Jordan Is A Hard Road


Of course we’re in Bellowhead territory here and Jon says, “I heard this on a Frankie Armstrong Fellside CD and couldn’t quite believe my luck – surely everyone must have had ago at it? Steeleye? Jim Moray? Eliza? But no it’s just Frankie and Bellowhead (and now me I s’pose.) Roy Palmer put the verses together and he and Frankie were both tremendously gracious about Bellowhead having a crack at it.” You’ll find Frankie’s take on Lovely On The Water and her notes offer…

“This curious and rare song with its rollicking and defiant humour, was used to make political and social comment and a variety of jokes. This version seems to date from the 1850s or early 60s, because of its reference to the campaigns against slavery in America, which were going on at that time. The text comes from a broadside and the tune sung “by an old labourer now dead,” collected by Baring-Gould in Holcombe Burnell, North Devon.”

You can read more including Bellowhead’s notes on Mainly Norfolk. I’ll say no more except that I always enjoy this as part of Bellowhead’s live set and feel privileged for getting a bit more up close and personal with it.

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



20 Responses to “Jordan Is A Hard Road”

  1. Roberto says:

    I was just wondering a couple of days ago how would have be Jordan sung a cappella. Now I know: magnificent.

  2. Roberto says:

    Sorry, I’ve written “be” instead of “been”.

  3. SRD says:

    I first heard a version of this on the Peter, Paul and Mary 1963 album ‘Moving’ where it’s called ‘Old Coat’. That album was one of the first I ever owned.

    Pentangle played a gig at my (appalling) prep school a year or so later (Danny Thompson thinks that one of the members of the band had attended the school) and they played a couple of tracks from the P, P & M album but I can’t remember if this was one of them.

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    Very well sung, Jon, with good resonance on the salient line, but I’m not keen on the song! Or more accurately, with the exception of the salient line, the tune… but I have no talent to write another!

  5. Shelley says:

    Considering how many of us are used to the “big band” Bellowhead version of this song, when there is all sorts going on, it’s interesting to hear the song completely stripped down. I’ve worked out all the words now too which is great!

  6. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Jordan is a Hard Road from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are 13 records of Jordan is a Hard Road in the Library, many with the title in dialect, and mostly collected from the USA.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 12153, there are 20 records, with no versions registered as collected anywhere outside the USA.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 collection.
    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.
    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  7. Malcolm says:

    I’ve heard a version of ‘Jordan Is A Hard Road’ by Robin Williamson on a live album, The Old Fangled Tone, recorded with a brass band at the Square Chapel in Halifax in 1999.

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’m off to a couple of Square Chapel gigs soon, so here’s a YouTube vid of Robin Williamson covering ‘Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel,’ then straight into ‘Smoke Shovelling Song.’ ‘Incredible’ seems to be an appropriate description!

    Perhaps not quite so incredible though as this one-man-band version by Eric Royer:

    This is the Bellowhead version live on Jules Holland in 2006. Enjoyed it more than the stripped out version!

  9. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Wow Janey….indebted to you for the link to Royer’s one man band..
    what a talent (mechanic/inventor/musician/singer!………
    and I’ve gotta make me a “dancin’ doll”….so cute.

  10. Pewter says:

    Speaking of Bellowhead – Mike Harding started his show on Wednesday with Roll The Woodpile Down from the new album; thanks Mike for the sneak preview! Still available to hear on the BBC iPlayer everyone….

  11. Diana says:

    I am more used to Bellowhead’s version of this but Jon solo does an excellent job.

    Thanks Pewter for your link – I shall catch up with it later. There should be some great songs on the album “Lillibulero” for one. A r4ally lively version.

  12. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Captivated again by the dancin’ doll (see Aug 28 2011-7:41am)

  13. Diana says:

    @Linda: I misinformed you the other day – it was Leeds not Buxton. A bit of a difference isn’t it?

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

    I just love the Eric Royer video…………….the banjo Pluckin’ and guitar pickin’ and the little doll dancin’…………..excellent and I don’t care if I watched this song 14 days early !!!!!

  15. Paul mayle says:

    Eliza gikyson does a version of this on one of her early albums.

  16. Linda says:

    Another favourite but I think I prefer the Bellowhead version of this

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

    Ref The Eric Royer video….still cant make out where aLL THAT music comes from
    Blown away yet again!

  18. Karen Impola says:

    Not to get two far into the weeds, but we seem to be dealing with at least three different songs here:

    1. The English version, as sung by Jon. And a lovely song it is!

    2. The American version, which has basically the same chorus but has acquired some distinctly 20th-century verses and was popularized by Uncle Dave Macon (that’s what Eric Royer is singing), Macon may have written the verses. He recorded the song in 1927. More info here:

    3. Robin Williamson’s song, which has nothing in common with the other two except for the line “Jordan is a hard road to travel”. No coats are taken off nor sleeves rolled up, even.

  19. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Wow…scrabbling through the weeds….what instrument is Eric Royer’s left foot playing?
    Dragged myself away from the little dancing doll but still can’t work it out!

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

    Dancing doll time again!

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