Poverty Knock


Jon reveals “My favourite version of this is Pete Coe’s, although I do like Jim Moray’s piano version too. It has a beautiful melody and I like the underlying stoicism – similar to ‘Arris Mill. Good natured complaining basically.”

Another  reminder that before there was ever a ‘squeezed middle’ there was just poverty. There still is. My regular drinking partner refutes this, or otherwise seems to think it’s all the fault of the people in poverty who have no excuse. I don’t. It can get feisty. The moral is probably that politics and beer are not happy bedfellows, unless of course you are going to sing about one or the other, or both. A good tune to soothe the savage breast. I’ll will still qualify Jon’s good “natured comment ,” with the thought that for most there was simply no choice but to accept it and get by, or give up and die. You may like a look at Mainly Norfolk for this one to see that Pete Coe accredits this to Tommy Daniel and from what I can glean he seems to be the conduit for this, possibly having rewritten much of it. As always, it’s difficult to sort out the truth behind the origins. The longer Mudcat thread seems to make it clear that some people remember it independently of Tommy, but he still remains the source of all of the versions that are performed now. The title of Poverty Knock (or Knocks), however is not a new thing and the phrase can be found in other and older literature, although I like the idea that it fits the clickerty-clack of the machines as a  constant reminder throughout the working day and thus found its natural fit.



24 Responses to “Poverty Knock”

  1. Dave Knibb BA says:

    I like the sound of this, but think that the essential rhythm of the shuttle working is missing.

  2. Dave Rogers says:

    It IS missing, and I for one am mightlily relieved to NOT hear it! I almost didn’t listen at all when I saw the title, as this was one of the songs that was done to death in the folk clubs I used to visit in the early 1970s.

    It was invariably carried along at a great lick, with the audience joining in by shouting KNOCK KNOCK in the chorus, and/or banging anything that came to hand. Horrible, it was.

    Jon’s version is so different and brings out the real pathos of the theme. It’s changed my opinion of the song from one that I hoped never to hear again to one that I can listen to with a great deal of pleasure.

    I might even have a go at learning it myself. 🙂

  3. Jim Perrie says:

    I like this version too, though I also like the KNOCK, KNOCK versions. I spent a summer working in the spinning flat of one of the last jute mills in Dundee so I know what the poverty knock sounds like! Isla St Clair does a version of this in a BBC series on work songs she did a long time ago.

  4. LadyD says:

    If you changed the shuttle for the mouse and loom for the computer and changed the title to ‘poverty, click’ it could almost be applied to today. 😉

  5. Shelley says:

    I really like this version. We’ve sung it at school as part of a topic on Victorian Children. For some reason the last verse is missing though 😉

  6. Simon Dewsbury says:

    I’ve just listened to this twice in succession. Stunning. Just to remind everybody that we’re listening to a great interpretative artist here. Maybe we tend to overlook this in all the riches.

  7. Phil says:

    Simon, your drinking partner sounds repulsive. I hope he’s got a GSOH and/or deep pockets.

    I think the problem with the usual version is the key (or mode), not the tempo – do it in a minor key and it sounds appropriately grim (check out Stanley Accrington’s version). With the major key and a slow tempo you end up sounding moody and reflective, which I think is all wrong for the song (“Ee, I’ve been up since five, I’m starving and my workmate’s bleeding to death on the floor, what a to-do…”)

  8. nev perry says:

    A great interpretation and rendition. I remember this song too in the mid-70s being sung to death in the folk clubs of the time, its memorable to hear it again.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’m fortunate not to be jaundiced by folk club renditions of this song, which suits me down to the ground with its mill shuttle allusions. Here’s a link to Pete Coe’s version (Cheltenham Folk Fest 2006) with his mention of ‘someone’s dried their cat on my towel’ (not guilty!) and his ‘Blues from the Bradford Delta as Roger Sutcliffe would say.’ Roger, a brilliant guitarist who now lives in Whitby I understand, started to teach me guitar once, many years ago, but I wasn’t a good student!

  10. Simon says:

    Phil, he’s also my neighbour and while we often don’t see eye to eye (he reads the Telegraph and I read The Guardian – in case you hadn’t guessed) we find enough to chunter about in a harmless way and he’s always quick to the bar, sometimes so quick that he cuts short my refusal. Besides I think it’s good to have your values challenged, it can make you realise why you have them and that they are worth hanging on to despite a wearying cynicism that is hard to keep in its bottle. I’m sure that Kipling and probably Bellamy, both of whom I have come to admire greatly through this project would probably confound me if I met them. I’d like to claim a ‘glass half full’ recogniton of the inherent goodness in people, but… Anyway thanks for your concerns. I’m glad people have recognised the inherent goodness in this song as, like Jane, without prior convictions, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  11. Nick Passmore says:

    Those chords: POETRY!! Once again Jon takes a song that we all thought we knew and makes us listen to it afresh. I guess that’s a least one of the points of this excellent project…

  12. Ray says:

    First time I’ve commented, this is probably my favourite song you’ve done. Absolutely fantastic.

  13. Diana says:

    Another great song! Reminds me when as a schoolgirl our class was taken round a cotton mill – the noise – the clattering of the machines and all the cotton bits that were floating around in the air. We were all amazed at how the women walking to and fro
    all the time tending several machines managed it. They really must have suffered and for pittances as well. Some of these songs do dredge up memories!

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

    I like Jon’s version of this compact little song.
    I liked Pete Coe’s cat hair/towel joke….was Jane in the audience?
    I wonder if the reluctance to help the lady hit by the shuttle was more to do with being unable to stop the machinery halfway through the run and thereby ruin the ‘bolt’ of material, rather than heartlessness or implied loss of pay.
    @Diana…hope there’s no Crimea war songs lined up…that would take you right back!

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

    @Diana….DON’T SHOUT AT ME….I was only jokin’!

  16. Simon says:

    As I was too busy yesterday, can I suggest the following… For those who struggle with Tom Waits a sequence of Heart Of Saturday Night, Closing Time, then Nighthawks At The Diner may break the ice. The first two are before his real whisky barbed growl took hold and contain some lovely songs, while the third is hilarious as Tom climbs into the hard drinking, chain smoking piano player character… The hotel cabaret turn gone bad! From there Small Change, Foreign Affairs and Blue Valentine develop the character. Then for full immersion it’s Heart Attack And Vine and Swordfishtrombone, Franks Wild Years and Rain Dogs. Beyond that caution is recommended, so if you complete the mission come back to me.I was fortunate to see him twice in his prime and can only say he really is a taste worth acquiring… A bit like folk music!!

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    Love it…

    @ Muzza: Them there shuttles were apt to fly about and hit people, & I think there probably was a reluctance to ruin a bolt of cloth when the damage was done anyway. Fear of the boss/loss of his profits and so your meagre wages – yes, I think so. No doubt viewed as an occupational hazard afore the the advent of criminal liability, industrial injuries & so forth. Even when my grandmother worked at Lister’s and developed bronchitis and emphysema in later life, probably from all the velvet/resiltex fibres in the air, it was not acknowledged as industrial – just one of those things that happened in life.

    @ Simon: You should refer your neighbour who thinks the poverty was imaginery or ‘all their fault’ to my tales of the Lister’s Mill strike, Calton Weavers etc from this site. Ironically, one word to describe him might be a Luddite – I take it he will have heard of them?! Suspect he might think such should be put against the wall and shot!

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    Also @ Simon: Thanks for the Tom Waits’ tip! Duly noted & added to my AFSAD archive!

  19. Diana says:

    @ Muzza you ckeeky monkey. You better had have been joking – I am not decrepit even if I can recall the battles of Sebastapol (wrong spelling I am certain) and Balaclava. Ha ha He he her her. (Equality and all that).

    @Simon thank you for all your information, I will delve into more of Tom Waits. I suppose it must have been unfortunate that I hit yesterday’s song being sung by him. I was not expecting such a growly voice – it quite surprised me as I was WAITing for a much mellower sound.

  20. Diana says:

    A great song sung well.

  21. John Bryson says:

    Great song this, Jon sings it so well.

    If you get a chance to catch Jon Harvison in concert, he sings this and worth seeing him

  22. Diana says:

    Like this song.

  23. Linda says:

    re Simon 2012 tried the Tom Waits sequence you suggested preferred the less gravelly voice but still not my taste apart from Closing Time which I could listen to if it was playing.
    Enjoyed todays song.Have seen Jon do ‘Arris Mill and actually preferred Jon version to Fay’s, Colin remembers one of his uncle singing it in the pub …..

  24. Old Muzza (NW Surrey) says:

    Hey……..today I received a reminder that the Islington folk club unaccompanied song competition (Trad2mad) is now in its 9th year…..closing date for entries 31st October.
    If you go to their website you can see entries from past years and that should encourage you to have a go yourselves………….Jon has given you 365 songs to choose from if you cant think of one of your own. I’ll have yet another go…I wonder if Jan or Shelley will try this year….or even Janie!!

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