Songs marked "SS&S" are on "Silver, Stone and Sand";
those marked "CHAR" are on "Characters"; and 
those marked "PBLG" are on "Pennbucky to Llangenny"
Unmarked songs will be on our next CD!


Silver And Sand

Swansea Devil

Tom, Dick and Harry

Tomorrow Noon

Too High Or Else Too Low

Undertaker's Men

Walk Her Away

Walkin' the Cut

Weight and Measure

Young Billy Young


 


Silver And Sand (SS&S)

© Andrew McKay

When you stand here on a summer's day, the sea is calm and bright
But it's a different matter in the winter and at night
When the gale howls up the channel, gripping shipping in its hand
And maybe casting silver on the sand.
   Silver on the sand
   And maybe casting silver on the sand.


They say she was a Spanish ship driven northwards by the gales
But no-one saw her come to grief on the wild coast of Wales
When folk came out next morning they were not surprised to find
Wreckage that the storm had left behind
   Storm had left behind
   Wreckage that the storm had left behind.


But where the ship had foundered, whether one mile out or ten
I couldn't say for certain now, and no-one could guess then
'Til rumours started of a man who'd left his native land
Some say he carried silver from the sand
   Silver from the sand
   Somesay he carried silver from the sand.


Then darker rumours started of false lights on the head
And shipwrecked sailors murdered as shore folk lay in bed
And fights between the wreckers as the sea roared in to land
And an oath to leave no silver in the sand
   Silver in the sand
   And an oath to leave no silver in the sand.


When you stand here on a winter's night when the sea is at low tide
And bitter gales have lashed the coast and cast the sands aside
Some say you'll see a coach and pair come racing out to stand
Still searching for the silver in the sand
   Silver in the sand,
   Still searching for the silver in the sand

In 1807, an exceptionally low tide at Gower's Rhosilli sands exposed an unknown shipwreck, below the normal low water line.  Locals gathered to dig for treasure and recovered about 12 pounds of silver dollars and half-dollars, minted in Peru and dated about 1630, stamped with the head of Phillip IV of Spain.  The story grew that the ship ran aground, or was possibly lured ashore by wreckers, in the mid 17th century and that most of the cargo was somehow carried off by a notorious local smuggler (and perhaps wrecker), a Mr Mansel from nearby Llandewi.  By morning, the wreck was covered by the tide and Mansel had fled with the silver, or had been murdered for it.  His ghostly coach is said to appear on the sands after violent storms, looking for the last of the silver.  One such storm, in 1833, exposed more coins, cannon balls and an astrolabe.  The rising tide covered the site again, and nothing has been found since.

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Swansea Devil (SS&S)

© Andrew McKay

The war was over in '45, we sang our victory song
And then we started the clean-up work, and that was hard and long.
I walked down by St Mary's Church, a bombed-out, gutted wreck
When I suddenly felt a pair of eyes boring into my neck.
  You may think that St Mary's Church
  Is a monumental pile:
  One night it will burn, and he that you spurned
  Will be laughing all the while


I turned around and I cried "Who's there?" but no-one answered my call
And then I saw Old Nick himself, sitting on the wall.
I thought he gave a bit of a wave as he grinned his cheeky grin,
He said, "What do you think of the times we've seen, and the mess that we're now in?"

"I'm the pride of an architect who once lived in this town;
He wanted to build St Mary's up but the vergers turned him down.
He set me up on the brewery shop to keep an eye on the town
But I reckon I saw my contract out the night the church burned down."

"Now you can build St Mary's up, you can tear my brewery down;
I'll still be here, or hereabouts, keeping an eye on the town.
For we're all in this together, my lad, so think on what you do,
For the Gates of Heaven and Fires of Hell are both inside of you."

I walked away from St Mary's Church for a drink to clear my head;
I thought of the things that people do and the words that Old Nick said.
And I reckon there's pride on every side, there's no point calling it sin
We rise and fall, and rise again and that's the mess we're in.
  You may think that St Mary's Church
  Is a monumental pile:
  One night it will burn, and he that you spurned
  Will be laughing all the while

A Swansea legend.  The story goes that a local architect submitted plans for the rebuilding of St Mary's church, but these were rejected and a famous London architect employed instead.  Rebuffed, the local man set up a carved effigy of the devil on brewery offices overlooking the church, announcing 'One day your church will burn down, but my devil will still be here laughing'.  In the blitz of 1941, incendiary bombs burnt St Mary's down, but missed the brewery offices and the devil.  St Mary's was rebuilt and the offices later demolished to make way for a shopping centre, but the effigy of 'Old Nick' is still there, if you know where to look.  He even has his own Facebook page.

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Tom, Dick and Harry

© Andrew McKay

I will tell you a tale of some good friends of mine
They were camping one summer near the Passchendaele lines
And says Tom to old Harry, "If the weather turns fine,
We could go for a march in the morning"
   By the Passchendaele lines, if the weather turns fine,
   we could go for a march in the morning


So they got up quite early, to breakfast at ease
On a bit of stale bread and a lot of hard cheese
And says Dick to old Harry, "If this rain doesn't ease
It will be a tough march in the morning"
   With a lot of hard cheese, if this rain doesn't ease
   It'll be a tough march in the morning


They set off in line, with their hearts full of fire
But the rain it poured down, and the earth turned to mire
And says Tom, Dick and Harry, "Just look at this wire!
We'll not march very far in the morning"
   As the earth turned to mire, they said "Look at this wire!
   We'll not march very far in the morning"


Then Tom was struck down, as by lightning it seemed
Dick was lost in the mud of a trench like a stream
And that left old Harry, to tell us their dream
Of a march on a fine summer's morning
   From a trench like a stream, he can tell us their dream
   Of a march on a fine summer's morning


I will tell you a tale of some old pals of mine
They were camped long ago, near the Passchendaele lines
And said Tom, Dick and Harry, "If the weather turns fine
We could go for a march in the morning"
   By the Passchendaele lines, if the weather turns fine
Looks like hard cheese, if this rain doesn't ease
   As the earth turned to mire, they said "Look at this wire!"
From a trench like a stream, Harry tells us their dream
   Of a march on a fine summer's morning

Inspired by the story of Harry Patch, 'The Last Fighting Tommy' and his pals in the First World War. The tune is developed from an earlier anti-war song 'Arthur MacBride'

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Tomorrow Noon (CHAR)

© Andrew McKay

My hills are green beneath the sun and grey beneath the rain;
My hills will stand for ever, though I'll not stand here again.
My hills are brown with bracken fronds and purple with the ling:
Though I may walk a far-off land it's of my hills I'll sing.
  So we'll raise the glass of fellowship and the words of friendship say, 
  But tomorrow noon is coming soon, and I am going away
  Yes tomorrow noon is coming soon and I am going away.

My streams are white beneath the stars and black upon the stones;
They run below my fathers' walls and above my fathers' bones.
Beside my streams my parents worked, my children played their games;
Though my streams are left so far behind, I'll not forget their names.

Yes, I'll leave behind old memories, but also old restraints;
I'll leave the bones of sinners alongside those of saints.
I'll face a new tomorrow into which my dreams have flown
And I will walk a far-off land and call it's plains my own.
  So we'll raise the glass of fellowship and the words of friendship say,
  But tomorrow noon is coming soon, and I am going away
  Yes tomorrow noon is coming soon and I am going away.

An emigration song, remembering the land soon to be left while admitting to its drawbacks and looking forward to a new life.  For anyone who has ever moved home in search of a better tomorrow.

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Too High Or Else Too Low
(CHAR)

© Andrew McKay

There was a jolly tinker, a worker in fine metal,
Who swore that he would mend a crack in any pot or kettle, oh
The farmer's daughter hearing this, said to him "Ah no!
I'm sure your hammers they would beat
  Too high or else too low, too low,
  I'm sure your hammers they would beat
  Too high or else too low."

"But you come into the kitchen and we'll sit upon the floor,
I'll show to you a little pot that needs some working over,
And if you do your work right well, to pay I won't be slow,
But still I'm sure your hammers would beat
  Too high or else too low, too low,
  Still I'm sure your hammers would beat
  Too high or else too low."

But when the tinker was at work, the maid in anger cried,
Because he did not clench his nails upon the further side, oh.
He said "Your kettle's very cracked, it'd never stand the blow,
It isn't that my hammers beat
  Too high or else too low, too low,
  It isn't that my hammers beat
  Too high or else too low."

"Your kettle's in a sorry state, it's very worn and old,
There have so many nails been drove, that mine can't get a hold, oh,
It never more will liquor take, and that's the truth you know,
It isn't that my hammers beat
  Too high or else too low, too low,
  It isn't that my hammers beat
  Too high or else too low."

This maid she sighed and sobbed and cried, "Oh come, for pity's sake!
I know it has endured some knocks, but a few more it will take yet!
I know it would good liquor hold, if you'd strike the rising blow,
The trouble is, your hammers beat
  Too high or else too low, too low,
  The trouble is, your hammers beat
  Too high or else too low."

She said that she'd improve his wage, if he'd improve his work,
He squared his shoulders in a rage, and hammered like a Turk, oh.
At last he got her kettle stopped, which pleased this maiden so,
No more did she complain he beat
  Too high or else too low, too low,
  No more did she complain he beat
  Too high or else too low.

The farmer's maid was pleased with what he had contrived to do,
But after forty weeks were up, her kettle fell in two, oh.
So now she has a pair of little saucepans on the go,
I hope she will no more complain,
  Too high or else too low, too low,
  I hope she will no more complain,
  Too high or else too low.

Based loosely on an anonymous broadsheet published in "The Common Muse", but substantially re-written and set to a suitably scurrilous tune.  It tells the old story of the travelling tinker who goes about stopping up the holes in ladies' kettles - and if you believe that, you'll believe anything!

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Undertaker's Men

© Andrew McKay

  So all of you, what's out of work, remember now and then
  It could be worse, to be like us, the Undertaker's Men
  Who have to mourn for strangers, like we'd known them for years
  And at the shortest notice, have to manufacture tears

Kind friends if you'll excuse us now, we'll tell you who we are
We are the Undertaker's Men, who walk behind the car
In the City we were born, brought up in various places
But now for strangers we must mourn, and put on woeful faces
We dress in black, as you can see, and not just on a Sunday
For we must dress melancholy from Tuesday through to Monday
And though we mourn most pitifully, 'tis tru we must confess
We seldom know for whom we weep, and care a little less

Last week we had a miser, who never thought it strange
To never pay for anything, but still to check his change
But now he's changed forever and he's lying there so still
While his family's down the coffee shop, debating of his will
And then we had a publican, the public could admire
He used to host a jolly throng around a jolly fire
But now there's only us, you know, as his last 'Stop Tap' draws near
To mourn a man what's once so 'hale', laid out upon his 'bier'

How do we cry convincing, like we're suffering from fate?
Well me, I use an onion, I don't know about my mate
Our eyes are red with weeping and we've bunions on our feet
Through following these coffins through these hard and cobbled streets
And when at last it's time for us to hear fate's fatal bell
Some other Men will weep for us, and claim they knew us well
And they must walk behind the hearse, rehearsing of their woes
While we at last can ride inside, 'cos we've turned up our toes
  So all of you, what's out of work, remember now and then
  It could be worse, to be like us, the Undertaker's Men
  Who have to mourn for strangers, like we'd known them for years
  And at the shortest notice, have to manufacture tears

Originally a late Victorian Music Hall song, but we've changed the title, re-written the words and substantially altered the tune, so we think we can claim this one as our own. Victorian undertakers employed professional mourners to accompany coffins, weeping and wailing as if in distress, though they seldom knew who was being buried.

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Walk Her Away
(CHAR)
© Andrew McKay

  So heave her up and walk her away,
  Stamp her, me bullies, round,
  We are warping her out of the old North Dock
  And she's sailing away from town.

She's sailing away with a bully, bully crew,
The finest that sailed the sea,
And we're warping her out of the old North Dock,
We're the crew of the dockside quay.

Here's old blind Jenks, he's the leader of our crew,
His lights went out long ago,
But he can tell by the sounds in the timber and the rope
How well the work do go.

Here's old Molly Grey from the stone-crushing crew,
With her pipe and her old green shawl,
She is grasping at the timber with her copper-stained hands
As we heave from pawl to pawl.

Here's Banjo Dan with the strings upon his back,
He sailed the sea long ago,
He can sing you a song of the girl he left behind
In the port of Callao.

Here's young Alice Lee, she lives behind the quay,
Where her father runs the bar,
She's winking at a sailor boy up upon the deck
As she heaves at the old wooden spar.

For she's sailing away to the far southern seas,
Where the waves roll high and cold,
She will turn our coal into the finest copper ore,
Then we'll turn all her copper into gold.
  So, heave her up and walk her away,
  Stamp her, me bullies, round,
  We are warping her out of the old North Dock
  And she's sailing away from town.

Before the advent of tugboats, ships were warped in and out of dock with quay-mounted capstans (photo, top).  Anyone around at the time was likely to be drafted in to help, so this was one time when men and women would work, and sing shanties, together.  Everyone who works in the docks ultimately depends for their prosperity on the success of the ship's voyage.

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Walkin' the Cut

© Andrew McKay

The air is cold as a stone
Horse and man are chilled to the bone
We walk the towpath alone through the night
To keep the cut from freezing
  Keep the cut from freezing! Keep the cut from freezing!
  We walk the towpath alone through the night
  To keep the cut from freezing


Tonight there's not even a breeze
If the water lies still, it'll freeze
So no chance to sit at our ease, we must go
To keep the cut from freezing
  Keep the cut from freezing! Keep the cut from freezing!
  No chance to sit at our ease, we must go
  To keep the cut from freezing


The night is miserable cold
I can tell that I'm getting too old
But what can you do when you're told to go out
To keep the cut from freezing
  Keep the cut from freezing! Keep the cut from freezing!
  What can you do when you're told to go out
  To keep the cut from freezing


My wife lies warm in our bed
I wish I was with her instead
But the frost crunches under my tread as I walk
To keep the cut from freezing
  Keep the cut from freezing! Keep the cut from freezing!
  The frost crunches under my tread as I walk
  To keep the cut from freezing


  Keep the cut from freezing! Keep the cut from freezing!
  Night after night, by the stars' cruel light
  I must keep the cut from freezing

Swansea's canal, which supplied the smelters with ore from the docks and coal from the mines, was run with day-boats - essentially horse-drawn tubs with no living accommodation. There was no natural flow of water, so on very cold nights, when the sky was clear and temperatures plummeted, there was a real risk of the canal freezing solid. As the boatmen were on piecework, they couldn't afford to let this happen, and at night men with emptry boats would have to walk up and down the canal, disturbing the water to keep it from freezing.

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Weight and Measure

© Carole Etherton

  Selling you short it was my fun
  Behind your back I'd taunt you
  'Weight and Measure' you'll hear me moan
  Now I've come back to haunt you


I rattle the jugs on the dresser shelf, leave a chill in the air
Rush backwards and forth in a shadowy form, I love to frighten and scare
'Weight and Measure' my constant moan, drives them all insane
The rector, the farmer, the excise man, I cheated them all the same

My mortal days were long and hard, while the gentry lived at ease
So I felt no remorse in selling them short, of butter, milk and cheese
Alas! My deeds have sold me short, the measure of my days
Is doomed to stretch beyond my death, and here my spirit stays

As cock-crow dawns, my powers wane, the rector treads the path
To bind my spirit is his intent, perhaps I've had my last laugh
My haunting days could soon be done, no more I'll walk the night
To the bowels of Hell my spirit he'd cast, but I'll not go without a fight

The rector blesses his violet stole, climbs the farmhouse stairs
His exorcism rite begins as he utters his Latin prayers
Two full days I taunted him, my ghost you will not lay
I jumped his hoops and dodged his whip, Ad Nauseam he did pray

But his Latin words they pierced my soul like flaming darts from Hell
My time is short, I must away, and bid this house farewell
The rector stopped.  A deal was struck. My earthly penance found
That I remain 'til it be done, weaving ropes of sand
  Selling you short it was my fun
  Behind your back I'd taunt you
  'Weight and Measure' you'll hear me moan
  Now I've come back to haunt you

The story is told in 'A History of West Gower' by the antiquarian Rev J D Davies in the 1880s. The 'haunted' house was Glebe Farm, Cheriton, and the exorcism was supposed to have been carried out by one of Davies's predecessors as rector there. We discovered that the house was once used as a billet for an exciseman stationed to combat smuggling on the nearby coast, so perhaps the story was put about to cover for thumps and crashes from the farmhouse cellar as the 'spirits' were driven out! The idea of a ghost weaving ropes of sand on the nearby beaches would also help cover for nefarious night-time activities

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Young Billy Young
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

Young Billy Young he was handsome, he was bold,
He was always on the lookout when the dice of fate were rolled,
If a chance came along, he didn't need to be told;
"It's do it now or never", said young Billy Young.
  "Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young.

Young Billy Young took a ship from the quay,
To cross the mighty ocean to far Amerikee,
With his hopes for the future he set out to sail the sea,
"Oh, do it now or never", said young Billy Young
  "Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young

Young Billy's ship had just left Ireland on the lee,
When a French Man o' War came up and hailed them haughtily
"If you don't back your sails up we'll sink you in the sea!"
"Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young
  "Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young

Young Billy Young he was taken back to Brest
Where they put him in a prison ship along with all the rest,
"I'm getting out of here, it's making me depressed,
"Oh, do it now or never", said young Billy Young
  "Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young

A ship into Brest from the Admiralty came,
With words of kings and diplomats a-playing of the game,
"She's sailing homewards and I'd like to do the same,
"Oh, do it now or never", said young Billy Young
  "Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young

So he slid into the water and he swam upon the tide,
The sailors hauled him up upon the frigate's further side,
The Captain said, "I'll take you home to Swansea by and by."
"Oh do it now or never," said young Billy Young.
  "Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young

Young Billy Young he was handsome, he was bold,
He was always on the lookout when the dice of fate were rolled,
If a chance came along, he didn't need to be told;
"It's do it now or never", said young Billy Young.
  "Oh do it now or never", said young Billy Young.

Billy Young's adventure took place in 1796, during the French Wars.  Navies at that time had to be self-financing, and civilian ships were often seized, their crews pressed, and their passengers ransomed or sold into slavery.  After his escape, Billy seems to have given up thoughts of emigrating to America and settled in South Wales.  Under his full name of William Weston Young, he followed several careers, as land surveyor, marine salvage consultant, inventor (he developed a heat-resistant silica brick used to line furnace chimneys) and, perhaps most successfully, a painter of fine ceramics at the celebrated Nant Garw and Cambrian Potteries.

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