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CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Steady As She Goes. Songs And Chanties From The Days of Commercial Sail’ (1976)

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As performed by Louis Killen, Jeff Warner, Gerret Warner and John Benson
We’ve done it again for you. Here’s another in our Classic Album Reviews- Celtic-Punk Steppin’ Stones series of olde-timey records that deserve another spin in our modern age. Now celtic-punk has several distinct theme’s that every band sing about and one of those is the sea and  Steady as She Goes is an album dedicated to the workers on the sea. That work was undoubtedly hard and very often tyrannical under many a vicious Captain’s rule. The workers said
“a song is as good as ten men”
The songs were used in the manner of field work song’s in the fields and these shanties tell the tales of loneliness, the families these men left behind and the daily hardships of an unkind sea and nautical life. There is some hope though but also about raising anchor with raising anchor with the certain knowledge that you’re heading home. Now read on and download and then sit back and smell the salt air!
In keeping with the ethos of the series here are some raw and evocative recordings of sea shanties whose roots are as obscure as the men who originally sung them. All we can say it that we are lucky that people wrote them down and recorded them otherwise they may have been lost forever. Most of the songs here are recorded a capella without backing but a few feature Louis Killen and his concertina.
There is some harmony and what we know would call gang vocals, but there is no classically-arranged stuff. Some of the songs here I first heard at Primary school when the teachers bored of trying to get the boys to sing hymns would let us sing songs that didn’t require so much of a decent singing voice as a big pair of lungs! These were of course the sanitised versions and I certainly don’t remember singing of whores and wenches much…

1- Paddy Lay Back, (Benson)
2 – Bold Riley, (Jeff Warner)
3 – Rolling Down To Old Maui, (Jeff Warner)
4 – Jolly Roving Tar, (Garret Warner)
5 – Topman And The Afterguard, (Killen)
6 – Off To Sea Once More, (Killen)
7 – Strike The Bell, (Jeff Warner)
8 – Ship In Distress, (Killen)
9 – Blow The Man Down, (Benson)
10 – The Coast Of Peru, (Garret Warner)
11 – All For Me Grog, (ALL)
12 – Shallow Brown, (Garret Warner)
13 – Bring ‘Em Down, (Killen)
14 – Away Rio, (Jeff Warner)

ALBUM SLEEVE NOTES

PADDY LAY BACK: A capstan shanty (used for hauling up the anchor) describing the feelings of a sailor towards his shipmates when landing on a new ship. There are, as well, some terse words concerning the Captain, the Mate, and the agent who got him the job.

BOLD RILEY: A halyard (literally haul on the yardarm) shanty. According to A.L. Lloyd, it got its start in ships carrying sugar and rum from the West Indies to Bristol and Liverpool. “White stocking day” refers to the days when wives would put on their most attractive attire to make their trips to the shipping office for their allotment pay.

ROLLING DOWN TO OLD MAUI: Stan Hugill of Liverpool says that as early as 1820 Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands (then the Sandwich Islands), was considered “home” by the Yankee sailors who hunted the northern grounds of the Behring Straits for right and bowhead whales. This is an off-watch song, as distinct from a working song, of whalermen longing for the women and weather of better latitudes.

JOLLY ROVING TAR: Frank and Anne Warner collected this song from Mrs. Lena Bourne Fish of East Jaffrey, N.H. in 1941. The vitality of the melody doesn’t hide the feelings of Jack Tar towards the shoreman who loved the sailor when he had money and despised him when he didn’t.

TOPMAN AND THE AFTERGUARD: Conditions in the navies of the world were always bad in the days of sail. Here is the story of the British Royal Navy as told by the afterguard or Marine who worked in the topmast and by the topman or sailor who worked in the ship.

OFF TO SEA ONCE MORE: The most realistic of all songs about the conditions of seafarers under sail. This is what life was like both ashore and at sea.

STRIKE THE BELL: Four hours on watch and four hours off, day and night, was a hard life aboard ship. Eight bells marked the end of the watch, as well as the time, and answered the plea of the sailor for a few moments rest in his bunk, even if the call would soon be “all hands on deck” to weather the storm. The “glass” referred to in the chorus is the barometer.

SHIP IN DISTRESS: One of a number of traditional songs dealing with the terror of a sailor adrift in an unsellable vessel.

BLOW THE MAN DOWN: A halyard shanty with a story line favored by all sailors who had to spend much time away from the ladies.

THE COAST OF PERU: A nearly step-by-step account of the hunting and killing of a whale. The song was collected by Gale Huntington of Martha’s Vineyard, and is thought to date back to the last quarter of the 18th century.

ALL FOR ME GROG: Another off-watch song describing both of the major pleasures of Jack Tar ashore.

SHALLOW BROWN: Another halyard shanty from the West Indies, this one collected by English folklorist Cecil Sharp in the early part of the twentieth century. Some versions of this song indicate that Shallow Brown might have been a slave who was sold to a Yankee shipowner. Free man or slave, he is jumping ship “… to cross them Chili mountains” and seek a better life.

BRING ‘EM DOWN: One of the shanties used for “bracing” the ship when short, sharp pulls of the line were needed. Bracing turned the yards when the ship was being tacked or changing course.

AWAY RIO: A capstan shanty used to ease the work of “heaving a pawl” and raising the anchor. A favorite song of the day, it would have been known by old hands and green recruits alike, and was most often used as the first song of a voyage when outward bound from home port.

The work songs of the sailing ships were “chanteys” or shanties”-both spellings are used, but the pronunciation is always with the soft “sh”. That’s why some experts believe the origin is French from “chanter”, but no one knows for certain.

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 THE PLAYERS

Louis

Louis Killen. (1934 – 9 August 2013) Lou was a Geordie, born and bred in Gateshead, Tyneside and raised in a Irish-Catholic home where singing was a part of everyday life. From Irish ballads to native songs of the area about working class life in the coalfields and stockyards. An accomplished folk singer and concertina player he formed one of Britain’s first folk clubs in 1958 in Newcastle at a time when folk clubs were numbered in the tens. Emigrating to the USA in 1967 he worked with folk legend Pete Seeger before joining The Clancy Brothers. They recorded four albums before he left in the mid 1970’s. He resumed his solo career and a major English tour in 1991 drew large audiences which confirmed that his fine singing had not been forgotten. In 2003 he finally returned to England and passed away still performing to the end ten years later. Towards the end of his life Louis decided to fulfill an almost lifelong desire and came out as a woman called Louisa Jo.

Gerret and Jeff

Gerret and Jeff Warner. Brothers who grew up listening to the songs and stories of his father Frank and the traditional singers his parents met during their folk song collecting trips through rural America and they often accompanied their parents on their field trips throughout rural working class America. Jeff has performed widely, from large festivals in the UK, to clubs, festivals and schools across America while Gerret began a career as an award winning filmmaker before joining his brother on stage to perform.

Fud

John ‘Fud’ Benson. Born in Newport on Rhode Island he grew up sailing the waters of Narragansett Bay. Again from a musical family his interest in sail and song found expression in the traditional music of the sea and this is one of the rare recordings he made. Also very well known as a stone carver and mason who has carve the inscriptions for such iconic monuments such as the John F. Kennedy memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. In 2007, he received a National Heritage Fellowship the nation’s highest award for excellence in the traditional arts. He is still hard at work in his studio in his home town of Newport.

THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPING STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost or hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends and also unknowns that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern age celtic-punk music. The albums are usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

You can find our Steppin’ Stones page here with the full list of albums to choose from.

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CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: THE GREATEST SONGS OF WOODY GUTHRIE (1972)

“I hate a song that makes you think you´re not any good! I hate a song that makes you think you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are either too old or too young or too fat or too thin or too that. Songs that run you down or songs that poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or your hard travelling”

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Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was the single most important American folk music artist of the 20th century, in part because he turned out to be such a major influence on the popular music of the second half of the 20th century, a period when he himself was largely inactive. He performed continually throughout his life with his guitar frequently displaying the slogan ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’. His greatest significance lies in his songwriting. Songs like the standard ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and much-covered works as ‘Deportee’, ‘Do Re Mi’, ‘Hard, Ain’t It Hard’, ‘Hard Travelin’, ‘1913 Massacre’, ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ are all featured on ‘The Greatest Songs Of Woody Guthrie’ in one way or another.

Woody1Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born in the oil boom town of Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912. He went on the road when only 13 years old after his mother was debilitated by Huntington´s Chorea, a incurable nerve disease which would eventually kill Woody himself in 1967. During the years leading up to the Second World War he was with the refugees of the Dust Bowl on their trail westward, with the migrant workers in the California orchards, in the factories and mines where workers struggled for union recognition to gain better pay and conditions, with the black Americans against the prejudice facing them and during the war he was in the navy. Throughout all these experiences and a life full of tragedy his faith in people and his belief that the ordinary person would win in the end never faltered.

Most of those performances and recordings came after Guthrie’s enforced retirement due to illness in the early ’50s. During his heyday, in the 1940s, he was a major-label recording artist, a published author, and a nationally broadcast radio personality. But the impression this creates, that he was a multi-media star, is belied by his personality and his politics. Restlessly creative and prolific, he wrote, drew, sang, and played constantly, but his restlessness also expressed itself in a disinclination to stick consistently to any one endeavour, particularly if it involved a conventional, cooperative approach. Nor did he care to stay in any one place for long. This individualism was complemented by his left-wing political views. During his lifetime, much attention was given in the U.S. to whether left-wingers or even liberals were or had ever been members of the Communist party. No reliable evidence emerged that Guthrie was, but there can be little doubt where his sympathies lay!
Sadly it was as Woody’s health declined to the point of permanent hospitalization in the 1950’s that his career took off. His songs and his example served as inspiration for the folk revival in general and, in the early 1960’s, Bob Dylan in particular. By the mid-’60s, his songs were appearing on dozens of records, his own recordings were being reissued and, in some cases, released for the first time, and his writings were being edited into books. This resurgence was in no way slowed by his death in 1967; on the contrary, it has continued for decades afterwards. New books are published and the Guthrie estate has invited such artists as Billy Bragg and Wilco in to write music for Guthrie’s large collection of unpublished lyrics, creating new songs to record.

So now you know a little bit more about the man in question what’s the story with the album?Woody2

There are two reasons why calling this album ‘The Greatest Songs of Woody Guthrie’ rather than some variation on the greatest hits idea makes sense. First, Guthrie was out singing these songs before there ever were any Billboard charts to help defiine exactly what constituted a hit. Second, although this album starts with Guthrie himself singing ‘This Land Is Your Land’ clearly his most famous and most popular song, the track shifts to the song being sung by the Weavers. Guthrie sings a few songs and a few duets, but mostly his songs are sung by other artists. So what we have here is a tribute album, originally a double-album now on a single CD, that represents some of the best first and second generation folk singers who followed in the path blazed by America’s troubadour. The first generation would be those artists that actually got to play with Guthrie, which would be not only the Weavers with Pete Seeger (the artist who most closely followed in Guthrie’s footsteps), but also Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The next generation is represented on the album by Odetta, Joan Baez, and Country Joe McDonald. Yes, there is an authenticity to hearing Guthrie sing his songs that nobody else can touch, but there is also something to be said for other artists replacing his rawness with more of the inherent beauty of his songs. Whichever you prefer there is a wealth of Woody material out there for you. Happy hunting!

Track Listing:
1. This Land Is Your Land- Woody Guthrie/The Weavers
2. Do Re Mi- Cisco Houston
3. So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh- The Weavers
4. Pastures Of Plenty- Odetta
5. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)- Cisco Houston
6. 900 Miles- Cisco Houston
7. Roll On Columbia- Country Joe McDonald
8. Hard, Ain’t It Hard- Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston
9. Dirty Overhalls- Woody Guthrie
10. Riding In My Car (Take Me)- Woody Guthrie
11. Ship In The Sky- Cisco Houston
12. The Sinking Of The Reuben James- The Weavers
13. Rambling Round Your City- Odetta
14. Jesus Christ- Cisco Houston
15. When The Curfew Blows- Country Joe McDonald
16. 1913 Massacre- Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
17. Talking Fishing Blues- Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
18. Curly Headed Baby- Cisco Houston
19. Jackhammer John- The Weavers
20. The Great Historical Bum- Odetta
21. Pretty Boy Floyd- Joan Baez
22. Buffalo Skinners- Jim Kweskin
23. Hard Travelin’- Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry

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“A folk song is what’s wrong and how to fix it or it could be
who’s hungry and where their mouth is or
who’s out of work and where the job is or
who’s broke and where the money is or
who’s carrying a gun and where the peace is”

For More Information On Woody Guthrie:

best place to start is the OfficialWebSite * a selection of free music is available at LastFM * Wikipedia * the WoodyGuthrieCenter  is dedicated to celebrating Woody’s life and legacy * Woody100 * the quotes of Woody Wikiquote * The RollingStone articles on Woody * Gerry Adams on Woody Guthrie Léargas *

THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘Stepping Stones’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

Part of the ‘Stepping Stones- Classic Album Reviews’ series (click here for the series) where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost gems from the legends that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: LEADBELLY- ‘Easy Rider’ (1999)

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Huddie Ledbetter, known as Leadbelly, is a truly unique figure in American music of the 20th century. Often mistaken as a blues performer he was a profound influence on the folk stars of the 1940s such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who in turn influenced the folk revival and the development of rock music from the 1960s onward, which made his induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 wholly appropriate.
Leadbelly- 'Easy Rider' (1999)

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Lead Belly was an old-school wrecking ball of folk-singing awesomeness who worked hard labour as a sharecropper in the Depression-era South, lived it up with hot chicks, stiff drinks and smoke-filled clubs in Harlem, kicked his enemies’ arses in at least five hardcore back-alley knife fights, escaped from jail once, convinced the governors of two states to pardon him from murder raps using nothing more than a guitar and his singing voice, and went on to basically help create modern music by influencing everyone from Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra to Kurt Cobain and Jack White. Tough as hell, built like a brick shithouse, he drank hard, fought harder, played the twelve-string guitar better than any man alive and once responded to being stabbed in the throat with a prison shank by pulling the shiv out of his own neck and almost murdering the chap with it.

Huddie William Ledbetter was born on a Louisiana bayou in January of 1888. One of five kids, Ledbetter’s dad was a sharecropper – a tough, calloused-handed wandering manual laborer who worked twelve-hour shifts in the hot Louisiana sun for basically zero pay. Huddie Ledbetter quickly realized that bouncing around the countryside with his dirt-poor family looking for backbreaking jobs wasn’t his thing, so he decided to get the hell out of there, beat the crappy hand that circumstance dealt him and become a superstar musician. By twelve he’d dropped out of schooland by fifteen he’d taught himself how to play the accordion and was playing shows in the St. Paul’s Bottom neighborhood of Shreveport, Louisiana – a hardcore red light district. Surrounded by drunken debauchery didn’t derail Lead Belly’s quest and by the age of sixteen he was married with two kids. By twenty he was divorced, out of Shreveport, wandering the South playing shows in any venue that would have him and working hard labor jobs when the music didn’t pay the bills.

Lead BellyI imagine Lead Belly’s early life being kind of like Tommy Johnson in ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’, only with more face-shanking brutality. Lead rode the rails, traveling the land from the beer-soaked streets of Shreveport’s seediest neighborhoods to the hottest clubs in Deep Ellum, Texas, hanging out at every bar, saloon and music venue along the way. But Lead wasn’t just there to party. He made it his life’s mission to listen to every musician he could find and absorb all the musical knowledge he could. He learned to play the piano, guitar, harmonica, mandolin and violin, became the undisputed master of the twelve-string guitar, and spoke to so many famous blues and folk musicians that he became a walking encyclopedia of American folk tunes. Before long he could play basically every folk song there was and when he wasn’t putting a new spin on old standards he was writing badass songs about cowboys, sailors, women, booze, prison and God. And Hitler. Along the line he worked hard jobs to earn enough cash to put food on the table, hammering railroad spikes, picking cotton, herding cattle as a cowboy, and hammering fence posts. Real work and work he was damn good at thanks to his being basically gigantic and stronger than a team of oxen.

Leadbelly’s budding music career hit a slight hitch in 1915, when the folk guitarist was arrested for punching a dude in the face, pulling a gun in the middle of a barroom brawl, then pummeling someone with it. He was sentenced to serve an unspecified period of hard labour on a chain gang in Texas, hard work that paid even worse than sharecropping. Two days into his mandatory community service whacking rocks with a pickaxe Lead slipped off when the shotgun-toting guards weren’t looking, bolted out of there on foot, escaped the prison work patrol, fled to the next county, changed his name, and went right back to work as a manual laborer by day and an aspiring musician by night.

Lead Belly

He managed to lay low long enough for the heat to die down, but this stone-cold, two-fisted badass was a hot-blooded man whose profession required that he frequent a lot of divey bars populated by a fair number of douchebags, and trouble found him once again a few years later. The details of this particular story are a little sketchy, but apparently in 1918 Lead’s cousin’s husband was doing some fucked-up bullshit, so Lead decided that the best way to resolve the situation was to show up at the dude’s house with a knife and a pistol and beat the shit out of him and all of his friends. In the ensuing battle Lead Belly shot the husband dead and knocked another guy unconscious, a feat of badassitude that earned our hero a sentence of 7-to-35 years in the Texas State Penitentiary.

During his stay in the clink, Lead Belly made a hell of a name for himself by smuggling in a guitar and spending all of his free time singing songs and playing music for the guards and prisoners. Eventually, the Governor of Texas got word of what was going on and decided he needed to see this ‘Singing Convict’ for himself, and he was so goddamned impressed that he ended up bringing his entire family and friends back a couple times just to hear Lead Belly shred the twelve-string. Six years into his sentence, Lead Belly wrote a song asking the Governor for a pardon.

He got it.

Most music historians agree that it was in prison that Huddie Ledbetter got his now-famous nickname. There are tons of theories as to why ‘Lead Belly’ is the name that stuck, and I dare say all of them are awesome. Some folks claim it’s because he was tough as hell, built like a wall of iron and muscle and capable of swinging an axe or shovel with twice the strength of any other inmate. Some say it’s because he could drink even the nastiest fucking bathtub moonshine and show no ill effects. Others claim that he once took a bullet (in some versions a full-on blast of shotgun buckshot) to the abdomen and survived. We will probably never know for sure, but we do know that from this point on Huddie Ledbetter was only known as Lead Belly.

Lead spent the next five years playing shows and working hard shitty day jobs, but trouble found him once again in 1930 when he and some friends got into a back alley New Orleans knife fight with a gang of white guys who were presumably looking for trouble and found a hell of a lot more of it then they’d bargained for. Lead was arrested for stabbing one of those fucks, and was sentenced to another lengthy stay, this time in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Just like before, Lead Belly entertained the guards, inmates, and wardens with his music, but it turns out there are asshole critics everywhere – a couple years into his stay, some inmate jumped Lead Belly from behind and drove a prison shank into the side of his neck. Lead responded by throwing the dude down, pulling the fucking knife out of his own neck, and almost killing the guy with it. For the rest of his life he had a hardcore scar that spanned several inches across his throat.Lead Belly

Just like before, Lead Belly’s ‘singing convict’ thing began to draw some local attention, and it was in 1934 that a historian and folklorist named John Lomax showed up at the Lousiana State Pen to see what was up with this guy. He was so blown away that he had Lead record some tracks on a phonograph disc (this would mark the first time he was ever recorded). Lead recorded a song called ‘Goodnight, Irene’ that he’d learned from his uncle, as well as a couple other tracks. Lomax played them for the Governor of Louisiana, asking for a pardon, and once again, Lead Belly was let out of jail solely on account of his singing voice and musical prowess. The two men then spent the entirety of 1934 driving around the Depression-Era American South working together to collect and archive priceless samples of American folk music.

By 1936 Lead Belly found himself playing twice a night at the famous Apollo Theatre during the Harlem Renaissance, being recorded for TIMEnewsreels, having a bunch of awesome shit written about him in the People’s Daily (the official newspaper of the American Communist Party, which is slightly interesting considering he was not actually a communist) and getting his songs recorded by Columbia Records. His new-found fame was slightly derailed in 1939 when he was arrested for stabbing a guy during a knife-fight in Manhattan (this is documented knife-fight number five, for those of you keeping track at home), but once he got out of jail he jumped right back into action, getting a regular spot on a weekly CBS radio show where he played songs with guys like Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

Lead Belly was known as the ‘King of the Twelve-String’. Using a thumb pick to play the walking base line and finger-picking the rest, Lead accentuated his songs by stomping his foot and shouting out calls and cadences that he learned while working hard labor on the railroad line. His songs are interesting because Lead just tuned his guitar strings with one another rather than to the standard E, then adjusting his voice accordingly. He played shows every single day of his life, recorded a definitive collection of folk and blues songs, took requests at his shows and could instantaneously recall any of the 500 songs he knew from memory, and played whatever the hell he wanted whenever he felt like it. He never really saw any of the money he made, and lived basically in poverty in Harlem with his fourth wife, but I guess he was just happy doing what he liked to do- play music.

At the age of 53 Lead Belly registered for the Draft to enter World War II, but was never called up. He continued living it up and playing music, but during a European tour in 1949 (he was one of the first American folk artists to become popular in Europe) he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and forced to return home to the States. He died of ALS in December 1949 at the age of 61. One year after his death, Pete Seeger’s band, The Weavers, recorded a cover of Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight, Irene’. The song that got Lead Belly out of prison became a number one hit in 1950, earning the Weavers millions of dollars. A decade after that, Lead Belly’s arrangement of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ would be covered by some Brit band who are still living off the royalties of that one song.

There’s a life-sized statue of Lead Belly across from the courthouse in Shreveport, Louisiana and the state erected a marker at his grave site. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame early in the Hall’s life, and his music, which became insanely more popular after his death, has been covered by dozens of bands, all of whom cite the hard-drinking, hard-fighting Leadbelly as a major influence on their careers.

 Leadbelly Information

Leadbelly Foundation

Part of the ‘Classic Album Reviews’ series (here) where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re use to. To lost gems that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Don’t Mourn. Organize!- Songs Of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill’ (1990)

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Joe Hill’s powerful words have moved countless artists to blend politics and song and this dramatic tribute to the Industrial Workers of the World songwriter and activist Joe Hill, features songs by and about Hill performed by Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, Earl Robinson, Paul Robeson and others. An absolute treasure for anyone interested in American folk and labour music.

for your free download click on the album sleeve

for your free download click on the album sleeve

Joe Hill, poet, songwriter, and organizer is arguably the most popular working class artist in American culture. This album, named after Joe Hill’s famous last words before he was executed by the State of Utah, is a testament to his power as a musical and cultural figure. It also attempts to secure his place in our memory. The album consists of two elements, Joe Hill songs performed by important interpreters and songs about him, again in historically important performances. Among the former, number Harry McClintock singing ‘The Preacher and the Slave’, Pete Seeger doing ‘Casey Jones (The Union Scab)’ and Cisco Houston’s version of ‘The Tramp’. The latter category contains the more varied and more interesting contributions. Among these are poet Kenneth Patchen’s spoken word piece ‘Joe Hill Listens to the Praying’, Billy Bragg singing Phil Ochs ‘The Ballad Of Joe Hill’ and both Paul Robeson and Earl Robinson performing the Robinson-penned number Joan Baez made her own, ‘Joe Hill’ with its immortal lines

“I dreamed I saw, I dreamed I saw, Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me
Says I “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”
“I never died” says he, “I never died” says he
“I never died” says he”

He was born Joel Emmanuel Haggland in Sweden, the ninth son of a railroad worker. His father died when he was eight years old, and he went to work in order to help support his mother and six siblings. When Hill’s mother died in 1902, he emigrated to the United States. Until 1910 practically nothing is known of Joe Hill’s life. It is known that he was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, as he sent back an eyewitness account of the horror and devastation caused by this disaster to Sweden, where it was published in a local newspaper. Somewhere along the line he changed his name to Joseph Hillstrom and this was shortened by work mates to Joe Hill. By the time he finally surfaces in San Pedro, CA, in 1910, it is clear that he had been working a long time as a migrant laborer, and was on intimate terms with the suffering and misery experienced by the families of his fellow workers under the conditions of this era.
Joe Hill
In San Pedro, he joined the International Workers of the World, or as popular slang had it the ‘Wobblies’, a Chicago-based labour organization which set itself up as a worldwide advocate and agitator for the cause of worker’s rights and the unionization of industries. Towards the end of 1910, Hill published a letter in the IWW’s in-house publication International Worker, identifying himself as a member of the Portland chapter of the IWW. At the beginning of 1911, Hill is found in Tijuana, attempting to mobilize an IWW offensive to assist the overthrow of the Mexican government. From then until January 1914, Hill’s trail once again runs cold, this time not due to a lack of information, but to an impossible wealth of Joe Hill sightings; Hill became such a legendary ‘wobbly’ that he is accredited as being present at practically all IWW functions nationwide.
Joe HillIt was during this time that Hill established himself as the main event of IWW rallies, singing songs he had written that pilloried capitalist bosses, scabs, glorified the ordinary American worker, and urged on the creation of unions. The lyrics to these songs were published in the IWW’s ‘Little Red Song Book’ and achieved wide distribution therein, but most of the thousands who got to know such songs as ‘Union Maid’, ‘The Preacher And The Slave’, ‘There Is A Power In The Union’ and ‘Workers of the World, Awaken!’ heard them sung by Joe Hill in person. The lyrics were usually simple, easily memorized and set to tunes that were already known to the assembly at the IWW meetings. As Joe once said
“A song is learned by heart and repeated over and over and if a person can put a few common sense facts into a song and dress them up in a cloak of humor, he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read.”
In January 1914, Joe was apprehended in Salt Lake City on a entirely circumstantial charge of murdering a local grocer who also happened to be a retired law enforcement officer. During the trial he offered little to no evidence in his own defense, and was more openly hostile to the volunteer attorneys representing him than he was to the prosecution, who sought the death penalty. Hill was convicted and executed by a firing squad on November 19, 1915, despite the protestations of the Swedish Ambassador to the United States, Helen Keller, and President Woodrow Wilson himself, all of whom had pleaded with the governor of Utah for a new trial for Joe. His own unexplainable behavior under these dire circumstances suggests that, though innocent of the charge, he had resigned himself to the notion of becoming a martyr for the cause of the unions. After his execution, the coffin containing Joe’s body was hastily transported to Chicago, where it was joined by a crowd of 30,000 mourners in a massive IWW funeral procession through the city streets.
Joe HillThe thirty or so songs that Joe Hill wrote were once thought so dangerous that many would dare not sing them in public or risk arrest. To this repertoire was added an additional powerful anthem of the left, entitled ‘Joe Hill’ and written in 1925 by the poet Alfred Hayes and set to music by Earl Robinson. This was sung at workers’ rallies in the 1930s and 1940s, when millions were in attendance. Although the red-baiting of the 1950s would eventually decimate the American left, by this time, Joe’s work had already left its mark on such singers as Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Pete Seeger and other left-leaning folk singers who would further influence Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and those who would become leading voices in the 1960s protests against the Vietnam War. Famously Baez began her appearance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival by singing ‘Joe Hill’ as her first number.
“If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains; Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains. Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill; Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still”
Unfortunatly Joe Hill never found himself in a situation where he could be recorded and his influence was mainly spread from singer to singer. Only in the late ’90s did historians take much interest in Joe Hill as a performer and artist and the study has already revealed much about the origins of politically oriented folk songs in America. It appears that Joe Hill was truly the first protest singer in America and certain of his specific metaphors, such as his notion of ‘pie in the sky when you die’ are encountered repeatedly in subsequent generations of folk songs that deal with social and political change.

Excellent both as an album and as a cultural document, we will not forget the important legacy Joe Hill bequeathed to us. It’s a beautiful album for a beautiful man.  This is REAL subversion, from real people, native Americans and immigrants like Joe, who weren’t playing games or striking poses, but who really saw things as they are and really wanted to change the world. Joe Hill was a hard core working class true American hero.
“I will die like a true-blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning – organize”
International Workers Of The World

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IWW in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales

in Joe’s words “good luck to all of you”…

for an excellent piece on Joe Hill go to the Black 47 Blog here where New Yorks finest celtic-punk band give you there spin on the life and death of Joe. Well worth reading…

Part of the ‘Classic Album Reviews’ series (here) where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re use to. To lost gems that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

ALBUM REVIEW: STEVE WHITE AND THE PROTEST FAMILY- ‘This Band Is Sick’ (2014)

The world’s favourite east London semi-acoustic singalong political folk punk group

Steve White And The Protest Family- 'This Band Is Sick' (2014)

Similar to them Tories who end up investigating companies that they have in fact got £100,000 worth of shares in, I feel I must own up to something before my review begins. Arriving in London 24 years ago I did my best to follow my home team but it just wasn’t enough for this football addict so I began to cast my net out for someone else to go to watch. Without going into all the details (but it did all start with free tickets!!!) I began going to see Leyton Orient. Back then they were in Division Three and in the years since they’ve had a couple of promotions and relegation’s but have never risen above that third tier of english footy. Standing on the terraces back then I never imagined that eventually they would become my first team, eclipsing both my home team and Celtic. There’s been ups and down. Few more of one than the other but that’s football for you. We can’t all support Chelsea or Manchester City. One of the many things that drew me to Orient was the supporters (I save the term ‘fans’ for yer barstoolers or schoolkids who support teams hundreds of miles away from them that they’ll never get to see). On the terraces back then were people from all over England in the same boat as me. Miles from home and washed up at the at a not so wee ground in London E10. Punks, hippies and metallers were dotted about the ground as were lefties everywhere. Once I said hello to a young lad wearing a James Connolly t-shirt. That’s how I was sucked in and the O’s are a part of me now…

Steve White And The Protest familySo why the hell am I waxing on about a lower league football team that can’t even get 5,000 in to watch them when they were (briefly) top of the league? Well the reason my friends is Steve White And The Protest Family. A quick glance at the band logo will give some of you the answer. These boys are full on Leyton Orient supporters and can be found propping up the bar in the Supporters Club at the ground before and after O’s games and even away games too, though whether or not they went to Bradford City that time I do not know. Meeting Steve many times and having checked out their videos I determined to draw them into London Celtic Punks orbit. We booked them for a couple of gigs and they went down a storm with their distinctive brand of English folk-punk and socialist and football anthems.

The bands official beginning was at Tommy Flynn’s in Camden on the 3rd December 2009 and ‘This Band Is Sick’ is their third release after a live album ‘One Night In Walthamstow’ recorded in 2010 at the Rose And Crown the day after the 2010 general election. With the Tories about to wage war on the working classes and finish off what Thatcher had started its a great record full of bile and humour and anger. Sadly they’ve been proved right about everything they predicted…

‘One Night’ was followed by the studio mini-album  ‘Drums Ruin Everything’ from 2012. ‘Drums Ruin Everything’ gets it title because they don’t and never have had a drummer. Eight tracks that set the style for this new album. Football, politics, football, politics and politics. All done with lashings of humour and personality. To download either album click on the links below the respective album covers above. Its £1 for both and one of them is free!!!

The band consists of Steve- Guitar, Irish bouzouki, harmonica, vocals, Doug- Bass, vocals, Russ- Banjo, vocals, Funky Lol- Mandolin, guitars, violin, piano, vocals. Though you’d never really be sure as they have people guesting for them regularly and even though there’s officially only four members I’ve seen them play with more than double that!

L-R: Steve, Doug, Russ, Funky Lol

L-R: Steve, Doug, Russ, Funky Lol

So now I’ve come clean on my connection to the band I cannot be accused of bias when I tell you that ‘This Band Is Sick’ is the proverbial bee’s knees! It kicks off, literally, with ‘No Pasaran In E17’ which tells the story of the far-right English Defence League’s ill fated trip to Walthamstow to hold a demonstration. The vast majority of EDL members made the sensible decision to bottle it and never come but those that did were met with a huge force of locals determined to prevent them from marching and they were harried and harassed at every turn and afterwards slunk off back to where they came from having had been well and truly embarrassed. As with all the following tracks the vocals are extremely clear and as east London (or should that be “east east east London”?) as you can get with the bands up front and forthright views.

“you can stick your racist hatred up your arse”

Acoustic guitar and mandolin lead the music but really its Steve voice that really dominates proceedings. ‘Do Something About It’ name checks the bands influences and is a plea for the left to stop its sectarianism and work together. A lovely thought but something the left is incapable of doing unfortunately. Who knows what we could achieve if we were united and all worked as equals together. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is the phrase that fits the Brit Left perfectly with all the various groups and sects putting themselves above the class they pretend to serve. ‘Home Rule For Awesomestow’ brings in the harmonica and is lovely wee ditty about the home of the band, even bigging up their local Labour MP. ‘Ecstasy Death Girl’ proves the band can do serious with Lol taking over vocal duties for the story of a young lass who had died and the medias portrayal of her death and the prejudices they hold against the working classes in general. Quite rightly the song tells us not to buy the Daily Mail and ends with the sad and poignant line “poor Isabelle”.  Two whispered words more poignant than the 100’s of acres of news coverage the Daily Mail printed on the subject. Electric guitars pop in ‘Smash It Up (And Start Again)’ a song that tries to tell explain what we’ll do when the revolution comes. ‘Bad Day For Bojo’ is about the RMT, unions and everyone’s least favourite Eton boy (after Frank Turner that is!). A upbeat tune it’s banjo led and a real toe tapper. ‘Funky Lol’s Picket Line’ is about the necessity of NEVER crossing picket lines…EVER! ‘Never Mind Your Bollocks’ is that unusual song subject of testicular cancer and extolling the virtues of

“having a quick feel it aint worth ignoring”

‘(When An) Anarchist (Helps You Across The Road)’ begins with loud punky guitars and soon racks up the volume with a typical Family tune and lyrics. The stand out track of the album for me. Very funny with brilliant lyrics and music. Next is ‘Which Side Are You On?’, a song readers of this blog will be most familiar with due to the likes of The Dropkick Murphys and Billy Bragg , among others, covering it over the years. Written back in 1931 by Florence Reece and made most popular by the late and great Pete Seeger its a song bursting with both class hatred and class pride.  Steve’s updated lyrics are in the tradition of those mentioned and are a welcome addition to the song’s grand history

“I’m on the side of the unions,

on the side of the strikers

On the side of the bloggers,

the protest song writers

On the side of the disabled,

fighting against ATOS

On the side of the worker,

not the side of the boss

I’m on the side of the sick,

the benefits claimants

The folk who can’t make their Wonga repayments

I’m on the side of the kids on zero hours contracts

On the side of council workers who had their jobs axed

On the side of Uncut,

I’m on the side of Occupy

It’s rich versus poor if you just open your eyes

I hear people say a change is gonna come

So ask yourself which side are you on”

The final track (and hidden track- sorry for spoiling the surprise!) is The Family’s legendary anthem ‘Brisbane Road’. A story of love, unrequited love, hatred, dreams, dashed dreams and football. Yeah Brisbane Road is of course the home of Leyton Orient and close your eyes and a listen to this song will whisk you over to East London at 2-45pm running across Coronation Gardens. Whether its the drinks with no lids or getting The Orientear fanzine and a pint in the South Stand Bar at half-time and then missing the first five minutes of the second half but its that thing of praying to hear Status Quo at quarter to five that brings a smile to this face.

Twelve tracks in all and only a few seconds short of forty minutes. ‘This Band Is Sick’ may not have instant appeal for many of our European readers but you’d be wise to give it a chance. The lyrics are multi-layered in the same way Half Man Half Biscuit’s are in that you may listen as close as you can to the words but you’ll always discover a line you never heard before that will raise a smile or two. Shame the CD comes in a pretty basic cardboard cover but thats a small gripe as i already mentioned there’s no need for the lyrics as its very easy to understand Steve even when he really gets going! The album is released today so hightail it over to their Bandcamp page (link below) and get ‘This Band Is Sick’ as this band may be sick but they are fecking brilliant too!

here’s the recently released double-A side with Graham Larkbey And The Escapers. It’s all free but limited to 200 copies so when their gone contact the band…

Contact The Band

Facebook  Bandcamp  Reverbnation

Buy The Album (released 13th October 2014)

Physical copies from FourDogsMusic  Bookmarks and the Leyton Orient Supporters Club!

Download from Bandcamp

here’s the band recorded just a couple of weeks ago with some John Otway at the end you lucky things!

ALBUM REVIEW: RUNA- ‘Current Affairs’ (2014)

Runa- 'Current Affairs' (2014)
Runa were formed in Philadelphia in The USA in 2008 and consist of vocalist and step-dancer, Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Philadelphia, Dublin-born guitarist, Fionán de Barra, Cheryl Prashker of Canada on percussion, Dave Curley on mandolin, vocals, bodhrán, and step-dancing, and Maggie Estes of Kentucky on the fiddle. The band often performs with world-renowned, guest musicians, including Ross Holmes (Mumford & Sons, Cadillac Sky, Chessboxer) on fiddle, Matt Mancuso (Cathie Ryan Band) on fiddle, and Isaac Alderson (The Yanks, Comas) on the uilleann pipes, flutes, and whistles.
Runa1
‘Current Affairs’ is their fourth studio album and maintains the high standards they’ve set themselves. They play highly energetic and graceful, acoustic melodies with their fusion of music from Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the United States. Reminiscent of Irish-American legends Solas the bands Irish-American roots shine through drawing inspiration from the celtic tradition and the modern realities of being Irish in America today.

Thirteen tracks that come up just a few seconds short of a hour and if its class Irish music you want then this is the place. ‘Current Affairs’ begins with the track Pete Seeger made famous ‘The Banks Are Made Of Marble’, written by a New York apple farmer Les Rice in the 1930’s celebrating the struggles of the working class. Kicking off with acoustic guitar and harmonica before the band join in. Sadly the band recorded the song the night Pete Seeger died and it’s as good a tribute to him as would be possible. ‘The Wife Of Ushers Well’ is a sad song of a mother’s loss breaking into reels half way through before returning to the song. ‘The Hunters Set’ is a collection of tunes centred around hunting from across North America and begins with the fiddle before the whole band finish the song with a almighty racket! ‘Henry Lee’ is a tune with its roots in the celtic nations and their offspring in the Appalachians and is one of the album’s standout tracks telling the tale of a jilted lovers revenge. The guitar playing is exemplary and leads the song in a quite jazzy way. Amos Lee’s ‘Black River’ is a slow ballad capturing the simplicity of the human spirit. This is followed by a beautiful collection of songs with dual vocals in both Scots gaelic and Irish. Its great to hear our native languages and it’s a true testament to the band. ‘The False Knight Upon The Road’ is a traditional song about a young boy who meets someone who tries to trick him. Claude Ely’s gospel song ‘Ain’t No Grave’ has been covered by artists as diverse as Johnny Cash and Norah Jones but never quite like this. Starting as a mournful ballad, fiddle jumps in and the song becomes upbeat with its story of overcoming life’s trials. ‘Who Will Sing Me Lullabies’ was written by Kate Rusby who is already gaining legendary status on these shores so its great to see her influence spreading across the broad atlantic. The word beautiful crops up a awful lot in this review and I can frankly find no better word for what I’m hearing. Kate is I’m sure honoured to have Runa cover this song. ‘The Ruthless Wife’ is the story of the death of vocalist Shannon’s great-grandfather James Allen Lambert in Philadelphia back in 1922.  A proper murder ballad of a policeman (what else could he have been…) killed in the line of duty and a real ladies man. Instrumental ‘Land of The Sunshine Set’ is a set of reels and tunes that gives the whole band a chance to shine and shine they do with each instrument getting a good airing and is as perfect as they come. ‘Rairies Hill’ is a traditional Scots love song from Dundee and breaks into a lovely upbeat section in the middle. ‘The Last Trip Home’ brings the album to a close with a slow and, yes, beautiful song based on the plight of plough horses in the north of england when they had become ‘obsolete’. A truly horrible word used to describe us all when we are no longer needed and stand in the way of what they call progress.
Runa3
The CD comes in a gatefold sleeve with descriptions of all the songs and has had as much care and attention lavished on it as the music that’s inside. As mentioned Runa remind me of Solas but not in any sort of derivative way. They have their own sound and ways and this album would be a welcome addition to anyones collection. With its elements of Americana and bluegrass as well as celtic it’s perfect for those quiet times when all you want to do is relax and contemplate life and its tragedies and celebrations.

Contact The Band
Buy The CD
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