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Rap Her to Bank

[ Roud 1786 ; Ballad Index JRVi074 ; Mudcat 25910 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd explained in his book Folk Song in England:

“Rap 'er te bank!” is the cry of men at the bottom of the [mine] shaft, waiting to come up in the cage. The onsetter would rap, and the winding man, hearing the signal would draw the cage to the surface (the “bank”).

And according to Lloyd's book Come All Ye Bold Miners, Walter Toyn, schoolmaster of Birtley, Co. Durham, collected Rap Her to Bank in 1962 from Henry Nattress of Low Fell Gateshead. The miner Jack Elliott of Birtley sang it on the 1965 EP The Folksound of Britain, and this song was also included in 1969 on his eponymous Leader LP, Jack Elliott of Birtley. The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang it on their 1965 album Coaldust Ballads.

The Watersons learned Rap Her to Bank from Jack Elliott's singing and performed it in 1965 in Hull at Folk Union One. Bill Leader recorded it during the sessions that led to their album The Watersons. It was not released at that time, though, but is available now on their 1994 CD Early Days and on their 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. The former CD's sleeve notes commented:

The Watersons got this song from the singing of Jack Elliott of Birtley. The track itself is previously unreleased and comes from recordings made at one of the sessions for The Watersons. Originally, live recordings were made at the club, Folk Union One, for an album to be released under that title. That record didn't make it to completion but some of the recordings, together with a further studio session, made up The Watersons. Whilst compiling this CD the producer discovered this track and Topic is delighted to be able to make it available at last.

The Tees-side Fettlers also learned Rap Her to Bank from Jack Elliott and recorded in 1974 for their Traditional Sound Recordings album Ring of Iron. They commented in their sleeve notes:

We got this song from the late great Jack Elliott, of Birtley, who has been a seminal influence in N.E. folk circles. He always sang it linked with another short one—Jowl and Listen—but we thought we'd give it a touch of harmony and let it stand on its own.

Danny Spooner sang Rap 'er te Bank, interspersed by Richard Leach reciting the poem Jowl, Jowl and Listen, on his 1978 album Danny Spooner and Friends. He noted:

The life of a miner has always been fraught with danger as well as being one of the hardest jobs known to man. After many years in the pit, miners get an uncanny sense of hearing, ant it is as well that they do for their lives could depend on it. “Rap 'er te Bank” is the call of the men from underground when they want the cage brought to the surface; one of them will hit the cage with a bit of iron and the winding man will bring them up.

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset sang Rap Her to Bank in 2005 on their first CD, Cruel Sister. She noted

Becky [Unthank] learnt this song for her own pleasure to sing in the house, having heard the likes of the Wilson Family singing it over the years. However, Adrian [McNally] and I caught her singing it and twisted her arm to record it as we think Becky's delicate touch gives the song a breath of fresh air.


The Watersons sing Rap Her to Bank

Rap 'er to bank, me canny lad!
Wind 'er away, keep turnin!
The back-shift men are comin' hame,
They'll be back here in the mornin'.

My father used to call the turn
When the lang shift it was all over.
And comin' by, ye'd hear him cry;
You know it's after four? He cried:

Rap 'er to bank, me canny lad!
Wind 'er away, keep turnin!
The back-shift men are comin' hame,
They'll be back here in the mornin'.

And when that awful day arrived,
On the last shift for me father,
A fall of stones and broken bones,
But still above the clatter, he cried:

Rap 'er to bank, me canny lad!
Wind 'er right slow, that's clever!
This old lad he's taken bad,
He'll be back here never.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Gerry Durham for the information about the Ian Campbell Folk Group and to Bob Hudson for the A.L. Lloyd quote.