Five Hundred Miles


Sticking with the camp fire, Jon says, “Another FSC song, from Peter, Paul and Mary originally I think. The final verse (about Tiananmen Sqaure) was written by a band whose name I forget and given to me by Chris T-T and I think we used to play it in the band we had at school. I introduced the verse to FSC and I think it is still sung.”

Peter, Paul & Mary and the Kingston Trio are amongst those that have recorded this as this Wiki link shows. It also credits Hedy West as the songs composer and she could count Bert Lloyd as a fan, in fact he called her “Far and away the best of American girl singers  in the revival.” Her cotemporaries Baez and Collins are, however, infinitely better known. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that she moved to England and recorded for Topic Records, always the hand-to-mouth poor relation of respectively Vanguard and Elektra for Joan and Judy. The song drew on 900 Miles, which in turn probably followed Reuben’s Train (Mudcat here.) All share the sense of poverty and an epic journey by train, either homeward or leaving through misfortune and shame. The Tiananmen verse works in the sense of the isolation and that there is a long way to go, giving a slightly heroic twist to the everyman struggle.
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31 Responses to “Five Hundred Miles”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shelley Rainey. Shelley Rainey said: RT @folksongaday: Latest Post: Five Hundred Miles […]

  2. John Biggs says:

    Goodness, what a stroll down Memory Lane. I was a P.P.& M. fan more years ago than I like to think about. Yes, it is still a good song and beautifully sung Jon.We are looking forward to your gig in Hereford next month.

  3. Paul Woods says:

    Considering how many people tend to dismiss Peter, Paul & Mary for being too “popular”, it’s amazing how many songs from their 60s repertoire turn up in the repertoires of contemporary singers. They had a really good grounding in folk song, and never seem to get the credit they deserved for their interpretations. Jon’s version of 500 Miles really captures the necessary wistfullness of the song. Well done!

  4. Tara says:

    Nice version! The band that added the final verse was The Hooters, on their 1989 album “Zig Zag”.

  5. emily says:

    I also know this from Peter, Paul & Mary, who my mum used to play when I was a little kid. Nice version.

  6. John says:

    I was lucky enough to see Hedy West perform it at a folk club in Norwich many years ago. She was brilliant. Jon’s version is very good too.

  7. Maurice says:

    Rosanne Cash does a great version. Some new worms..
    see this

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    Definite walk 500 miles down Memory Lane! Jon, your pace of this song does relay its seriousness more than a faster-paced version would.

    Hedy West – great singer – & did not know she’d written this song. Another AFSAD lesson learnt!

  9. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    A year on from my first comment and I still love it. Just the song for the homesick traveller, halfway round the world from his wife and one year old son; as I was at times in the 70s.
    Yes Jane , I do remember Hedy West visiting a folk club in Southampton, but did not know this was one of her songs.

    Tonight is Old Twelfth Night, so we are off to the apple and pear orchards for a spot of Wassailing. Then it is back to the pub for a few songs, and perhaps a glass or two !

  10. Diana says:

    Seemed to remember this song – it certainly rang a bell. Lovely song anyway.

    @ Peter: have just been listening to The Leisure Society on Spotify whilst ironing and they are very good. There is nothing that compares however with TLOTMS which is insidious. I have woken up in the night with the music going through my head and I now know all the words to it as well.

  11. Kathy says:

    Maybe it’s because of where I’m from, but I always associated this song with the migration of Southerners to Detroit and other industrial cities before and after WWII. In fact, I think I remember hearing mainstream country music singers perform it on the radio when I was a youngster.

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ John B: I love this song as well and envy you your Old Twelfth Night wassailing! There is a wealth of train songs, both literal and metaphorical. A long list of them can be found at this Wiki-link, with the artists who’ve written & sung/covered them:

    One original haunting late 60s song is Laura Nyro’s ‘Poverty Train,’ also from her album ‘Eli & the Thirteenth Confession’ I’ve mentioned on here before. As Muzza said about her, I must have dredged that up from some of my dark depths. I believe this was written after a cousin died of a drugs overdose, so a very different kind of train… and it weren’t gravy…

    Either way, she was a one-off wonder, reminiscent of Kate Bush and Amy Winehouse.

  13. Daina says:

    @Jane: I had to double check to see when you typed the message above. I am so used to seeing your messages done in the middle of the night I had to be sure that it was done in the middle of the day.

    Followed your link to the Tire group – a jaunty fast paced song. Didn’t spot any green finger nails though. Just tattoos.

  14. Daina says:

    Have just sent mesage via FB not sure whether you will receive it. New to FB don’t really participitate often and not sure of sending procedure. Please confirm it it did get through to you.

  15. Maggie says:

    Jane, I’ve been a Laura Nyro fan for a very long time and have that CD. Must play it to listen to Poverty Train again now you’ve reminded me of it.

    I also remember P,P and M and their version of this song. I hate to say this, but I didn’t particularly enjoy Jon’s version. It wasn’t lornful enough for me! I suppose I feel I can say that as in earlier posts I’ve always said how much I enjoy the songs – and it’s all a matter of personal taste after all – sorry!

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Daina: Contrary to popular belief, vampires can walk in daylight, tho their powers may be somewhat diminished! I am open all hours!

    Ref the green finger nails, Muzza was being extra observant there. Nathanael, the mandolin player, does indeed have painted nails, or did when I saw The Old Tire Swingers. I think they were actually punk Gothic black! He and Frick have some extensive tatts!

    @ Maggie: Yup. Laura Nyro blows one away, for those of us that relate to that kind of sing! As you do, I can see why you might find Jon’s rendition of 500 Miles lacking in mourn! I liked it though, and the song stacks up on its own, open to many interpretations. Clever Hedy West, if she wrote it as credited.

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    Hedy West singing her own composition isn’t at all drawn out mournful, much more lively authentic Appalachian banjo-playing blue!

    But here’s Hedy singing a murder ballad that Pete Seeger rightly describes as ‘the real thing’ at the end of the song, ‘Little Sadie.’

    (You’ll see I’m back to my usual hours, Diana!)

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    Since we’ve gone all Appalachian, this is Jean Richie singing ‘Hangman,’ which seems like an appropriate follow-on from the above:

    Of course, this is the same song as our ‘Prickle-Eye Bush,’ ‘Derry Gaol’ or the many other titles/versions it is known as, like ‘The Maid To Be Freed From The Gallows.’ One version has the reason for her plight to be the stealing of a comb… they were harsh in them days!

  19. Daina says:

    @ Jane: Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs. I would never have taken you for a vampire, but now I know I will sharpen a few stakes just in case you come a’callin.
    Glad though that you are open all hours – obviously vampires don’t sleep a lot.

  20. Peter Walsh says:

    Stunning rendition Jon. Maggie’s comments make me want to check out the PP&M version (not heard for years).

    @Diana, wow! It’s been a while since I’ve been responsible for a lady waking up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, hahaha!

  21. Diana says:

    @ Peter: yes it had quite an effect/affect (one of the two anyway). I really can’t remember when a song got into my head like that. I think that their voices blend so well, and the tune is great.

    So yes I am going to hold you responsible for waking me up! Dear me that will set the tongues wagging won’t it?

  22. Tedd O'Ramsden says:

    Blokes never wake me up in the night… well, it would be difficult when I’m always awake anyway… hahahahaha!

  23. Daina says:

    @Tedd: I felt sure that would get a response from either you or Muzza (even Pewter might have something to say). also you are here in the middle of the afternoon now, I am getting worried about you, are you getting sufficient sleep or do you cat-nap?

  24. Maggie says:

    Peter: I don’t think of P,P & M’s version as lornful. There again I don’t think Leonard Cohen is miserable. But despite that, I really am a cheerful person!

  25. Peter Walsh says:

    Leonard, miserable? Certainly not Maggie! A 3-hour stunning performance that he gave a couple of years back, at MEN Arena, trounced all those notions in me. He is the man!

  26. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    @Daina…………..ref WakingLITMOTNight…………….she said to me…
    “you are the first man that I have slept with….I stayed awake with ALL the others!”…..
    See…AFSAD…..still bringing back long lost (if hurtful) memories.

  27. Daina says:

    @ Muzza: I cannot believe that – a lively Morris man like you. Rubbish – you are just playing for sympathy. None from Tedd or me. Some memories are best forgotten – everyone has ones that they would rather not recall.

  28. Diana says:

    Still a long way to go but still a good song.

  29. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    How times change……… I clicked on to today’s page………….
    my first thought was to stamp round the room with the Proclaimers song ringing in my head…I will walk 500 miles etc!!…………gonna do it anyway…turned a tad chilly ‘darn Souff’ and the heating is still non existent!

    Quite daunting pressing that ‘submit’ button…too late to change it to ‘post’ or something!

  30. Jane (Maryland) says:

    So many wonderful versions of this song, and Jon’s is certainly mournful enough for me!

    Since the above video is no longer available, here is Roseanne Cash from her fabulous album, The List

  31. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Thanks to Jane (Maryland) for posting video…lovely version.

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