This song was collected by Bob Copper in the 1950s, and it was included in his book Songs and Southern Breezes. Bob had the song from George Attrill, road-mender of Fittleworth in Sussex.
George was a completely natural and unaffected singer. He stood there in his shirt-sleeves and braces, shoulders squared and head tilted slightly back, and sang out loud and bold. His words were clear and a strong West Sussex accent made all his songs a joy to hear.
You can hear Bob’s recording of George Attrill singing ‘Epsom Races’ (under the title of ‘The Broken-Down Gentleman’) on You Never Heard So Sweet, one of the more recent additions to Topic’s Voice of the People series. The song seems to have been widely collected in Southern England, but also further North – Frank Kidson had a version from his faithful correspondent Charles Lolley from Leeds, while Percy Grainger recorded a version (‘When I Was Young in My Youthful Ways’) in Lincolnshire, from the great Joseph Taylor. Surprisingly, there don’t seem to be any broadside versions listed under this Roud number – but I’m sure it must have appeared on a printed ballad sheet though; it seems to have very much the same sort of period feel as ‘Limbo’.
The tune at the end is one of my own, and the only one, as far as I recall, which I’ve consciously written as a morris tune. I wrote it in 1983 or 84 during my brief sojourn in Newcastle on Tyne. The title ‘Pigs and Whistles’, however, had been hanging around in the recesses of my mind for some while, having come across the phrase in my Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, with the definition “wrack and ruin”. The OED has two meanings: “fragments, pieces; odds and ends, trivial things”, with “to go to pigs and whistles” defined as “to fall into ruin or disrepair” (Now rare). The examples of the phrase in use are all Scottish, but range from 1794 to 2001. It’s a morris tune which noone has ever danced to. So if any sides out there are in need of a new tune for a corner dance with slows, please help yourself.
Epsom Races / Pigs and Whistles
Andy Turner: vocals, C/G anglo-concertina