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The Terror Time

[Ewan MacColl]

The Terror Time is a song from Ewan MacColl's 1964 radio ballad The Travelling People.

Janet Russell and Christine Kydd sang The Terror Time in 1994 on their Greentrax CD Dancin' Chantin'. They commented:

Ewan MacColl's fine song written in support of the tradition-bearing travelling people. Many wonderful tales and songs might have been lost, but for the continuing oral tradition of the travellers. Tragically for all of us their way of live is being systematically denied them.

Archie Fisher sang The Terror Time in 1968 on his eponymous Transatlantic album, Archie Fisher.

The Terror Time is one of Ewan MacColl's stark song vignettes from the radio ballads. I learned this version from my sister Audrey who had learned it at school […].

June Tabor sang Terror Time in an 23 July 1978 recording for a BBC radio 1 John Peel Session. It was included in 1998 on her Strange Fruit CD of BBC sessions, On Air.

Sue Mills sang Terror Time in 1998 on Martyn Wyndham-Read and company's show Maypoles to Mistletoe.

Old Blind Dogs sang The Terror Time, which their fiddler Jonny Hardie learned from former band member Ian F. Benzie, in 2007 on their CD Four on the Floor.

Karine Polwart sang The Terror Time in 2015 on the Ewan MacColl centenary anthology, Joy of Living. The album's liner notes cite the Inverness traveller Maggie Cameron:

Winter … that's … the terror time. No place to go nor doesn't know where to go. Doesn't know any place to go and sit. And it doesn't matter whether it's snowing or blowing, you've got to go.


The heather will fade and the bracken will die
Stream will run cold and clear.
And the small birds will be going,
And it’s then you will be knowing
That the Terror Time is near.

Whaur will ye turn noo, whaur will ye bide
Now that the wark’s a’ done?
For the fairmer doesna need ye
And the Council winna heed ye,
And the Terror Time has come.

The woods give no shelter, the trees they are bare
Snow falling all around.
And the children they are crying
And the bed in which they’re lying
Is frozen to the ground.

The snow winna lift and the stove winna draw,
There’s ice in the water churn,
In the mud and snaw you’re sloshing
Trying to dae your bit o’ washing
And the kindling winna burn.

Needing the warming of your own human kind,
You move near a town, but then
Well, the sight of you’s offending,
And the police they soon are sending…
And you’re on the road again.