sometimes that those working have to support not only themselves but also those who aren't working and producing wealth and, to me, that's the problem: the more you give people something for nothing then the more they expect it and come to rely on it. One of the reasons we moved out here was because we couldn't survive on the money we earnt, which was more than 24K per year. Things aren't perfect in NZ but we do seem to receive a bit more value for our dollar. And this election thing - I don't think it will make too much difference for whom you sing as it's not governments who control the country it's those faceless bureaucrats who make all the decisions, they're the ones you should be singing to! The ones who send their kids to certain schools to keep contacts alive, the ones who move in the right circles and keep out anybody who is not from their strata. They're the people who don't aspire to be politicians, they want to control the ministries and other bureaucratic offices so that they can tell the politicians what they can and can't do. A politician's life is relatively short compared to the centuries the bureaucrats' families have been in control. But come the revolution! - nothing will change. Bloody hell, getting a bit carried away there. As for the man/woman thing my wife says that as long us us men carry on doing as we're told then we won't be thought of as inferior - it's only when men start thinking for themselves that they make a mess of things. Now, your song about the farmer - bit out of date isn't it? I mean I can see what the song's getting at and all that but how many farmers earn less than 24K a year? Certainly not very many out here and that's probably true of most other developed countries - many of them would give Billy Bragg a run for his money, that's for sure! But on to other things. The weather's starting to change here - autumn's on its way. I had to get up on the roof and sweep the chimney at the weekend and we'll spend much of this coming weekend stacking firewood away for the winter. No gas out here in the sticks where we are. Shit, it's so uncivilised, it's like being back in London in the '50s - we had taken for granted how convenient gas is for heating and cooking until we arrived here. Apart from the normal run of things there's not too much to report except for an incident that happened to me last week. I had to attend a meeting last week so I left work early and made for home so that I could shower and change and still arrive at the meeting on time. Unfortunately, when I arrived at our house I realised I had left the door key back at the shop. I looked around for another means of entry and all I could find was a cat flap. In retrospect I suppose it was rather unwise to try and gain entry to the house via this cat flap. You see, I got my head and shoulders through the flap but became trapped once I tried to get my waist through and the more I tried to free myself the more firmly stuck I became. At first it all seemed rather amusing but after a while I felt the gravity of the situation - I wanted to go to the toilet. I shouted for help but my head was in the house and so my screams were muffled. I carried on trying to free myself but the only thing that happened was that my trousers and underpants were pushed down by the door on the cat flap, leaving the lower part of my body exposed. A deaf, short sighted farm worker passed by and sprayed my buttocks with tail paint (a paint used to mark cows) and some time after that a pig hunter came along and parked his bike in the crease of my bum - not a very pleasant experience. The most frightening time was when the farm cat came home and found the cat flap to be unpassable. He was, however, attracted by my personal appendages which were dangling outside the door. At first I didn't mind too much when he started to pat at these parts with his paw, but once his claws came out and he started swinging from them it was a different story - they say my screams were heard in the nearby town of Putaruru. Happily those same shrieks also attracted the farm dog who soon chased the cat away. But my joy was short-lived, you see the farm dog was now attracted by my wounds and started to show an unhealthy fascination for my private parts. As the dog's claws had not been clipped for some time, this interest resulted in severe lacerations to my waist and buttocks but, luckily, the dog was prevented from totally gratifying itself by the fortuitous arrival of a neighbour. Unfortunately, I was now well and truly wedged in the cat flap and this neighbour was unable to extricate me from my desperate situation. However, being the warm hearted and resourceful man he is, he soon had the majority of the other residents of the road along to help him. The first thing they did was to paint a target on my backside and then run a competition to see who could throw a pebble nearest to the bulls-eye. Once they grew tired of that particular game and they had all finished joking and taking photographs, they sent for the rescue services who, after a quick game of pebble throwing, soon liberated me. By this time reporters from the local newspaper and Coast to Coast Television had arrived and, before I had successfully covered my embarrassment, pictures of my more personal extremities were soon flashing across New Zealand. I was then taken to the local hospital where a certain Nurse Lackwind promptly repaired the damage to my parts. Needless to say, I missed my meeting. Be Lucky,


Those of you who live in the south east will be sorry to hear that Chris Fyfe has been taken ill and is currently being treated at PRINCESS ROYAL HOSPITAL, Hurstwood Park Neurological Centre (ICU), Haywards Heath, West Sussex. RH16 4EX. If you would like to send him a get well card - then I'm sure he would be delighted to receive it. I don't think Chris is playing very much these days - but a lot of you will know his twin brother Pete who has remained active on the folk scene since the 1960's. As twin brothers go they are as identical as it is possible to be. Pete had a heart attack about 10 months ago. So it would be safe to say that it's not been a good twelve months for the Fyfe family.

Remember, if you live outside Britain, that the foot and mouth epidemic can not be caught by humans and (according to the government) it should not in any way spoil your trip to these shores. The countryside (despite vile

rumours) is apparently open for business. So if you had planned a visit this spring or summer - it's safe to do so. Our tourist trade needs you!

Over the last 22 days my web site has been visited by 3.81 people/day, that works out at 1393 people/year. Keep coming - there are more changes underway.

Keep smiling and keep singing.