The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #52629   Message #811037
Posted By: Bob Bolton
25-Oct-02 - 10:11 AM
Thread Name: Info request - John Axons Engine
Subject: Lyr Add: THE BALLAD OF JOHN AXON (Ewan MacColl)
G'day again,

Err ... could some joeclone see why the cancellation of italics at the end of the second last sentence of the second paragraph refuses to work!) Bob Bolton (despairing after five attempts to fix it!)

Hmm ... when I said I'd go through the CD and take down the elements of the song - what you might call the essential Ballad of John Axon ... I didn't really remember all the complexity of Ewan MacColl's crafting of different songs into a changing, dramatic ballad.

I have tried to just take down the "ballad" itself - but it is inextricably woven into the story, the actuality, the other songs (that are in my old Ewan MacColl - Peggy Seeger Songbook). I have a few pages of song lyrics - I have tried to indicate changes of tune by typography - plain text for the opening tune ... as well as a third "bluesy" tune in 6-line format. The second tune (short line format) is indicated by simple italics. Another tune is indicated by the combined bold and italic font. Simple bold font represents spoken, verse-form, text.

I'm afraid I have not caught every name and phrase - partly lack of knowledge of local geography ... and ditto local pronunciations. I hope someone closer to the ground in question can fill in the (??) gaps.

Good luck (and I get to see if 'automatic line breaks' really works!).

THE BALLAD OF JOHN AXON
(Ewan MacColl)

John Axon was a railway man, to steam trains born and bred,
He was an engine driver at Edgely Loco Shed,
For forty years he followed and served the iron way;
He lost his life upon the track, one February day.

The year was 1957, the morning bright and gay,
On the ninth of February, John Axon drove away,
In a class eight locomotive from Buxton he did go,
On the road to Chapel on le Frith, his steam brake pipe did blow

(Song of the Iron Road)

It's a seven mile drop from Penninton Top, Oh Johnny
It's 1 in 58 - and you've no steam brake, Oh Johnny
She's picking up speed and the power is freed,
It's a prayer you need, but you'll never make it Johnny.

It's hell on the plate, it's a funeral rate, Oh Johnny
It's the end of a dream, in steel and steam, Oh Johnny,
There's a whirl in your head and you're due at the shed,
And there's life ahead, but you'll never see it Johnny.


It was four AM that Saturday, John Axon left his bed.
At five he drew his time card, at Edgely Loco Shed
Just after six Ron Scanlon, his fireman, cried "Away!"
It was a day no different, from any other day

The rain was gently falling when they started down the line,
And on the way to Buxton, the sun began to shine,
But the steam brake pipe was leaking and a wisp of steam did rise,
The fireman he reported this when in Buxton they arrived.

(Song of Leisure time)

The repair was done and the train made up ,
When they left (in) Buxton Siding,
And the time was just eleven five
And the sun it was a-shining.

Four eight one double eight was her number,
And Scanlon was the fireman,
And the guard in the van was Alfred Ball,
And the driver was John Axon

Her waggons numbered thirty three
And a twenty ton rear brake van,
She was carrying coke, wood, pulp and coal
And firebricks and pig iron.

The down line out of Buxton Plant,
She was pulling nice and steady
And the bank engine was pushing behind
And the guard's brake stick was ready.

John Axon looked at the rolling hills
And he found them to his liking,
And he thought of his early courting days,
The days when he went hiking.

(Manchester Ramber

John Axon smiled at the (??)
That he'd be celebrating
And he smiled as he though of the Stockport pub
Where a pint of mild was waiting.

John Axon was a dancing man,
On his pins he was light and nimble,
And often he'd stand on the old footplate,
Whistling an old time jungle.

(The Fireman's Not for Me)

John Axon kept a little book,
And in it there was written,
The class, the type and the number of ev'ry
Engine he driven.

The joint of the driver's steam brake pipe
Had begun to sweat a little.
By the time they were halfway over (the) hill
It was coming in a steady trickle.

(Quote from Report)

A hundred and twenty five tons of engine'
Six hundred and fifty tons behind,
And the boiler pressure: two twenty five pounds per square inch
... And the men - two fragile bodies.
Flesh and blood and brittle bone
Carbon and water - nerves and dreams,

Power from coal; Power from water
Power imprisoned in a one and one eighth pipe.

(??) the seam, watches the tired metal
Explodes the worn thread,
Watching, watching; every turn of the four foot wheels;
Every lunge of the smooth armed piston;
Every thrust in the two great cylinders,
Weakens the joint's resistance.
And the brake lines crumble,
The pipe is parted ...
It blows!


The engine had reached the distant signal,
When the broken steam pipe began to scream.
John Axon and his mate,
Couldn't reach the driver's brake
For the cab was full of scalding steam, poor boys,
The cab was full of scalding steam

John Axon he knew, that his regulator,
Was still wide open and on full power.
He couldn't turn it off
For the way that it was blocked
And the cab was full of scalding steam, poor boys,
The cab was full of scalding steam

They hung on the side and they both took turns,
At shifting the regulator from afar
They prodded at the bar,
With the pricker and the guards
But they couldn't move the iron bar, brave boys,
But they couldn't move the iron bar.

John Axon, he got to the fireman's side,
And over the scream of the steam did say:
"We'll have to get outside if we want to stay alive -
Or this will be a dying day, poor boys,
This will be a dying day.

The guard he was waiting to pin down the brakes,
The train, it didn't slow down that day,
He stood there in the van,
With the brake stick in his hand,
And he knew she was a runaway, poor boy,
He knew she was a runaway.

John Axon he cried to his fireman: "Jump!
It is the only thing you can do -
While I hang on the side -
And I'll take a little ride,
For I've got to see the journey through, brave boy,
I've got to see the journey through.

John Axon, he was all alone, there on the engine's side
The train it reached the hilltop and begun the downhill ride.
The sun it was still shining, the sky was still as blue
He gambled with his life that day - and this John Axon knew.

You're on your own mate - king of the footplate ... (Sad reprise of Song of the Iron Road)

Oh Johnny, Oh me Johnny,
What makes you do the things you do, me Johnny?
Oh, why do you have to see it through, me Johnny?
Oh, Oh Oh, Oh .. Johnny.

It's a seven mile drop from Penninton Top, Oh Johnny
It's 1 in 58 - and you've no steam brake, Oh Johnny
She's picking up speed and the power is freed,
It's a prayer you need, but you'll never make it Johnny.

Every yard of the track says you won't come back, Oh Johnny!
She's a fist of steel, every turn of the wheels cries: "Johnny!"
There isn't a chance you'll get to your dance,
You can see at a glance that you'll never make it, Johnny!

There's the tunnel ahead, you've got to cover your head, Oh, Johnny!
Doing sixty an hour and she's gaining power, Oh, Johnny!
Watch out for the wall, can't you (??),
In the smoky fall (?), or you'll never make it Johnny

It's hell on the plate, it's a funeral rate, Oh Johnny
It's the end of a dream, in steel and steam, Oh Johnny,
There's a whirl in your head and you're due at the shed,
And there's life ahead, but you'll never see it Johnny.


All alone now, Ron's gone.
On me own now, all the way, all the way,
If I make it, Alf has all the way,
There's a gradient all the way into (waley?)

Seven mile gradient,

One in Seventy, one in sixty,
One in fifty eight ... eight!
??? past - going too fast,
As he hit this (horny???)
Hanging outside the cab

Down the curving line
Though the hill of ironstone
He tumbles ! (????)

... Every turn of the four foot wheels;
Every lunge of the smooth armed piston;
Every thrust of the two great cylinders:
Sings of a man's destruction,



Was I born for this - to hang like a fly on a iron wall,
Helpless - on a moving wall
To die - to end -
In a welter of blood and oil
Twisted metal ??? and coal

What was it that Jim said?
One day in the shed, jim said
- Or was it in the pub?
What was it that Jim said?
About steam, about power?


(" ... With a steam locomotive, you create the power, you maintain the power ... and you control the power.")

Curse the power!

Curse the boiler pressure, curse the burning coal the made it -
The fire and the air that fed it -
Curse the water that boiled and turned to steam.
Curse the steam brake and the nut braced (??) against the steam brake pipe
Curse the brass of the steam brake valve
Curse the nut of the steam brake valve
Curse the steam

The run it is finished, the shift's nearly ended.
So long, mates, so long, remember:
A man is a man, he must do what he can
For his brothers

By his deeds you shall know him,
By the work of his hands,
By the friends who will mourn him
By the love that he bore
By the gift of his courage
And the life that he gave.


John Axon was a railway man, to steam trains born and bred,
He was an engine driver at Edgely Loco Shed,
He was a man of courage and served the iron way;
He gave his life upon the track, one February day.

I hope this makes sense to someone!

Regards,

Bob Bolton