Posts Tagged ‘The Agitator’

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator, Part 3

May 28, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Last week, I posted the tune for the radical song, ‘The Agitator’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. As with nearly all the other tunes from that book, I hadn’t noted down the words. Jess kindly supplied further information on them, pointing out that it was written in the 1870s to support the Agricultural Labourers’ Union. She also supplied further background information about the Union and the songs written by its members in their campaign for recognition and better wages and conditions. See the post ‘Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator, Part 2’. Now she’s kindly supplied the lyrics for the song itself.

The Union’s founder, Joseph Arch, said

Of course I was called an agitator; so I was, because everyone, who stirs people up to do things is an agitator, but those who so named me attached a bad meaning to the word. I was agitating for the right and not for the wrong; I was no ‘Arch Apostle of Arson’, as some one chose to call me. The Bishop of Gloucester (Dr Ellicott) was one of my worst enemies in the early days of the movement. He wanted me, and those, like me, ducked in the horse pond. As to the parsons generally, I never expected them to have much sympathy with us. Their stock argument against the Union was that it was ‘setting class against class’. This was their poll-parrot cry. ‘Oh yes, said they, ‘the men have a perfect right to try and improve themselves, and we will help them; but the Union is setting class against class’.

According to Palmer and Pamela Horn, who wrote a biography of Arch in 1977, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union was founded in 1872. He believes that ‘The Agitator’ was written the following year, 1873, by the Union’s secretary, Henry Taylor. Taylor was a carpenter, who was admitted to the Union because of his previous trade union experience. The farm labourers’ unions produced a great number of songs, which were collected into a pamphlet, Songs for Singing at Agricultural Labourers’ Meetings (London and Leamington). These proved to be popular. According to Harold Evans in his Radical Fights of Forty Years, the pamphlet sold 120,000 copies.

The lyrics go

The Agitator
Tune – The Nobby Head of Hair

A jolly, jolly ploughboy I am, as you may see,
But never mind, I always strive to live by honesty;
I’ve always done my very best, by hard work, fare, and sweat, –
To get about the winid, boys, but I’m never out of debt.

Chorus
So I’ll agitate, I’ll agitate, whatever folks may say,
Till all have joined the Union, and get a fair days’ pay.

We care not what the Parsons say, -though they’re the chaps to know,
They say that all who agitate, to their dark friend must go;
And if ’tis tru, ’tis very clear, themselves had best look out,
So milt their agitation is, they often get the gout.
We’ll agitate, etc.

The farmers say they can’t afford to pay us proper wage;
But still they keep their carriages, and follow fashion’s rage;
‘Tis true that some poor farmers have their necks beneath the heel
Of selfish Lords, and unjust laws, which soon we must repeal.
We’ll agitate, etc.

The ‘Lords’ complain their rent of land, per cent. enough don’t pay,
‘Political Economy’s’ a law we must obey,-
If so, they’ll very soon become defunct throughout the land,
For ‘mongst the People I’m quite sure, for Lords there’s no demand.
We’ll agitate, etc.

They say the Labourers are not Serfs, – that we have liberty;
With our wages and our perquisites, how happy we might be;
But if we join the ‘Union’ chaps, say nought of better wage,-
O what a flare-up all at once! don’t they go into a rage?
We’ll agitate, etc.

They turn us out of house and home, they sack us there and then,
But off we go to other jobs,- we’ll do it, boys, like men;
For if to be successful with our cause we are inclined,
Why, then, a little sacrifice, my boys, we must not mind.
We’ll agitate, etc.

Our cause will prosper in the end, for all th’oppressors might;
We’ll do our best to help ourselves – ‘God will defend the right’;
‘The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower’,
So let us all take heart again, and whilst we have the power,
We’ll agitate, etc.

Like very many of the other songs I’ve posted up here, it’s very much of its time. Nevertheless, also like the other songs, parts of it are still very relevant. People are being forced heavily into debt, and forced from their homes. And we are being led by an aristocratic government that keeps invoking economics to justify their attacks on the poor and working and lower middle classes. So let’s show them that, as the song says, there’s no demand for lords in 21st century Britain.

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Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator, Part 2

May 25, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Last week I posted up a number of radical British folk songs and ballads, including the 19th century tune, ‘The Agitator’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. I’d only managed to note the music for this, and assumed that it dated from the Chartist agitation for the extension of the franchise to working men. I was wrong about this. The ever-informative Jess, put me right about it in her comment on the post. She pointed out that it actually came from the 1870s, and was part of a number of tunes composed to promote the Agricultural Labourers’ Union, composed by the radical journalist, Howard Evans. She wrote

‘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 reached 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

The linked essay on the folksinger, Walter Pardon, mentions a number of his songs, some sadly only now half-remember fragments. Many others have been recorded whole, with the article reproducing several of them: Come All Ye Swaggering Farmers, The Labourer’s Union, An Old Man’s Advice, and Sons of Labour.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator

May 22, 2014

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.

Radical Balladry: The Poor Man Pays for All

May 13, 2014

I found this piece in Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England 1588 to the Present Day (Batsford: 1979). The book is exactly what it’s title says it is: a collection of ballads dating from the late 16th to the late 20th century, describing contemporary life and events. Many of these are explicitly political, especially those dealing with the reform and working class protest movements for democracy and better conditions from the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of them are quite long – the Poor Man Pays for All is 11 verses in length. For all its origins in the 17th century, it’s still very relevant today when the government is cutting taxes for the rich and throwing the tax burden onto the poor, who are also expected to pay their way despite the government’s austerity programme of wage freezes and cuts.

The Poor Man Pays for All

As I lay musing all alone
Upon my resting bed,
Full many a cogitation
Did come into my head:
And, waking from my sleep, I
my dream to mind did call:
Me thought I saw before my eyes
How poor men payes for all.

Me thought I saw how wealthy men
Did grind the poor men’s faces,
And greedily did prey on them,
Not pitying their cases:
They make them toil and labour sore
For wages too-too small;
The rich men in the taverns roar,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw an usurer old
Walk in his fox-fur’d gown,
Whose wealth and eminence controlled
The most men in the town;
His wealth he by extortion got,
And rose by others fall;
He had what his hands earned not,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw a courtier proud
Go swaggering along,
That unto any scarce allowed
The office of his tongue.
Me thought, were’t not for bribery,
His peacock’s plumes would fall,
He ruffles out in bravery,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I was i’th’ country,
Where poor men take great pains,
And labour hard continually,
Only for rich men’s gains:
Like th’ Israelites in Egypt,
The poor are kept in thrall;
The taskmasters are playing kept,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw poor tradesmen,
I’ th’ city and elsewhere,
Whom rich men keep as beads-men,
In bondage, care and fear.
They’ll have them work for what they list –
Thus weakest go to the wall.
The rich men eat and drink the best,
But poor men pay for all.

Me thought I saw two lawyers base
One to another say,
“We have had in hand this poor man’s case
A twelve month and a day:
And yet We’ll not be contented be
To let the matter fall;
Bear thou with me, & I’ll bear with thee,
While poor men pay for all”.

Me thought I saw a red nose host,
As fat as he could swallow,
Whose carcase, if it should be roast,
Would drop seven stone of tallow.
He grows rich out of measure
With filling measure small,
he lives in mirth and pleasure,
But poor men pay for all.

And so likewise the brewer stout,
The chandler and the baker,
The malt-man also, without doubt,
And the tobacco-taker.
Though they be proud and stately grown,
And bear themselves so tall,
yet to the world it is well known,
That poor men pay for all.

Even as the mighty fishes still
Do feed upon the less,
So rich men, might they have their will,
Would on the poor men cease.
It is a proverb old and tr4ue –
The Weakest go to the wall;
Rich men can drink till th’ sky look blue,

But now, as I before did say,
this is but a dream indeed,
Though all dreams prove not true, some may
Hap right as I do read.
And if that any care to passé,
I doubt this my dream shall,
For still ’tis found too true a case-
That poor men pay for all.

Other ballads in the collection include ‘A Political Christmas Carol’, ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, The Agitator, and the ‘Man that Waters the Workers’ Beer’. The last song, by Paddy Ryan, is about a man, yes a very fat man, who waters the workers beer, adding meths, strychnine and other ‘orrible stuff in order to prevent there being a strong working class that could challenge the employers.

And needless to say, I can’t see some of this stuff being particularly welcome to Tories or the new parties of the Right.