This post is as much a tribute to one man as it is as history of ‘The Brave Dudley Boys’.

The more you delve deeper into traditional folk music in the UK, the more you encounter certain names – figures that may be little known outside the cannon, and sometimes no better known within it, but loom large over their own area of expertise. As soon as you start spending serious amounts of time with traditional and old songs from the Midlands, for example, you come up against the mighty Roy Palmer.

Roy Palmer died in February 2015 – about 18 months before The Grizzly Folk blog came into being. I regret not having had the chance to meet or interview him, as I have more books with his name on them in my small (but rapidly growing) folk library than any other folk scholar. In researching songs for my first album (Songs From the Attic) and the album I’m currently working on (which features songs from the Midlands), his books and collections have held a special attraction for me, possibly because of an affinity with the songs he published, but also for the style with which he presented his material.

Take, for instance, the series of themed books he published between 1972 and 1978 (The Painful Plough, The Valiant Sailor, Poverty Knock, The Rigs of the Fair and Strike the Bell). Aesthetically, they make up a good-looking collection, but, more importantly, the songs are meticulously researched and each is couched in wonderful historical context. They certainly inspired the Folk from the Attic section of this blog, most notably in their desire and ability to bring these songs to life right there on the page. (If you’re interested in folk songs and you don’t have this series, you’re missing out. You can find them on Amazon by clicking here.)

Aside from writing and publishing around 30 books on the subject of folk song (many of them with a focus on Birmingham, as that is where he lived and taught), Roy Palmer was also a folk song collector and occasional record producer. My own interest in Birmingham and Midlands songs wouldn’t have gone quite as far as it already has had it not been for his 1972 album, The Wide Midlands, released on Topic Records and featuring performers including Peter and Chris Coe (both of whom had received Palmer’s encouragement in the early parts of their careers).

His work collecting songs from the incomparable Cecilia Costello links us directly to the grimy world of the real-life Peaky Blinders, and paints a picture of Birmingham that modern-day Brummies simply wouldn’t recognise. It’s thanks to people like Palmer (and contemporaries such as Jon Raven) that we have access to songs like ‘The Brave Dudley Boys’ today.

What do we know about The Brave Dudley Boys [Roud 1131]?

It’s probably most appropriate that we let Roy Palmer have the first word on the song itself. Here he is, writing in the sleeve notes to The Wide Midlands, back in 1972.

“The Dudley Colliers were well known during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for their turbulence and, on the occasion described in the song, they rioted against high food prices. The refrain, ‘Oh the brave Dudley boys’ had become a rallying cry in the locality by 1790 and the Lord Dudley Ward mentioned was therefore probably John, who held the title from 1763 to 1788.”

It’s an incredibly catchy song, and one that vividly paints a picture of oppression and – unusually – relief arriving in the form of a local aristocrat. Jon Raven picks up the story in his book, The Urban and Industrial Songs of the Black Country and Birmingham (1977):

“…The colliers were in the forefront of the rioting and, while they set out to destroy property and burn corn in Dudley, their employer, Lord Dudley Ward, according to the song, was able to quieten the men down and prevent the soldiers from firing upon them. In the forefront of the colliers’ minds were the Corn Laws and the Reforms Bill. (Other researchers believe the song dates from the Bread Riots of the late 18th century.”

For all this information, however, this is also one of those weird, mystery Midlands songs that seem to have been entirely overlooked by the folk world at large. It’s almost as though there is a huge ‘Brumuda Triangle’ that dangles between Lichfield, Solihull and Wolverhampton and sucks in all the old songs ever sung beneath it. I’ve written about several of them already on this blog (‘I Can’t Find Brummagem‘, ‘Colin’s Ghost‘ and ‘John Hobbs‘).

As far as ‘The Brave Dudley Boys’ goes, the Cecil Sharp House online archive houses only two entries on the song, while the song’s entry on the Mainly Norfolk website shows that it has been recorded a total of four times (not including the version in the video above).

Thanks to the detective work of Roy Palmer and Jon Raven, however, we know that the Alderman W. Byng Kenrick (of Birmingham) recited the words to the collector, Charles Parker, in August, 1959. Kenrick himself had learnt the song from his father, who in turn learnt it from a chap name William Ryland (of West Bromwich) in the 1840s. In Songs of the Midlands (1972) Palmer writes about a further collection from a “roadman”, also around the 1840s, but notes that it has never surfaced in any broadsides. The only other reference comes from an article in the Birmingham Weekly Register (October 2nd, 1819), attacking Black Country magistrates for bias against reformers, under the headline, ‘The Dudley Boys, Oh!’

Pam Bishop (a resident singer at the Grey Cock Folk Club, alongside Roy Palmer and Charles Parker, back in the mid-60s) subsequently fashioned the tune based on a traditional melody. Palmer notes that the song was originally thought to have been sung to the tune of ‘The Bold Benjamin’, but that the only fragment of the song in this form is “unsuitable”.

With it’s rousing, rising-and-tumbling, call-and-response melody, and its colloquial, hyper-local lyrics, it feels like a song that ought to be celebrated by traditional folk fans far and wide. It’s thanks to Roy Palmer and his colleagues that I can share a version here and now, otherwise the brave Dudley boys and their plight would’ve been lost somewhere amidst a dim and distant riot.

The Brave Dudley Boys [Roud 1131] lyrics

In the days of Good Queen Bess
Yah boys oh!
In the days of Good Queen Bess
Yah boys oh!
In the days of Good Queen Bess
Coventry out-done the rest
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

But in the times, the times as be
Yah boys oh!
In the times, the times as be
Yah boys oh!
In the times, the times as be
We have out-done Coventry
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

The Tipton lads they did us join
Yah boys oh!
The Tipton lads they did us join
Yah boys oh!
The Tipton lads they did us join
And we formed a strong combine
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

And we marched into the town
Yah boys oh!
We marched into the town
Yah boys oh!
We marched into the town
Resolved to pull those houses down
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

And times they was mighty queer
Yah boys oh!
Times they was mighty queer
Yah boys oh!
Times they was might queer
And vittals they was very dear
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

But the work was scarce begun
Yah boys oh!
But the work was scarce begun
Yah boys oh!
But the work was scarce begun
When the soldiers came and spoiled our fun
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

We all ran down our pits
Yah boys oh!
We all ran down our pits
Yah boys oh!
We all ran down our pits
Frightened most out of our wits
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

And god bless Lord Dudley Ward
Yah boys oh!
God bless Lord Dudley Ward
Yah boys oh!
God bless Lord Dudley Ward
He knows times as very hard
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

He called back the men
Yah boys oh!
He called back the soldier men
Yah boys oh!
He called back the men
And we’ll never riot again
Yah boys, oh boys,
Oh, the brave Dudley boys

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *