Tyne Folk

Back to Articles

The Blaydon Races

Evidence mounts on Geordie Song Hacking Scandal

Following the revelations contained in the previous article 'Blaydon Races World Exclusive' new evidence has arrived from the USA concerning the American origins of 'The Blaydon Races'.

We were contacted by Conrad Bladey who lives in the USA. Conrad has a website entitled 'Conrad Bladey's Beuk O' Newcassel Sangs: The Tradition of Northumbria' a useful resource which you can access here.

Conrad started digging and came up with two very valuable pieces of evidence. The first is an alternative set of words to 'On the Road to Brighton'. The themes of journeying, fighting and drinking are still dominant but the song is different to the version in 'Blaydon Races World Exclusive' (substantially so after the first verse).

On The Road To Brighton.

AIR - "Rip up, Skittle me Jig."

Sung by Lew Simmons-Banjo Solo.

Me and my friends took a ride with a gallus horse and wagon,
First we stopped Cambridge, then we went to Brighton:
We passed everything on the road, you had ought to see us kiting,
Golly, we had a gay old time when we went to Brighton.

Oh, Lord, gals, you ought to see us going,
2.40 on the road, the old horse a-blowing;
Then, Oh! Lord! My soul! you ought to see us kiting,
Two gay sports on the road to Brighton.

We stopped at old Bowser's (at Cambridge) to get a little gin,
Says he, My boys, you're awful drunk, you won't get home again,
We both of us got drunk, and they chucked us in the gutter,
And that's the way we both of us lost our bully catfish supper.

Chorus: Oh, Lord, gals, etc...

We afterwards stopped at a rum-mill, and I fell mighty funny,
We went to pay for our rum, and found we had no money;
The landlord he made a fuss, and we pitched into fighting,
Golly, what a black eye I got going out to Brighton!

Chorus: Oh, Lord, gals, etc...

They took us up before the Squire for breaking of the peace,
They fined us ten dollars, cause we lamm'd the police;
When they found we had no money. and couldn't get no bail,
They give us three months apiece in Leverett Street jail.

Chorus: Oh, Lord, gals, etc...

They p[ut] us in jail, as everybody knows,
Where they shave your hair close, and give you a suit of prison clothes.
When we came out of prison, the Boys around Ann Street began hail,
Here comes two nigger singers out of Leverett Street jail.

Chorus: Oh, Lord, gals, etc...

This song text is on p. 113 of The Canteen Songster a substantial song book published in Philadelphia in 1866 and available to be consulted or downloaded from Google Books at http://books.google.co.uk/books.

There are a number of points to make. It is very interesting that the text is different from the one published from a broadsheet in the previous article 'Blaydon Races World Exclusive' (probably from a slightly earlier date). Clearly a sort of oral tradition is at work here, the song is developing as people perform and adapt it. George Ridley's adaptation of the song into 'The Blaydon Races' should be seen as part of this sort of process.

Second the - what to us would be unacceptable - reference to 'two nigger singers' identifies the song with the blackface minstrel tradition. From the 1840s blackface minstrelsy was an incredibly popular form of entertainment in the USA (where it started) and in Britain - it has been described as the rock and roll of its day. Minstrelsy greatly influenced Tyneside song, a number of the tunes used by Ridley and other writers were originally used for minstrel songs. Joe Wilson's famous 'Keep Your Feet Still Geordie Hinney', for example, is set to the tune of the song 'Nelly Gray' a minstrel song with anti-slavery tendencies:

Oh! My poor Nelly Gray,
They have taken you away,
And I'll never see my darling any more.
I'm a sitting by the river
And I'm weeping all the day,
For you've gone from the
Old Kentucky shore.

Perhaps more conclusive in our quest for the US roots of the 'Blaydon Races' is the second piece of evidence Conrad Bladey discovered. He found the tune 'On the Road to Brighton' in a banjo tutor The Eclipse Self-Instructor for 5 string banjo: A complete instruction manual for playing banjo (using plectrum) [I am pleased about that 'using plectrum' bit!]. The contents of the book are available on the Internet http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/banjo-eclipse/banjo-eclipse%20-%200040.htm.

A first impression is that the piece looks distinctly unlike 'The Blaydon Races' as we know it, the timing is wrong and it looks a very banjoish instrumental (all that running up and down chords).

The Blaydon Races


[used by permission of Traditional Music Library http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk]

Hear a MIDI file of the first part of this tune:

But, an archeological eye and an ear to hear will see and hear something buried within all that banjoing. Compare the first part of the two tunes. In the notation below I have indicated the notes the two tunes have in common by lines between the staves. Most of these are vertical lines meaning the notes fall in exactly the same place, some are slightly displaced in time.


Hear a MIDI file of the above:

The only place the two pieces diverge significantly is the two bars before the end, but they finish in the same place, they just approach it rather differently. There is no doubt in my mind that 'Blaydon Races' and 'On the Road to Brighton' are versions of the same tune.

I expect it is highly likely more evidence will be found. It would be good to find a music copy of 'Rip up, Skittle me Jig' said to be the tune of the song above. In the mean time I would like to thank Gyzotes Fustolt Sonka and Conrad Bladey for their valuable contributions to uncovering the truth about the American antecedents of this great Geordie song.

Vic Gammon, January 2012

Back to Articles