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The Old Songs

[ Roud - ; Mudcat 9907 ; words Bob Copper, music Peter Bellamy]

Bob Copper wrote the poem The Old Songs ca. 1945, slightly revising it in 1984.

Peter Bellamy sang The Old Songs to his own melody live at the Cockermouth Folk Club in January 1991. He published this concert on his Fellside cassette Songs an’ Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks. This track was also included in 1999 on his 3CD anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes (Did you notice that the anthology got its title from this song?) and in 2008 with additional chorus by the Copper Family on the CD The Ballads of Peter Bellamy.

Peter Bellamy interviewed Bob Copper for the magazine Sing Out! in 1970:

I felt as if I was the only man in the country who thought the old songs were worth saving… we had no idea of the existence of the English Folk Song Society, even though [in 1887] Granddad had been instrumental in its formation… I was frantically trying to find someone who was interested in these things and who shared my feelings for them. I even became a member of the Sussex Archaeological Society, and I wrote to them saying that I was in possession of a large number of songs which I considered to be as important as a part of Sussex history as any bit of flint, or old tomb or piece of old furniture (though I was interested in those too), and much more vulnerable, but that didn’t come to anything. Anyway, this reflects what I was feeling at the time.

Jon Boden sang The Old Songs as the 30 July 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the blog:

Bellamy was always a bit disappointed that this setting of a Bob Copper poem didn’t become more of an anthem for the folk club circuit. I suspect the problem is it’s a bit too wordy, but it’s a shame because it just sums up very well the enduring appeal of folk songs and folk singing.

Damien Barber and Mike Wilson sang The Old Songs in 2011 as the title track of their CD The Old Songs.


Peter Bellamy sings The Old Songs

O, you may moan with plaintive tone your gormless modern tune,
But I will roar along the shore beneath a blood-red moon,
And songs that Nelson’s sailors sang shall ring across the wave
And fifty thousand sailor-men will join the chorus brave
A chorus brave and tarry that savours of the sea,
And a fifty thousand sailor-men will rise to sing with me.

The old songs, yes, the old songs that gave our fathers joy,
The songs they sang till the welkin rang when Nelson was a boy,

Or in the dusty, sunlit barn a farmer’s song I’ll sing,
A country rhyme to a rhythmic time of flails that thump and swing
All up and down the threshing floor to win the golden grain,
And fifty thousand threshermen will join the bold refrain,
A bold refrain and fearless that springs from English soil,
And a fifty thousand threshermen will join my song of toil.


Or in the depths of cellar cool reclining on a bench,
When I’ve dispersed an honest thirst that ale alone can quench,
I will wake the vaulted echoes wide in praise of barley-brew,
And a fifty thousand drinking men will join the chorus true,
A chorus true and hearty of hops and barley-malt,
And a fifty thousand drinking men will prove they’re worth their salt.

The old songs, yes, the old songs that gave our fathers joy,
The songs they sang till the welkin rang when Nelson was a boy,
They will echo onward down the years and never, never fade,
For fifty thousand singing men will never be afraid
For to raise their lusty voices their spirits to revive
And tell to all eternity, “We’re glad that we’re alive.”