Week 296 – The Long Peggin’ Awl

I learned this song from Folk Song in England by A.L.Lloyd, which I borrowed from my local public library in about 1976. Lloyd includes it as an example of the

profusion of humorous songs whose erotic metaphors concern the miller’s grinding stones, the weaver’s shuttle (and its to-and-from as he works at the loom the young woman carries beneath her apron), the blocking-iron of the priapic jolly tinker (‘She brought me though the kitchen and she brought me through the hall, and the servants cried: The devil, are you going to block us all?’), or the cobbler’s awl, as in this song recorded in 1954 from Harry Cox, the Norfolk singer, by Peter Kennedy.

(For examples of songs about those other trades see The Maid and the Miller on this blog, O.J. Abbott’s song ‘The Weaver’, and ‘The Jolly Tinker’ – preferably the version recorded in Mohill, County Leitrim, from the irrepressible Thomas Moran)

I stopped singing the song after a while, because I thought I’d got the tune wrong. I’m not sure why I didn’t just learn it again properly – especially as, I now realise, I had access to a recording of Harry Cox himself singing it on the LP Songs of Seduction which I had borrowed from the library, and recorded onto cassette without hesitation at the time or, indeed, regret at any time since. That was the first record I heard of traditional singers and it made a big impression on me. But I have absolutely no recollection of this song being on the LP – I could have sworn I only heard Harry Cox’s version on the expanded CD reissue put out by Rounder in 2000. Well, not for the first time just recently, I find that my memory is playing tricks on me – a sign of things to come, no doubt, as I enter my seventh decade!

We recorded a nice arrangement of this – with Benji Kirkpatrick on vocals – on the Magpie Lane CD Six for Gold and it was after this that I did finally learn the song properly. I’m not sure why I overlooked it while this blog was in its weekly heyday, but I’m glad to rectify the omission now. It’s only five verses, and lasts less than 2 minutes, but it’s still a joy to sing.

In case you don’t know what a cobbler’s awl looks like, here’s one from the 1840s, recovered at Erebus Bay, King William Island, up in the frozen North of Canada – abandoned by a member of Franklin’s ill-fated expedition.

Cobbler's awl: a relic of Sir John Franklin's last expedition 1845-48, from the National Maritime Museum.

Cobbler’s awl: a relic of Sir John Franklin’s last expedition 1845-48, from the National Maritime Museum.

The Long Peggin’ Awl

 

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