> Louis Killen > Songs > The Banks of the Dee

The Banks of the Dee

[ Roud 3484 ; Ballad Index RcBaDee3 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd wrote in his book Come All Ye Bold Miners of British coal-mining songs about The Banks of the Dee:

To appreciate this song it is necessary to understand the system of wage-basing in Durham county. If men earned more than ten percent over the county average, the owners could, and did, apply for a reduction in score or tonnage rates, and thereby ensured that prices were never high.

Louis Killen sang The Banks of the Dee in 1961 on his album with Isla Cameron, The Waters of Tyne, in 1963 on the Topic album of industrial folk music, The Iron Muse, in 1980 on the Collector album of songs of the British industrial revolution, Gallant Lads Are We, and in 1987 with the title My Hair Has Turned Gray (The Banks of the Dee) on the Collector album Old Folks Ain’t all the Same. He noted:

This song reflects the agony of those who, in Joe Glazer’s song, are “too old to work and too young to die”. It describes the distress of the “collier’s second childhood” when the old miners were put back on the heaps, picking slate with the young lads.

Jack Elliott sang The Banks of the Dee in the mid-1960s in the club room of The Barley Mow, Birtley, Co. Durham. This recording was included on the 1998 Topic anthology There Is a Man Upon the Farm (The Voice of the People Volume 20). Another recording by Jack Elliott from an EFDSS concert at the the Royal Festival Hall, London on 4 June 1965 was released on Folksound of Britain. The version of Banks of the Dee on Jack Elliott’s posthumous album Jack Elliott of Birtley is probably the first one mentioned above.

Johnny Handle sang The Banks of the Dee in 1975 on the High Level Ranter’s Topic album The Bonny Pit Laddie.

Ian Giles sang Banks of the Dee in 1997 on his WildGoose CD The Amber Triangle. He noted:

The embittered narrator find himself prematurely on the scrapheap after years of conscientious and back-breaking work. Who says traditional music is irrelevant in this day and age?


Louis Killen sings The Banks of the Dee

Last Saturday night by the banks of the Dee
I met an old man in distress I could see.
I sat down beside him and to me he did say,
I can’t get employment for my hair, it’s turned grey.

I am an old miner, aged fifty and six.
If I could get lots, why I’d raffle my picks;
I’d raffle them, I’d sell them, I’d hoy them away,
For I can’t get employment, my hair it’s turned grey.

When I was a young lad I was just like the rest
Each day in the pits I’d do my very best.
If I got a good cavil I’d be hewing all day,
Now at fifty and six my hair has turned grey.

Last Wednesday night to the reckoning I went,
To the colliery offices I went straight forenenst;
I’d got my pay packet, I was walking away
When they gave me my notice, ’cause my hair it’s turned grey.

Now all you young fellows, it’s you that’s to blame
If you got good places you’d do just the same.
If you gotta good price, man, you’d hew it away,
But you’re bound to regret it when your hair it turns grey.

For I am an old miner, aged fifty and six.
If I could get lots, why, I’d raffle my picks;
I’d raffle them, I’d sell them, I’d hoy them away.
For I can’t get employment ’cause my hair it’s turned grey.