Tag Archives: Ewan McColl

Up close and personal

Earlier today, Sunday, I was listening to a very fine version of that old blues classic ‘Rock Island Line’, an Arkansas prison work song, immortalised by Huddie Leadbetter, aka ‘Leadbelly’. We don’t have a tradition of prison work songs here but, we do have a very fine piece of English folk music dedicated to the man, who died at the controls of his engine, just like the one above, trying to save the lives of others.

John Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his heroism and a forty five minute radio programme, based on the tragic series of events which led to Axon’s death, ‘The Ballad of John Axon’ was broadcast in 1958 and repeated later that year; and again in 1960 and 63. The GCR, where the photograph above was taken, have also held events to celebrate Axon’s heroism and his George Cross was donated to the NRM by his family. I remember listening to the broadcast, as I guess many a trainspotter did, it made quite an impression on me, as my own Dad had just died, though not in a horrific accident. When I listened to it again, in 1963, I was a footplateman myself.

I’ll leave you with the way Ewan McColl began his ‘Ballard of John Axon’:

“The year was 1957, the morning bright and gay,
On the 9th of February John Axon drove away.
In a class 8 locomotive from Buxton he did go:
On the road to Chapel–en-le Frith his steam brake pipe did blow.
It’s a seven – mile drop from Bibbington Top, oh Johnny,
It’s 1 in 58 and you’ve no steam brake, oh Johnny,
She’s picking up speed and the power is freed; it’s a prayer you’ll need,
But you’ll never make it, Johnny.
It’s hell on a plate, it’s a funeral freight, oh Johnny,
It’s the end of a dream in steel and steam, oh Johnny,
There’s a world in your head and you’re due at the shed and there’s life ahead
But you’ll never see it, Johnny. …….”
You can find the rest of the song and much more besides by following the link, if you’re interested: http://www.setintosong.co.uk/downloads/PDF/rb_website_john_axon.pdf

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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The Grand Allies

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Rusting iron, paint all but peeled, on the grey hopper wagon, the whole picture reminded me of a snatch of a line from an old folk song, ‘the mining gates closed and the red iron rotted’ and, as one thing leads to another, as it so often does, I got to thinking about music and railways, especially music with explicit railway links, one of which, ‘Johnny Green’s Trip to ‘Owdam to see the Liverpool Railway’, has its origins in the Liverpool & Manchester, which opened in 1830. My guess is, that most of you weren’t around when that one was top of the pops.

The line, or rather part of a line, I quoted, was from the Bob Dylan song ‘North Country Blues’, about a mining community, the closure of the mine and its effects on the inhabitants – most of which will be depressingly familiar to many folk in mining towns in the North of this country too. In the song, the mine had closed because production had moved to South America, where the miners work ‘almost for nothing’ – a trend which still continues, in many other industries.  Dylan’s near contemporaries, The Grateful Dead, rendered a version of the classic American folk song, about an American railroad engineer – engine driver to us Brits – Casey Jones, in which Casey Jones was, ‘driving his train  –  high on Cocaine’   – that South American thing again? Here in Britain, Ewan McColl was rendering the heroics of Driver John Axon, in song, back in 1958. Driver Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross, for his bravery.

0-4-0ST Sir Cecil Cochrane is being banked by 0-6-0T No. 3 Frizell. and the pair are en route to Sunniside on the Tanfield Railway. Alongside the Tanfield Railway is Causey Arch, an arched bridge, built in 1725 – 6 to carry the Tanfield waggonway, which was part of a network of colliery waggonways operated by the Grand Allies.

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Sing a song of railways

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I woke up this morning, like you do, and I thought, can I write an essay  using just pieces of lyrics or titles from railway songs I know? ‘While riding on a train going west’ ‘under bridges over bridges to our destination’ ‘He made the freight train boogie As he rolled down the line’. ‘It takes a lot to laugh it takes a train to cry’ ‘Chattanoooga-choo-choo’. ‘Time flies by when you’re the driver of a train, speeding out of Trumpton with a cargo of cocaine’. ‘This old engine makes it on time Leaves Central Station at a quarter to nine’.

‘Its hell on a plate it’s a funeral freight, oh Johnny It’s the end of a dream in steel and steam, oh Johnny’. ‘I got sheep, I got Cows I got horses I got pigs I got all livestock I got all livestock’. ‘Coal in the boiler burning up bright Rolling and a-rocking through the night’ ‘Freight train was it taught me how to cry The holler of the driver was my lullaby’

‘Hey, look a-yonder comin’ Comin’ down that railroad track’ ‘It’s the 06.05 Special’ ‘The boiler was filled with lager beer The devil himself was the engineer The passengers were most a motley crew’ ‘In the cutting, through the tunnel, Rushing clanking on the track‘. ‘This train don’t carry no Gamblers Liars, thieves, nor big shot ramblers This train is bound for Glory This train.’ ‘John Henry told his captain
“Lord a man ain’t noth’ but a man” ‘

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

Please like & share:
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