SING – FOLK – SPEAK

Talking about dialect, place and identity in folk song

‘The Dalesman’s Litany’ and Joan Beal on the Urban Context of Folk Song June 22, 2012

Filed under: Songs and Texts — alexbroadhead @ 3:24 pm

On Sunday, Dave Burland will play ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’. This song has long been a favourite at folk clubs and has been recorded by Christy Moore and Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, among others. Dave has hinted, however, that on Sunday he will put a new spin on the song by setting it to a different melody.

The song seems to have been first published in F. W. Moorman’s collection, Songs of the Ridings (first published in 1918), although Moorman includes no notes regarding its authorship. The text of the first stanza of Moorman’s version is as follows:

It’s hard when fowks can’t finnd their wark

Wheer they’ve bin bred an’ born;

When I were young I awlus thowt

I’d bide ‘mong t’ roots an’ corn.

But I’ve bin forced to work i’ towns,

So here’s my litany:

Frae Hull, an’ Halifax, an’ Hell,

Gooid Lord, deliver me!

Compare the above with Dave Burland’s version, which reflects more faithfully his own accent:

It’s hard when folks can’t find their work

Where they was bred and born;

When I was young I allus thought

I’d bide midst rooits and corn.

But I’ve been forced to work in towns

So here’s me litany:

From Hull and Halifax and Hell,

Good Lord deliver me!

In English in Modern Times (2004), Joan Beal suggests that it was precisely the urbanisation against which ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’ protested that, paradoxically, created a demand for songs such as this:

This song […] is typical of a genre of popular writing in urban dialect which emerged from the late eighteenth century. The growth of the urban population in towns and cities such as Newcastle, Manchester, and indeed Halifax, led to the creation of a market for popular forms of literature in dialect. This took forms such as almanacs, columns in local newspapers, and songs and “recitations” in the mechanics’ institutes and music halls that were opened for the entertainment of the urban populations. (p.204)

If anyone has any further information concerning the authorship of this song or versions by other performers, I’d like to hear about them (in the comments section below).