Songs Sp to Y
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Spencer the Soldier
We were discussing the traditional song "Spencer the Rover" with friends. Despite being described by Frank Kidson, the song collector, as "terrible doggrel", written by someone without "much poetical genius", we felt there was much more to it. Perhaps Spencer was suffering from what today we call Post Traumatic Stress? Coming through something like the Battle of Waterloo must have seriously affected the survivors. We wrote this as a 'prequel' to the traditional song.
Based on a story from Andrew's father, Len McKay, who went with his unit to the Normandy Beaches on D-Day. Secrecy was so tight that even the workers at the dock from which they sailed didn't know what was going on, and thought it was just another exercise wasting their time. 'Storm cones' were a form of bad weather warning used around British ports since the mid-nineteenth century, and the weather around D-Day was famously bad. That, of course, was the least of their problems.
Swansea Devil, The
A Swansea legend. The story goes that a local architect submitted plans for the rebuilding of St Mary's church, but these were rejected and a famous London architect employed instead. Rebuffed, the local man set up a carved effigy of the devil on brewery offices overlooking the church, announcing 'One day your church will burn down, but my devil will still be here laughing'. In the blitz of 1941, incendiary bombs burnt St Mary's down, but missed the brewery offices and the devil. St Mary's was rebuilt and the offices later demolished to make way for a shopping centre, but 'Old Nick' is still there, if you know where to look.
Tom, Dick and Harry
Inspired by the story of Harry Patch, 'The Last Fighting Tommy' and his pals in the First World War. The tune is developed from an earlier anti-war song 'Arthur MacBride'. Not a lot more to say, really. Lest we forget.
An emigration song, inspired by the stories of Welsh miners and metal-workers who departed for the United States and other 'New Lands'. Their stories combined a longing for the land they left with a clear admittance of its drawbacks and restraints, both physical and cultural. At the same time, they looked forward to their new life and land. For anyone who has ever moved home in search of a better tomorrow.
Too High Or Else Too Low
Based loosely on an anonymous broadsheet published in "The Common Muse", but substantially re-written and set to a suitably scurrilous tune. It tells the old story of the travelling tinker who goes about stopping up the holes in ladies' kettles - and if you believe that, you'll believe anything!
Another story from Andrew's father Len, from his time in the army during WW2. In the army, you can get in real trouble if you're caught sitting around doing nothing. However, if you look busy, it's assumed you've been ordered to do whatever you look like you're doing. So you can get away with doing nothing if you're industrious about it. Just get yourself some trusty spanners.
Undertaker's Men, The
Originally a late Victorian Music Hall song by John Cooke and Vincent Davies, but we've given it a new title, re-written the verses, changed the chorus and substantially altered the tune, so we think we can claim this one as our own. Victorian undertakers employed professional mourners to accompany coffins, weeping and wailing as if in distress, though they seldom knew who was being buried. Another song from our Hallowe'en Show (see the "Coffin Makers").
Walk Her Away
Before the advent of tugboats, ships were warped in and out of dock with quay-mounted capstans. Anyone around at the time was likely to be drafted in to help, so this was one time when men and women would work, and sing shanties, together. Everyone who works in the docks ultimately depends for their prosperity on the success of the ship's voyage.
Walkin' the Cut
Swansea's canal, which supplied the smelters with ore from the docks and coal from the mines, was run with day-boats - essentially horse-drawn tubs with no living spaces. There was no natural flow of water, so on very cold nights, when the sky was clear and temperatures plummeted, there was a real risk of the canal freezing solid. As the boatmen were on piecework, they couldn't afford to let this happen, and at night men with empty boats would have to walk up and down the canal, disturbing the water to keep it from freezing.
Weight and Measure
The story is told in 'A History of West Gower' by the antiquarian Rev J D Davies in the 1880s. The 'haunted' house was Glebe Farm, Cheriton, and the exorcism was supposed to have been carried out by one of Davies's predecessors as rector there. We discovered that the house was once used as a billet for an exciseman stationed to combat smuggling on the nearby coast, so perhaps the story was put about to cover for thumps and crashes from the farmhouse cellar as the 'spirits' were driven out! The idea of a ghost weaving ropes of sand on the nearby beaches would also help cover for nefarious night-time activities, and keep people off the beach.
Young Billy Young
Billy Young's adventure took place in 1796, during the French Wars. Navies at that time had to be self-financing, and civilian ships were often seized, their crews pressed, and their passengers ransomed or sold into slavery. After his escape, Billy seems to have given up thoughts of emigrating to America and settled in South Wales. Under his full name of William Weston Young, he followed several careers, as land surveyor, marine salvage consultant, inventor (he developed a heat-resistant silica brick used to line furnace chimneys) and, perhaps most successfully, a painter of fine ceramics at the celebrated Nant Garw and Cambrian Potteries.