Smugglers Song


It’s been a while since we’ve had a Kipling/Bellamy number and Jon says, “I first heard this from Jess Arrowsmith who has just recorded it on a rather splendid CD of children’s songs featuring, amongst many others, yours truly contributing a deeply unconvincing pig sound effect in Old Macdonald. I actually learnt this to record at Bateman’s, Kipling’s house, now owned by the National Trust. Duncan Miller from Vulcan Recordings recorded me straight to wax cylinder and has now pressed the recording onto vinyl cylinder, and it is part of a hands-on phonograph sound exhibit in the museum. Certainly the best excuse I’ve ever been able to give for missing a meeting was ‘Sorry, can’t be there, have to record a song on wax cylinder in Rudyard Kipling’s front room.’”

I’ve said before how much I’ve enjoyed these Kipling adaptations. There’s something very straightforward about the way he writes, capturing so much with equally great economy. This is no disappointment either, delighting in the moral ambiguity that the subject deserved. It led me to this link about Sussex smugglers and another of those “I really do know nothing” moments. I’d never considered the wool trade as being at the root of it. Anyway, it’s the turn a blind eye sentiment that’s telling in this song, with “Baccy for the Parson, brandy for the clerk” (or vice versa!), as two figures of respectability benefit from the illicit trade. I wonder how many of us haven’t also benefited in some little way. At the same time there’s menace to the instruction to “watch the wall as the gentlemen go by.” Clearly the gangs involved were prone to violence back then, perhaps because of the ultimate sanction if caught. But it’s a lot harder to be ambivalent about smuggling these days. The cargo has changed and much misery results. Even the avoidance of duty impacts on the welfare state and more, whereas perhaps the levy was once bound to simply swell the coffers of war. As an aside and to end on a brighter note, those with young children might appreciate this link.
You can buy the January digital album now from all good download stores.


27 Responses to “Smugglers Song”

  1. muzza(s.E.England) says:

    Kipling/Boden…excellent…….ref last link..Now await Kirkby Malzeard Raspberry song.

  2. John Wigley says:

    I was taught this at primary school by…Wyatt Earp!…no really: a direct decendant of the lawman and, amazingly, a primary school teacher in mid 70s Cheshire.

  3. Simon says:

    Now that is fantastic John!!

  4. David says:

    Wonderful – I didn’t know this had ever been set to music. God bless you, Jon, for all these excellent songs.

  5. Jan says:

    Simon, I so agree with you about the Kipling/Bellamy combination – many of Kipling’s pieces seem to cry out for a tune, and Bellamy’s are a wonderful fit. Having said that, I first heard this particular one sung by the Mousehole Male Voice Choir way back in the sixties, and am trying to recall if it was Bellamy’s tune or not. I shall have to go and search the vinyl collection and do a comparison.
    Lovely singing again, Jon!

  6. Phil says:

    For me, at least, this arrangement – and Jon’s dry, minatory delivery – opened up another side of this poem: it’s not all quaint and jolly (the way we learned it in primary school).

    My theory about Kipling is that he’s been a victim of changing fashions in punctuation. When you see the poems on the page, they’re stuffed with exclamation marks! and declamatory phrases – heralded by hyphens – and it all looks incredibly dated. And, because it looks dated, it looks harmless and childish – like a patriotic version of Walter de la Mare or Christina Rossetti. Whereas a lot of it is quite hard-edged, sometimes in ways that we wouldn’t necessarily be happy with now (not all of the criticisms of Bellamy’s Kipling mania were invalid).

    This is good stuff, anyway.

  7. Simon says:

    Jan some of his poetry seems to naturally be song to me anyway and the way that Bellamy adapted it works so well. It’s certainly brought his verse to life for me.

    As for Kipling. the man himself is not without problems and I need to find out more about him as I won’t trust to Wiki on this. I can honestly say he hasn’t been on my radar since my childhood and my mum reading me the Just So Stories.

  8. John Burton says:

    Various different versions here,
    all I think with different tunes, a highly used piece of poetry.
    I came to this one via the singing of the late great Johnny Collins (who also used the Bellamy version)
    JohnB, who is still catching up after Christmas.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    Enjoyed this one and sure I’ve heard Show of Hands singing echoes of the lines in one of (probably) Steve Knightley’s songs at a concert.

    The essence of good poetry is that it is timeless, accessible linguistically, and pushes some boundaries of revelation. Kipling has the knack of delivering subject matter in a seemingly simple and matter-of-fact way when its impact is anything but. For the totally different American version of what sparse poetry can achieve, try Charles Bukowski. It might look easy to write pithy material like that, but it’s anything but.

    Can obviously make for great song material though, and well-rendered as such, Jon!

  10. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    Tried John B’s youtube link………..amazing how many different versions there are.
    The song never settles on a particular tune…some sound as though they have come straight from the Benny Hill show….and the parson and the clerk seem to change preferences for baccy and brandy(as Admin Simon notes above)
    I’ll settle for Jon’s version.
    and talking of “budgie smuggling” I’ll take a liberty here (sorry Jon & Ad Simon & Lucy!)

  11. Diana says:

    Another great song – we have a lot to thank Kipling for haven’t we? And not just his “exceedingly good cakes”. I now await some smart comeback. Joking apart I do like Rudyard Kipling’s work. Well sung as usual.

  12. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Many thanks Simon for the fascinating link on the history of smuggling. How times change, when we kept sheep some years ago, we could not make enough from the fleeces to pay the shearer.
    Like so many of the correspondents I learnt this in english lessons at school. (Just imagine having a teacher who was a direct descendant of Wyatt Earp, wow !!) It is certainly a poem that will grab a child’s imagination, but, as you say, do not dwell too long on the sinister implications.
    I have always pictured it set in a remote Cornish village , but I have obviously read too much Daphne Du Maurier.
    Whatever, it is a great poem which becomes a great song, and Jon certainly does it justice.

  13. Diana says:

    Like John I have never associated smuggling with wool. I know that the Romney Marshes was a centre for smugglers but I assumed that it was items like French Brandy and such, that they brought in but never wool. The link was very interesting but like Simon fear the trade now is more likely to be human trafficking.

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, ‘owl’ go to the foot of our stairs! You learn something new everyday! It definitely goes to show, a law that can’t be enforced/enforced easily is not worth introducing as a law. It must have proved more costly to police the non-export of wool/wool smuggling than to just sell it abroad and make money legitimately! And they nivver show wool-smuggling in any of them there romantic pirate films!

    @ Muzza: Owl, not budgie – you got the wrong bird! Go on, say it, story of yer life… hahahaha!

  15. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    @Jane……you must be refering to the woolly Owl that was smuggled/smuggled profusely and to extinction/extinction in the 18th Century. Not helped by their refusal to mate in the rain as it was too wet to woo.
    Did anybody else notice the echo on this site?

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Hahahahaha! I do not believe there was ever any such avian as a woolly owl! You are trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Your reference is at best an ‘oblique’ attempt to ridicule the Ted. However, such a hoo-hah and a to-do will not make me ‘budge’ from my original point! Can’t fox this old bird!

  17. Diana says:

    Like this one very much. It must have been like in this time.

  18. Linda says:

    always like a Kipling/Bellamy.

  19. Linda says:

    Seem to think Poldark told Demelza this when they were smuggling!!! (yes Muzza it’s sailors again)

  20. Linda says:

    seem to have heard a few versions of this recently including one by Mawkin ….

  21. Linda says:

    Another favourite there are a few during January tomorrows another good one

  22. Linda says:

    Listen to this on Sunday an interesting half hour (its only half an hour Muzza)

  23. Linda says:

    above link doesn’t seem to work so look for Radio4 schedule Sunday 12 Jan John Clare’s Scraping. Nice fiddle playing by Jon……

  24. OldMuzza (NW SurreyUK) says:

    Hi Lindy Lou…..not sure if your info is for the coming week19th or last week 12th…but I’m sure I’ll find it

  25. oldMuzza (NW Surrey UK) says:

    Hi Folks….ref Lindy Lou note above…..Jon Boden talks about ancient poet John Clare on Radio 4 12 th January…try this link

  26. Jane (Maryland) says:

    The Sussex smugglers link above is broken, but I found some information here
    and here

    Muzza, the mental images of your sumo Santa and gorilla outfit really cheered me up after the bleak (excellent, but bleak) offerings of the previous two days!

  27. Linda says:

    A bit in front but love this song so many versions……

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