From the album Two Ravens

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Ian Woods
This is what is called an “Occupation Ballad” and it was written by Ian Wood as recently as the 1960s. The song is about the narrow boats and the broad boats that traveled around the English waterways carrying the products and raw materials to fuel the Industrial Revolution. 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.

© PhilDrane Music 2016