January 25, 2013

A Punktured History of Britain from Creation to Cromwell

Crowded House are singing
Julius Caesar
And the Roman Empire
Couldn't conquer the blue sky...

Far away and long ago, the land was divided and leaderless.
A great king, a dragon head, was needed
To unite the people and drive out the invaders...

As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory...

I am wild to hold, though I seem so tame,
More fair than mortals can say
And I sold my heart for a worldly crown
And I'll take your breath away...

Ann Boleyn, King Arthur, Boudicca, The Peasants Revolt, not in that order. All this and much else besides a week today at the Gin Trap. And that's just the first half before Cromwell. Don't miss this punky sleigh ride through British history!

I'm posting this on Burns Night Day and with Murray hopefully saltiring Britain towards an Aussie Open final. There's nothing Little England ('let's ditch Scotland, let's ditch Europe, let's disappear up our Offa's dyke') about the Britain I celebrate here.

January 15, 2013


January 30 is an ominous date in any royal calendar. It was the day Charles I was beheaded in 1649. But did you know that Oliver Cromwell was also beheaded (not to mention hanged, drawn and quartered) on that date in 1660? The crucial difference being that Cromwell had already been dead and buried for two years when it happened! Norfolk author Gareth Calway’s dramatic monologue tells the story.

Cromwell, one of the 57 signatories of Charles I’s death warrant, died in 1658 as England’s only Republican Head of State and was buried with great honour and embalmed ( against his wishes) as a king. But at the Restoration, his reviled body was exhumed, disgraced and the head put on a spike on top of Westminster Hall. It remained there for 25 years until a lightning bolt removed it. It was smuggled away the next morning by an old soldier and hidden up a chimney for decades and then had an extraordinary and often gruesome afterlife before eventually being buried secretly at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 1960. A plaque there commemorates the fact. So the East Anglia which gave Cromwell his first prominence remains haunted by his story and the old revolutionary head remains at the heart of an England he dominated.

Gareth’s carefully researched dramatic monologue makes the most of the gory aspects of this true gothic story and was a sell out success when it was performed at Oliver Cromwell’s House on Sep 3 (the date of Cromwell’s decease in 1658 and of his three mightiest victories in 1649,1650 and 1651).
Cromwell’s Talking Head will be touring as a one man show this year and you can see the performance at two East Anglian venues at the end of this month: on January 30 itself at Oliver Cromwell’s House in Ely (reserve tickets on 01353 662062, £7.50 includes tour of house and glass of Cromwell cider) at 2 pm and then at the Gin Trap Inn, Ringstead on February 1st at 8.30 pm, preceded by a first half A Punktured History of Britain. (reserve tickets on 01485 571828, £7)

Further details contact Melanie Calway on melaniecalway@gmail.com or on 01485 571828
ancyrian, cole green, sedgeford, norfolk, PE36 5LS

http://garethcalway.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/my-new-book-and-first-collaboration.html There is a podcast at:
and a review at:

Cromwell's Talking Head (text/art book)
Dramatic monologue by Cromwell’s severed head with folklore/fantasy illustrations; "A triumph of narration and vocal colour" (Radio drama reviews); "Interesting and lively new take on Cromwell" (Cromwell House Museum).
On sale at Oliver Cromwell’s House, by ISBN 978 0 9573960 0 5 and on www.garethcalway.co.uk

Cromwell's Talking Head will be featured on the Afternoon Show on Radio Norfolk on Tuesday 29 after three pm.

http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Ely/Fun-and-games-to-mark-Charles-Is-grisly-demise-01022013.htm for an online front page in the Ely edition of the Cambridgeshire Evening News.

January 06, 2013

Broadcast on Folkspot Radio

The script of an hour-long music and spoken word collaboration performed live on Folkspot radio on January 6 2013 (at Great Massingham) surveying British history and arts projects scheduled for the year ahead - text written (with a little help from Neil Young and The Beatles) and performed by yours truly. The music (except where indicated) was written and performed by Mark Fawcett.

'Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armour coming
Saying something about a queen.
There were peasants singing and drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree.
There was a fanfare blowing to the sun
That was floating on the breeze...' (Neil Young)

Far away and long ago, the land was divided and leaderless. Barbarians invaded from north, east and south. A great king, a dragon head, was needed to unite the people and drive out the invaders. Such a king would prove himself by drawing out from a weathered rock a wondrous sword. Many years passed and many strong men failed. At last, a boy succeeded. His name was Arthur. He established a great fastness called Camelot and trained a band of mounted warriors called The Knights of the Round Table. Together, they drove out the barbarians:

At the end of the world,
Death-cries in long-axed waves on the wind,
The howling of sea-wolves
Breaking from thick throats like heart’s hope
At the end of the world,
The cry of a thousand farmboys dead...
Surrendering ground for thundering hooves to sunder the Saxon.
Space to die in
Or my name’s not Arthur...
Our heels print the end of that world in a line
In the westering turf that gives back and holds and gives back and holds and gives back and
holds and holds and pens it
Lladd, for the explosive, mounted lightning charge of the British
Driven against a last ditch in their own land
There, like a squealing boar for slaughter.
A hard British line in the soft wet turf
These pirate pig-English could not read/
Though shoved around later
By strokes of non-combatant Latin/
And monks who couldn’t fight/.
Celtic hoof-prints that would not admit/
Corbenic deconsecrated/
The Grail put to hard use in kitchens/
Grail-maiden wastes fertilised/
In fierce field-brothels of endless yielding/
Gwenhwyfar plucked as a concubine/
Her white phantom beauty/
Laid like a ghost on a bloodstained bed/
And called by a C word that isn’t Cymru/
Breeding an Angle country/
Whose monk-curse is less than the air/
Saesneg is written on / the snorting ash/
Civitas burns to./ Instead of which/
Thanks to our play of thundering hooves/
Thundering hooves in defence of these islands/
The land remains Britain for fifty years/
And Logres forever!
(German) And tomorrow belongs to me. (wielding axe) Tiw’s day, Woden’s day, Thor’s day, Freya’s day.

© Gareth Calway 2011

Hello Jennifer in Calfornia, Howard in Andalucia, Emma and Tony in Brighton and Kevin in the Cafe Abersychano. And all the others who dig us. I said ‘the time of King Arthur’ and so far I’ve stayed in a sixth century in which there may well have been a British cavalry general – possibly even called Arthur – who kept the invaders at bay for 50 years. There is archaeological evidence for this. But after that Arthur passes into Welsh legend via a dreadful summer without sunshine caused by a meteor striking the world or an underwater volcano - popularly remembered as the start of the Dark Ages - and in due course into Norman and mediaeval romance.

12C Welsh Monk
God sends a bolt from the heavens, fire and brimstone from under the earth. In 536, a summer without sunshine all over the world. In 539, Arthur and his dark son Mordred, the evil one, murder each other at the icy battle of Camlaan. Morrigan Macha Bodbh, Celtic triple goddess of birth, marriage and death – Mordred’s mother, Arthur’s sister – ships him beyond the sunset to the mystical isle of Avalon. From Avalon, Arthur watches as his realm of Logres, his faithful Lancelot and his queen Guinevere are all consumed by a love too hungry for this world ...and for six of the seven heavens.

Sixth Heaven (ghazal, with Indian music)

Lancelot (sings and speaks alternate couplets)

Your face that burns upon my Eye in searing fiery gale:
More clear than any seen on earth or heavenward trail.

Sir Lancelot has failed at last, by love’s Cup undone.
His thought and self are shrivelled lifting Guinevere’s veil.

I see your face in everything, but cannot leap the gulf
Between belief in what I see and being what I fail.

She feels his wreck in her, a bliss that pierces his heart
And bleeds from hers like wounds of Passion’s holiest nail.

The agony of longing long, the ecstasy of pain
In love-struck hearts the Sun uplifts through bars of a gaol!

The Sun is Everything and nothing isn’t the Sun:
A black hole all-consumed in one whole - yet shadows prevail.

In sainted flames of love, with nothing else it can see
It burns away in grief, this Eye that can’t have the Grail.

O Lancelot, her Absent Heart is All to you now.
She’s in the Seventh Sun, where Lovers leap and visions...fail.

© Gareth Calway 2012

from the Ballad of Margery Kempe
Speaking of visions, we have a famous one in West Norfolk. Margery Kempe was a burgess’s wife in Bishop’s Lynn in the late 14C, early 15C (the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV Part 1 – Black Death, Peasants Revolt.) Lynn was a great seaport then second only to London on the east coast and part of the Hanseatic union and Margery’s father was mayor and sheriff several times. But after twenty years of breeding fourteen children with her slightly hopeless husband, John, she started dressing in the white robes of a holy woman and going off on dangerous pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, weeping loudly about Jesus’ suffering to the annoyance of many churchmen who tried unsuccessfully to control her. She later dictated a book about her experiences – the Book of Margery Kempe - which is said to be the first autobiography in English. She is credited with saving St Margaret’s, her beloved parish church, from the Great Fire of Lynn in 1421 by prayer – and various practical suggestions to God about how to put it out (sending a snowstorm.) Her book describes the visions she had all her adult life, including the holy ghost as a noisy dove bellowing in her right ear which she requested God change into a merry robin. We’re hoping to stage our show - the Book Launch of Margery Kempe – at St Margaret’s itself later this year. Here she tells her story:

God tunes the bellows in my ear
Into a robin’s song
And sails my soul to holy lands
Through world and priestly storm.

Each babe in arms this creature sees
Is Christ the child to me
And every handsome man in Rome
His manhood deity.

Though York’s Archbishop damn my tears
As Lollard-work or Devil’s
The anchoress of Norwich says
‘They do the work of angels.

‘The Devil has no power where
Contrition and compassion
Weep humbly from a homely heart
In agonies of passion.’

But, Mother, does this roaring passion,
This bottomless weeping well,
This tongue of hot consuming flame
Fly out from heaven or hell?

For long ago I sinned a sin
That’s never been confessed,
(Except to God) a Lollard sin
Or else a sin of flesh

And though unworldly now I seem
And lost in visions quite
I brewed, had fourteen babes, before
I dressed in virgin white.

And cut a dash through Bishop’s Lynn
Proud daughter of its Mayor,
My cloaks with modish tippets slashed,
And gold pipes in my hair

Till hearing heaven’s Song of Songs
I shunned the gutter’s ooze
‘And though you rule me, husband dear,
A single life I choose.’

‘But Margery, does this roaring passion,
This bottomless weeping well,
This tongue of hot consuming flame
Fly out from heaven or hell?’

John, every pilgrim step I trudged
From wedlock’s grave mundane
And churchman’s plot, was heaven-winged
By doves that sang God’s name...

© Gareth Calway 2012

Speaking of churchmen’s plots, Binham Priory – where we staged a show last summer – has a history worthy of Peyton Place. , Priors going truant, or being put in irons, revolting peasants burning the rolls, haunted walls and of course the whole drama of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Here’s our Dylanesque take on it all.

Dissolution Row: The Ballad of Binham Priory

Call their names from the rubble: Alexander de Langley,
Mad as a scholar – ‘here’.
William de Somerton, William Dyxwell,
Priors and bad boys - ‘here.’

A mad monk in solitary’s dungeon-chains,
Tortured to brake his devil;
Alchemy funded by holy sales,
Sieges, arrests and trouble;

Monks eating bran and drinking rain
Till King John raised the siege;
A wanderlust prior, administ-truant,
Deposed and then reprieved.

As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.

The peasants were revolting here
In 1381
When Master Lister led the charge
And derring does were done.

‘Enough!’ he cried, ‘of fattened bishops
Fed on Priory rolls,
Enough of tenants, rents and lords
And serfdom’s heavy loads.’

‘I’ll join that fight!’ said Binham John Lister
To his name-sake of Felmingham
George whose Norfolk Peasant Spring
Brought mayhem into Binham.

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory!’

In Norwich, the Bishop Dispenser caught wind
Of the peasants’ merry fire,
And the Fightin’ Bishop’s fist of stone
Killed it with his ire.

‘Lister of Felmingham, for sins against
Your betters and your King,
I’ll have your guts for my Bishop’s garter
And the serfs can kiss my ring.’

‘You can have my neck and guts’ said Lister
But my soul flies straight to heaven
When Adam delved and Eve span, ‘lord’,
What rents were recked in Eden?

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.’

The old order stood another six generations,
A flint face carved in art
Then Lister’s spirit came back to haunt
The Priory’s stony heart:

He laughed as King Henry’s Inspectors Called,
‘Found fault’ with the Priory rolls,
‘Down with these rood screens, saints and crowns
And idol Gods on poles;

‘Whitewash these saints from the walls of the nave,
A clear new page for the Word,
Your bishops’ bank is ruined now
There are no serfs to herd!

‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.’

This high Notre Dame of Norfolk shrunk
To a nave-sized Parish Church,
Abandoned wings sold off for stone
To men scarce more than serfs

But when Paston quarried the haunted pile
To build a house in the grounds,
A wall killed a workman and none to this day
Will build in Priory bounds.

Three miles to the West, Roman relics and smoke
Rise again from Celtic Earth
Like the re-appeared saints whose rooted gaze
Reclaim the walls of this church.

As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the spirit’s freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.

Let the holy rain of autumn fall
From the solitary tree
And the grass grow wild and the four winds blow
Through the grounds of this Priory.

© Gareth Calway 2012

The great legs of Henry VIII loom large over the Dissolution and he’s also the subject of another show of ours: Tom and Harry, which features the Norfolk-landed woman they had in common, Ann Boleyn. Tom is Sir Thomas Wyatt who was Ann’s first love later replaced by Henry VIII. Wyatt was put in the Tower for committing what was in effect retrospective adultery with Ann and from the Tower he watched her beheaded. Here I imagine the thoughts that went through that head the last morning of her life.
ANN Why would Henry kill six adulterers to destroy me when one would do? That was the Seymours, annihilating the competition. Jane Seymour – by refusing him hers - had his lips; her faction his ears. The court flew from my weakness. I refused to smile on Henry’s affairs. Jane showed ‘gentleness’ in this, I ‘cursedness’. Bad move. They say Henry never spared a man his fury or a woman his lust. And that his hand pulled the strings of the English Reformation. But I know his hand. It lures, ignores, manipulates, leads, abandons. It’s his other hand you’ve got to watch, the one stroking a pregnant belly. The world he imagined he made real: plots everywhere, the strong to his side, or his bed, the weak to the scaffold. The only defence is to counter-attack first, like Thomas Cromwell. We were too slow. I watched my brother hanged, drawn and quartered, spilling the guts he’d shown before. This morning, I will ‘be beheaded or burned at the king’s pleasure.’ All the pleasure I once gave Henry’s body has won me this mercy: a blade instead of the flames. The king never had my heart, he says, and he will have my clever head on its stiff Protestant neck for it, while Norfolk my accuser blooms like a rose in June, all the offices, grants and honours in the world vouchsafed by that one failsafe: royal favour. Tom, you had my fickle heart once and kissed my neck like you meant it, praising its yielding softness. (hands on neck) Pray for that softness now.

The Ghost of Anne Boleyn

I stole to the door of Blickling Hall
On the nineteenth night of May
And met the ghost of Anne Boleyn
Shining bright as day.

Six headless horses drew her coach
A headless coachman drove,
‘Give them their head!’ she laughed, then turned
On me her look of love.

‘Oh lordly, learnĂ©d, manly face
Where force and beauty meet
Oh sport, debate and war with me:
Renaissance man complete.

I sought you once, who later flew,
I stalked you in your chamber
With night gown slipping from my arms
Before my lips spelled danger.

How like you this? I whispered then
And kissed you wild and free
As blood-red roses, soft and sweet,
Before the King took me.

I lost my head for the rose of the world
And the rose withered on the thorn,
A hunted hind whose fickle heart
Died for the loudest horn.’ –

Her white hands stole around my neck,
I screamed with stolen breath
‘O save me from this dreadful witch
And a fate much worse than Death!’

Her Lutheran brow as bright as the moon
A smile like the blossom of May
Her hair raven-black but her lovely head
Twisted the other way.

Her neck of worm-picked bones was ringed
With a bloody royal band
Engraved ‘I am Caesar’s’ in diamonds chaste,
And King’s gold on her hand.

‘I am wild to hold, though I seem so tame,
More fair than mortals can say
And I sold my heart for a worldly crown
And I’ll take your breath away.’

‘I am not your True Thomas!’ I cried in dread.
And her witch face turned away
‘Ah! You’ve named the angel who guards my grave
I can no longer stay.

I lost my head for the rose of the world
And the rose withered on the thorn
A hunted hind whose fickle heart
Spiked the largest horn.

© Gareth Calway 2012

And here’s the old villain himself, a man who made history in his own giant image if anyone ever can.
Henry VIII You’re looking at the biggest in England, whatever she said to her ladies of the bedchamber. The first thing I learned was never trust a courtier. Back-watching ministers like Sir Henry Wyatt feathering his own nest. I grew up over-protected, watchful, wary. But they’re all wary of me now. What Dad grabbed at Bosworth wasn’t the glorious England of Henry V. It was a farmyard stuck in the Middle Ages: deserted, backward, inward, a dunghill on France’s doorstep still recovering from the Black Death about 100 years slower than the rest of Europe. Edward III ruled five million people. Richard II, twenty five years of Black Death later, half that. Now, after twenty five years of me, everything’s soaring: population, rents, prices, land speculation, commerce, enclosures, evictions. Consumables at 231%. Uprooted peasants flooding the towns and wages falling. But my Tudors: the landowners, commercial farmers, property investors, the nobility, the gentry, the merchants, the land-grabbers making it yield: all rich and getting richer. We’ll be conquering Europe again soon like the knights of old. Meanwhile, my Renaissance men – handsome soldier- scholars strutting Italy and France - sing Italian sonnets to my Tudor rose and their hearts out to ladies they can’t have! Hands off, Master Wyatt, she’s mine! (laughs) What did the Irishman say? The foundation stone of the Protestant Church are the balls of King Henry VIII’ ? If that’s true I’m a Dutchman. Erasmus was writing his Greek and Latin New Testaments at Cambridge when I was a young king dancing Spanish steps on the graves of my father’s councillors. The Renaissance had come to Little England, closely followed by Luther’s Reformation, not mine. Ann’s circle brought Lutherism to my court but it wasn’t her Bible I married her for. Luther said priests should give up their concubines and marry: their balls, not mine.

© Gareth Calway 2012

The Ruined Hall (Fye Bridge House, Norwich, in the Romantic Era)

Strange that an Encyclopaedic Age
Leaves Fye Bridge House un-reckoned on its page.

But wait! A lace-cuffed bard with limpid eye
Is haunted by a spirit thrilling by.

“She walks in beauty, like the night
In ages past when full moon shone
Upon the helmet of the questing knight
As if it were his lady pale and wan.

She haunts the former greatness of the Hall,
The heavenly night-flights of a higher age,
Her skin is white as death, her spectral
Figure rises from the poet’s page.

She seeks that Ruined Hall and sings
An elegy for days before a floor
Plucked window’s eye and clipped the wings
Of church-like spaces walked before.

She plays a dulcimer and on her lips
The milk of Paradise is glowing still
And rosy-red the wine... or blood, she sips
With eager thirst beyond a mortal’s fill.

Her cup is charged again, again, and ever:
Her road to wisdom’s Palace is excess;
Her rose lips wailing for her demon lover
And dark eyes staring in her naked breasts!’

The poet sings his verse with heaving breast
And swoons upon the vision he evokes
And heaves his fainting heart into his mouth
And on her milk of Paradise he...chokes.

‘A restless spirit! Wild! Unbounded! Free!
A waking beauty past all human measure;
She falls upon my thorns of life. I bleed!
Her gates of Eden open at my ple-….”

Alas! A pounding at the door, the vision flies!
The Vicar calls on business, and the poem ...dies!

© Gareth Calway 2006


She Loves You. (chorus, sung in fifths)

Spectre: I’ve always loved that plucky bastard. Ever since we were boys miming his three cool cat choir, great clunking guitar solos and Cavernous drum from Mam’s laundry slats. Raw whoops of joy in four-part harmony. Anything that you want. Ushering in a decade that lost the plot but found the music.
- The French aren’t sure about The Beatles. What do you think of them?
Beatle: Oh, we like the Beatles.
- How can you bear teenagers imitating you by wearing Beatle wigs?
Beatle: They’re not imitating us because we don’t wear Beatle wigs…
Spectre: I cried when the Dave Clark Five toppled them along with the Christmas decorations in 1963 and Mam said it was All Over. When the Fabs were Christmas Number One again in 1964 she said it again. She said it again when they were Christmas Number One in 1965. I thought for an awful moment that when she said it again at Christmas 1966, a Christmas without a Beatles Christmas single after a year without a Beatles British tour, that she was right. When the YEAHverly brothers were back at Christmas Number One again in 1967, she stopped saying it. For Christmas 1969, she bought me my first, their last Christmas Number One album. She called it Happy Road. I was twelve then and, unlike Father Christmas, they hadn’t let me down. They were still here, holding hands that wash dishes, hands that cup faces, hands flung at diamonds, hands ringed with dreams, shake-it-up baby faces, sweet little teens. Filling Nowhereland with the soundtrack of luv.

“John, there is a Stamp Out The Beatles movement under way in Detroit. What you going to do about it?”

Beatle: “We have a plan to stamp out Detroit.”

There is also an Adopt the Beatles movement in the British royal family.

The Queen (in a Christmas Day party hat): Where are you playing next?

Beatle: Slough.

The Queen: Oh that’s near us.

It is looking down its hooter at John. ...

The Queen: “And which one are you?”

Beatle: “I’m the one with the big dick!

Spectre: ‘Those in the cheap seats, clap your hands. The rest of you just rattle your jewellery.’

The Queen: “Oh haw haw haw!”
Spectre: Oedipus Sex. Conquering the planet. Saving the city. And getting the girl.
Beatle: She loves you (both) Yea Yeah Yeah

© Gareth Calway 2012

That’s from It Was Fifty Years Ago Today, our Beatles show. Frightening to think that exactly 50 years ago, Love Me Do was at No. 17 in the charts and Beatlemania was about to seize the world. We’d like to end with a more distant history associated with that great water that surrounds us in Norfolk: the North Sea. We started with King Arthur: here’s the story seen from the point of view of the villains in that piece, the Angles who have given their name to East Anglia and to Angle-land. What was it like to for a young Angle to cross that dreadful ocean and then face the British?

The fire’s flames flee from dark’s dagger drawn,
trees’ twigs tremble my blood runs cold,
death-dread from deeps from hills, from hollows, through night-silence numbs my axe-aching arms…
Now darky-feet drumming sheep-feet, horse-feet,
wolf-howl, bear-roar, rain-start and rain-stop;
today’s crop of slaves stir by my lord’s boat,
the half-clearing crowds with ghosts from bad dreams;
no light now but starlight fierce as gods’ faces
to kindle my blood or make sure my sight:
a witch of a watch slumped in snake-fern
and no song of heroes to cheer my chilled cheeks.
When I boast man’s beard I’ll bear with my kin
the boat-gorging wave-road’s spite-spitting storms
and go from this fell ground back to the faderland...

© Gareth Calway 1991

Finally, a millennium after those doughty English, the unsung heroes who kept England fed at a key time in its growth: the cod fishers of the Iceland fleet, many drawn from Norfolk. Not only did they have to face the boat-gorging wave-road and a summer anchored six miles off Iceland, they were heavily taxed on their return and the price of their cargo kept artificially low. As English as cod and chips before the chips and natural recruits for the Royal Navy, this is our tribute to those old salts.

The Ballad of the Cod Fishers

A tribute to an unsung group of men (and their families) who delivered artificially cheap nourishment to England at a time of booming population and unprecedented economic growth from the Elizabethan period ot the Industrial Revolution. Survivors were natural recruits to the Royal Navy. The Oliver here is Cromwell. The Mayor is Thomas Toft (Mayor of Norwich 1654)

The Mayor he sits in Norwich town
Eating his snow-white cod
‘This fair meat of the northern wastes
Is English as our God.

We need a fleet to bring it home
To feed our growing nation
Of salts who sail close to the wind
And closer to starvation.’

The frozen price of Iceland cod
Is Norwich Market cheap
But the rising tax on catch and salt
Makes tar and fishwife weep.

Oh these chippy men of Nelson’s breed
Who braved the northern seas
They paid the highest price of all
And the meanest price received.

The Iceland fleet sails north in March,
Great ships of forty men,
The doughtiest hearts in England’s shores
From Eastern shire and fen.

Such crews as drive the men of war
To English Victory
Cured by these waves, the saltest men
Who ever put to sea.

Fierce winds and tides have blocked for weeks
Their course through Pentland Firth,
The nearest place to death and hell
On all God’s Christian earth.

Oh these chippy men of Nelson’s breed
Who braved the northern seas
They paid the highest price of all
And the meanest price received.

And the Danish King sits like a storm
That broods upon a shore:
‘Six miles off Iceland you must toss
Nor trade nor fish there more!’

‘No time, sea-lads, for those native cures
And cods hung out to dry,
Our summer catch is steeped in salt
To keep it from the fly

And salt is taxed at rising rates
By Oliver’s excise
And ten score cod per loaded ship
His officers will prise.’

Oh these chippy men of Nelson’s breed
Who braved the northern seas
They paid the highest price of all
And the meanest price received.

Widows and traders who keep afloat
These ventures seal their loan
With a premium more than twice the mean
For so many come not home.

O long the Jack Tar’s journey home
And deep the briny ocean
And toothsome was the bone-white cod
That fed a hungry nation.

And long the Norwich fishwives stand
With wood combs in their hair
In August at the river’s edge
When fish nor men appear.

Oh these chippy men of Nelson’s breed
Who braved the northern seas
They paid the highest price of all
And the meanest price received.

Gareth Calway 2012

Broadcast text(except where indicated) copyright Gareth Calway 2013