A Factory Lad - Project · Ballad Analysis · Blog Post · Folk Music

A Factory Lad – Part 4

B-250 Tractor

Wherever you go in society, politics are sure to come up. After spending a day listening to the Australian Folklore conference speakers at the National Library on 18 April and speaking with more people who were part of the Australian folk scene in the 60s and 70s, it seems clear that there were circles within circles, which always leaves some folks on the outside.

Whether the lines are drawn around religion, social class, morality and ethics or the ‘right’ way to play the Mudgee Waltz (very enjoyable talk by Dave de Hugard), all communities seem to find ways to divide themselves.

I continue to hear from many new people with re-collections of Colin and some have been kind enough to put their memories in an email or share them over the phone.

I spent a few days listening to four of the songs Colin did on the Mike Eves collection. I decided not to attempt Colin’s version of the Sheffield Grinder because his tempo and guitar skills are beyond me. I hope it gets published soon, as it demonstrates the range of Colin’s talent. This isn’t the ‘music hall’ version of the song, but instead this version from 1847. Here is a 1975 Scottish folk rock group called Finn Mac Cuill doing the song, but to a different melody.

The four songs that I recorded, after listening to Colin’s versions in the car for a week, are nicely mirrored in the songs that he wrote, Sither and Pit Boy. Two of the songs are about weaving, and two about mining. I suspect that Colin would have heard these songs while growing up in Yorkshire.

In each case, Colin sings these songs in a unique way; not like Ewan MacColl, who was recording them in the 1950s, but with a visceral artistry. Colin was able to embody the emotion of the song, rather than just repeat words to a melody.

I have not been able to find anyone else performing these songs quite the way Colin did. I have included detail about each of the songs in the video description.

Four Pence a Day – is a song about young children working in the lead mines of Teesdale prior to 1842.

The Blantyre Explosion – is about an 1877 mining disaster at High Blantyre in Scotland

Poverty Knock – describes that plight of, mostly, women weavers in the 1860s in Yorkshire

Four Loom Weaver – is a re-working of a much earlier ballad (1805) applied to the Cotton Famine in Lancashire in 1861.

Each of these songs are performed in a different style by Colin, but each in a way that would make a room fall silent.

Colin’s connection to working people’s songs was not an affectation, his most well-known song, Factory Lad, was most likely autobiographical. The B-250 tractor was being manufactured in Bradford, Yorkshire when Colin was there. One of the people who knew Colin describes his intense response to seeing one of these tractors on a farm in Australia, saying “this is what we were making”. Here is a site with some history of the International Harvester tractor factory in Bradford, Yorkshire where Colin most likely worked before coming to Australia in 1965.

I only have a few more songs to re-record, and will then be ready to publish my album.

A Factory Lad – Part 5


A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music

A Factory Lad – Part 3

I spent today at the National Library of Australia hoping to hear some of the recordings of Colin made in the 1970s. I found one recording from the Port Jackson Folk festival in 1970 and two recordings in the Mike Eves collection.

From this Mudcat post it appears that Mike passed away in the US in 2009, but his family must have handed his recordings over to the National Library. Sad to say that from several internet posts it looks like Mike got mixed up with Scientology in the US.

The 90 minute long recording of the Song Workshop at Port Jackson festival in 1970 included more blues and experimental psychedelic-rock style music than I was expecting, mixed in with some beautiful Irish tunes and folk ballads. Most valuable to me was listening to Colin speak between performers.

Colin spoke knowledgeably about the global folk music scene and offered his frustration at musical ‘gate-keeping’ in the community; traditionalists that look down on the ‘new’ music and extreme modernists who reject the old.

About 60 minutes into the workshop there is a beautiful Gaelic ballad sung by someone whose name I couldn’t make out in the recording.

It took a few hours to get the other two recordings, one of Colin in the studio and another set of Colin singing unaccompanied, both recorded by Mike Eves. I ended up spending close to 6 hours at the Library as when the copy of one of the CD’s arrived it had failed to burn. The library staff were very helpful and re-burnt the CD.

The studio recording is probably as close as Colin came to making an LP. It features an autoharp and a significant amount of rubbery double-bass and improvised flute (a la Jethro Tull). The session is dated 1973-1974, so would have been a few years after Colin’s work with Extradition and Tully on Sea of Joy. To my ear, it sounded like an attempt to break through into the progressive/psychedelic/acid rock that was emerging in Australia. There was not much in the way of folk influence, except for a rambling 7 minute version of Scarborough Fair. Maybe it would have done well at the time, but to my ear the style did not play to Colin’s strengths. The recording reminded me of Phil Och’s, Pleasures of the Harborin it’s attempt to change focus in order to capture the mainstream market.

The second Mike Eves recording was a goldmine for me. This recording had Colin singing all of the songs mentioned at the end of my previous post. The recording quality is quite good and will provide a reference to, hopefully, do a reasonable recording in the same style.

I have almost finished the album cover (just need to make him look less like Lionel Richie), and set the painting process to my best attempt at a Blues version of the Ryebuck Shearer. Thanks to Hrothgar on Mudcat who mentioned that Colin had done a blues version on this thread.

Searches online have failed to turn up evidence of Colin playing at other locations around Australia, though several people have confirmed he was in Perth at some point.

For the next few weeks I’ll be busy preparing for a performance at Duke’s Place in Sydney on May 10, and letting Colin’s treatment of the remaining 6 songs marinate before trying to record them.

Many thanks to the several folks who have contributed stories and suggestions on this Mudcat thread and others who have contacted me directly.

A Factory Lad – Part 4


A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music

A Factory Lad – Part 2

According to the National Archives search of ship arrivals, Colin arrived in Australia on 22 May 1965, listing his occupation as ‘fitter’ and that he intended to settle in NSW.

Tracking Colin’s time in Australia will be quite a challenge as he does not appear to have  left any published journals or letters. This notice in the Sydney Tribune on 14 Feb 1968 places Colin at the Port Phillip Festival, which from the account sounds like a fantastic event.

Colin appears again in Morton Bay in April 1969, when the National Folk Festival was held there. Colin is listed as specialising in North Country ballads. The article appears in the Sydney Tribune on 26 March 1969.

This article in the Tharunka on 22 April 1969 has Colin performing with Colin Campbell in an anti-conscription concert on 13 May. Conscription for the Vietnam War had started in Australia in 1964.

Colin was part of the first Monaro Folk Festival in Canberra over the June Queen’s birthday long weekend in 1970. This article was published in the Canberra Times on 6 June 1970. Colin was back in Canberra for a concert on 5 December 1970, published here. A separate article about the same event claims that Colin has a repertoire of 3,000 to 4,000 songs and mentions his collaboration with the Australian Progressive band Tully and also the psych-rock Australian attempt at Fairport Convention Extradition.

Comparing Colin’s own style to that of Extradition on the album Hush, I don’t get the feeling that Colin had much influence on the album.

Again in Canberra in March 1971, Colin was on the program for the Aquarius festival of the arts at the Australian National University, article from the Canberra Times on the same day. Colin gave a workshop on contemporary folk music.

On 24 April 1971 Colin was part of the Monaro Folk Music Society concert at the Methodist Centre in Forrest. The article indicates the Colin was on the program with Warren Fahey (of the Australian Folklore Unit). Colin appears a few times alongside Bernard Bolan.

Unfortunately a number of recordings of Colin are not available online from the National Library (I’m waiting on access to listen to them in person). This recording from some date in the 1960s (must have been after 1965 when Colin arrived in Australia) provides the setlist:

  • Blantyre explosion
  • Four pence a day
  • Poverty poverty knock
  • Davie louston (sealing)
  • Sheffield grinder
  • Four loom weaver
  • The pit lad
  • Sither

Here is a map of the locations I know of, and a link to the detail in Google Maps. I will update the information as more comes to light.

Since the last posting, I have recorded the first track for the album here and also started work on the album cover painting.

A Factory Lad – Part 3

A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music · My Own Music

A Factory Lad – Part 1

I first heard Margaret and Bob Fagan sing Factory Lad at the National Folk Festival in 2008. The song was part of the feature album for the festival, showcasing NSW folk talents. No doubt they mentioned Colin Dryden as the author, and I assumed he was a bearded gentleman in his late sixties with volumes of songs to his name.

I was struck by the beautiful melody and also by the poignancy of the lyrics. I’ve never worked in a factory, but can relate to the drudgery and depression that can come with repetitive, unrewarding work which can exist in the office building just as it does on the factory floor. Of course, at the desk and conference room table the work is without most of the debilitating long-term physical effects of strenuous labour.

I learned the song and began including it in my performances at various folk events.

It wasn’t until Colin’s niece commented on my YouTube upload of the song and pointed me to her 2013 Tumblr post about Colin that I was prompted to dig a little deeper.

Thanks to Naomi’s post, I was able to listen to the recordings of Colin that Warren Fahey had put together on his site here. And also a number of Colin’s songs that Naomi had gathered from various recordings.

After making some rough recordings of my own in this playlist, I realised that there are no downloadable albums of Colin’s work, other than the many hundreds of (sometimes unattributed) covers of Factory Lad (sometimes as Turning Steel). Broom Bezzums being one example here.

<rant on> It really annoys me the way record companies pay no attention to the original writers of songs when they re-publish albums on streaming media like YouTube, Spotify, iTunes. Even if the covering band did the right thing in the liner-notes of their album, this detail is un-ceremoniously stripped from any Internet publication. </rant off>

Colin’s Pit Boy and Sither are just as brilliantly written songs as Factory Lad and deserve a wider audience. I think these three songs, as discussed here by Dermott Ryder, represented the pinnacle of new folk ballads written in Australia in the 1970s.

I will go into the detail of Colin’s life in a future post, but he was only in Australia for twenty one years from 1965 and passed away at 43 soon after returning to England (Yorkshire) in 1986.

I plan to use this blog series to catalogue my research into the music and life of Colin Dryden and document the process of putting together an album of the songs and tunes that he wrote and sung.

Happy for anyone who would like to contribute an anecdote, or a favourite song to contact me here or on my Facebook page.

A Factory Lad – Part 2