Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Petes

Pete Bellamy was a year behind Malcolm at Fakenham Grammar School. Aged 15 or 16, Pete and Malcolm became acquainted on an archaeological dig at Walsingham Priory. When it rained (which was frequently) they retreated to the coal hole of the Shirehall (then the local Magistrates' Court), which was being used as the nerve-centre for the dig. With a battery-operated record-player in the coal-hole, Pete and Malcolm ran through their severely-restricted collection of discs.

Thus was started two life-long interests (for Pete a sadly abbreviated life).

Malcolm got Louis Armstong's Hot Five from Pete, and Pete got folk music from Malcolm. It was a fair exchange. In those days, Pete Bellamy was not so purist about his folk-music as they sang along with Seeger and the Weavers in the coal-hole.

Malcolm had already latched on to the Weavers (which he had bought second-hand in St Andrews Street, Norwich, and still has -- though in an unplayable condition). That means one of the tracks with which they harmonised in that coal-hole was Banks of Marble.

Les Rice was a farmer from Newburgh, New York State, near to Pete Seeger's home. Seeger took the song from him, as a sleeve note says:
Like most small farmers, he was getting intolerably squeezed by the big companies which sold him all his fertilizer, insecticide and equipment, and the big companies that dictated to him the prices he would get for his produce. Out of that squeeze came this song.

By 1949 the song was in the Weavers' repertoire, and from there into various union song-books:
I saw the weary farmer,
Plowing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the farmer sweated for.

The song lives on: two more recent versions are by Leo Kottke and Iris DeMent.

Now (Hosannas!) the Labour Government has nationalised a bank: it didn't want to, and sees it as an embuggerance. However, it has done the deed, albeit reluctantly and shamed of face. Malcolm sees it as a small but significant moment of socialism. Inevitably, the Euro-capitalists are poking fingers at the whole deal, and snorting down patrician noses.

Yesterday, the first question to the Prime Minister was from Kelvin Hopkins, the MP for Luton North. Hopkins saw off John Carlisle at the 1997 Election. Since Carlisle was a notorious right-winger, and cheer-leader for white supremacists in southern Africa, that was a double-victory for socialism. Hopkins's question had as many barbs as a porcupine:
Last week the parliamentary Labour party was united in voting enthusiastically to nationalise a bank. On Friday two thirds of the parliamentary Labour party stayed in Westminster to vote for the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, so ably promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston [Andrew Miller]. After that vote we gathered in New Palace Yard for a team photograph and sang "The Red Flag". Does my right hon. Friend accept that with more of the same, he will lead us to a famous victory at the next election?

Hopkins thereby ensured his disqualification for any job in any Brown Government (not that he would want or take one).

Back in 1912, Malcolm's Yorkshire miner Grandfather was on strike to keep a 12/6d (that's 62½p to the younger element) minimum wage per week. Out of that came a home-made stool (which Malcolm has and treasures), made to occupy the time, and the naming of his late Aunt Minima.

So Malcolm cheers on Kelvin Hopkins, and those few real socialist MPs left. They won't change much, but it does no harm to remind the rest from whence we came. So, two Petes and a twelve-string accompaniment in his memory, Malcolm sings a further verse:
I saw the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back,
I heard his children cryin',
Got no coal to heat the shack.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the miner sweated for.
The punch-line, though, should belong to Pete Bellamy. He produced a fair number of original songs; and his edits of received traditional ones are quite inspired. His Farewell to the Land (which borrows a melody from the Copper Family) is, probably, his best. It harkens back to growing up in the farm-bailiff's cottage in Warham, and addresses the inequalities which Seeger, Lee Rice and the likes of Kelvin Hopkins, in their different ways, deplore and contest:
Now I raise my sons in an old caravan,
For the cottage where my roots were put down
Has been sold by the farmer to a rich city man,
Where he spends a few weekends from town.
Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some fine posts lately, Malc.

Keep the Red Flag flying here!

Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites