I was told about Hamish Henderson a few weeks ago and just spent a delightful hour making friends with his best known song ‘Freedom Come All Ye’.
There have been a few translations into English but I didn’t really like any of them so I’ve written my own, building on unattributed previous efforts. It’s such a shame that ‘down’ and ‘bloom’, and ‘more’ and ‘bare’ don’t rhyme in my southern English accent!
Roch the wind in the clear day’s dawin Blaws the cloods heilster-gowdie owre the bay But there’s mair nor a roch wind blawin Thro the Great Glen o the warld the day
It’s a thocht that wad gar oor rottans Aa thae rogues that gang gallus fresh an gay Tak the road an seek ither loanins Wi thair ill-ploys tae sport an play
Nae mair will our bonnie callants Merch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw Nor wee weans frae pitheid an clachan Mourn the ships sailin doun the Broomielaw
Broken faimlies in lands we’ve hairriet Will curse ‘Scotlan the Brave’ nae mair, nae mair Black an white ane-til-ither mairriet Mak the vile barracks o thair maisters bare
Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom Never heed whit the houdies croak for Doom In yer hoos aa the bairns o Adam Will find breid, barley-bree an paintit rooms
When Maclean meets wi’s friens in Springburn Aa thae roses an geans will turn tae blume An the black lad frae yont Nyanga Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doun.
Robin’s English translation
Rough the wind in the clear day’s dawning Blows the clouds topsy turvy about the bay, But there’s more than a rough wind blowing Through the great glen of the world today.
It’s a thought that will make our tyrants (Rogues who fancy themselves so fine and gay) Take the road, and seek other pastures For their ill ploys to sport and play
No more will our bonnie callants March to war when our braggarts crousely craw, Nor wee ones from pit-head and hamlet Mourn the ships sailin’ down the Broomielaw.
Broken families in lands we’ve harried, Will curse our names no more, no more; Black and white, hand in hand together, Will drive the tyrants from every shore
So come all ye at home with Freedom, Never heed the crooked hoodies croak for doom. In your house all the bairns of Adam Can find bread, barley-bree and painted room.
When MacLean meets with friends in Springburn Sweet the flowers will all bloom that day for thee And a black boy from old Nyanga Will break his chains and know liberty
He came across an essay about a political pageant from the 1930s which has an interesting overlap with the structure of our show. The published essay is behind an academic paywall here but the author Mick Wallis has kindly provided his private copy of the essay which you can download from here if you don’t have an academic login to download from the link above.
Taken from the essay, here is the structure of a pageant performed to thousands of people in a stadium in the late 1930s:
Music and the People
1. Feudal England. A canon from 1350; songs ‘that have lived in the peasant tradition for centuries, only lately collected because they were beginning to be forgotten’; a primitive fertility ritual dance; a Hebridean spinning song. (No dramatic action.)
2. The Massacre of the Innocents. Parts of two pageant-plays are performed, as if to the villagers: after the famous complaint from the Second Shepherds’ Play, Herod and the Innocents – ‘no doubt much of its popularity owed much to the memory of the massacres of their own people after the rising of 1381’; the song King Herod and the Cock in which ‘the invincible spirit’ wins against the oppressor; a choir of early Christians, following an introductory verse by Paul Robeson; and, since ‘the play’s not finished yet’ (i.e., of history) the Basque Lullaby.
3. Peasants in Revolt. A return to 1381: John Ball addresses the crowd; a signal arrives from him; the march on London, singing The Cutty Wren; Tyler’s meeting with Richard II, and murder (‘All words spoken in this scene, except for the commentary of the Speaker, are taken from authentic records’); all the men of the Mass Chorus (nine choirs) sing The German Peasants’ Song.
Interlude. ‘The ancient ritual carried on / And the forbidden message spoke’: members of the Woodcraft Folk ‘come on in small numbers, like conspirators, and perform the Stag-Dance’, part of the cult which was ‘the bond of unity between the harassed peasants’.
4. Soldiers of Freedom. Two Announcers briefly set the scene for 1649 (the episode is not concerned with celebrating Cromwell). ‘One king may be dead, but who still owns the land? Six Levellers and the actor-singer Parry Jones sit at tavern tables and sing; an Announcer recounts their talk as they remain in tableau; a group of dancers; some Diggers brought on in ropes by soldiers; an Announcer hails them in verse while the soldiers order drinks; the Diggers sing Stand up Now.
5. Village Green to Concert Hall. Announcer’s verse reports the break-up of rural communities and the appropriation of their culture by bourgeois institutions; ‘A group of dancers enters and performs to the tunes from which The Beggar’s Opera was concocted. At the end of their dance, a proscenium arch appears over the platform, and a scene from the play is performed to the dancers as audience.
6. Changing Europe. 1792. French revolution, singing the Carmagnole, verses 1 and 2, dressed as French peasants of 1790
7. Prisoners. ‘Ludwig van Beethoven descends from rostrum’; ‘But who are these / In modern clothes appearing / Their haggard eyes / The brand of torture like a web of scorpions wearing?’; prisoners from the Nazi concentration camps enter and sing the Peat-Bog Soldiers’ Song.
8. Slaves. ‘Following this train of thought’, John Payne and his Negro Choir enter as slaves, singing a chain-gang song, a cotton-picking song, and some ‘songs of freedom, led by one of the foremost champions of freedom’, Paul Robeson’.
9. The People Advance. As Robeson’s Kneelin’ Low ends, the Mass Chorus sings the Chartist We’re Low and the Speaker takes up a prose narrative to take us forward to trade unionism – ‘To every trade its club, to every club its song’ – and ‘the Trades Unionists sit round a table and sing their song’ (unspecified), ‘the verse sung solo’; ‘the tide rose apace’, and in a few sentences taking in the Co-operative Movement, the Speaker takes us to the late 1880s – a crowd headed by William Morris enters, singing People of England; the Speaker relates the killing by the police of the demonstrator in Trafalgar Square in 1880, and William Morris gives his famous ‘Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay’; the Chorus marches off to the Russian 1905 Funeral March, ‘that now commemorates all those who have fallen in the fight for freedom’.
The Speaker makes a summation in verse of the Pageant, and reflects on its meanings for us now:
And having present struggles and despairs Sharp in our minds, remember too The past whose urgent influence prepares The issues of today, and know that you By today’s action map the future’s road…. Never so needed was that single will That unity of the people, to fulfil The claim for freedom, and to ensure our peace… It is time we answered, as they answer now In Spain, in China, in every tortured land…. Let our song rise whose simple power Can flood the boundaries that divide us still And make our common hope, our single will.
Then a procession of groups: Christian Hymn; Levellers’ Song; Marseillaise; People of England; ‘Bandera Rossa’ ; German Solidarity Song; Chinese Student Song; Spanish National Anthem; (and now not representations but actual) veterans of the International Brigade led by Fred Copeman; the Negro Choir. Paul Robeson sings The Land of Freedom, ‘the great song of liberated Soviet humanity’, with the Acting Chorus (twelve choirs); Tom Mann, the Dean of Canterbury, and Fred Copeman speak briefly on the theme ‘Music and the People’ . Finally, all (audience included) sing the American Men Awake! the Day is Dawnin
The Deserted Village is a poem by Oliver Goldsmith published in 1770. It is a work of social commentary, and condemns rural depopulation and the pursuit of excessive wealth.
The location of the poem’s deserted village is unknown, but the description may have been influenced by Goldsmith’s memory of his childhood in rural Ireland, and his travels around England. The poem is written in heroic couplets, and describes the decline of a village and the emigration of many of its residents to America. In the poem, Goldsmith criticises rural depopulation, the moral corruption found in towns, consumerism, enclosure, landscape gardening, avarice, and the pursuit of wealth from international trade.
Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain, Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain, Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid, And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed.
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease, Seats of my youth, when every sport could please, How often have I loitered o’er thy green, Where humble happiness endeared each scene!
Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn, Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn; Amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen, And desolation saddens all thy green:
One only master grasps the whole domain, And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain; And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand, Far, far away, thy children leave the land.
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay: Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade; A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride, When once destroyed, can never be supplied. A time there was, ere England’s griefs began, When every rood of ground maintained its man; For him light labour spread her wholesome store, Just gave what life required, but gave no more: His best companions, innocence and health; And his best riches, ignorance of wealth. But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;
Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening’s close, Up yonder hill the village murmur rose; There, as I past with careless steps and slow, The mingling notes came soften’d from below; The swain responsive as the milk-maid sung, The sober herd that lowed to meet their young, The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool, The playful children just let loose from school,
The watch-dog’s voice that bayed the whispering wind, And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind, These all in sweet confusion sought the shade, And filled each pause the nightingale had made.
But now the sounds of population fail, No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale, No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread, For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.
All but yon widowed, solitary thing That feebly bends beside the plashy spring; She, wretched matron, forced in age, for bread, To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread, To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn, To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn; She only left of all the harmless train, The sad historian of the pensive plain.
“I don’t think songs themselves can alter societies. It takes a movement to do that. It takes political engagement to do that. But songs have always been a part of those movements. They have always been the lifeblood and spirit of the movement.
There’s no political movement of the people that I can think of, that hasn’t produced a wealth of songs and those songs are usually made illegal by the power structure that they’re seeking to topple. So if they recognise that these songs have got power I think that’s a confirmation that we are right in that hunch.”
Over the years we’ve had a number of people expressed interest in being patrons of the show, so we are really happy to announce that we now have a ‘support us‘ page where you can make a one-off or monthly donation.
Last week a dear friend of ours was sent to prison for 16 months for a peaceful protest against fracking. Fracking is a reckless technique to get fossil fuels out of the ground which is banned in France, Holland and Ireland amongst others, which we often discuss in the show.
Please excuse the language, but this is a f*cking disgrace.
Most people have heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs but how many know about the Ascott Martyrs? These were 16 indomitable women of a little known village in Oxfordshire.
In 1873, 16 women of Ascott-under-Wychwood were sent to prison for the part they played in the founding of the Agricultural Workers Union. The newspaper in 1873 printed the story under the heading, “Rioting in Chipping Norton”.
“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
Robin and Roo will be leading a sing-a-long this Sunday by The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest to mark the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter Of The Forest and linking this to land rights, fracking and universal basic income in our present day.
Nick Hayes just put me on to this amazing page about the Newton Rebels of 1607 in Northamptonshire which was part of the Midlands Revolt concerning enclosure. Have a look at the photos from their 400th anniversary in 2007