A bit of a departure this - 9 songs, all written about the history of Sleaford and the River Slea, released May 2012
These songs formed the backbone of the show "Footprints", which was performed as part of the 2012 Sleaford Live Festival.
Three of the songs are performed by friends of ours from the town - Roger Cook, Brian "Sid" Statham and Soyka Krupa.
Thanks are also due to Pauline Dobson, whose play inspired the project, and Jeanne Furnival, whose research into the writings of David Smith was the foundation of the whole project.
1. Turn, Turn, Turn
My name is Isaac Short and I'm a rope maker by trade.
There is a part of me in every strand that I have laid.
My wares they are as good as any man could ask,
For I have wound them strong so they will last.
When I was twelve years old apprentice I became,
Working for a roper; Thomas Hill it was his name.
I learned to wind the jack and to keep a steady time.
“Work hard; cause no trouble; you'll be fine.”
CHORUS Turn, turn, turn, on the jack I would turn,
While William cranked the handle on the wain.
Turn, turn, turn, till our muscles ached and burned,
Then we'd stretch the rope and start over again.
William Winter came soon after me and our friendship it grew strong,
For William had a soul that you could build a castle on.
The ropes we made they bind like strands of hemp entwined.
Here's to William Winter, friend of mine.
I've not travelled far, my life spent by the Slea,
But the ropes that I have made they’re rigging ships across the seven seas.
Many men rely on them when hauling in the sails.
I'm told they've rescued several from the gales.
Now my ropewalk days they’re gone, & William has passed on.
I still think about them both ‘most every day.
With every passing year another landmark disappears.
Will we ever see the likes of them again?
Turn, turn, turn, on and on the earth it turns
I’m sure it’s spinning faster every day
Turn, turn, turn..with every dawn a lesson learned
Take note before the footprints fade away
Be sure you make the best of every day.
2. Captain Dexter
Give my regards to Captain Dexter; tell him I asked after his health
And there's a pint for him I’ve paid for at the Queen.
Does he still have that old boat tied up by the Ash?
Is he still making a living on the Slea?
Oh I remember as a boy skipping school one afternoon
To sail with him up river to Bully Wells
He showed me where to look for fish and what best to catch them with
And I promised him my friends I wouldn't tell
Some say he'd never been to sea
I really didn’t care a jot. To me he was a sailor brave and bold
I loved the stories that he'd tell and I'd hang on every word
I didn't care if they were true or not
Enjoy your pint good Captain Dexter, for I've travels of my own
Though I was born here this town's no longer home.
Give my regards to Captain Dexter, tell him I'm thinking of him still
Tell him you met the boy who lived in Westgate Mill
Tell him you met the boy who lived in Westgate Mill
3. The Mighty Ash
In Queen Anne's reign I set my roots and soon they spread
Fed by the water from the rivers bed
Fed by the water from deep under the ground
I grew to be a mighty ash, the finest in this town
If only I could talk to you what a tale I'd tell
Of kings and queens and all between. I've known them all so well
I've seen old men pass I knew as boys, that I'd held in my boughs
For then I was a mighty ash, the finest in this town
I've kept secrets for young lovers who sheltered 'neath my leaves.
Their whispered words and promises they knew were safe with me.
When they carved their hearts into my bark I never made a sound,
For I was once a mighty ash, the finest in this town.
Of all the sights that I have seen there's one that caused great pain -
To see the miller’s pig sty going up in flames.
But the smoke did not defeat me, though it turned my leaves to brown.
For I was still a mighty ash, the finest in this town.
One September then the wind it blew with such an awesome force.
For hours on end I tried to bend as it threw me back and forth.
I battled hard to right myself but it hurled me to the ground.
No more was I a mighty ash, the finest in this town.
But that was not the last of me thanks to David Smith.
He's the man who wrote my history; it's through his words I live
And now you’ve heard my story, so I must take a bow,
But once I was a mighty ash, the finest in this town
4. A Miller's Life
It's cold in my bedroom and it’s dark outside
There's a roll like distant thunder down below
The water from the pitcher, feels like ice
Sends shivers from my head down to my toes
My father's up and working, he's been there an hour or more
No time to sleep when there's sacks to fill
The wheat it will not grind itself, and there's barley in the store
And the walls vibrate to the rhythm of the mill
CHORUS The water poured on bucket boards
Like a steam boat that never left the Slea
Amid the splashing and the rumble
I could hear my father's song
“It's a miller's life, a miller's life for me”
He had two stones for the milling, one for barley one for wheat
Each must have weighed at least a ton or more
And one it nearly killed him when hoisting for the change
The winch broke and pinned him to the floor
But my old man was a tough old boot
It didn't keep him down for very long
He was soon back up and working
Though it left him with a limp
What doesn't kill you, only serves to make you strong.
5. Hotter Than The Sun
In Tapster’s yard I make my living
I load the lime that feeds the kiln
There's better jobs but I'm not complaining
It keeps me fed, and pays my bills
I work hard and the hours they’re plenty
I work hard and the days they’re long
For little thanks or remuneration
I might not be smart but my back is strong
A couple of pints on a Friday evening
It's little pleasure that I seek
These simple things they’re worth a fortune
These simple things get me through the week
CHORUS So fill up your barrows boys one two three
We've all got hungry mouths to feed
There'll be no rest until this day is done
Keep that kiln burning lads
Hotter than the sun
If I had a boat I'd be like old Dexter
I'd sail the river on an easy course
But I'm not blessed with the captain’s know-how
I'm more akin to his old horse
The lime makes your hands raw, I've blisters and plenty
The dust coats your lungs it brings tears to your eyes
I'm dry and I'm wheezy, I'm certain this’ll kill me
But I'll quench my thirst come Friday night
6. Penny A Bunch
This basket on my arm was a gift from my mother
Bought for my birthday years ago
Who would have thought it would lead to my lover?
The man that I'm married to that handsome so and so
Each Monday morning I'd walk to the river
To pick watercress for market that day
I'd tie up the bunches and load up my basket
No time for dreaming. I'd be on my way, I'd be on my way
CHORUS Penny a bunch, watercress, watercress
Penny a bunch, only the best
Penny a bunch, watercress, watercress
Gathered this morning, tasty and fresh, tasty and fresh
One fine summer’s morn while walking to market
A handsome young man appeared by my side
He offered to carry my basket so heavy
I could not refuse him, not that I tried, not that I tried
Head over heals there was no stopping us
From that day we've not been apart
When I gave him my basket to carry to market
I handed over the keys to my heart
Now we've kids of our own, how quickly they've grown
Everything changes, as it always will
If you know where to look as you walk by the river
You'll see there's watercress growing there still, growing there still
7. The Monkey Tree
On Westgate where the mill used to be, there did stand a sycamore tree.
I'd often hear the blackbird's song, the thrush, the sparrow they’d sing along.
“That's not unusual” I hear you say. “That's just your average kind of day.”
But once while walking home from school, I saw a sight that defied the rules.
CHORUS I saw children squealing, policemen pointing, grown ups laughing,
Oh, what a glorious scene!
I saw a monkey up in the branches
Swinging around in a sycamore tree.
Late home from school and I tried to explain but my father thought I'd gone clean round the bend
“You say you saw a monkey, don't be daft now son.
This is Sleaford not the Amazon.”
Well I had the last laugh when the papers came out.
For there in the Standard was proof beyond all doubt
I ran to my father that picture to see. I showed him the monkey sat up in the tree
8. When Blondin Walked the Tightrope
When Blondin walked the tightrope in the Market Square
All of Sleaford and beyond had gathered round
There had not been such a moment in the memory of man
History in the making for our town
There were marching bands and banners, the flags were flying high
A carnival paraded through the streets
Roll up roll up it's the greatest show on earth
Roll up to see this death defying feat
CHORUS Keep your head held high and don't look down don't look down
Keep your head held high and don't look down
Raise a finger to the breeze, don't you laugh cough or sneeze
Keep your head held high and don't look down
Then the band finished playing, silence fell upon the crowd.
The birds stopped their singing as he spoke
We all held our breath, as he paused to take a step
Then Blondin laid his foot upon the rope.
Not a shiver not a quiver not a flicker on his face
The man must have nerves of steel
You'd have thought he walked on air, like a hawk suspended there
When Blondin walked the tight rope in the Market Square
9. Who Will Remember Me?
Cuttings from newspapers pressed in a book
Notes beside photos an old friend had took
One person's history for others to see
To tend and to nourish the family tree
With each turn of the page there comes a surprise
To see my home town through another man's eyes
Stories of characters I'd never known
Shaping the face of the place I call home
CHORUS Who'll read my poetry? Who'll sing my song?
Who will remember me after I'm gone?
Markets on Mondays all over the town
Apples in season thrupence a pound
Rabbits and chickens all that you could need
Home in the evening the family to feed
Words in a diary rest on the page
Worn out and weary fading with age
Given the chance they will open your eyes
Follow the path to a long-ago time