Sunday, December 27, 2009

Leeds, a Seaport Town

It was late August, 1975: I was a student aged just nineteen and I was helping to run a drama course for primary-school age children at Allerton Grange school along the road. I've been looking at the photos - rather faded - and thinking those children will all be well into their forties now, which is weird.

I can't remember what the course was about but I know we nicknamed it Hobbity-Rabbit week so I think hobbits and rabbits must have been involved, somewhere. Perhaps my friend David remembers as he was running it.

The music for the week was provided by a man called Ian Crabtree, who was my brother's guitar teacher.

And he brought along a song about Leeds, which really intrigued me.

It must have been written in the 1850s as it mentions the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, London.

The song's a satire on all the changes going on in Victorian times. Leeds was a big, smoky, filthy industrial city in those days: now it's become all gentrified and thinks it's Barcelona, but that's another story! It's right in the middle of England and as far from the sea as you can get here - which, granted, isn't that far, only about sixty miles.

So the premise of the song is that the technology of the day is so amazing that lots of things will happen "when Leeds becomes a seaport town".

It starts like this:

Oh dear, oh dear, this a curious age is
Alteration all the rage is
Young and old in the stream are moving
All in the general cry improving
From the Exhibition I brought news down
They're going to make it a seaport town
Instead of factories and cheap tailors
Nothing you'll see but ships and sailors.

Thus 'twill be, I'll bet you a crown
When Leeds becomes a seaport town.

(A crown, for those of you too young to know - - - sigh - - was five shillings. A shilling, for those of you too young to know, was five pence in new British currency but was of course worth a lot more than five pence is now. Whenever I was given a shilling as a child I felt rather rich.)

At the time of the drama course, I told Ian that I liked the song and he photocopied the music for me. I kept it for years but finally it got lost somewhere.

But I'd always thought of it, and from time to time searched for it in a desultory way, but never found it again.

Then they invented the interclacker.

A few years ago I searched - - - no luck, but I did find a few people who were also searching for it.

Then last night, I thought of it and searched again. I found it in two minutes and you can listen to it here. (or if that doesn't work, try Googling it - it's on an album called The Bold Navigators) .It's one of those folk songs where you have to wear an Aran sweater and stick a finger in your ear, and it tells a lot about the times. I like some of the lines about the ships "sailing and anchoring in Leeds Bay" and the imports there'd be: "baboons, racoons and Spanish donkeys, jays, cockatoos and ring-tailed monkeys".

Last night was the first time I'd heard it since 1975. Over thirty-four years ago!

Of course, in those days, I used to play it on the piano. There never seemed to be a record of it available, but if there had been I would have bought the single and played it on my Dansette record-player, with its new-fangled facility to play several LPs (long-playing records in case you don't know) in a row, all coming down one after the other in a miracle of technology.

Last night when I found the song, I downloaded it from Amazon and put it on my MP3 player for the cost of 79p.

By heck, there've been some changes in thirty-four years. Oh dear, oh dear, this a curious age is. Alteration all the rage is.


Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

I seem to remember from my youth that a shilling was 24 cents American, almost what we call "a quarter" (meaning a quarter of a dollar). Of course, a pound was five dollars back then.

Your mention of the Crystal Palace awoke another old memory in me. I may have to blog about it.

Great post, Daphne! (and happy day after Boxing Day to you....)

2:33 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

...Mind you, with all this global warming and polar melting, Leeds actually will be a seaport before too many years have passed...and daytrippers from Tadcaster and Boroughbridge will be sunning themselves on Roundhay Park Beach.

12:02 am  

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