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Pulling-Down Song / Pull Down Lads

[ Roud - ; Mudcat 2060 ; John Tams]

Muckram Wakes (John Tams and Roger & Helen Watson) sang John Tams’s Pulling-Down Song in 1973 on their Trailer album A Map of Derbyshire. This track was also included in 1978 on the anthology Mrs Casey’s Choice. The original album’s sleeve notes commented:

A major event in the calendar of many small towns and villages in the East Midlands is the annual wakes. Suddenly, a small and ever-shrinking nation of travellers appear drawing their prized and gleaming Fodens on to a patch of ground that is to be both house and place of work for the next few days. Tightly packed trailers defy the dimensions of space by disgorging massive machines of magical amusement: the Noah’s Ark, the dodgems, the Waltzer grow again into a fairground.

For perhaps a week violent colours, lights and sounds jostle for supremacy in a surrealist world of instant fun—then silence—the generators stop—it’s all over and pulling down begins—the brief life-cycle is over, to begin again down the road somewhere.

Just as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone and life returns to reality for another year.

Pulling-Down Song is respectfully dedicated to the Cox family, of Kirkby—a famous name among travelling showmen throughout the country.

Showmen have created their own culture and language. Some of their words appear in the song—bevvy (beer); tilt (tarpaulin roof); chat (magical multi-purpose word for anything such as thingy or whats’it); sets (generators); scran (food).

The fairground music at the opening is based “very roughly” on a tune by George Fradley, which begins, “Dumper, dumper, dumper, diddley, dumper, dumper, day”.

June Tabor sang this song as Pull Down Lads in 1976 on her first solo album, Airs and Graces. This recording was later included in her anthology Aspects. She also sang it in a BBC Radio 1 John Peel Session that was recorded on 26 August 1976 and broadcast on 13 September 1976. She commented in her original album’s sleeve notes:

Written by John Tams, about the departure of the funfair from any town, every town.

tilt = tarpaulin roof; sets = generators; scran = food; chat = general purpose word along the lines of “whatsit”.

The Ripley Wayfarers sang the Pulling Down Song on their 1985 album Down the Road.

Coope Boyes Simpson sang the Pulling-Down Song in 1999 on their No Masters album Where You Belong.

John Tams returned to the Pulling-Down Song in the 2006 BBC Radio Ballad Swings and Roundabouts. This track was also included in 2008 on The Ram Company’s CD Waltzers & Wonders: The Wakes Is in Town, which was produced by John Tams.

The Fagans sang the Pulling Down Song on their 2009 CD Milk and Honey Land.

This 2013 video shows John Tams singing Pull Down Lads, accompanied by Barry Coope:


June Tabor sings Pull Down Lads

Pull down, lads, pass the bevvy round, lads,
Ta-ra to Sylvie, ta-ra to Jean, we’ll soon be on the road.
Don’t think on what you’re leaving, don’t think on what you’ve found,
Just tear off the tilt, pull out the chat, we’ll find another ground.

Pull down, lads, it wasn’t a bad ground, lads,
We’ve made some brass, you’ve had a lass, it’s perhaps as well we’re going.
I know how it can hurt, lads, to leave her standing here;
For there’s often fears and there’s always tears, but you’ll be back next year.

Pull down, lads, the sets are cooling down, lads.
The ark’s all packed and the dodgems stacked, a bite of scran, then go.
We’ll leave it as we found it, they’ll soon forget we’ve been,
For we trade in fun, and we go and come, we’re often scorned but seldom mourned.
Oh, I hope you know what I mean.