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The Thirty-Foot Trailer

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The Thirty-Foot Trailer is a song from Ewan MacColl’s 1964 radio ballad The Travelling People.

The Watersons (Lal, Mike and Norma Waterson and John Harrison) sang The Thirty-Foot Trailer at their club Folk Union One in Hull. This recording by Bill Leader was published in 1966 on their album The Watersons. Like all but one tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also included in 1997 on the 3 CD compilation New Electric Muse II and in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Another live recording of The Thirty-Foot Trailer from Folk Union One was included in 1965 on the Watersons’ BBC TV documentary, Travelling for a Living; this can be seen on YouTube:

A.L. Lloyd commented in the The Watersons sleeve notes:

A jaunty song written by Ewan MacColl for his radio ballad about gypsies and didikais, The Travelling People. The song is a lament, though not a heavy hearted one, for the old days and the picturesque old ways, the canting tongue, the horse-dealing, the clothes-peg whittling, the hawking of artificial flowers.

Inexorably the forces of economic and social change force the black-eyed, quick-fingered van-dwellers from the roads of Britain, once their birthright and heritage and it is only rarely, now, that one sees a battered waggon by the side of a busy road and a white horse nibbling the grass and leisurely swishing its tail as if it had all the time in the world. The Watersons swing out a tribute to their passing.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Thirty-Foot Trailer in 1966 on their Transatlantic album Contemporary Campbells. They noted:

The influence of the British tradition is much more obvious in this other MacColl creation. It was written for The Travelling People, one of the great series of radio ballad documentary programmes recorded for the BBC by MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker.

Dick Gaughan sang Thirty-Foot Trailer in 1978 on Dave Burland, Tony Capstick and his tribute album, Songs of Ewan MacColl.

Isla St. Clair sang The Thirty-Foot Trailer in 1981 in the BBC television series The Song and the Story.

Sherburn, Bartley & Scott’s Last Night’s Fun sang Thirty-Foot Trailer in 2004 on their CD Tempered.

Nancy Kerr sang Thirty-Foot Trailer on her and James Fagan’s 2006 Fellside CD, Strands of Gold.

Eliza Carthy sang Thirty-Foot Trailer in 2015 on Cooking Vinyl’s Ewan MacColl centenary tribute album Joy of Living.


The Watersons sing The Thirty-Foot Trailer

The old ways are changing, you cannot deny,
The day of the traveller is over;
There’s nowhere to go and there’s nowhere to bide,
So farewell to the life of the rover.

Chorus (after each verse):
Farewell to the tent and the old caravan,
To the Tinker, the Gypsy, the Travelling Man
And farewell to the thirty-foot trailer.

Farewell to the cant and the travelling tongue,
Farewell to the Romany talking,
The buying and selling, the old fortune telling,
The knock on the door and the hawking.

You’ve got to move fast to keep up with the times
For these days a man cannot dander;
It’s a bylaw to say you must be on your way
And another to say you can’t wander.

Farewell to the besoms of heather and broom,
Farewell to the creel and the basket,
For the folks of today they would far sooner pay
For a thing that’s been made out of plastic.

Farewell to the pony, the cob, and the mare
Where the reins and the harness are idle;
You don’t need a strap when you’re breaking up scrap
So farewell to the bit and the bridle.

Farewell to the fields where we’ve sweated and toiled
At pulling and shoving and lifting,
They’ll soon have machines and the Travelling Queens
And their menfolk had better be shifting.