The Poor Man’s Labours


Jon points to Martin Carthy for this one saying, “Hell of a Carthy track this. I don’t normally like double tracked voices in harmony but there’s something punky and at the same time vaguely prog about the way he pulls it off over a fairly brutal dulcimer drone. What a genius. It’s a good song too.” There’s a little flourish of guitar here and there as well. Having dug out The Carthy Chronicles Box set to check this out, I must say I’m impressed with the arrangement and the notes add the following…

“To trace Martin’s involvement with this song, one must turn to the BBC. He had performed it as part of Steeleye Span on the John Peel show on June 27, 1970. On March 1 1973 he would revisit the song on the same show – this time with the Albion Country Band.”

His recorded version sits between the two and again the notes make mention of the multi tracking (“the effects of being in a band”), but his version also served as the template for the Albion Band’s recording on Battle Of The Field. The vaguely eastern vibe of the dulcimer drone is taken further that way by Sue Harris’ oboe in one of those bold fusions that makes you question where melodies come from. You can read more at Mainly Norfolk here and Mudcat is quite interesting here, referencing a Scottish version, which chimes with Tony Rose’s notes, reprinted by Reinhard. They refer to the [Greig-]Duncan collection and you may want to have a little look at this Mudcat thread for more information on that, although it starts some years ago and a swift shufti on Amazon suggests vols 1,2 and 8 are available. They sound worth researching further and if anyone has them already or knows more, I’d like to know and I’m sure others would to.

You can buy the October digital album now from all good download stores:


17 Responses to “The Poor Man’s Labours”

  1. Helen says:

    Great version!! This has always been one of my favourite Steeleye Span songs. That’s all the insight I have on it, I’m afraid 🙂

  2. Simon Dewsbury says:

    The sort of song that really suits Jon’s voice and phrasing, I think.

  3. Dave Eyre says:

    Complete sets of Greig-Duncan are as rare as rocking-horse droppings. As someone who specialises in second-hand folk books, I have had one set of these pass through my hands only. I sold a number of disparate copies at Cullerlie Singing Weekend and they were snapped up.

    If you do have a full set – hang on to them.

  4. Jack Crawford says:

    My extensive mound of rocking-horse droppings includes a full set of the Greig-Duncan collection. This song can be found in volume seven (song #1291). The tune Jon uses was collected by James Duncan from a Mrs Greig (presumably not a relation of Gavin Greig). All the stanzas in Jon’s text (with minor changes) can be found among the seven variants included in G-D.

  5. Jack Crawford says:

    … and I’ve just noticed that Tony Rose’s version on Mainly Norfolk follows the 12 stanzas of version F in G-D #1291 very closely and has, in addition, three stanzas (Tony’s 10, 11 & 12) that come from G-D version E.

    Now pass me my anorak, I need to lie down a while.

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    Great anorak, Jack!

    Love the nasal twang and lilt of this one, Jon! Pity you didn’t have a dulcimer accompaniment. I can fair hear it in my imagination!

  7. Diana says:

    That seems to be a typical marriage for a fellow. Beautifully sung Jon.

  8. Linda says:

    Does this slightly redress the balance.Where most songs are warning the young lady this one seems to be warning the young man?

  9. Diana says:

    Well the warning went unheeded didn’t it?

  10. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Jon has shortened this song and it has lost its meaning….
    I only got the gist of the song when I read the full version and realised that this insatiable woman was wasted on the chap singing the song.
    He should be so blooming lucky…….in my experience is was more “Get your cold feet off me..I’m too tired tonight”………….
    I might add that I do have a ‘non-existent Charisma when it comes to ladies….and my three children have blue eyes..I have brown!…I’d better go and check on the sheep again!

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Your charisma is undimmed in my eyes (blue-grey with hazel-green flecks… I could be anybody’s… hahahahahaha!)

  12. Diana says:

    Oh Muzza you have let your imagination run riot yet again. But do keep away from the sheep! Why is it no-one ever seems to have things in common with parents. Mum had black curly hair, Dad’s was auburn – mine dark brown and straight. Always wanted auburn hair.

  13. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    and then there is Prince Harry

  14. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Ref the sheep……….I DO have a son and a daughter
    Baaaaabara and Baaasil

  15. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Cor…what a nerve I had reminding all of the Barb/Basil joke!

  16. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    I have an even worse joke than the previous one;-
    a lot of folk were shocked when they found what an incompetent electrician I am!

  17. Old Muzza( NWSurrey UK) says:

    No more jokes…..but I’m still here…clinging to the wreckage

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