Voice of the people - vol 20

There is a man upon the farm - Working men and women in song. Running time: 64 minutes 21 seconds. The recordings are dated 1938 to 1980. Issued 1998. Edited by Reg Hall. Compilation, research and notes by Reg Hall. The recordings are mainly from the archives of Topic records but also from Columbia (The Belhavel Trio) and from various private collections (Keith Summer, Jim Carroll, Frank Purslow etc). There is a 42-page booklet (including covers) giving the words to all the songs. 14 pages are given over to biographical notes about the singers. All the songs are sung solo, apart from "In the Bar Room" and "The Banks of The Dee" which have a chorus of men.

Essay and notes by Reg Hall.

Working men and women in song

This volume is a companion to Come All My Lads That Follow the Plough. the Life of Rural Working Men & Women (Topic TSCD655). It covers similar ground, extended to include miners as well as agricultural workers

While agriculture has been the source of wealth for the landowners, the ploughmen and carters, the shepherds and cowmen, the labourers and the small tenant farmers have, until the Second World War, survived on low and often insecure incomes.

The Performers


Joe and Tommy Liddy, born respectively in 1904 and 1908, were brought up by their parents at the post office in the small village of Killargue near Dromahair, Co Leitrim. their mother and father both played the ten-key melodeon, and all the children were encouraged to play either the melodeon or the fiddle. The can be little doubt that their family took part with their neighbours in country-house dancing and music-making. In late adolescence, Tommy acquired a two-row button-key accordeon set in the new tuning of D/D#, which gave him the ability to play in pitch with the fiddle and the flute. While in New York in 1928 and 1929, he played at parties and in dance halls with some outstanding immigrant musicians, most notably the flute-player, John Kenna from Co. Leitrim and the Sligo fiddle-players, Michael Coleman and Jimmy Morrison. Joe and Tommy later settled in Dublin, where they met Ned O'Gorman from Collinstown, Coole, Co. Westmeath. He, too, had been born into a country-house dance background in the 1890s and was reputed to have been a fine dancer in the set. His piping, however, was not from his domestic music-making background, but was the product of the pipers' club movement that was influential in his part of the country. Joe, Tommy and Ned took an active part in the pre-war Irish-dance scene in Dublin. The formed The Belhavel Trio in 1932 specifically to broadcast on national radio from station 2RN, and later they formed the nucleus of a larger band of Dublin-based West of Ireland rural musicians, the original Kincora Ceilidh Band. Joe had joined the police as a young man and he also played in the popular Dublin Metropolitan Police Ceilidh Band, a curious ensemble of traditional ear-players and legitimate reading musicians.


one of eleven children in a railway plate-layer's family, was born in 1900 in the small village of Little Glenham in Suffolk. He inherited the nickname 'Jumbo' as a child on the death of an elderly friend, Jumbo Poacher. His first job at thirteen was as a bird-scarer. the family moved to the small town of Leiston in 1916, and after two years in the army, he returned to Leiston in 1919 and worked briefly as a fisherman, and then as a bricklayer's labourer, a gas-stoker and a docker. Around the end of the Second World War, he became a railway shunter, staying with the job until he retired at 65. He picked up many songs in childhood from his father and other adults and started singing at about eleven years old. "Us kids used to get outside The Lion there when the sheep clipping was in season, and every Saturday night those old boys would hold their meetings there. After the meeting they'd have dinner and then a song. We'd all hang on the pub windows and listen ... And we'd hold their horses for them - you know, they all come by horse and cart - and they'd give us a bottle of ginger beer." As a young man he cycled a couple of miles across fields most Sunday evenings with his father and his elder brother Bob for the singing and stepdancing at The Eel's Foot Inn at Eastbridge. As he described it, "It was a real old-fashioned little pub. It weren't no bigger than my living room. If you had twenty people there you couldn't undo your jacket! And Mrs Moreland used to go down the steps to the cellar every time you wanted a pint." Philip Lumpton, keeping order by thumping the table with a gavel or cribbage board, called on each person in turn 'to sing say or play' and those who didn't entertain dropped sixpence in the beer kitty for those who did. Jumbo Brightwell was a member of a steel quoits team, traveling to such pubs as Middleton Bell, Snape Quay, Frinton Checkers, Marleford Bell and Blaxhall Ship, where after the matches he took part in the singing and learned new songs. As he said many years later, "I wouldn't have to hear a song more than twice before I had it." The character of The Eel's Foot changed around 1965, and Jumbo Brightwell gave up singing in public then.


was born in 1902 in the townland of Tenure, near the town of Drogheda, Co Lough, and at the time of the recording she and her husband Nicholas were working their farm at Hill o' Rath, near Drogheda. Her father, Pat Usher, had a large repository of songs which he sang constantly in the house and while working on the farm. He was considered in his community to be a fine exponent on the concertina and he played with energy and dash right up to his death in 1965 at the age of 94. He passed on much of his music, both dance tunes and songs, to his children and nephews. Mary Ann Carolan played the concertina after her father's model and she had a repertory of about sixty songs. After not having played or sung for several years, she began making music again in the mid-1960s.


was born, the eleventh of thirteen children, in the coal-mining village of Birtley, Co. Durham in 1907. His grandfather and father worked in the Harraton Colliery, also known as the Nova Scotia or Cotia pit, and it was there Jack and his brothers spent all their working life. He worked with his much elder brother, Reece, as a cutter at the coal face often in a twenty-inch seam, until, as the consequence of a spinal injury in 1947, he was transferred to the token cabin, where he kept a tally of each miner's output. The mining village was a very close community, in spite of the pit being hated by everybody and, as a teenager, Jack gave thoughts of going into the police, rather than sacrifice the trust and friendship of his neighbours. Loyalty and good neighbourliness there may have been, but life was pretty tough and violent at times, and work down the mine in inhuman conditions was dangerous.


were father and son. Paddy was born around 1895 in the coal-mining village of Blackbridge, West Lothian, where his father worked in the pit. They moved back to the family home outside Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh, where Paddy hired out to a farmer for six months. He returned to Scotland, keeping in touch with the farmer's daughter, went home in 1932 to marry her, and returned with her to the Scottish mines. They moved to Lehinch, Newtownbutler, Co. Fermanagh in 1934, and Paddy then worked in forestry for Lord Erne and in the quarries. Jimmy was born in 1934. 


(nee Milest) was born in a caravan behind The Coach and Horses in Portsmouth, Hampshire, in 1903, the daughter of a horse-dealer. As a young girl she travelled throughout southern England with her family to fairs and markets, and as she told Mike Yates, "We used to go to the vinegar and pepper fair at Bristol, then to Chichester, Lewes, Canterbury and Oxford, then up to Appleby and back down to Yalding.". 


was probably born in 1880s. He frequented The Cherry Tree in the village of Copthorne, Sussex, where in retirement he was the potman. He was a friend of Pop Maynard, and, if called upon during one of odd occasions when there was singing in the pub, he would usually give What Is The Life of Man?


was born in 1922 at Ludlow in Shropshire. His father had moved from Yorkshire in 1903 for better wages, working in various jobs, including farm-work, quarrying, barbering and horse-dealing, until he became an insurance agent after the Great War. His mother was from South Yardley, Warwickshire, and was a seamstress before marriage. Fred left school at fourteen in 1936 with no job prospects save farming, and he was taken on by a farmer at three shillings and sixpence a week, an arrangement confirmed annually for three years at a hiring fair. During the war the method of hiring changed to six-month contracts and the Ministry of Labour classified Fred in a reserved occupation. He worked at about eight different places, living-in with the farmer's family like all the single workers. He did a wide range of tasks with horses and in arable and stock farming, and in 1953 he bought a two-room cottage (one up and one down) in Aston Munslow and thereafter worked as a casual farm-worker, taking jobs as and where he chose. 


was born around 1890 and worked for most of his life with horses on the Suffolk-Norfolk border. He wrote out a list for Keith Summers of over a hundred songs he could sing and they were mainly sentimental and Victorian popular songs. He played the melodeon both for singing and stepdancing. 


,born in 1894 in the coastal town of Portsoy, Banffshire, was fee'd at Brandon's fair at the age of thirteen to a farm a few miles inland at Deskford. Under the prevailing hiring system for farm servants, he was engaged for £4 cash and board and lodging for the first six months and five guineas for the second. 


was born in 1893 and he lived and farmed at Mount Scott, Mullagh, Co. Clare. 


was born in 1905, the eldest of six children to a tenant farmer at Bogney Farm, Dunphail, Morayshire. An uncle leased a big farm at Kerrow and, at the age of eight, John went to work for him with an eight-mile walk each way. At thirteen, he started working as a moudie-man (molecatcher), presumable hiring himself out when required by local farmers. 


known more commonly as Johnny McDonagh, is from the coastal village of Carna, Connemara, Co. Galway, an area dependent both on small farming and fishing. 


('Big' to distinguish him from other John Maguires) was born in 1914 in the house where he still lives in Lehinch, Newtonbutler, Co. Fermanagh. His father worked on local farms, and John worked on the railway laying tracks. 


,known late in life as Pop, was born in Smallfield, Surrey, in 1872 and in childhood moved with his family to the next village, Copthorne in Sussex. He attended school on and off for four or five years, leaving at the age of twelve. 


the son of a one-time game-keeper and shepherd, was born one of seven children at Andrew's Knowes, Canonbie, Dumfriesshire in 1897, on the Scottish side of the border with England. The family moved into Cumberland around the turn of the century and back to Scotland three years later. Willie left school at eleven and went to work on a farm at Stobbs near Hawick on a twelve-hour day from six in the morning until six in the evening (or later if there was enough light) for seven shillings a week plus his keep. At the age of nineteen, he married Frances Thompson, the daughter of a Canonbie ploughman, and from that time until his retirement in 1968, he worked in a number of locations on the Scottish side of the border as a shepherd, supplementing his living when times were rough by general farmwork. In 1953 he moved to Fifeshire. He was brought up with singing and dance music in his family and as a child he heard singing at sheep shearings, fairs and sales, when the fiddle was played at night for dancing. His father was a singer but Willie sang mostly his mother's songs, and all his siblings were singers and/or musicians, his elder brother Tom playing the fiddle, accordeon, mouth-organ and Jew's harp, and Willie was self-taught on the fiddle as a youngster with a repertory of dance tunes. He frequently sang within his own communities (bearing in mind that he moved around from time to time following work opportunities) at shepherds' suppers and similar events. His wife was also regarded as a good singer and accordeon player and together they appeared in local amateur dramatics. In 1953 he was 'discovered' by Francis Collinson was first recorded him and he was subsequently recorded by Hamish Henderson. In 1961, Willie began to receive invitations in folk-clubs and festivals, which gave him a new lease of life as a singer. 


(née McGregor) was born in 1906 in a bow-tent on Claypotts Farm on the bank of the Tay near Dunkeld, Perthshire. Her family were travellers living a hand-to-mouth existence hawking, making and selling besoms, pearl-fishing from fresh-water mussels, and doing casual farm-work. At sometime during Belle's childhood they settled in a house, which was a base for their excursions seeking a living. Alec Stewart, born in 1904 from a very similar background, was with his parents in Ireland when Belle married him in 1925. There was some movement to and fro' between Northern Ireland and Perthshire for the first few years. This was partly because Belle did not want a traveler's life in Ireland, and she opted for a house in Blairgowrie for herself and the children and a regular job on a farm, and Alec eventually rejoined them. A list of the work Alec did at various times points to the hardship and the precariousness of their living chasing seasonal jobs around the country, working in a sawmill, stripping oak and larch bark, doing odd jobs on a farm, collecting and selling scrap, pulling flax, harvesting corn by hand, beating for grouse-shoots, lifting neaps, raspberry picking and busking with the pipers. Belle was the major singer in her family, learning songs from close and more distant relatives and friends, but in particular she learned many from her brother Donald McGregor. When she was fifteen she put her own tune to The Bonnie Wee Lassie Fae Gouroch, having acquired the words on a broadside she bought in Dundee. As her two daughters Cathie (born in 1928) and Sheila (born in 1937) grew up, they learned some of her songs, but they have gone on to develop repertoires of their own. The Stewarts were contacted in 1954 by Maurice Fleming of the School of Scottish Studies and were recorded quite extensively, and subsequently added appearances at folk clubs and festivals to the list of their various jobs. 


parents were from adjoining farms that straddled the Donegal-Fermanagh border, one farm in the Irish Free State and the other in Northern Ireland. Born in Glasgow in 1921, he was shortly afterwards taken home to his mother's family farm in Co. Donegal and at the age of five moved to his father's family farmstead. He attended technical school in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal and went to work as a forester for the Ministry of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. In 1943, he was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for illegal nationalist activities, serving four and a half years in HM Prison Belfast, where among other things he learned to speak Irish. Upon release he trained at University College, Dublin, as a health inspector and was eventually posted to Letterkenny in Co. Donegal. He was brought up with family music-making and community country-house dancing. He recalls sitting on his material grandfather's knee, while the old man sang to him, and his child, picking up songs from the family and particularly from his mother. Bridget Tunney, including The Wee Weaver. Throughout his adult life he has continued to learn songs from singers from all over Ireland, and he has written on his songs and musical background.


was a traveller who spent most of his working life in Sussex and Kent, and he was getting on in years when this recording was made. His son, Chris Willett, also appears in this series. 

track 1
The Overgate

Recorded by Fred Kent at Blairgowrie, Perthshire, May 1976; Topic 12TS307

track 2
The Wee Weaver

Recorded by Tony Engle & Tony Russell in the crypt of St John the Baptist, Kensington, London, February 1975; Topic 12TS289

track 3
We shepherds are the best of men

Recorded by Bill Leader & Mike Yates in a private room in The Bay Malton Hotel, Oldfield Brow, Altringham, Cheshire, 1966; Topic 12TS150

track 4
The job of journeywork
Joe Liddy, fiddle, Ned O'Gorman, uilleann pipes chanter and Joe Liddy, accordeon

Recorded by a mobile unit in Jury's Hotel, Dublin, 14 March 1938; matrix CAL111-2;Columbia IFB271

track 5
The Flies are on the Tummits

Recorded by Keith Summers in the singer's home, Shelfanger, near Diss, Norfolk, 15 May 1976.

track 6
Come All ye Tramps and Hawkers

Recorded by Sean Davies in his studio at Cecil Sharp House, Camden Town, London, 1966 or 1967; Topic 12T173

track 7
Muddley Barracks

Recorded by Tony Engle & Keith Summers in the singer's home, Leiston, Suffolk, spring 1975; Topic 12TS261

track 8
The Shepherd's Song

Recorded by a Bill Leader in his own home, Camden Town, London, 3 November 1967; Topic 12T183

Last updated on 28/05/2007