Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator

Ballad Seller pic

Over the past few days I’ve been posting the sheet music to various radical folk tunes and songs as examples of the long tradition of working class radical popular music and poetry. On Tuesday I posted the music from Robin Williamson’s collection of British fiddle tunes for ‘The Rights of Man’ hornpipe, celebrating the work of the 18th century American revolutionary, Tom Paine, who was born in Thetford. Yesterday I put up ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England, which I assume attacked the establishment of the workhouses in 1832 by the new Liberal government. Today it’s the turn of ‘The Agitator’, again from Palmer’s book. As with yesterday’s tune, I’m afraid I didn’t note the words at the time. The title suggests it comes from the early 19th century during the period of intense Chartist agitation, when working men campaigned for the extension of the franchise to all men over 21 and the reform of parliament so that working men could enter it. There were two aspects to the campaign. One consisted of peaceful meetings and the compilation of petitions to parliament. Much less peaceful were the ‘physical force’ Chartists, who saw revolution as the only solution to the problem of creating democracy in England. Here’s the tune.

Agitator Tune

As with the ‘New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, this issue is still very relevant today. There is still a problem with the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in parliament. Despite the introduction of equal suffrage and the payment of MPs, parliament is still dominated by the upper and middle classes, who have increasingly turned away from working class and very much legislate in their own interests. The aristocratic background of Cameron and Clegg, and the cabinet they lead is very much an example of this. Parliament needs to be reformed and made more representative of the working class. Now.

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3 Responses to “Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator”

  1. jess Says:

    ‘The Agitator’ dates from the 1870’s

    Roy Palmer probably garnered it from Howard Evans’ “Songs for singing at Agricultural Labourers’ meetings”, 1875

    Evans, a Radical journalist;
    [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Evans_(journalist)]

    later recalled;

    “Early in the labourer’s movement I conceived the idea of bringing song into service by using popular tunes. I am no singer, but at a meeting in Sundridge, in Kent, I ventured a first experiment. It was heartily received and published in the ‘Labourer’s Chronicle’ others followed in quick succession, and before long was issued a Labourer’s Song Book, with a few songs by other writers, which from start to last eached a circulation of 120,000 copies” “Evans, Radical Fights of Forty Years 1913, p.42

    But when the proprietors of the paper attempted to revive Feargus O’Connor’s Land Scheme (borrowed from the ideas of Thomas Spence [See Chase; The People’s Farm]);

    “A violent quarrel broke out in our ranks. Ward and Vincent, the proprietor of the ‘Chronicle, conceived the absurd idea of buying land with the twopences of the labourers. Of course most of them would be in their graves before they could get even a small piece of land…Ward and Vincent hoped to get [Joseph] Arch on their side, because he was at variance with Taylor, the secretary; but Arch was too level-headed a man to entertain such an absurd project. It became necessary to save the Union by starting another paper”

    For a broader ‘portrait of the agricultural labourer in the nineteenth century’ I suggest Roy Palmer’s ‘The Painful Plough’

    Mike Yates’ valuable essay on Walter Pardon adds another dimension to these songs
    http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/pardon.htm

  2. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

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