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.