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The Row Between the Cages

[Tommy Armstrong]

Bob Davenport, accompanied by The Celebrated Working Man's Band, sang Tommy Armstrong's song The Row Between the Cages in 1963 on Topic Records' panorama of industrial folk music, The Iron Muse.

Louis Killen sang The Row Between the Cages in 1965 on the Topic anthology Tommy Armstrong of Tyneside of “songs by the great balladeer of the coalfields”.

Bob Fox and Stu Luckley sang The Row Between the Cages on their 1978 album Nowt So Good'll Pass and in a new recording on their 1997 Fellside CD Box of Gold. He also sang it with the Pitmen Poets in 2015 on their eponymous album The Pitmen Poets. Bob noted:

Tommy Armstrong lived through the heyday of the Durham Coalfield (1848-1920) and was widely regarded as one of the first radical working class poets. His song, The Row Between the Cages, depicts a fight between two pit cages which took the miners down the shaft to the Brockwell seam at a local colliery, the old cage being determined to show the new one that he is still capable of doing his job just as well as the new improved “youngster”. A.L. Lloyd described this song as a “symbolic epic” which stands as an isolated masterpiece amongst British mining songs.

Lyrics

Bob Fox and Stu Luckley sing The Row Between the Cages

One morning when I went to work, the sight was most exciting,
I heard a noise and I looked around and who d’you think was fightin’
I stood amazed and at them gazed to see them in such rages,
I’d never seen a row like that between the Brockwell cages.

Now the Old Cage says, “Come ower the gates because it's my intention,
To let you see whether you or me is the best invention.”
The New’n being raised, took off his clathes and at it they went dabbin’
The blood was runnin down the skeets and past the weighman’s cabin.

Now the Old Cage says, “Let’s have me clathes thou thowt that thou could flay me,
But if I’d been as young as thou I’m certain I could pay thee.”
The Patent knocked his ankle off and they both had cutten faces,
The shifters rapped three for to ride and they both went to their places.

When gannin’ up and doon the shaft, the Patent Cage did threaten,
For to take the Old’ns life, if they stopt it meetin,
Now the old cage bawled out as he passed, “Ye nasty, dorty Patent,
Rub your eyes against the skeets for I think you’ve hardly wakened.”

So the Patent to the Old Cage says, “Although I be a stranger
I can work me work as well as you and free the men from danger,
For if the rope should break with me old skinny jaws, just watch us,
You’ ll see us clag on to the skeets, for I’m full of springs and catches.”

Now the Old Cage to the Patent says, “I’ll warrant you think you’re clever
Because they’ve polished you with paint, but you’ll not last forever.
The paint on you it’ll wear away then you’ve lost your beauty,
They never painted me at all and still I’ve done me duty.”

The brakesman brought them both to bank, the mischief for to settle,
They fought from five o’clock 'till louse and the Patent won the battle,
It took the brakesman half a shift to clag them up with plasters,
And the Old Cage sent his notice in, just to vex the masters.

Acknowledgements

The lyrics are from the Nowt So Good'll Pass album sleeve.