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Freeborn Man

by Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger

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Come, all you gallant fishermen that plough the stormy sea The whole year round on the fishing grounds, On the Northern Minch and the Norway Deeps, On the banks and knolls and the North Sea Holes Where the herring shoals are found. It’s there you’ll find the Norfolk boys and the lads from Peterhead, There’s Buckie chiels and men from Shields, On the Northern Minch and the Norway Deeps, On the banks and knolls and the North Sea Holes Where the herring shoals are found. From Fraserborough and Aberdeen, from Whitby, Yarmouth Town, The fleet’s away at the break of day To the Northern Minch and the Norway Deeps, To the banks and knolls and the North Sea Holes Where the herring shoals are found. It’s off with a boiler full of steam and your engine spic and span To fish the grounds the North Sea round, And fish the Knolls and the North Sea Holes And try your luck at the North Shields Gut With a catch of a hundred cran. No need to wait for wind and tide, you’re the master of the sea, Come calm or squall, just shoot and haul And fill the hold with the fish to be sold And steam ahead for the curing shed And the buyers on the Yarmouth quay. Come all you gallant fishermen that sail the stormy sea, The whole year round on the fishing grounds On the Northern Minch and the Norway Deeps, On the Banks and Knolls and the North Sea Holes Where the herring shoals are found.
With our nets and gear we’re faring On the wild and wasteful ocean; It’s there on the deep that we harvest and reap our bread As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring. O, it was a fine and pleasant day, Out of Yarmouth harbour I was faring As a cabin boy on a sailing lugger For to go and hunt the shoals of herring. O, the work was hard and the hours were long And the treatment sure it took some bearing; There was little kindness and the kicks were many As we hunted for the shoals of herring. O, we fished the Sward and the Broken Bank, I was cook and I’d a quarter-sharing; And I used to sleep standing on my feet And I’d dream about the shoals of herring. Well, we left the home grounds in the month of June And to canny Shields we soon was bearing With a hundred cran of the silver darlings That we’d taken from the shoals of herring. Now you’re up on deck, you’re a fisherman, You can swear and show a manly bearing; Take your turn on deck with the other fellows While you’re following the shoals of herring. In the stormy seas and the living gales Just to earn your daily bread you’re daring, From the Dover Straits to the Faröe Islands While you’re following the shoals of herring. O, I earned me keep and I paid me way, And I earned the gear that I was wearing; Sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes - We was following the shoals of herring.
When I was a young lad, sometimes I’d wonder What happened to time when it passed - Then one day I found out that time just lands in prison And there it is held fast. When I was a young man, used to go courting And dream of the moon and the stars - The moon is still shining, the dreams they are all broken On these hard iron bars. Look out of the window, over the roofs there, And over the wall see the sky - Just one flying leap and you could make your getaway ... If only you could fly. The prison is sleeping, the night watch is keeping Its watch over seven-hundred men - And behind every cell door a sleeping lag is dreaming: O, to be free again! Go write me a letter addressed to my number, But say you remember my name - So I’ll be reminded of how the world outside goes And feel a man again. Got time on my hands, I’ve got time on my shoulders; Plenty of time on my mind - There’s no summer nor winter when once you land inside here, Just that old prison grind.
Come, me little son, and I will tell you what we’ll do: Undress yourself and get into bed and a tale I’ll tell to you; It’s all about your daddy, he’s a man you seldom see, He’s had to roam, far away from home, away from you and me. But remember lad, he’s still your dad though he’s working far away In the cold and heat, eighty hours a week, on England’s motorway. When you fall and hurt yourself and get up feeling bad, It isn’t any use to go a-running for your dad, For the only time since you was born he’s had to stay with you, He was out of a job and we hadn’t a bob, he was signing on the broo. But remember, lad, he’s still your dad and he really earns his pay, Working day and night upon the site of England’s motorway. To buy your shoes your daddy built a length of railway track; He built a hydro dam to buy the clothes upon your back. This motor highway buys the food but the wages soon are spent, And though we have to live apart, it helps to pay the rent. So remember, lad, he’s still your dad and he’s toiling every day; But there’s food to be had and it’s thanks to your dad on England’s motorway. Sure, we need your daddy here, sure it would be fine To have him working nearer home and to see him all the time; But beggars can’t be choosers and we have to bear our load, For we need the money your daddy earns a-working on the road. So remember, lad, he’s still your dad and he’ll soon be here to stay For a week or two with me and you when he’s built the motorway.
Born in the middle of the afternoon In a horse-drawn wagon on the old A-5; The big twelve-wheelers shook me bed, ‘You can’t stop here,’ the policeman said, Chorus: ‘You’d better get born in someplace else, So move along, get along! Move along, get along! Go! Move! Shift!’ Born in the tattie-lifting time In an auld bow-tent near a tattie field; The farmer said, ‘The wark’s all done, It’s time that you was moving on, (chorus) Born on a common near a building site, Where the ground is rutted by the trailers’ wheels; The local people said to me, ‘You’ll lower the price of property, (chorus) Born at the back of a blackthorn hedge, When the white hoar-frost lay all around; No eastern kings came bearing gifts, Instead the order came to shift. (chorus ) The winter sky was hung with stars And one shone brighter than the rest; The wise men came, so stern and strict And brought the order to evict. (chorus ) Wagon, tent or trailer born, Last month, last year or in far-off days; Born here or a thousand miles away, There’s always men nearby who say: (chorus )
I met my girl at Woolwich Pier, Beneath a big crane standing, And 0, the love I felt for her It passed all understanding. Took her sailing on the river, Flow, sweet river, flow, London town was mine to give her, Sweet Thames, flow softly. Made the Thames into a crown, Flow, sweet river, flow, Made a brooch of Silvertown, Sweet Thames, flow softly. At London Yard, I held her hand, At Blackwall Point I faced her; At the Isle of Dogs I kissed her mouth And tenderly embraced her. Heard the bells of Greenwich ringing, Flow, sweet river, flow. All the time my heart was singing, Sweet Thames, flow softly. Limehouse Reach I gave her there, Flow, sweet river, flow, As a ribbon for her hair, Sweet Thames, flow softly. From Shadwell dock to Nine Elms Reach We cheek-to-cheek were dancing; Her necklace made of London Bridge Her beauty was enhancing. Kissed her once again at Wapping, Flow, sweet river, flow, After that there was no stopping, Sweet Thames, flow softly. Richmond Park, it was her ring, Flow, sweet river, flow, I’d have given her anything, Sweet Thames, flow softly. From Rotherhithe to Putney Bridge, My love I was declaring; And she, from Kew to Isleworth, Her love for me was swearing. Love had set my heart a-burning, Flow, sweet river, flow, Never saw the tide was turning, Sweet Thames, flow softly. Gave her Hampton Court to twist, Flow, sweet river, flow, Into a bracelet for her wrist, Sweet Thames, flow softly. But now, alas, the tide has changed, My love she has gone from me; And winter’s frost has touched my heart And put a blight upon me. Creeping fog is on the river, Flow, sweet river, flow, Sun and moon and stars gone with her, Sweet Thames, flow softly. Swift the Thames runs to the sea, Flow, sweet river, flow, Bearing ships and part of me, Sweet Thames, flow softly.
I’ve been over Snowden, I’ve slept upon Crowden, I’ve camped by the Wain Stones as well; I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder, And many more things I can tell. My rucksack has oft been my pillow, The heather has oft been my bed; And sooner than part from the mountains I think I would rather be dead. Chorus: I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way, I get all my pleasure the hard moorland way; I may be a wage-slave on Monday But I have my freedom on Sunday. The day was just ending as I was descending Down Grindsbrook just by Upper Tor, When a voice cried, ‘Hey, you!’, in the way keepers do (He’d the worst face that ever I saw). The things that he said were unpleasant; In the teeth of his fury I said, ‘Sooner than part from the mountains, I think I would rather be dead.’ (chorus) He called me a louse and said, ‘Think of the grouse.’ Well, I thought but I still couldn’t see Why old Kinder Scout and the moors round about Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me. He said, ‘All this land is my master’s.’ At that I stood shaking my head; No man has the right to own mountains Any more than the deep ocean bed. (chorus) I once loved a maid, a spot-welder by trade, She was fair as the rowan in bloom, And the blue of her eye mocked the June moorland sky, And I wooed her from April to June. On the day that we should have been married I went for a ramble instead, For sooner than part from the mountains, I think I would rather be dead. (chorus) So I’ll walk where I will over mountain and hill And I’ll lie where the bracken is deep; I belong to the mountains, the clear running fountains Where the grey rocks rise rugged and steep. I’ve seen the white hare in the gulleys, And the curlew fly high overhead, And sooner than part from the mountains I think I would rather be dead. (chorus)
Freeborn Man 03:57
I’m a freeborn man of the travelling people, Got no fixed abode, with nomads I am numbered. Country lanes and by-ways were always my ways, I never fancied being lumbered. O, we knew the woods and the resting places, And the small birds sang when winter-time was over; Then we’d pack our load and be on the road, They were good old times for a rover. There was open ground where a man could linger, Stay a week or two, for time was not your master. Then away you’d jog with your horse and dog, Nice and easy, no need to go faster. Now and then you’d meet up with other Travellers, Hear the news or else swap family information; At the country fairs, you’d be meeting there All the people of the travelling nation. O, I’ve known life hard and I’ve known it easy, And I’ve cursed the times when winter days were dawning; But I’ve danced and sang through the whole night long, Seen the summer sun rise in the morning. All you freeborn men of the travelling people, Every tinker, rolling stone and gypsy rover: Winds of change are blowing, old ways are going, Your travelling days will soon be over.
Come all you gallant drivers, wherever you may be, Whether you drive a Euclid or a 54-RB; Keep your hand upon the levers, cut and fill a steady load, And take it nice and steady, boys, a-digging up the road. We’ve built a hundred airfields, in the snow and wind and rain, Built atomic power stations, more dams than I can name; We’ve ploughed through rock and swampland, moved mountains by the load, Now we’re going nice and steady, boys, a-digging up the road. When your digging days are over and you’ve loaded your last ton, When your cat is broken up for scrap and your RB-10 won’t run; When you’ve had your last stamp on your cards and reached your last abode, For a long time after there’ll be people travelling on your road.
In the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia Down in the dark of the Cumberland Mine There’s blood on the coal and the miners lie In the roads that never saw sun nor sky Roads that never saw sun nor sky In the town of Springhill, you don’t sleep easy. Often the earth will tremble and roll. When the earth is restless, miners die; Bone and blood is the price of coal. In the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia, Late in the year of fifty-eight, Day still comes and the sun still shines, But it’s dark as the grave in the Cumberland Mine. Down at the coal face, miners working, Rattle of the belt and the cutter’s blade, Rumble of the rock and the walls closed round The living and the dead men two miles down. Twelve men lay two miles from the pitshaft, Twelve men lay in the dark and sang Long hot days in the miners’ tomb It was three feet high and a hundred long. Three days passed and the lamps gave out And Caleb Rushton he up and said, “There’s no more water nor light nor bread So we’ll live on songs and hope instead.” Listen for the shouts of the barefaced miners, Listen thru the rubble for a rescue team, Six hundred feet of coal and slag; Hope imprisoned in a three-foot seam. Eight days passed and some were rescued, Leaving the dead to lie alone. Thru all their lives they dug their grave Two miles of earth for a marking stone. In the town of Springhill, you don’t sleep easy Often the earth will tremble and roll. When the earth is restless, miners die Bone and blood is the price of coal.
The old ways are changing, you cannot deny, The day of the traveller is over; There's nowhere to go and there's nowhere to bide, So farewell to the life of the rover. Chorus: Farewell to the tent and the old caravan, To the tinker, the Gypsy, the travelling man And farewell to the thirty-foot trailer. Farewell to the cant and the travelling tongue, Farewell to the Romany talking, The buying and selling, the old fortune telling, The knock on the door and the hawking. (Chorus) You've got to move fast to keep up with the times For these days a man cannot dander; It's a bylaw to say you must be on your way And another to say you can't wander. (Chorus) Farewell to the besoms of heather and broom, Farewell to the creel and the basket, For the folks of today they would far sooner pay For a thing that's been made out of plastic. (Chorus) Farewell to the pony, the cob, and the mare Where the reins and the harness are idle; You don't need a strap when you're breaking up scrap So farewell to the bit and the bridle. (Chorus) Farewell to the fields where we've sweated and toiled At pulling and shoving and lifting, They'll soon have machines and the travelling queens And their menfolk had better be shifting. (Chorus)
Down the Lane on a Saturday morning, When the place is on the go; Stalls are open and the grafters working, Alf and Eddie and May and Flo. Chorus: O, you noisy city, O, you sprawling city, O, you’re my old city. Women pass with their hair in curlers, Lads stroll by with hair unshorn; And the girls in five-inch heels go tripping, Known ’em all since they was born. (chorus) As you walk on a Saturday morning, Past the fruit and winkle stands; Get the tangy sea-smell for a moment, And the breath of distant lands. (chorus) Down the Lane on a Saturday morning, Underneath the London sky; With the city borne upon their shoulders, Folks I know go walking by. (chorus)
The first time ever I saw your face I thought the sun rose in your eyes - And the moon and stars were the gift you gave To the dark and empty skies, my love, To the dark and empty skies. The first time ever I kissed your mouth, I felt the earth move in my hand - Like the trembling heart of a captive bird That was there at my command, my love, That was there at my command. The first time ever I lay with you And felt your heart beat over mine - I thought our joy would fill the earth And last till the end of time, my love, And last till the end of time.
Out of the dirt and darkness I was born, go down! Out of the hard, black coal-face I was torn, go down! Kicked on the world and the earth split open, Crawled through a crack where the rock was broken, Burrowed a hole away in the coal, go down! In a cradle of coal in the darkness I was laid, go down! Down in the dirt and -arkness I was raised, go down! Cut my teeth on a five foot timber, Held up the roof with me little finger, Started me time away in the mine, go down! On the day that I was born, I was six foot tall, go down! And the very next day I learned the way to haul, go down! On the third day worked at board-and-pillar, Worked on the fourth as a long-wall filler, Getting me steam up, hewing the seam, go down! I’m the son of the son of the son of a collier’s son, go down! Coal dust flows in the veins where the blood should run, go down! Five steel ribs and an iron backbone, Teeth that can bite through rock and blackstone, Working me time away in the mine, go down! Three-hundred years I hewed at the coal by hand, go down! In the pits of Durham and east Northumberland, go down! Been gassed and burned and blown asunder, Buried more times than I can number, Getting the coal away in the hole, go down! I’ve scrabbled and picked at the face where the roof was low, go down! Crawled in the seams where only a mole could go, go down! In the thin-cut seams I’ve ripped and redded Where even the rats are born bowlegged, Winning the coal, away in the hole, go down! I’ve worked in the Hutton, the Plessy, the Brockwell Seam, go down! The Bensham, the Busty, the Beaumont, the Marshall Green, go down! Lain on me back in the old Three-Quarter Up to the chin in stinking water, Hewing the coal, away in the hole, go down! Out of the dirt and darkness I was born, go down! Out of the hard, black coal face I was torn, go down! Lived in the shade of the high pit heap, I’m still down there where the seams are deep A-digging a hole away in the coal, go down!
The battle is done with, the fighters departed, Leaving the litter and the spoils of the crowd; The empty beer bottles, the torn silver paper, The spent cigarette smoke that hangs like a shroud. The champions have gone and the black squad takes over, The ring is dismantled, the ropes lose the strain; The cleaners are sponging the blood off the canvas, The blood of the heroes is swilled down the drain. The bars are deserted, the dressing rooms empty, Stale with the smell of a thousand defeats; The pain and the glory are already fading - What’s left is the thrill when you count the receipts.
I found my love by the gasworks croft, Dreamed a dream by the old canal; Kissed my girl by the factory wall. Dirty old town, dirty old town. Heard a siren from the docks, Saw a train set the night on fire; Smelled the spring on the smoky wind, Dirty old town, dirty old town. Clouds a-drifting across the moon, Cats a-prowling on their beat; Spring’s a girl in the street at night, Dirty old town, dirty old town. I’m going to make a good sharp axe, Shining steel tempered in the fire; We’ll chop you down like an old dead tree, Dirty old town, dirty old town.


Acknowledged by the family and Ewan himself as the very best versions of his best known songs.


released September 20, 1983

Produced by Neill MacColl
Engineered by Nick Godwin
Recorded at Pathway Studios, London


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Ewan MacColl London, UK

This site is maintained by the MacColl family, aiming to make Ewan's catalogue available to download.
Ewan MacColl is known to most as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. ... more

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