1 John Simpson Kirkpatrick
As a boy, John (James) Simpson Kirkpatrick had a way with animals, and spent several summers working as a donkey lad on South Shields beach. At the age of 17, he joined the merchant navy and, after three years of adventure and misadventure, found himself at Galipolli as a stretcher bearer in the Australian army at the start of the great war. Most of the stretchers and men to carry them, were lost on landing. However, John gathered together some stray donkeys that the Turks had abandoned, and for three weeks, they ran the gauntlet up and down Death Valley to bring wounded soldiers back to safety. In only three weeks, John and his donkeys saved the lives of 300 men until he was killed by a snipers bullet. If you’ve never heard of Kirkpatrick, it’s worth looking him up on the internet under The Man with the Donkey. Though a national hero in Australia, few know of him here in his native Britain. He was a very brave man indeed. My own grandfather was at Galipolli - reputedly the last officer to leave, and although he would not have met JSK, I am sure he would have heard of him. I wish I could have asked him.
2 D.J.’s Jamboree
Please imagine a day in the life of a toddler. He wakes to the ticking of the old clock, plods downstairs and then, like a whirling dervish, he spends his day madly involved in the business of having fun. At last comes evening, and the peace of the sleeping child - until the next morning
3 The Bristol Giant
In his day job, David is a photographer for Bristol City Museum. One day he was asked to photograph an extremely large shoe which had once adorned the foot of the famous 18th century Irish giant Patrick Cotter. Sold by his parents to a Bristol fairground showman, Cotter went on to become Bristol’s favourite curiosity and a national celebrity. David emailed me from work to tell me to write a song about him - so I did.
4 Turpin the Blade
One of many versions of the story of Dick Turpin and the Lawyer, which may even be slightly true! Most versions place the incident on Hounslow Heath and not Salisbury Plain - we just liked the tune! Accounts of his eventual demise differ somewhat, but our favourite is the one that says Turpin was hanged in 1739, not for highway robbery, but for getting drunk and shooting his landlord’s gamecock. Bet he was kicking himself!
5 The Mole Catcher
This quirky, and probably bowdlerised version, is from Baring Gould’s Songs of the West.
6 Round House Hill/Indian Summer
The first tune is named after the hill behind our house in Cheddar, where there is a pile of old stones that was once a circular shelter for the keeper of the rabbit warren. The second tune came to me one glorious day in September a few years ago.
7 The shores of Loch Goil
A sad tale of lost love set on the banks of a scottish loch. An apparently happy couple are driven apart by the man’s inability to say those all important three words...?!
8 The Ballad of Ann Green
Hanged in Oxford in the late sixteen hundreds for murdering her new born baby, Ann endured a long and gruesome ordeal at the end of the hangman’s rope before at last being pronounced dead. In accordance with common practice at the time, her body was sent for dissection, where the surgeons discovered Ann to be still breathing. Believing this miracle was a sign from God of her innocence, they demanded a retrial at which the midwife who had attended the birth testified that the baby had been born prematurely. Ann was acquitted and went on to marry and bear several more children. Four hundred years later it seems that similarly miserable miscarriages of justice are still happening.
9 The Skies Turned Grey
John Kirkpatrick sings this song that I wrote at the time of the foot and mouth crisis, but he made some changes to my original words. After an entirely friendly conversation about this, he changed some of them back again! But I have gratefully retained his version of the last verse.
10 Armchair Jig/Rattle the Cash/The Rockies
The first written whilst flaked out in an armchair during the broiling summer of 2003, the second is a Morris tune, and the third is the original name of our house which is built on a slab of limestone on the edge of the Mendips. The owners before us changed the name for some reason, but we’re thinking of changing it back.
Written when our three daughters were about eight, six and four. We found that putting three young children to bed in no way resembled the apparently effortless and cosy routine of the old Hollywood movies upon which I had based my own expectations. Were we just hopeless at it? Probably, but judging by the response we get from other parents to this song, we weren't the only ones!
12 The First of May
I really did write this on 30th April. Although it is essentially a joyful celebration of the coming of summer, it was also inspired by a book I had been reading about the hardships of life as a farm labourer in Suffolk in the early nineteen hundreds.