Bill Brown


One from Spiers & Boden’s  Songs of which Jon says, “Bert Lloyd makes great play out of the class war contained in poaching ballads (i.e. the enclosures were an act of theft perpetrated upon the rural proletariat, so poachers were celebrated as class warriors taking back what was rightfully theirs). It’s one interpretation. I think the poignancy of this song comes from the fact that poachers and gamekeeper knew each other – possibly grew up together, but end up killing each other.” Lloyd certainly recorded it as did Bellamy and Roy Harris and you can read more about that on Mainly Norfolk here. This is likely a northern (probably) Yorkshire ballad (this link seems has more) and based at least in part on true events around 1769. There is evidence of a trial and a gamekeeper called John Shirteliff being tried but acquitted in 1770 according to the York Courant. Another ballad based on the same story ends with the trial and the assertion that money changed hands to secure the innocent verdict. The subject of poaching is, as Jon points to Bert Lloyds opinion, a highly emotive one and numerous ballads on the subject rarely take the side of the gamekeeper or land owner. If you have time on your hands, then this is very interesting reading, although I confess I only managed part of it, as time is against me, but have put the rest behind my ear for later. The chances of people knowing each other, as Jon says, is also quite high I would imagine, making the revenge element all the darker.

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25 Responses to “Bill Brown”

  1. Reinhard says:

    Sorry, I typed to fast. Simon, can you please add the missing closing address tag to my previous post?

  2. Jane Bird says:

    I recall that there are several mid-19th century broadsides of this song in the Hailstone Collection at York Minster Archives. (Edmund Hailstone made a collection of all sorts of documents and books relating to Yorkshire, and amongst these papers is several hundred broadsides, many of which are songs sheets.)

  3. John says:

    I liked Jon’s version…. but I’m still recovering from seeing that marvellous old video of Peter Bellamy!

  4. muzza says:

    Cor Blimey Guv…….just as well one of the gamekeeper’s friends didn’t see the act of revenge as he’d have popped up the next night at nine and bumped off the second poacher………… infinitum!
    Just read the history of poaching from the above link….Whoa.. can one of you poachers out there confirm if “a Shiny night” or a “Dark night” is best for this occupation? Ps:-Liked the English folksong and well sung.

  5. muzza says:

    Ref the Peter Bellamy vid…excellent………….wonder what happened to the cassette tape collection shown on his shelves.

  6. Simon Dewsbury says:

    ..and is that a Rolling Stones badge that he’s wearing?

  7. Phil says:

    Good stuff from Jon, although it suffers a bit from the inevitable comparison with Bellamy. By God, that man could sing.

    Simon – better believe it! Bellamy was a huge Stones fan.

  8. Jerry Simon says:

    I’ve been meaning for ages to start singing this song in the version my parents’ friend Tom Randall used to (still does?) sing – slightly different from Jon’s. Better get cracking before everyone else starts singing it too! Now, which tape is it…?

  9. Dave Rogers says:

    In reply to muzza’s question: I’ve never poached myself, but have a book in which an old (and very experienced) poacher says that “Nobbut a dafty ‘ud poach on a ‘shiny night’.”

  10. Nick Passmore says:

    What a strange, powerful song! And thanks very much fot the Bellamy link, Reinhard!

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    Great! (…from Biased of Yorkshire… hahaha!) I liked your version better than Bellamy’s, Jon, but Reinhard is such a fantastic mine of information and his link led me to listen to some other Bellamy songs. I thought Shepherd of the Downs was truly astounding, a corker!

    It really demonstrates as Wiki says:

    “Bellamy had a distinctive singing style. At Whitby folk festival in the 1980s an anagram competition came up with “Elmer P Bleaty” for Peter Bellamy, a humorous comment on the slightly nasal vibrato of his voice.”

    It goes on to say:

    “Jon Boden, of the duo Spiers and Boden, is a fan of Peter’s bellowing style. He has jocularly put on his website “Bellamists subscribe to a belief in the absolute purity and oneness of all things Bellamy, and bleat daily incantations in the hope of advancing the day when he will finally return to reign in ever-lasting glory.”

    Re: the music collection behind Peter Bellamy, I note in the first part of this interview on YouTube that the camera pans on the tapes and it includes Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, loads of Rolling Stones as per Phil’s point, English & American folk and jazz and, as Peter Bellamy points out to the interviewer, he likes all sorts of music.

    @ Muzza: “Just read the history of poaching from the above link….Whoa.. can one of you poachers out there confirm if “a Shiny night” or a “Dark night” is best for this occupation?”

    Well, I suppose it depends on what you want to catch. According to Kenneth Williams as Rambling Syd Rumpo (who had a fantastic nasal twang), ‘it was his delight on a shiny night…and a foggy night as well…’ Take your pick. And for poaching. Hahahaha!

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    Or should that be ‘Sheperd of the Downs’?

    And apparently there is even an academic paper by a man called David Atkinson called ‘I’ve shot the man that shot Bill Brown’: some observations on ballads and revenge’ ~ précis-ed thus!

    “There is considerable moral ambivalence in the representation of revenge in anglophone ballads (compared, perhaps, with folktales). A ballad like ‘Lamkin’ internalises the notion of personal injury as crime. In contrast, the poaching ballad ‘The Death of Poor Bill Brown’ depicts revenge without legal consequences, giving a sense of moral clarity which is nonetheless deceptive when set against its social background. ‘The Gallant Poacher’, on the other hand, employs a kind of popular theology to replace the impulse to revenge. Ballads like these do not teach morality, but rather invite the exploration and negotiation of ethical ideas like revenge and justice.”

    My view is that the song popularly redresses the most likely outcome of any court case where a gamekeeper kills a poacher, who would likely be considered fair game himself for his crime by other than his peers. Regardless of whether a poor man feeding his family or a profiteer, I think the odds would be stacked against him, so here we have rough justice.

  13. John Francis says:

    On his CD ‘Yorkie’ Chris Bartram recorded a bone-chilling version in which the gamekeeper is not only known to the narrator but is actually his brother!

  14. What are your own views and predictions about the fast food culture and its place in popular culture?

  15. Diana says:

    What an interesting song and such a good interpretation by Jon’s voice. I must pursue this via I tunes.

  16. Phil says:

    Here’s my version, recorded in the second week of 52 Folk Songs & hence not quite so sophistamacated as some of my later recordings:

    Bill Brown

    Tracing this song to its origins (see Simon’s second link) is interesting; it originally seems to have had a jolly major-key tune and a fal-a-dal chorus, as if the deaths of Bill Brown and Tom Green were a particularly good joke. I imagine it was Bert Lloyd who re-fitted it with the tune we know.

  17. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Just watched, again, Reinhard’s site with Peter Bellamy VHS. He certainly bowls along.
    Just look at the glower he gives to the camera when he sings the line ‘I saw the man that shot bill Brown’.
    If I had to pick…I’d go for Jon’s version…more remorse and melancholy as befits the story….and I’m not a happy bunny at the moment as I have had to give away my ticket to see Fay & The Hurricanes’ on 22nd at the Farnham Maltings..aaarrrgghhhh.

  18. Diana says:

    I see I was on here last year and my opinion is still the same. I did pursue song and it is still residing on my iPod.

    @Muzza – poor you losing out on the 22nd – do hope you are fine healthwise but understand why you are not your usual chirpy self.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzzy: Poor thee! I feel positively guilty going to see Fay at Otley Courthouse on Thursday!

  20. Linda says:

    Just recieved Broadside a day later, to whom it may concern THANK YOU for putting the words in black on a cream background its so much easier to read.
    @Muzza, sorry to hear your not going to get to Fay’s concert maybe as a little consolation I think Mike Harding has a couple of the Bellowhead crew on for a chat tomorrow and there’s a Kate Rusby concert on Radio 2 on Thursday.
    Liked todays song .

  21. Linda says:

    Re note to The Life of a Man on Broadside notes John Kirkpatrick sang this on God Speed the Plough and SteeleyeSpan have also sung it .

  22. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    I’m gonna put my foot in it here…………..
    just listened again to young Bellamy via the Mainly Norfolk Link…………….
    what the heck was the cameraman thinking with his ‘up the nostril/teeth shots’
    and (imho) the strange chords of the concertina accompaniment distracted from rather than complemented the song….but what do I know!…….and who cares what I think……and what’s that got to do with the price of milk.

  23. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Well……..nobody rose to that one….I shall continue to enjoy Bellamy/Kipling whatever .

  24. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Go on…….well worth having another look at the Peter Bellamy video that you can access via the Mainly Norfolk link

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