> Shirley Collins > Songs > The Rigs of the Time
> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Rigs of the Time
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Rigs of the Time
> Maddy Prior > Songs > Rigs of the Time

Rigs of the Time

[ Roud 876 ; Ballad Index K237 ; trad.]

‘Rig’ means, according to the OED, ‘a trick or way of swindling someone.’ There are a lot of versions of this song and there always seems to be a cause for new verses.

A traditional version of this well known song (see Kennedy, Folksongs of Britain and Ireland) was sung by John ‘Charger’ Salmons and friends in an October 1947 recording by E.J. Moeran for the BBC at the Sutton Windmill pub, near Stalham, Norfolk. This was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in late 1947 and published in 1955 on the Alan Lomax collection album World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England. and in 2000 on the Snatch'd from Oblivion CD East Anglia Sings. Shirley Collins sang The Rigs of the Time with three more verses and with a chorus of the Young Tradition on her 1967 album The Sweet Primeroses. She cites Charger Salmons' recording as her source.

Harry Cox sang Rigs of the Times in a recording made in Catfield, Norfolk in 1967 on his 2000 Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy.

Sandy Denny sang an unaccompanied version of Rigs of the Time as an encore of her Eltam Well Hall Open Theatre concert in August 6, 1972 with her then band of Richard Thompson, Pat Donaldson and Timi Donald. However, no official recording is known.

Peter Bellamy sang Rigs of the Time in 1975 on his eponymous LP Peter Bellamy, now available as part of the Fellside 2 CD compilation Fair Annie. He commented in his original album's sleeve notes:

From Norfolk comes this drily humorous song about profiteering. It probably dates from the depression which followed the Napoleonic Wars. The chorus, “Honesty's all out of fashion…” makes this song the most valid in my repertoire!

Next to Peter Bellamy in my CD rack is Bellowhead who recorded Rigs of the Time for their CD Burlesque and performed it live on September 26, 2007 at Shepherds Bush Empire, London; this concert was issued as the DVD Live at Shepherds Bush Empire. They also give Charger Salmons' recording as their source. Bellowhead's singer Jon Boden sang Rigs of the Time as the September 14, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. This video shows a Bellowhead performance at Later… with Jools Holland on December 1, 2006:

Martin Carthy refreshed Rigs of the Time with his own verses on his 1982 album Out of the Cut; this was re-released in 1993 on Rigs of the Time: The Best of Martin Carthy. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

I had been singing Rigs of the Time for ten years or so before thinking of verses that did something other than update price-increases. It seems to me that to sing about butter being tuppence a pound and so forth would be to ridicule a song whose basic idea has real spine; but, having said that, I could do no more than make a start on different verses. It is a highly opinionated song, and so are these three verses. For the benefit of people not acquainted with British current affairs, ‘Peach’ is Blair Peach, who died of a fractured skull at an anti-fascist rally which was policed by the S.P.G. (Special Patrol Group). ‘Towers’ is Liddle Towers, who died in doubtful circumstances while in police custody, and the NF are, of course, the detested National Front.

Like Martin Carthy, Maddy Prior sings her own version of Rigs of the Time with up-to-date verses on her 1999 album Ravenchild. This song was later included in her anthology Collections: A Very Best of 1995 to 2005. Maddy Prior commented in the original record's sleeve notes:

Traditional topical songs usually require a tedious amount of explanation, but are attractive quite often because of strong tunes and singable choruses. This is such a song, but instead of getting bogged down in social history, I decided to simply update it. I wonder how long it will be before it needs explanation?

Andy Turner sang The Rigs of the Time as the September 1, 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his blog:

I think I first heard this song on Shirley Collins’ 1967 LP The Sweet Primeroses, and subsequently learned it from Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain and Ireland. The version in Kennedy’s book is as  sung by John ‘Charger’ Salmons and recorded at the Sutton Windmill, near Stalham, Norfolk in October 1947 [see above].

The song presumably dates from the Napoleonic period, judging by the rich farmers’ daughters who say

Boney alas! There’s a French war to fight and the cows have no grass.

Incidentally the three ballad sheets with the title Rigs of the Time which can be found on the Bodleian Library Ballads site deal with a similar theme to this song, but otherwise appear unrelated.

Lyrics

‘Charger’ Salmons sings Rigs of the Time

No wonder that butter be a shilling a pound,
Seeing the rich farmers' daughters how they ride up and down
If you ask them the reason they'll say, “Oh alas!
There's a French war, and the cows have no grass.”

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing, honesty's all out of fashion
These are the rigs of the time,
Time, my boys
These are the rigs of the time.

O the next is a publican, I must bring him in,
He charges four pence a quart - he thinks it no sin.
When he do bring it in, the measure is short:
The top of the pot is popped off with the froth.

Now the very best plan that I can find
Is to puff them all off in a high gale of wind
And when they get up, the cloud it will burst,
And the biggest old rascal come tumbling down first.

Shirley Collins' sings Rigs of the Time

No wonder that butter's a shilling a pound,
See those rich farmers' daughters how they ride up and down
If you ask them the reason they'll say, “Bon alas!
There is a French war, and the cows have no grass.”

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing, honesty's all out of fashion
These are the rigs of the time,
Time, my boys
These are the rigs of the time.

Now here's to our landlord, I must bring him in,
Charges tuppence a pint and yet thinks it no sin.
When he do bring it in, the measure is short
And the top of the pint is all covered in froth.

And here's to the butcher, I must bring him in,
Charges four pence a pound and yet thinks it no sin.
Slaps his thumb on the scales and makes it go down
He declares it's full weight yet it lacks half a pound.

And here's to the baker, I must bring him in,
Charges a ha'penny a loaf and yet thinks it no sin.
When he do bring it in, it's no bigger than your fist
And the top of the loaf has popped off with the yeast.

Now here's to the tailor who skims with our clothes,
And here's to the cobbler who pinches our toes,
Our belly's all empty, our bodies are bare,
No wonder we've reason to curse and to swear.

Now the very best thing that I could find
Is to toss them all up in a high gale of wind.
When the wind it do blow, the balloon it would burst,
And the biggest old rascal come tumbling down first.

Sandy Denny sings Rigs of the Time

It's of an old butcher, I must bring him in.
Charges four pence a pound, and thinks it no sin.
Puts his thumb on the scale which makes it go down,
And swears it's good weight yet it lacks half a pound.
All sing...

Chorus (after each verse):
Honesty 's all out of fashion
These are the rigs of the time
Time, me boys,
These are the rigs of the time

Now it's next to the baker, I must bring him in.
Charges tuppence a loaf and he thinks it no sin.
When he do bring it in, is not bigger than your fist,
And the top of the loaf is all covered in yeast
All sing...

Now it's next to the landlord, well I must bring him in.
Charges tuppence a pint and he thinks it no sin.
When he do bring it in, now the measure it is short
And the top of the pot it is all covered in froth.
All sing...

Now the best of all plans that comes to me mind
Is to set them all off in a high gale of wind
And when they go up, oh, the cloud it will burst
And the biggest old rascal come tumbling down first
Singing...

Bellowhead sing Rigs of the Time

Here's to the baker, I must bring him in,
Charges tuppence a loaf and he'll think it no sin.
When he do bring it in, it's no bigger than your fist
And the top of the loaf has popped off with the yeast.

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing, honesty's all out of fashion
These are the rigs of the time,
Time, my boys
These are the rigs of the time.

And here's to the butcher, I must bring him in,
He charges four pence a pound and he'll think it no sin.
Slaps his hand on the scale-weight to make them go down
He'll swear it's good weight yet it wants half a pound.

Here's to the tailor who skims on our clothes,
And the shoe maker who pinches our toes.
So our bellies go empty, our back-sides go bare,
It's no wonder we've reason to curse and to swear.

Now the very best thing that the people could find
Is to pop them all off in a high gale of wind
And the wind it will blow and the cloud it will burst
And the biggest old rascal come tumbling down first

Martin Carthy sings Rigs of the Time

No wonder that butter's nigh on a quid a pound,
See the rich corporate farmers how they ride up and down.
You ask them the reason, they'll say: “Bonny lass,
It's the Commission in Brussels have taxed the cows' grass.”

Chorus (after each verse):
Honesty's all out of fashion,
These are the rigs of the time.
Time, me boys,
These are the rigs of the time.

Now Home Secretaries, I must bring 'em in
With their society obedient at every turn
At picking the Peach, pulls Towers to the ground,
Who needs the NF when there's SPG around.

Now absentee landlords, I must bring 'em in
With their sky-high rents and they think it no sin.
Their ceilings fall in, the walls run with slime,
But they're for blacks or for Irish so no-one really minds.

Maddy Prior sings Rigs of the Time

Chorus (after each verse):
Honesty's all out of fashion
These are the rigs of the time
Ay me boys,
These are the rigs of the time

The Transnational companies are running the show
Unaccountable, faceless ones, nobody knows
Richer than countries, their cause they advance
They pull the strings that make politics dance

The private utilities, I must bring them in
A private monopoly is guaranteed to win
They charge what they like, give you cause for much grief
And the customer watchdogs have more gums than teeth

The huge hypermarkets on the outskirts of town
Convenience is up, and the prices are down
But the cost of this comfort is not set at nought
It's all the small business in the bankruptcy court.

The cool high street clothes stores are part of the scene
Neat designer labels, a marketing man's dream
The young people buy them, and here's the surprise
They pay extra for logos, which in turn advertise.

Is Diana an angel, is Charles a cad?
It's a media circus gone totally mad
The never ending rehash of their private lives
And who knows the truth between husbands and wives?