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Rap Her to Bank

[ Roud 1786 ; Ballad Index JRVi074 ; DT RAPBANK ; Mudcat 25910 ; trad.]

Karl Dallas: One Hundred Songs of Toil

A.L. Lloyd explained in his book Folk Song in England:

“Rap ’er te bank!” is the cry of men at the bottom of the [mine] shaft, waiting to come up in the cage. The onsetter would rap, and the winding man, hearing the signal would draw the cage to the surface (the ‘bank’).

And according to Lloyd’s book Come All Ye Bold Miners, Walter Toyn, schoolmaster of Birtley, Co. Durham, collected Rap Her to Bank in 1962 from Henry Nattress of Low Fell Gateshead. The Birtley miner Jack Elliott sang it on the 1965 EP The Folksound of Britain, and this song was also included in 1969 on his eponymous Leader album, Jack Elliott of Birtley.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Rap Her to Bank on their 1965 album Coaldust Ballads. Campbell noted:

I was taught this song by Bob Davenport, one of the finest young singers in the country today, He learned it where it was collected, in Birtley, County Durham. ‘Rapping to bank’ means giving the signal to draw the cage up the shaft to the surface when the last man has been counted in, when you have ‘caaled the torn’ at the end of the shift.

Bob Davenport and the Rakes sang Rap Her to Bank in 1965 on their eponymous Columbia album Bob Davenport and the Rakes.

The Watersons learned Rap Her to Bank from Jack Elliott’s singing and performed it in 1965 in Hull at Folk Union One. Bill Leader recorded it during the sessions that led to their album The Watersons. It was not released at that time, though, but is available now on their 1994 CD Early Days and on their 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. The 1994 album’s notes commented:

The Watersons got this song from the singing of Jack Elliott of Birtley. The track itself is previously unreleased and comes from recordings made at one of the sessions for The Watersons. Originally, live recordings were made at the club, Folk Union One, for an album to be released under that title. That record didn’t make it to completion but some of the recordings, together with a further studio session, made up The Watersons. Whilst compiling this CD the producer discovered this track and Topic is delighted to be able to make it available at last.

The Tees-side Fettlers also learned Rap Her to Bank from Jack Elliott and recorded in 1974 for their Traditional Sound Recordings album Ring of Iron. This track was also included on the Fellside anthologies Voices in Harmony (2001) and Landmarks (2006). They noted:

We got this song from the late great Jack Elliott, of Birtley, who has been a seminal influence in N.E. folk circles. He always sang it linked with another short one—Jowl and Listen—but we thought we’d give it a touch of harmony and let it stand on its own.

Graham Shaw sang Rap ’Er ta Bank in 1978 on his Traditional Sound Recordings album I Am the Minstrel. He noted:

It seems like an age since this song was translated for me by an old college mate from the north-east whose father worked down the pit. There are, of course, many more tragic ‘mining disaster songs’, but, for me, this one captures the individual misery caused by everyday happenings down the mune. Like so many songs in this category, it was popularised by the legendary Jack Elliott.

Danny Spooner sang Rap ’er te Bank, interspersed by Richard Leach reciting the poem Jowl, Jowl and Listen, on his 1978 album Danny Spooner and Friends. He noted:

The life of a miner has always been fraught with danger as well as being one of the hardest jobs known to man. After many years in the pit, miners get an uncanny sense of hearing, ant it is as well that they do for their lives could depend on it. “Rap ’er te Bank” is the call of the men from underground when they want the cage brought to the surface; one of them will hit the cage with a bit of iron and the winding man will bring them up.

Louis Killen sang Rap Her to Bank on his 1993 CD A Bonny Bunch. He noted:

From the northern coalfields, Rap Her to Bank (Jack Elliott) expresses the joy and sorrow of the workplace. The title comes from the pre-electric rapping on the mine shaft’s steel girders to ready the cage operators at the surface (‘bank’).

The Wilson Family sang Rap Her T’Bank on their 1997 live CD Stocking Tops, recorded at the Sun Inn Folk Club in Stockton, and various festival performances during the 1996 season. They noted:

In the tradition of north east mining songs, no one rates more highly than the great Jack Elliott from Birtley, Co. Durham and the last two verses of this song were collected from Jack. Our Tom always felt that it deserved more than just the two verses so he added the first three about 15 years ago. Jack’s son Peter reckons they’re ok—praise indeed!

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset sang Rap Her to Bank in 2005 on their first CD, Cruel Sister. She noted

Becky [Unthank] learnt this song for her own pleasure to sing in the house, having heard the likes of the Wilson Family singing it over the years. However, Adrian [McNally] and I caught her singing it and twisted her arm to record it as we think Becky’s delicate touch gives the song a breath of fresh air.


The Watersons sing Rap Her to Bank

Rap ’er to bank, my canny lad!
Wind ’er away, keep turnin!
The back-shift men are comin’ hame,
They’ll be back here in the mornin’.

My father used to call the turn
When the lang shift it was all over.
And comin’ by, ye’d hear him cry;
You know it’s after four? He cried:

Rap ’er to bank, my canny lad!
Wind ’er away, keep turnin!
The back-shift men are comin’ hame,
They’ll be back here in the mornin’.

And when that awful day arrived,
On the last shift for me father,
A fall of stones and broken bones,
But still above the clatter, he cried:

Rap ’er to bank, my canny lad!
Wind ’er right slow, that’s clever!
This old lad he’s taken bad,
He’ll be back here never.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Gerry Durham for the information about the Ian Campbell Folk Group and to Bob Hudson for the A.L. Lloyd quote.