Welcome to our free, custom audio player for The William Morris Song Book.
On this page are all thirteen tracks of Disc 2.
Notes to the songs on Disc 2
Dirty Old Town (Ewan MacColl, arr: Farrell Family)
The song has been recorded many times, but we include it as epitomising the spirit of the 1945 Labour government, and of big city Labour councils elected post-war, who wanted to sweep away all traces of the poverty in which their parents and grandparents had lived. Thanks to subsequent Tory administrations, the housing they put up often turned into the slums of the future.
Go down you murderers (‘The Ballad of Timothy Evans’; Ewan MacColl, arr. E. Farrell)
Along with the Daily Mirror (in the days before it became a comic), Ewan MacColl’s ballad of the execution for murder in 1950 of Timothy John Evans played a key role in Labour MP Sidney Silverman’s campaign against the death penalty, finally abolished (for most offences) in 1965. Evans and his family shared a house with John Christie, later shown to have been a serial-killer. Someone recently said how lucky it is that the death penalty has already been abolished in this country, as modern politicians, whose every action is governed by focus groups, would never have the guts to do it. Evans was granted a Royal Pardon in 1966.
The H-Bomb’s Thunder (John Brunner, arr. E Farrell)
Science-fiction writer John Brunner’s song became the anthem of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) during the late 1950s. The melody is a variant of the great nineteenth-century Welsh hymn tune, Calon Lân. Frankie’s mum Prue was on some of the earliest CND Easter marches, from Aldermaston to London, during the 1960s.
If you miss me at the back of the bus (Carver Neblett, arr. E.Farrell)
A song from the American Civil Rights movement which refers – among other issues – to Rosa Parks’s refusal in Montgomery, Alabama, on 1 December 1955, to give up her seat in that part of the bus reserved for white people, thus sparking off the successful ‘bus boycott’. Eddie’s generation learned this song from the singing of the great Peter Seeger.
What have they done to the rain? (Malvina Reynolds, arr. E.Farrell)
One of the earliest environmental ballads, this song was originally about nuclear fallout, and the protests which led to the Test Ban Treaty of 1963, but it could also refer, for example, to ‘acid rain’, thus demonstrating its versatility. As Joan Baez said, ‘the song is gentle, but it doesn’t protest gently’.
The Seal Children (Paul Metsers)
Paul Metsers’s wonderful song commemorates the Greenpeace protest against the mass slaughter of Hood and Harp seal pups in Canadian waters off Newfoundland in 1977, a killing which does indeed unfortunately ‘continue’. The song recognises not only the ‘value’, and the ‘rights’ of other animal species, but also of human responsibility to future generations.
Between the wars (Billy Bragg, arr. F. Farrell)
Eddie used to think that the ‘1960s’ ended in 1973, with the first ‘oil spike’ caused by the formation of OPEC. But perhaps what really came to an end a few years later was ‘the historic compromise’ between capital and labour which had led to the greatest general prosperity and equality ever seen (in the western world at least). For him, Billy Bragg’s song sums up this compromise perfectly – ‘pay us a decent wage and guarantee us a steady job, and we’ll behave’. But the election of Thatcher and Reagan put an end to all that.
Coal not dole (Kay Sutcliffe, arr. Farrell Family)
Thatcher’s key strategy was to destroy organised labour using anti-union legislation, most of which remains unrepealed, despite subsequent ‘Labour’ governments. As recently released Cabinet papers confirm, she also wanted to get her own back on the miners for their defeats of the Heath government during the early 1970s. This song, from the 1984-5 Miners strike, composed by a miner’s wife from the Kent coalfield, asks, ‘What are we all going to do when the pits close? We can’t all sell each other tickets?’
Country Life (Steve Knightley, arr. F. Farrell)
As Steve Knightley’s fine song rightly points out, it was not just the industrial cities which Thatcherism devastated. ‘What went wrong?’ As the people on the Somerset Levels and in the Thames Valley who were recently flooded out have found, if you carry on voting for politicians who promise to cut rates and taxes, eventually there is no infrastructure, and no-one there to help.
Farewell to Welfare (Grace Petrie, arr. C. Farrell)
A song by a fine young song-writer, Grace Petrie, describing the emergence of ‘the precariat’ –people who (if they are lucky) work zero-hours contracts, for (at best) the minimum wage. At the same time we are increasingly governed by a political class which comes from privileged backgrounds, and which knows nothing of that kind of life: a government of rich posh boys who have never done a day’s work, governing a population many of whom have never had the opportunity to do one. If taxes are continually lowered, and no-one is working for wages, who is going to pay for the future, and a country in which we are all ‘proud to bring up kids’?
The Old Man’s Song (Ian Campbell, arr. E. Farrell)
Ian Campbell met an old man in café, who told him his life story, which Ian turned into a song which points out that the problems we face today have been going on longer than many think. Capitalism hasn’t just failed to work since 2008 – it never has, except at an unacceptable cost to nature and to human lives. The tune is the traditional Scottish A Pair of Nicky Tams, which Ian no doubt learned from his father Dave Campbell.
Ringing of Revolution (Phil Ochs, arr. E. Farrell)
Rather than Dylan, the (male) singer whose work for Eddie epitomises the 1960s is Phil Ochs. Ochs introduced this song as depicting a house in which the last of the bourgeoisie are sheltering from the encircling socialist revolution. ‘Everyone on the inside spiritually resembles Charles Laughton; everyone on the outside physically resembles Lee Marvin’. Nowadays we might say Phil Mitchell for Marvin, but on the inside – it surely has to be Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson?
Power in the Union (Billy Bragg, arr. Farrell Family)
In News from Nowhere, Morris makes it clear that his fictional socialist revolution only succeeded because of the existence of the ‘combined workers’, a federation of trade unions which now acted together, rather than just in pursuit of their own members’ interests (a feature of trade unions of which Morris was critical). Since its defeat by Thatcherism, the UK trade union movement is probably its lowest ebb for three hundred years, but paradoxically, only precisely the kind of organisation described by Morris can fully engage with the range of problems likely to be brought about by the twenty-first century. As one of these may well be ‘What to do when the oil runs out?’ such a federation – like the CNT of the 1930s – will need to be ‘green’ as well as ‘red’.
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