'The Blaydon Races', a song beloved by Geordies around the world, is not simply a product of Tyneside. George Ridley, the man who wrote 'Blaydon Races', nicked the tune (always referred to as 'Brighton' on various early copies of the song) and modeled the lyrics on a song called 'On the Road to Brighton' which I recently unearthed. The Brighton in question is not the one in Sussex beloved of illicit weekenders, but rather a place near Boston in the USA (now incorporated into Boston). In the middle of the nineteenth century it was a place for cattle selling and having a good time.
The Yankee song describes the adventures of some men ('three fast boys' - Yankee boy racers) who hire a horse drawn wagon. They get involved in various fracases, skidding horses, fights, black eyes and drunkenness, what some might describe as a grand day out.
'Blaydon Races' in contrast is a descriptive and comic ballad of a journey on a horse drawn omnibus from Newcastle to Blaydon 'to see the Blaydon Races'. The whole thing is much more tightly drawn than its American predecessor. Both songs make much use of place names but whereas the American song seems rather vague in its story telling, Ridley's song is focused and exact, if fanciful and amusing. The journey of the heavily laden bus passes along a route mostly recognizable today, giving exact locations such as a pub names and Armstrong's factory.
The songs share elements in common, including the horse-drawn vehicles and black eyes, but 'The Blaydon Races' has a central incident of the wheel coming off the over-laden bus and various other details not in the American song, such as the singing and dancing on the bus. Ridley even worked an advertisement for one of his shows into an early version of the song. A lot of song writing in the past involved parody and re-use of materials (particularly tunes but also sometimes ideas and whole lifted passages) so Ridley was doing nothing unusual by the standards of his day. And he made a very good job of his refashioning. Ridley's other 'great hit' was 'Cushey Butterfield' which goes to the tune of 'Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green' - a parody of a cockney song by the musical hall singer Harry Clifton.
I think most fair observers would agree that 'The Blaydon Races' is a much better song than 'On the Road to Brighton'. But pure Geordie it isn't, it is wrought from materials that came to the North East from far away - but it is very well wrought and now echoes round the world.
The historian Dave Harker has written an excellent study of George Ridley's life and songs which will be published in 2012 along with an accompanying CD.
Gyoztes Fustolt Sonka, November 2011
|The Blaydon Races||On the Road to Brighton|
|Aw went to Blaydon Races, 'twas on the ninth of Joon,||Myself and friends hired a gallous horse and wagon,|
|Eiteen hundred an' sixty-two, on a summer's efternoon;||Drove out to the Norfolk House and then we went to Brighton,|
|Aw tyuk the 'bus frae Balmbra's, an' she wis heavy laden,||We met some fast teams on the road to Brighton,|
|Away we went alang Collingwood Street, that's on the road to Blaydon.||We had a little brush and you had ought to see them skyting|
|Ah me lads, ye shud only seen us gannin',||O my, you had ought to see us going,|
|We pass'd the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin';||Two forty in the sand and the old horse a blowing|
|Thor wes lots o' lads an' lasses there, all wi' smiling faces,||O my, you had ought to see us skyting|
|Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.||Three fast boys on the road to Brighton|
|We flew past Airmstrang's factory, and up to the "Robin Adair",||We got out to Norfolk House got something funny,|
|Just gannin' doon te the railway bridge, the 'bus wheel flew off there.||Put my hand in my pocket found I had no money,|
|The lasses lost their crinolines off, an' the veils that hide their faces,||Bartender commence a mus and we commence a fighting,|
|An' aw got two black eyes an' a broken nose in gan te Blaydon Races.||O we had a gay time just going out to Brighton.|
|When we gat the wheel put on away we went agyen,||We drove out to Fresh Pond and then we went to Newton,|
|But them that had their noses broke they cam back ower hyem;||Drove out to the Norfolk House, then we went to Brighton,|
|Sum went to the Dispensary an' uthers to Doctor Gibbs,||My friend got ina mus, then we went a fighting,|
|An' sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken ribs.||And we got black eyes just by going out to Brighton.|
|Noo when we gat to Paradise thor wes bonny gam begun;||They came to my house and took me to the station,|
|Thor was fower-an-twenty on the 'bus, man, hoo they danced an' sung;||Charged me five dollars without any propocation, (sic.- provocation)|
|They called on me to sing a sang, aw sung them "Paddy Fagan",||We went into a row but did not stop to fight um,|
|Aw danced a jig an' swung my twig that day aw went to Blaydon.||Jumped into our wagon and you ought to see us skyting.|
|We flew across the Chain Bridge reet into Blaydon toon,||We drove out to the slaughter house to see the Butchers,|
|The bellman he was callin' there, they call him Jackie Broon;||O my, everything looks so funny [defective line]|
|Aw saw him talkin' to sum cheps, an' them he was pursuadin'||We asked the butchers [if] they would take some brandy and some water,|
|To gan an' see Geordy Ridley's concert in the Mechanics' Hall at Blaydon.||And one of them got so mighty tight he did not act as he oughter.|
|The rain it poor'd aw the day an' myed the groons quite muddy,|
|Coffy Johnny had a white hat on - they war shootin' "Whe stole the cuddy."|
|There wes spice stalls an' munkey shows an' aud wives selling ciders,|
|An' a chep wiv a hapenny roond aboot, shootin' "Noo, me lads, for riders."|
[To skyte, vn To slide in a slight degree, to slip ; as when the feet of a horse slide ..."]