Sunday 12 December 2021

Sweep, chimney sweep by Steeleye Span -1977

Sweep, chimney sweep, is the common cry I keep 
If you can but rightly understand me 
With my brush, broom and my rake, with my brush, broom and my rake 
See what cleanly work I make 
With my hoe, with my hoe, with my hoe and my hoe 
And it's sweep, chimney sweep for me 
Girls came up to my door I looked black as any Moor 
I am constant and true as the day 
With a bunch of ribbons gay, with a bunch of ribbons gay 
Hanging down by my right knee 
And there's no one, and there's no one 
And there's no one and no one 
And there's no one can call me on high 
Arise girls, arise, wipe the sleep from off your eyes 
Go and fetch to me some beer that I might swallow 
I can climb up to the top, I can climb up to the top 
Without a ladder or a rope 
And it's there you, and it's there you, and it's there you and there you 
And it's there you will hear me “Hullo” 
Now here I do stand with my hoe all in my hand 
Like some soldier that's on the sentery 
I will work for a better sort 
And I'll kindly thank them for it 
I will work, I will work, I will work and I'll work 
And I'll work for none but gentery


I saw this sung in what was, I believe, its first public performance; summer 1977, somewhere in deepest Somerset; and done by the Mark 4 line-up of Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, John Kirkpatrick, Rick Kemp and Martin Carthy. (Nigel Pegrum, drums and woodwinds, was probably not singing here.)

It is a wonderfully poignant tune and harmonization, with words expressive of the craft-pride of a 'skilled working man'. For some unidentified reason, this bittersweet song has always evoked in me tears; mixed from joy with sadness at the transience of youth, optimistic vigour, and sheer confidence. 

The unaccompanied singing is strong and direct, open-throated; with open-chords and sudden unisons - somehow spanning the generations and evoking a lost era. It is full of excellences from all - but notably underpinned by the solid, crumhorn-like, bass and lead of the incomparable Martin Carthy. 



Karl said...

As proud and happy as the chimney sweeps in the Mary Poppins movie.

But the little boys the master sweeps sent to crawl through the narrow places had a bad time of it. Blake wrote two poems called The Chimney Sweeper.

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry "weep! weep! weep! weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - And one of the most beautiful of lyrics, from Shakespeare:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Another things about the boy sweeps. I don't think anybody pretended that using children thus was a Good Thing, or actively wanted it for their own children. Compare with nowadays when far greater numbers - and growing - of children are being mutilated and hormonally poisoned under pretext of the trans agenda - praised, cheered-on and supported by government, media and 'health' professionals - and sometimes even by the unfortunate childrens' parents.