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Song List




Song Details



















Life & Times


For Schools


Graeme’s Songs &

Bedfordshire Songs



For your E-Ceilidh or Barn Dance





A Bit Of A Do  ††

Narrow Boats To Tow  ††

Carrying The Load  ††

Iced In  ††

A Light At The End Of The Tunnel  ††

Little Italy †††

The Engine Boy *







Ampthill Sunrise  

All In The Wintertime  

Stir-Up Sunday

Boxing Day Song

Follow The Straw Bear

Dance It Away Up The Street

The Olney Pancake Race

Jack Valentine’s Song

Dance For St. George Again







Nelson’s Victory






















Recorded on Charivari

   Wixamtree WIX051 (2001)


Recorded on

Where The Working Boats Went

   Wixamtree WIX052 (2009)


Recorded on Marston Vale

   Community Project CD


Recorded on Sands Of Time

   Wixamtree WIXD104 (2010)


Some songs can be heard at and









A Bit Of A Do 

Canalside pubs were important watering holes and social stops for the boatmen and their families. Some pubs had little or no connection with anything but the canal, being isolated from any public roads. This song relates some of the stories of boatmen’s lives when they had time to relax.


This song appeared on the FATEA Showcase Session CD ALL in Winter 2009-10




Narrow Boats To Tow 

The Poor Old Horse (or sometimes donkey or mule) of the canal towpaths had a life of heavy work. This song is from the point of view of the horse, looking at his lot and considering his alternative work options, had he been given the choice.




Carrying The Load 

The canals’ domination of transport for industry lasted until the coming of the railways, when cargoes could be transported much faster. Many canals were bought up by the railway companies and used alongside their new goods lines but, in many cases, canals were just bought up and closed down.




Iced In 

Winter on the canals could be very hard. Boats could be stuck in ice for weeks on end and the boatmen would be unable to work and earn money to keep their families. Sometimes boaters were forced to find work away from the canals to see them through the period of severe weather. Special boats called ice breakers could be used to try and clear a path through the ice. Men would stand on the deck and rock the boat from side to side to crack the ice.




A Light At The End Of The Tunnel 

The work of the canal restoration societies has been invaluable in restoring canals that have fallen into disuse and reopening derelict and long-forgotten canals. Their work is still far from done if they are to restore all the original 4000 miles or so of canal that crossed the country.




The Engine Boy

In 2009, Life & Times were asked to produce some songs for the Greensand Trust’s Sands Of Time oral history project, which was intended to record people’s experiences, working in the sand industry of Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. The intention is to use two songs on their virtual museum website when it goes live in March 2010. This song is about former engine boy, Ray Gurney’s, experiences on the narrow gauge railway that was used to transport sand from the pits to the mainline railway depot where it could be sent anywhere in the country and even the world. The railway still works today as an enthusiast’s line.




Little Italy

The brickworks at Stewartby, Bedfordshire, (once the world’s largest) set up recruitment centres in Italy after World War II to bring Italians over as its new workforce. Many stayed and the local population reflects the culture of this nationality within its community, as well as a good many other nationalities, mainly of Eastern European origin, who also worked at the brickworks.




Follow The Straw Bear


Traditionally on Plough Monday (now the nearest weekend) a ploughboy would dress up in a straw costume and, led by a handler with a rope or chain, would dance through the town of Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire for rewards of pennies or beer. The practice ceased in 1908 but was revived in 1980 by Brian Kell. The chorus of this song uses the tune that is used for the ‘Straw Bear’ to dance. See the website for the Straw Bear here. The song was printed in the festival’s programme in 2008.




Jack Valentine’s Song


Jack Valentine or Father Valentine is a traditional character from Norfolk who brings everyone presents on Valentine’s Day. The tradition is hardly known outside Norfolk but in that county, the day was a much bigger event than Christmas. No-one ever saw him as he left a present on the doorstep and rang the bell before disappearing. Sometimes pranks would be played with the doorbell being rung and, while the resident answered it, there would be a knock on the back door! Sometimes presents would be whipped away on a piece of string just as the recipient was about to pick it up!




The Olney Pancake Race


Olney in is Buckinghamshire and this was the ‘original’ pancake race. It was said to have started in 1448 when a woman, who was frying her pancakes, suddenly heard the shriving bell calling her to church on Shrove Tuesday. Without thinking, she ran out of her house with her frying pan still in her hand and dashed to the service. The tradition only briefly ceased during WWII before being revived shortly afterwards by the local vicar. A pancake race in Liberty, Kansas, started when they heard about Olney’s race around 1950. The two towns now exchange fastest times on the day by transatlantic telephone.




Dance For St George Again


A song written with the intention of having the verses and choruses punctuated by dancing from Redbornstoke Morris although it could easily be sung as a song in its own right without the dance. It forms part of Life & Times & Redbornstoke Morris’ show The Singing, Dancing Year.




Ampthill Sunrise


Many Morris sides celebrate the traditional first day of summer by dancing at dawn on May 1st each year, regardless of which day of the week it may fall upon. Ampthill’s Redbornstoke Morris have been doing this for many years and the scene is captured in this song. Another very important part of the event is that a pub in Ampthill opens at 7:30am to serve breakfast and beer to the dancers and audience (yes, there is an audience even though it all starts at 5:30am!)




Dance It Away Up The Street


Wakes Week is the time when all the Lancashire mills closed down for maintenance and everyone had a week’s holiday. The tradition explained in this song is a development of rush-bearing where the year’s new, clean rushes were brought to the church to spread on the floor. Rush carts were used to carry them to the church and a tradition developed (and this happened in many parts of the country) where the rushes were piled very high, a rider would sit on top and the cart would be hauled through the streets of the local towns and villages by Morris Men, stopping at each ale-house for beer! The song relates the story of the  Saddleworth Rushcart procession.




Stir-Up Sunday


Stir-Up Sunday was traditionally the day when households would make their Christmas puddings and this song takes up through the story, using an old rhyme about the event as its chorus. The stir up originally didn’t refer to cooking but came from the book of common prayer and meant rouse yourselves, as Christmas was approaching and preparations should be made.




Boxing Day Song


Boxing Day was traditionally the day when traders would go to the big house to ask for a Christmas Box. It was also the time when the local Lord or Squire would provide a box of suitable provisions and tools for all his estate workers for the new year. This day was also the day when the poor box in the church would be opened to provide some help for those who had no work and no money over the Christmas period.




All In The Wintertime


Ampthill’s Brafront Guizers (from Upper Brafront In The Hedges) present a Mummers Play at this time of year to celebrate the turn of the year. Although it’s great fun, the play often baffles audiences so this calling on song was written to introduce the characters in an attempt to help the audience get a better grip on what was going on!













Nelson’s Victory

A retelling of the classic historical tale of Nelson’s success at the Battle of Trafalgar.