From the album Walking With Wainwright Unplugged
This is a contemporary English folk-heritage song that has been absorbed into the English tradition. A song about narrow boats, a diesel engine and a particular trip that is apparently still "do-able" on the English canals. This is my first ever arrangement in a music genre that I call "Lancashire Industrial Blues" and features me on vocals and Yamaha Lotus LS16 Concert guitar in they key of A minor. To play along with this track's tuning - Guitar Tuned to Open Gm (DGDGA#D); Capo 2nd fret.
A style called an “Occupation Ballad”, it was written by Ian Woods as recently as the 1960s. The song is about the working narrow boats that have traveled around the English canals and waterways for over 200 years ferrying raw materials and other products. Apparently Ian Woods worked on a narrow boat during the 1960s. The Bolinder itself is a Swedish-made diesel engine that powered the boats and there are many of them still around, 150 years old and working as good as ever. This trip as described is apparently still do-able, and the line ‘I have legged it through Blisworth’ refers to the practice of lying on one's back and propelling the barge using the legs and feet. This was because the engine had to be killed and the funnel lowered because the tunnels were too low to accommodate them and there was serious risk of gassing and explosion. Surprisingly the navigability of waterways in England has hardly reduced over a century and a half, and there’s still 3,500 miles of navigable waterways today, with 1,800 locks. It is still highly possible that the journey is still do-able today.
My ‘Northern Industrial Blues’ arrangement is completely different from the original, but Ian Woods’ superb lyrics are completely unchanged.
Now I've been a boatman for most of me life,
I've traveled the country on through.
Seen the grouse on the moors up Saddleworth way,
watched trains thunder past out of Crewe.
With me Bolinder beating a steady old thump
And the smoke drifting out of the stack.
We head through the Potteries then on up North,
Take a load on and then go on back.
I've loaded with pig-iron outside Bilston Town
And coal out the Bridgewater's mine,
I have legged it through Blisworth with ten ton of salt,
At Northwich dropped boatloads of pine.
I've basked in the sun on the Middlewich run
And laid up when t’weather were wet,
Run from Braunston to Lymm in wild winter gales
In order to win a small bet.
I remember the day of the wagon and horse,
Unloading from ships under sail,
Been from Somerset to London and then on to Goole,
From there I crossed over to Wales
Now I am a boatman, of that I am proud,
I've worked long and hard for me pay.
With the cargoes she's carried her timbers now creak
But the Bolinder's still thumping away.