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Canals Songs Authentic?

ChrisJBrady 03 May 11 - 03:36 AM
Charley Noble 03 May 11 - 07:29 AM
Lizzie Cornish 1 03 May 11 - 08:17 AM
Ian Hendrie 03 May 11 - 08:49 AM
Leadfingers 03 May 11 - 09:25 AM
ChrisJBrady 03 May 11 - 09:52 AM
Roger the Skiffler 03 May 11 - 10:20 AM
ChrisJBrady 04 May 11 - 03:13 AM
Mr Red 04 May 11 - 06:41 AM
Ian Hendrie 04 May 11 - 07:41 AM
Steve Gardham 04 May 11 - 03:31 PM
Dave the Gnome 04 May 11 - 05:45 PM
BTNG 06 Nov 11 - 12:00 PM
BTNG 06 Nov 11 - 12:06 PM
Ian Hendrie 06 Nov 11 - 06:36 PM
greg stephens 07 Nov 11 - 01:35 PM
BTNG 07 Nov 11 - 01:37 PM
Ian Hendrie 07 Nov 11 - 02:04 PM
Ian Hendrie 07 Nov 11 - 02:08 PM
GUEST,henryp 07 Nov 11 - 03:06 PM
GUEST,Ian Hendrie 07 Nov 11 - 03:48 PM
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Subject: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: ChrisJBrady
Date: 03 May 11 - 03:36 AM

Every May Day they hold a large gathering of canal narrowboats at Little Venice near Paddington in London. They also have stands from various canal organisations including the London Canal Museum.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrowboat

http://www.canalmuseum.org.uk/

This year on the Canal Museum stand there were two canal boat-people we talked to there - a lovely lady and a guy - both born 'on the cut' from families who had lived and worked the boats going back four or so generations, at least to the 1900s.

This was an ideal moment to ask them about various issues relating to their former lives working the boats, carrying cargo.

The canal boat-people were a very insular community. They only very rarely married 'off the land' and the guy said that there was some inter-breeding between families. He offered that information quite freely.

I asked about wearing clogs. No way - they could afford them the lady said - [in the South] they usually had bare feet, especially the kids. Most families - who incidentally lived and slept in the rear cabin of the boat(s) in a space measuring 6ft by 7ft or less - had anything from 2 to 6 to 8 kids to help to do the work, handling the horse, working the locks, etc.

I asked about step dancing at canal-side pubs after tying up at night. They both said none that they knew, and certainly not in their families.

As an aside John Seymour in his book "Voyage into England" [David & Charles, 1966] briefly mentions step dancing at one pub he visited in the Midlands. But that's all I've heard of too.

Then we asked about music making and songs, especially those from the canal-boat families. None they said. What about sessions at a pub after tying up? None, they said, unless someone had a squeeze-box. The boats were worked for 14 hours a day, there was no time for music making. Only the men went to the pubs.

Where had all the so-called folk songs about life on the canals come from then. From the folk scene. Made up by those 'off the land.'

What about David Blagrove his canal-songs and the like? Hmm - well he saw a need for such songs and provided them. But they're not traditional.

I must visit the Museum and find out more.

Chris B.

- Sports & Recreation - 158


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 03 May 11 - 07:29 AM

Chris-

Interesting information.

There's a whole collection of canal boat songs on a thread here at Mudcat, most collected by Ian Bruce from the Stockport area. Ian maintains his collection on this website under "Songs of the Inland Waterways": click here for link

It's true that many of the songs are tributes to canal boat culture composed by outsiders but there are also some evidently traditional ones.

Do a search here for "canal songs" and see if you can find the thread.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Lizzie Cornish 1
Date: 03 May 11 - 08:17 AM

Tales From the Towpath - from The Albion Chronicles


Just found this...gorgeous..
'Barges' - A wonderful cover version of Ralph McTell's beautiful song.


I'd love to live on a barge. I can see the mist rising from the canal at Rickmansworth, in my mind's eye, as I write this...The Grand Union Canal on a cold autumnal day, the greyness of that day being suddenly blown away as I turned the corner to see the vibrant colours of the barges moored alongside...

It really appeals to me, that way of life...


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Ian Hendrie
Date: 03 May 11 - 08:49 AM

Hi Lizzie,

Thanks to the link to the 'Barges' cover version Lizzie - it is indeed wonderful.

I'm the person whose web-site Charley is kind enough to mention above. For fairly obvious reasons I don't use my real name on MudCat!

Chris B was kind enough to e-mail me with the above information which confirmed my understanding of the lack of authentic songs from the canal community. There are a few songs written by canal proprietors or sarcastic canal detractors but they are few in number. Almost all the songs on the web-site have been written since the middle of the last century, David Blagrove being one of the first to write songs about canals. I don't include generally include details of when the songs were written (as I usually don't know) but I think I maybe ought to make it clearer that the majority are contemporary.

I am always grateful for contributions of songs or information relevant to canals.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 03 May 11 - 09:25 AM

As stated - Canal People worked long hours , and seldom were there enough people in one place for long enough , or enough of them together in one place for long enough for songs and dancing !
And the only 'Old' songs were writtn for particular events , especially the opening of a new canal !
    Having done a decent amount of Canal Cruising purely for fun , I can appreciate the labour involved in one man and his family working to a VERY Tight deadline to transport Goods around the country . Its a HELL of a lot easier Mob Handed !


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: ChrisJBrady
Date: 03 May 11 - 09:52 AM

When I talked to these two ex-working boat people at Little Venice they were very free with their information, and being proud of their being born 'on the cut' were quite adamant that their experiences were as they reported. They were also proud that they came from a long line of working boat families going back to the late 1800s. They had no reason to tell me anything different. And they stated quite categorically that 'no' - there was not any step dancing, folk singing, or music making as we know it in the folk scene today. Such was simply not part of their culture. They were working too hard.

So what about Bill Gibbons - filmed by the late Barry Callaghan (Garland Films)? Well I guess the narrowboat people in the South (I guess that means south of Brum) simply wouldn't have met any boat people from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which passed through the village of Burscough where Bill Gibbons was based.

Incidentally the wide boats of the L&L didn't usually have live-in accommodation, but where mainly work by folk living 'of the cut' that is living in canal-side cottages.

And even as a clog dancer myself I take issue with the clog dancing fraternity in promoting Bill Gibbon's clog steps as a 'long lost clog dancing tradition' from the canals in general. I think that what he did was probably unusual and unique to him or his area.

It was also interesting when I asked my informants if they had any contact with the Romany community. It is known that the Romanies had / have a (free-style aka individual style of) step dance and music making tradition mainly based on the pubs they called at. But at my suggestion the response was deeply scathing. No way - we never had anything to do with 'them,' I was told.

But then the response was slightly modified to - well maybe the canal boat people used to have a contact during horse drawn days. The canal boats up to about 1910 used to be horse-drawn and the Romanies traded in horses. So there would have been some contact between the two communities then. But after the horses disappeared there was no real contact at all. I guess the term 'water gypsies' for canal boat-people would be (and still is) deemed to be deeply offensive for such a proud community.

But I am surprised that no-one has properly researched the canal folk traditions - apart from the ubiquitous roses and castle paintings.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 03 May 11 - 10:20 AM

I think (without checking) that canal songs sung by the Halliard and Dave Illingworth's DNP+1 often came from the pens of canal travel and restoration enthusiasts and from the Charles Parker/Ewen MacColl radio ballads rather than collected from old canal workers.

RtS
Push boys, push


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: ChrisJBrady
Date: 04 May 11 - 03:13 AM

Yup - as the late Hugh Trevor Roper opined: "Invention of Tradition" - Google that phrase.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Mr Red
Date: 04 May 11 - 06:41 AM

I have observed many times the syndrome "because it has been around since before we were born it has always been around". Witness the allegation that the Bodhran existed as a word before 1950. The earliest reference in print in Ireland is around 1900 and I am informed by a scholar (who can be wrong but is unlikely to be) that the Gaelic dictionary it appears in is mostly a list and there is no description attached to that word. But there are folkies purporting to be erudite and tell you you are wrong. Even within this parish.

Having said that - I find it impossible to believe that steering a boat for miles along flat terrain or trying to get bairns to sleep cannot involve singing for many boaters. And given the nature of creative people (who exist everywhere in large numbers) - that they would not personalise songs they knew - or wove new ones. The real problem is documentation or lack of it. The oral tradition only becomes noticeable with cross-polinisation and boaters were hard working and a close nit community.

There was a tradition that survived the demise of the industry - their paintings.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Ian Hendrie
Date: 04 May 11 - 07:41 AM

I think it safe to say that if there were any song creators amongst the working boat community that their efforts were never sung widely nor recorded in any way. Having read it 'somewhere' I tend to concur with the notion that when boaters gathered in canalside pubs they would sing the popular music hall hits of the day, e.g. 'Keep Yer Ands Off, She's Mine'.

Imagine long-distance lorry drivers (a modern day equivalent in some respects - travelling long distances alone, living in vehicle) gathering in a pub today, or perhaps a few years ago when Sky TV was not there to be worshipped. I can't think that, if a sing-song arose (perhaps that would have needed a power strike to kill off alternative forms of entertainment first) they would be singing songs about truck-driving!

Many songs sung in folk clubs are contemporary. I can't see anything wrong in singing contemporary songs about canals. There is no need to claim that any of them (apart from a very few written by canal proprietors, etc.) are 'authentic' in the sense that they come from the working boating community. Perhaps some of the early recordings of canal songs (60s/70s) were not as 'honest' as they might have been about the source of their songs.

Chris' original contribution was very helpful in providing a first hand picture of boaters' lives. Thanks.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 04 May 11 - 03:31 PM

You are right in suggesting they did have songs, but there was little outlet for them and time to sing them and they were very personal to a particular canal so the chances of getting widely sung and collected were pretty minimal. I have several manuscript canal songs from bargemen and keelmen but no evidence that they were ever in oral tradition. Ray Padgett recently recorded a version of 'The Calabar' adapted to The Sheffield Canal, from local canal people. That's about as near as we get.

Chris, it's not all 'Invention of tradition'. We should simply regard what is now being written as a relatively new tradition. Although my wife's uncle who wrote many canal songs didn't actually work on the canal as he was blind, his father and brother-in-law did. I'm not suggesting that any of these songs are part of the oral tradition in the old sense, but they are certainly being widely sung and in and around the canal by boating people like myself.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 May 11 - 05:45 PM

It's well worth while talking to Gary Aspey as well - A wealth of information on canal songs and can talk for England if you let him!

Tell him Dave from Swinton sent you:-)

DtG


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: BTNG
Date: 06 Nov 11 - 12:00 PM

The Bold Navigators
Various

Tradition TSR 019 1975

re-issued. Fellside FTSR 4 1993

A collection of songs about Britain's inland waterway system - the canals. It features Jon Raven,
John Kirkpatrick, Sue Harris, Gary & Vera Aspey, Brian Peters and Ian Woods. It's mostly a reissue of a 1974 LP of the same name issued on the Traditional Sounds label with some bonus songs recorded in the 80s on the same subject. Includes Come Now Begin Delving/ The Bold Navigators/ Leeds - A Seaport Town/ Manchester Ship Canal/ Birmingham Lads/ The Captains Of The Waterways/ Keep Yer 'And Off/ Poor Old Horse and others.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: BTNG
Date: 06 Nov 11 - 12:06 PM

this may be useful

Canal Songs and Poems


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Ian Hendrie
Date: 06 Nov 11 - 06:36 PM

Songs of the Inland Waterways has all the information provided in the last two postings.

New information is always welcome. My aim is to make the site the place to look for information relating to canal songs. If you know something on this topic that isn't already there I would be very happy to know about it.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: greg stephens
Date: 07 Nov 11 - 01:35 PM

Emma Vickers in Burscough was the only boatie I ever heard of with a traditional canal song, and I think she knew just the one! As far as I know, everything else we have heard on the folk scene since the fifties connected with the cut was made up.
This does not of course mean the boaties didnt sing in the pubbs. But it does strongly suggest they didn't sing songs about "Going up the Audlem fifteen with a load of snuff my brave boys"


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: BTNG
Date: 07 Nov 11 - 01:37 PM

and just by coincidence.. the Songs of the Inland Waterways is run by Ian Hendrie....self promotion strikes again...


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Ian Hendrie
Date: 07 Nov 11 - 02:04 PM

"and just by coincidence.. the Songs of the Inland Waterways is run by Ian Hendrie....self promotion strikes again"

Yes - so what?

The site is attempting to do just what it says on the tin and provide a repository for all canal related songs. It is entirely non-profit making. I am happy to publish all material sent to me and have never made any claims about any songs being 'traditional'. When known, the origins and history of the songs are stated.

My aim is to provide a useful resource and keep me occupied in my retirement. I do not seek fame or fortune.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: Ian Hendrie
Date: 07 Nov 11 - 02:08 PM

"Emma Vickers in Burscough was the only boatie I ever heard of with a traditional canal song"

Thanks for that observation Greg. I don't suppose you are the possessor of a phenomenal memory and can provide the lyrics of this song word for word?

Alternatively, do you remember anything at all about it?

Ian


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 07 Nov 11 - 03:06 PM

Mikron Theatre travel the canals by narrowboat. They are 40 years old this year - almost old enough to be traditional.

They have built up a large stock of songs, many of them about life on the cut. For many years Jim Woodland was their song writer, with Janet Russell as musical director.

Their 2011 show was Hell and High Water, set in 1761 when the first boatload of coals was borne smoothly along the Barton Aqueduct over the River Irwell on the Bridgewater Canal.

Their new show for 2012 will be Can You Keep a Secret? It marks the bicentenary of the Luddite uprising around their base in Marsden, just beyond the Stan(d)edge Tunnel.


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Subject: RE: Canals Songs Authentic?
From: GUEST,Ian Hendrie
Date: 07 Nov 11 - 03:48 PM

Thanks for that info henryp. I am aware of Mikron and have been fortunate enough to see quite a few of their performances over the years. I must admit I haven't included any of their songs in the Songs of the Inland Waterways website. I always mean to seek their permission to do so but, were they to give it, I might end up with 5 years work in uploading it. But thanks for the reminder anyway.


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