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Brass Band Music

[Leon Rosselson]

Martin Carthy sang Brass Band Music on his and Dave Swarbrick's 1968 album, But Two Came By. He said in the album's sleeve notes:

Money, and the failure of people to handle it is the subject of Leon Rosselson's song Brass Band Music. It was inspired by the Louis MacNeice poem Bagpipe Music.

Leon Rosselson recorded it himself with very slightly changed words for his albums Songs for Sceptical Circles (1966), Palaces of Gold (1975), and Turning Silence into Song (2004). On the latter, he and Martin Carthy played guitar, and his album sleeve notes said:

Louis MacNeice's poem Bagpipe Music was obviously the model for this song, written very early in my songwriting “career” when the words flowed more easily and technical control was less in evidence. Rachel Carson's book The Silent Spring had not long been published and environmental concerns were starting to emerge.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Brass Band Music

Turn the parks to office blocks, earn yourself a profit,
Learn the way to make it pay, burn the guy who'd stop it.

Little Billy Cotton sat on his bottom, totalling his assets,
Learned that arms were in demand, sold both his for hatchets.

Sold his blood for blots of ink, sold his lungs for coaldust,
Sold his legs for wooden pegs, and what was left for compost.

Puffing Billy's run out of steam, his iron lungs are rusting,
Puffing Bill can't pay the bill so drop him in the dustbin.

Lil Moloney cut off her breasts, put them up for auction,
Sold to the man in the bowler hat, to pay for her abortion.

The trees are blind in Lover's Lane, the paper weeds are blooming,
So don't go giving your heart away when the heart market's booming.

The Holy Founder found a word, hit it with a hammer,
Crucified the hole inside and sold it for a tanner.

The word was worshipped from afar on coloured packs of cornflakes,
The word was used to cure the blues, bad breath and toothaches.

The Liberty Belle is sinking fast, the bars are made of cardboard,
You'll never climb on board in time if you don't know the password.

Lord Landandy planted a stone, watered it with interest,
Watched it rise to granite size, went to reap the harvest.

The wily wizard wove a spell to make the wheat grow whiter,
The writhing earth gave instant birth to giant nests of vipers.

The rain is raining DDT, the hay is ripe for burning,
The wind swings like a pendulum, the streams swarm with vermin.

Turn the grass to jags of glass, turn the rose to plastic,
Turn the birds to lumps of turds, turn the trees to matchsticks.

Turn the stars to neon lights, turn the moon to paper,
Turn the clouds to chiffon shrouds, turn the seas to vapour.

Turn the screw and turn the wheel, keep the death bells chiming,
Aren't you proud that every shroud has got a silver lining?

Acknowledgements

Transcribed by Garry Gillard.