Archive for the ‘Folk History’ Category


May 22, 2012

The truth of the old saying ‘where there’s muck there’s money’ is a well-demonstrated and ecologically shameful fact. It comes from a time when the ruling class condemned the new working class, recently emerged from rural bondage, to the slavery, squaller, danger, long working hours and low pay of the factory systems of the industrial revolution. This iniquitous blot on our social history was the powerhouse of theBritish Empire, ruled over by the frumpy, humourless Widow of Windsor. It was a time when the rich got richer and lived ‘in England’s green and pleasant land’ and the poor lived in hope of ‘the countenance divine’ but died in the grim shadows of ‘the dark satanic mills’ or on the gibbets of Hull and Halifax.


The trouble was there was too much muck for the workers and never enough money for the bosses. Then of course, with the passing of time, there were downturns, strikes, lockouts, pit, mill and factory closures, riots and mass unemployment to relieve the tedium of soul-destroying work. Inevitably, several wars intervened to bring the industries back into profit and to solve the unemployment problem, later to soak up the excess population of ‘great unwashed’ so that post war short time and half pay would be easier to manage. 


However, the futile belligerence of the underclass always seems to produce a goodly number of pertinent poems and singable songs. This particular melodic manifestation of struggle and protest is a powerful social comment as it captures exploitation, misery and revolt. In addition it is a geography lesson, something of a travelogue, as it names most of the major towns ofYorkshire. The writer of the original poem, Dr Frederick William Moorman [1872-1919], was a devotee ofYorkshiredialect poetry.Bradfordfolk activist, Dave Keddy, composed the tune in 1960.


I first heard it in a folk club in an otherwise forgettable pub inBradford, in the early sixties. A couple of verses of it stayed with me for ages. I wanted to sing it but I could only remember the first and third verses. It was an annoyingYorkshirehaunting. Finding the missing verses became a personal crusade. For a short time I was quite manic about it. Then, after a diligent search of musical pubs, folk clubs, guitar circles and song swaps, I got the rest of the words.


It’s hard when folks can’t find the work

where they were bred and born,

when I was young I always thought

why I’d bide with roots and corn.

But I’ve been forced to work in towns,

so here’s my litany,

fromHullandHalifaxand Hell,

Good Lord deliver me.


When I was courting Mary Jane,

th’old Squire he said one day,

I’ve got no room for wedded folk

so choose, wilt tha wed or stay?

But I couldn’t leave the lass that I loved

so to town we had to flee.

FromHullandHalifaxand Hell,

Good Lord deliver me.


I’ve worked inLeedsandHuddersfield

and I’ve earned honest brass.

InBradford, Keighley,Rotherham

well I’ve kept me bairns and me lass.

I’ve travelled all three Ridings round

and once I went to sea.

From forges mills and coaling boats,

Good Lord deliver me.


I’ve walked at night throughSheffieldlanes,

was same as being in hell,

where furnaces thrust out tongues of flame

and they roared like winds on ‘t fell.

I’ve dug up coal in Barnsley Pit

with muck up to me knees.


Good Lord deliver me.


I’ve seen fog creep across Leeds Brig,

as thick as workhouse soup.

I’ve lived where folk are stowed away

like rabbits in a coup.

I’ve seen snow float down Bradford Beck

as black as ebony.

From Hunslet, Holbeck, Whipsey Slack,

Good Lord deliver me.


But now the children have all fledged,

to country we’ve come back.

And there’s forty miles of heathery moor

twixt us, and coal pits slack.

So as I sit be fire at night

I laugh and shout wi’ glee.

FromHullandHalifaxand Hell,

Good Lord deliver me.


This tale of hardship and stoic resistance contributes toYorkshire’s reputation as the careful county. The Yorkshire man’s cautious nature is evident in advice to his son, ‘hear all see all say nowt, eat all sup all pay nowt, and if ever tha does owt fa nowt allus do it for thee sen’… As forHullandHalifax, nuf sed…


[Optional] Footnote:


Since ‘Dalesman’s Litany’ first thrust its way into folk revival consciousness several folk luminaries – including Dave Burland, Roy Bailey, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, and Christie Moore – have recorded it on long playing records. From time to time the avid collector will discover one version or another swimming around in the bottomless pit of Ebay. The ‘Dalesman’ also appears on compact disc, at a price that can be a challenge for self-funded superannuants. However, if the song appeals, by far the best method of capture is to download a sound file from the Internet and learn the song by heart and then, to surprise family and friends, sing it at the Christmas party.


From 60 Years of Folking Around © Dermott Ryder 2008



November 26, 2011

Written in the Chinese record of rites is the passage:

‘… Poetry is the expression of earnest thought’.

Can we deny that poetry inAustraliahas little community support?

Is it lacking in force and vitality?

Is it, as the folksong says, ‘an eyeless, boneless, chickenless egg?’ 

Are the poetry movers and shakers insular, elitist, self-focused and politically active to the detriment rather than to the advancement of poetry as a community art form, vocation or even pleasant creative pastime?

Why have the publishing powers engulfed us in a tsunami of post-millennium modernism, is there nothing else? Has poetry inAustraliabecome a bureaucracy?

Are these rhetorical questions? Well, are they?

On reflection, it occurs to me that today’s management committee czars, selection panel specialists, competition judges, anthology editors and some website moderators, not to mention the political gongoozlers responsible for dishing out government grants to apple polishing supplicants,  often take their apparent powers far too much for granted. Are their positions unassailable, their bastions impregnable, and their rules absolute?

It is just possible that the ambitions, objectives and tunnel vision of any tight-knit common interest group, fortified by a goodly dose of self-importance, guided by enlightened self interest and a desire to rule the roost, will be a cause for concern to many of the workers in the field.

It is likely that perceived organisational loss of peripheral vision, demonstrated by website assertions and cyber fiats, handed down to the groundlings with an authoritative, – take this, it is good for you – will generate distrust, disquiet, resistance and with a bit of luck, revolution.

Does all this beg the question: How did poetry inAustraliabecome a bureaucracy? If it doesn’t, perhaps it should. However, should you wish to create your own poetry bureaucracy, go for it.

The steps required to transform a diverse poetry world into the sterile grey bastion of the ‘Big Poetry’ cartel are herewith clearly marked and deliciously easy to follow.

Step 01:       Convince small groups they need government grants to survive.

Step 02:       Monster small groups by claiming government grants will not be forthcoming unless they amalgamate and become a big group.

Step 03:       Form the big group with a labyrinthine constitution, inspiring title and select   [note not elect] the right sort of ‘connected’ committee.

Step 04:       Get the promised government grant and spend it on salaries.

Step 05:       Employ beautiful people and give them fancy titles.

Step 06:       Create a website to establish the new poetry oligarchy in the world of .com.

Step 07:       Create an email storm to attract new members and to keep up the cash flow.

Step 08:       Publish cyber plaudits by public figures seeking any sort of relevance. 

Step 09:       Remember that the apathy of the many will serve the energy of the few.

Step 10:       Publish a grey, serious looking anthology of carefully chosen works by writers who support the elitist cause.

I recently received and ploughed through, with no small effort, two new anthologies. In terms of presentation, one had all the charm and grace of a surgical stocking catalogue, the other wasn’t that good. However, I did not judge the books by their covers or by their dowdy presentation but by their contents.

I found the entombed selections, with a few exceptions, uninspiring. They did not make me feel, they did not make me think. I found much of the fractured meandering unintelligible, some of it unappealing to the point of alienation.

Why do so many modernist poems sit so lost and naked on the page, isolated like their modernoid creators, insulated from the known world and largely incomprehensible to the questing reader? 

Why do so many arty-farty editors accept the incoherent raves of writers apparently ‘hanging upside down in the cosmos’?  Why are so many short stories, chopped up into verse-like chunks and passed off as ‘free verse’ when they are neither free nor authentically verse?

Both unsatisfactory tomes dramatically demonstrate why the broad community does not read and embrace poetry, if poetry it be, as published by the current elitist, modernist poetry bureaucracy.  Clearly, the poetry cartels are screwing the pooch.

The legendary ‘Ern Malley’ website asserts that Harold Stewart and James McAuley, the creators of Ern Malley, his spinster sister and his body of work, thought modernist poetry was pretentious nonsense. They likened it to ‘a free association test’. They agreed with Alec Derwent Hope [1907-2000], influential poet, polymath and feared reviewer, that it would be a good idea to ‘get Maxy’ [Max Harris] and the modernists and to debunk what the conspirators called the ‘Angry Pungwungs’. The rest is history.

The audacious hoax worked well, the debunking was savage. ‘Max and the Modernists’ took a hit. Unfortunately, in time, the Angry Pungwungs, like the indestructible cockroach, survived, re-immerged and flourished to pervade the literature.

One can only hope that another deadly duo, channelling Stewart and McAuley, is waiting in the wings, with the three debunking rules at the ready, to scuttle or at least curtail the current onslaught of pretentious nonsense.  For the uninitiated, the writing rules applied in the debunking of the modernists are:

01]     There must be no coherent theme.

02]     There must be no care taken with verse technique.

03]     In style, the works must imitate the work of as many dead modernoids as possible.

I will add three more rules to guide and excite:

04]     Find every rhyme and annihilate it.

05]     Find every rhythm and obliterate it.

06]     Get published in a Poetry Cartel Anthology.

Of course, the consummate debunker should not give the game away until after receiving written fulsome plaudits from the self-appointed poetry gurus of the day.

Will it work? Is it likely, or even remotely possible? Can ‘Hope’, or Stewart and McAuley, spring eternal?  In this brave new, conservative, government granted world, probably not. Those worthy of the name poet will continue to languish at the margins. The bureaucracy will make damn sure they remain there.

Bear in mind that even though the names of the movers and shakers change, the bureaucracy, much like the cockroach, is self-replenishing and therefore indestructible.

As Nicholas Hale Blundell remarked, in an impromptu address to a group of demoralised poets, quaffing happy hour schooners and licking their wounds in the Union Bar of a nearby university: ‘Those who promise to lead, coordinate, and guide you in your industry, nurture your creativity and protect your intellectual freedom will inevitably seek to control your future and direct your artistic output to serve their desired outcomes. They do so because they can, and as you radicals become conservatives – by disappointment, opportunity or ageing – you will become as they are now.  I know this to be the natural order of things. Make mine a double, no ice’.

From a reading at ‘Poets Alive’ at Liverpool NSW Library © Dermott Ryder 2011


December 29, 2009


You will now discover that travelling though ‘Folk Odyssey’ is an easy and straightforward exercise. The navigation strip to your immediate right will take you to the various interesting and informative Pages.

Where your selection has several items to offer interest there will be a set of page titles and numbered items guide you further. We have set up this simple structure to serve you the reader, to enhance your pleasure and to encourage you to come here often.