This entire series of songs are the most personal and autobiographical I have ever written.
I have never delved so deeply into folk and personal stories as here a sign of the influence of attending a great Scottish Cultural Studies course at Nottingham University.
In this case the family story (now more detailed thanks to other family members input) revolves around my great-great grandmother and her ‘flight’ as it turns out now from southern Ireland not Ulster as I presumed in 1995. The story is simple she was catholic from a small village..Borrisleigh in Tipperary. It looks like her marriage to a serving British Army man Private Charles Mead precipitated the flight from Ireland (allegedly at dead of night in a fishing boat) to escape persecution by Irish Independents long before the Anglo-Irish War. He too was a catholic I now believe not a protestant but accepting the ‘black and tan’ was treated as even worse than the old ‘enemy’.
They were then sent to Ranikhet in the Himalayas which modeled on an English village in 1880s where my great-grandmother Mary was born on the 15th December 1888. Below her birth certificate.
Here the ‘English Church at Rani Khet’ from a postcard.
and the officer’s mess
This location and photos have only been uncovered recently.
I have amended the song lyrics from what sung on tape from Bombay..to Ranikhet and my Great Nan’s son Jack Everitt was wounded not dead at Arnhem but that whole other story.. and song one day…
The Ballad of Ranger Best referred to in the original recording is a poem by James Simmons which refers to the murder in 1972 of a 19 year old Irish member of the British Army (The Irish Rangers) who abducted from home when on leave from Germany and executed by the OIRA.
For now here the song and lyrics
BALLAD OF THE ORANGE TREE
Born in England’s low chalk hills
Where the river slides through the willows
I never knew how tangled grew the tree
Of my mother’s family history
Then one day the photograph emerged
My great-great-grandmother by the kerb
Of a backstreet somewhere in Reading
Her Irish features bold and striking
All I’d heard was rumour and hint
Of how they’d fled Ulster, her Catholic
Outcast for marrying a Protestant man
Who wore the dreaded Imperial tan
Sent to Raniket, my Great-nan’s birthplace
The army connection didn’t break
Three generations since have wed the gun
One of them was wounded at Arnhem
And now with great sadness I see
My cousin proud to be in the British Army
Luckily he’s never been made to serve
On streets where she could never return
Nothing of her past now remains
Each Irish connection wassliced away
Our family grew on in a different place
Like an orange tree in a wooden crate
Staring at the photo here back home
My mother’s every action seems to show
More and more of those hidden roots
As if a hybrid had produced old fruit
Four generations on here I stand
A false map of Ireland in my hand
Every time I try to trace back my tracks
Hurt and shame come hurtling back
Scraping back the soil in a barren field
I find a rusty gun stamped in with the heel
A family sown with King’s Shilling seed
But rooted in Thames Valley green
Then I read the Ballad of Ranger Best
And feel friendly fire burn at my chest
How can I avoid peeling back the skin
To taste what this bitter tree roots in
Bury the gun under the orange tree.
Latest addition to the Black Tin Barns album on bandcamp.
This song is about the slow decline and eventual closure of the British Leyland Rover factory in Cowley.
My Uncle John worked in the spray booths there and my father would drive past it almost every day .
By the early 1990s the once proud Morris Motors and Pressed Steel plants were either crumbling or being demolished or sold to BMW.
Thatcherite propagandists in the press had a field day destroying its reputation and shoddy working practices at all levels produced a series of bad cars but it also had a long history of union activism and government opposition meaning it like the mines ripe for closure by a right wing establishment.
The early 1990s were marked by a series of ‘joyride’ incidents*. Basically disenfranchised youth venting anger at no jobs and no hope. Cars would be stolen, joy ridden and burnt…it happened everywhere but nowhere more poignantly than in Blackbird Leys estate…the side of Oxford that never seen. I was more interested and attached to that part than any dreaming spires.
So this is my sad elegy to a now destroyed community and way of life.
Ironically I have never learnt to drive but write a lot about cars….maybe if I had I’d be Bruce Springsteen now!
Here images of it as it was..
HERE wikipedia on the Joyriding days..seems I spot on sadly…
1991 street disturbances
Following a crackdown by police on joyriding in September 1991, some 150 youths stoned police officers. Two women suffered stab wounds and two men suffered other injuries during the riots.
Around this time, Blackbird Leys was infamous for its joy riding. Young men from the estate would steal cars and ‘display’ them (with a variety of high-speed stunts) to an audience gathered outside the estate shops (known locally as the ‘top shops’), eventually gaining worldwide media attention.[not in citation given] Politician Andrew Smith stated in 1991 that the extensive national media coverage of confrontations with the police in August and September left many of the wider public with a distorted picture of the problem. Some say journalists visiting helped encourage some of the action for filming. Various measures were brought in by the local council and police to stop the displays. Police often found it difficult to catch joy riders, whose stolen cars were faster than the police vehicles, though eventually a faster police car was introduced. Chicanes were built around the shops area, and an anti-skid surface applied to the road, making it difficult to execute handbrake turns and other stunts.
MY LITTLE TOWN
There’s a road runs straight through my little town
Half way down it there’s a picture house
Now they’ve turned it into a bingo hall
They don’t show films any more
And the road runs straight through my little town
The road runs straight through my little town
There’s a railway line in my little town
All the kids do is talk of getting out
Stand on the platforms on a Saturday
With the lights of the city shining far away
The pubs are empty until the Saturday night
Half past eleven you’re guaranteed a fight
What else can those poor boys do
But get blind drunk and act the fool
And the road runs straight through my little town
Through my little town
To build up to the release of the Black Tin Barns and River Ghosts cassette I writing a daily blog of each song and what I trying to do and influences etc.
Also where appropriate embedding tracks where other artists have covered the song.
The first track above is ‘My Little Town’ from 1995.
This was re-recorded with different tune by James McSweeney who now trading under the name Cole Cullen out of Oregon USA.
Here is one of his versions of the song as recorded for the Moon Over The Downs compilation of 2003.
For latest James McSweeney / Cole Cullen music visit http://www.colecullen.com
I was listening to a lot of James McMurtry ( Larry McMurtry’s son and playing at The Maze in Nottingham in February!) and John Prine as well as usual suspects like John Hiatt and Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, I like the song because it an affectionate portrait of my ‘one-horse’ home town which actually did have a picture-house ( or movie-theater depending which version you listen to) called the New Coronet which still stands but now a Bingo Hall as the song states.
Here old and new pictures of cinemas in Didcot. Plus lyrics.
My Little Town (James McSweeney rewrite version)
There’s a road that runs straight through my little town
A movie theatre about half way down in my little town
But now they’ve turned it into a bingo palace
They don’t show films there no more, no more
There’s a railway line runs through my little town
And all the kids can think about is getting out of this little town
See them on the platform on a Saturday night
About half past eleven there’ll always be a fight
What can a poor boy do
But get drunk and play the fool
In my little town, in my little town.
This my earliest version of song from a reel to reel tape in early 1990s I expect.
I and my then partner Ana from Zaragoza got on a train and moved to Edinburgh in August 1994.
It was a spur of the moment idea and we then lived there for two pretty gruelling years in which we lived in a very small three room flat at 62 Causewayside , off of The Meadows.
The image above is from 1929 – the top window in building on right was our rented flat and it still there! (The covers below show images of it is now from Google Maps).
Edinburgh was a fantastic place to be but the work situation for a Spanish nanny and a English artists less good. I was working as a temp in a share-dealing bank on Black Monday which I will never forget as people started crying as their mortgages doubled in an hour. In that financial climate we were at the bottom of the heap. After two years I said enough and we moved back to Oxford but not before I had a pretty serious go at being a ‘serious’ singer-songwriter. I remember competing in a Edinburgh Songwriters event and of course had met many poets and contributed to the second Shore Poets anthology.
I had forgotten that I had actually recorded two ‘albums’ of songs as well whilst north of the border on a 4-track Fostex tape recorder until yesterday when I found them by chance.
Planned to be released as number 5 in a horseshoe tapes release schedule I am finally going to do just that 21 years later! Listening to the tapes they sound better than I remembered and I had actually filled out the sound through multi-tracking more than I expected. A few of the tracks went on to form the ‘Suit of Nettles’ art release in 2008 and also appear sung by a variety of artists on the Moon Over The Downs charity tribute cd to Trailer Star from 2003. ( all available to listen to on bandcamp here: https://trailerstar.bandcamp.com/ )
In due course I will upload the full track-listing and a song by song explanation to bandcamp on a new ‘Horseshoe Tapes’ page. The release will be physically available only as a c90 cassette double and accompanying digital download. I hope to have cassettes ready by end of February along with the still to be completed Chalk Pit Rattle which will be re-recorded.
Coming Soon release date February 1st 2017
‘RIVER GHOSTS & BLACK TIN BARNS’- Songs 1995 & 1996 Horseshoe Tape (HS 005 dbl.)
My ‘Edinburgh Suite’ recorded on an already ailing Fostex in a tiny third-floor flat near the Meadows. Scotland was a weird mix of the fantastic (Hamish Henderson/ Sorley Maclean, Norman MacCaig / Boys of the Lough) and the not so fantastic ( Bank temp. jobs). Hats off to the Edinburgh Songwriters and The Shore Poets for keeping my head above the water. I like these songs -my most ‘Steve Earle’ period. Also Edinburgh Central Library had the best collection of folk/country/blues I’ve ever seen -some of that rubbed off too.
Which ironic as he just a tad older than myself..maybe the old Wreckless Eric?
Any road my battering out two-chord rallying cries at WSO at Maze seems to have entertained the troops.
On with the revolution…
Here the Wily Old Dog in action…
Part of Nottingham’s contribution to the ‘We Shall Overcome’ (WSO) series of events, all locally organised and supporting local causes helping those affected by austerity. Artists are playing for free so all proceeds from ticket sales and donations go towards supporting a great cause. More info on WSO here: https://
All proceeds from this event will go to Himmah, a grass roots community organisation – including food bank – that provides support to individuals and families in need. More info: http://www.himmah.org/
More info on WSO here: https://
Once again I played the annual charity event in Kimberley.
A good time had by one and all and hopefully raised a significant amount of money for the Ryan Lee Cancer Trust.
Further information available here: http://www.facebook.com/kimberleyjam/
I seem to have kickstarted a Trailer Star Comedy Career…..could Trailer and Frankie be the new Krankies?
Back in March I confidently decided I would produce a new album in a month..then it was two months..then it was by the Kimberely Jam which is this Saturday. I fully intended to also make some cassette versions and will still try BUT it looking like a tall order with three days to go. Like the previous post life has got in the way and not all of it good life….
However here the tracks I done as demos on soundcloud and we will see if can add a few before Kimberley.
It might be a Chalk Pit Rattle but it ain’t Trailer’s death rattle..not yet anyway.
Exactly a year ago I talked about completing this collaboration with the wonderful Steve Roberts of Glossop.
However like a late Russian equaliser life got in the way!
Now I am revamping all things Trailer Star I have time to re-post and hopefully complete on the deal.
Here the tracks so far from Nillson meets Lennon part two and a half-time orange.