Monday, 17 October 2011

Pull Down Lads!

Researching my kin who were travelling showmen and women with their carousels, swingboats and side shows for Painted Ponies and Steam Horses last month, made me think of this beautiful song written by John Tams. I first heard a wonderful recording of it by English folk singer June Tabor on her first solo album 'Airs and Graces' (1976).

While you're tracking down a copy of this gem, you're pretty much stuck with my version! Sorry! 

If my fairground folks hadn't lived in Yorkshire and the North of England, but over the Atlantic, they would have been at the heart of the "carny" community.

This song resonates for me not only because of my travelling kin, but also because of my generations of "water gypsy" forebears travelling the waterways and the fact that my own mother was born in the summer while the local "feast" or funfair was set up on a field in the middle of our village. Her older siblings were sent off to play at the "feast" by my gran as she went into labour! The travellers used to come to my gran's when they were passing through, and she and my grandfather always spoke about them with warmth and respect. My Mum remembers being shown into their immaculate caravan home when she was a child before WW2.

While our situations were different, my heart goes out to the residents of the Dale Farm community who have been refused permission today to appeal against a High Court ruling giving the local council permission to evict them. The same laws of the land that told them to get off the road and buy that land, now threaten them with homelessness. The end of the road for travellers feels like the end of everything. Stay strong!

Pull down, lads,
Pass the bevvy round, lads.
Tara to Sylvie, tara to Jean,
We'll soon be on the road.
Don't think on what you're leaving,
Don't think on what you've found;
Just tear off the tilt, pull out the chat,
We'll find another ground.

Pull down, lads,
It wasn't a bad ground, lads.
We've made some brass, you've had a lass,
Perhaps as well we're going.
I know how it can hurt, lads,
To leave her standing here;
For there's often fears
And there's always tears,
But you'll be back next year.

Pull down, lads,
The sets are cooling down, lads.
The Ark's all packed, the Dodgems stacked,
A bite of scran then go.
We'll leave it as we found it;
They'll soon forget we've been.
For we trade in fun, and we go and come,
We're often scorned but seldom mourned.
O, I hope you know what I mean.

Words and music (c) John Tams

bevvy - 'beverage', a drink, often alcoholic
tara - goodbye
tilt - tarpaulin roof
chat - thingummy (usually whatever you're pointing at!)
brass - money
sets - generators (in my fairground ancestors' day the rides would be driven by a steam traction engine)
The Ark - amusement ride based on Noah's Ark
dodgems - amusement ride with bumper cars
scran - food

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Little Birchover

I feel you teasing back the cuticle of the wood
Crafting this clearing from nip and nod
We nickname it other than known on the map
As our secret local upland Peak
Right here where exhaustion still can stalk

I hear you in throats of swithering birds
Blackbird plumping up leaves under oaks
With harrumphing tuts
Where acorns hurt soles with unyielding treen
Scuttle through beech masts and lichens velveteen

I see you drizzling sunbeams over autumn fields
Flattened by bonfires and the winter's heels
Firedamp flickers in the stars smudged frost
Planets glimmering out and over
While the moon's fragile crust burns ochre

I smell your lit lamp of cadmium and glass
Tallow wax mournful as the twilight lasts
Even the squirrel is dreyed and tucked
But your comfort salts my spirit's ache
As rays flatline then vanish in earth's dimpled lake

I taste you as love in the air's liquid kiss
Soothing my temples with powder-soft peace
The path from the wood runs its fingers through me
But you, guest and gatherer, map and plumb
Lead me home in your arms with your whisper: Come!