Ewan MacColl and The Manchester Rambler 


I love the way blogs lead to places. Avenues open to new ventures, new ideas,  to follow or discuss.  Or is that life?

The Peak and Northern Footpaths Society’s walk in May in commemoration of the opening of the Snake Path  and subsequent Mass Trespass, led not just to the Snake Pass and a well deserved half in the Snake Inn, but to music and poetry too.

The Manchester  Rambler, Ewan MacColl’s folk standard sung by folk heros across the land stems from the 1932 Mass Trespass that Ewan MacColl took part in. The story is in the song.

The  bastardised version we sang in pubs in our misspent student days, only ever joining in the chorus and getting it wrong to boot belied the serious undertow. We knew more of whiteslaves than wageslaves and we knew precious little of those either. Perhaps in this era of austerity and the misery of zero hours contracts it is time for a re release.

The Manchester Rambler

Ewan MacColl

Lyrics

I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept upon Crowdon

I’ve camped by the Waynestones as well

I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder

And many more things I can tell

My rucksack has oft been me pillow

The heather has oft been me bed

And sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead

Ch: I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way

I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way

I may be a wageslave on Monday

But I am a free man on Sunday

The day was just ending and I was descending

Down Grinesbrook just by Upper Tor

When a voice cried “Hey you” in the way keepers do

He’d the worst face that ever I saw

The things that he said were unpleasant

In the teeth of his fury I said

“Sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead”

He called me a louse and said “Think of the grouse”

Well i thought, but I still couldn’t see

Why all Kinder Scout and the moors roundabout

Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me

He said “All this land is my master’s”

At that I stood shaking my head

No man has the right to own mountains

Any more than the deep ocean bed

I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade

She was fair as the Rowan in bloom

And the bloom of her eye watched the blue Moreland sky

I wooed her from April to June

On the day that we should have been married

I went for a ramble instead

For sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead

So I’ll walk where I will over mountain and hill

And I’ll lie where the bracken is deep

I belong to the mountains, the clear running fountains

Where the grey rocks lie ragged and steep

I’ve seen the white hare in the gullys

And the curlew fly high overhead

And sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead.

Songwriters: Ewan Maccoll

The Manchester Rambler lyrics © The Bicycle Music Company

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Truth better than Fiction. A postscript.


The poet Dave Toft has sent me a correct version of the events following the 1932 Mass Trespass. Good to have the facts straight. I take the liberty of posting it here (with permission).

“There was no physical battle – just one scuffle. The gamekeepers were overwhelmingly outnumbered. One was injured in the single scuffle – he tried to hit someone with his stick and they took it off him and hit him with it.

The five who were sent to prison served up to 6 months hard labour. There was a public outcry but they weren’t freed because of it, they served their time

4 of the 5 were blacklisted and lost their jobs. The 5th was expelled from Manchester University and instead took up a place in Cambridge

The oldest of the trespassers was 21. The leader was 20. Jimmy Miller, better known as Ewan MacColl the famous folk singer, was 19, but not arrested. They would have all been working in the mills since being 14.

At least 2 were killed in the Spanish Civil War.

They were almost all in the Communist Party, which was not unusual amongst progressive young left radicals in that period,who wanted a fairer society and who opposed the rise of fascism. The repressive nature of Stalin’s rule was not known at that point.”

I’d always rather be dancing

  
Lately I’ve been singing. I’d always rather be dancing but failing that, singing will do: songs from Georgia. (not the Deep South but the country near the Black Sea in the Caucasus.) Food comes in to it, of course, preparing for a
feast where singing is interspersed with raising glasses for a toast and eating, or the other way about.
Recipes researched are rich in walnuts, cherries, figs, apricots abundant there.  The names seductive even before the taste of stewed apricots stuffed with walnut paste or white cherries with hazelnuts registers on the tastebuds, redolent of clear turquoise seas and holidays long ago, Persian miniatures painted on slips of Ivory or gardens dripping in fruit and tinkling with fresh water.

Not sure of course of the authenticity or if my attempts even approach. Never was a fussy cook, earning the irreverent sobriquet Mrs Bunger from the children as if any old way would do. It’s not that, but I’m definitely no perfectionist.

Waiting

I have been waiting for an email, as in days of yore people waited for signs and portents. It’s a way of procrastinating, obviously. If stuff happened simply because you wished it would, no one would do much at all.
There is a post prandial feel to the day. The holidays are over, no guests about to arrive to necessitate a bit of bustle and elbow grease about the place, although the lack of imminent arrivals does not remove the need for a clear up.
The weekend was spent singing in the company of singers. A festival chorus to celebrate life and the life achievements of not one hell of a musician, but two ( well three actually): John Huw Davies, a gentle, but excellent teacher, singer and conductor whose patience knows no bounds and the somewhat overlooked Cherubini, whose Mass in C is not just a revelation, but a joy not to be missed.
So much so that the concert will be broadcast from Stockport Town Hall, on Radio three.
Music , musicians, soloists and conductor irresistible.
To say nothing of JS Bach and his Magnificat which we also rehearsed and sang.

The waiting will have to wait. The day clamours, subtly, gently but loud enough to be heard.