…what happens when you spend too much time looking at videos of old music-hall stars (no, I’m not that old).
I was thinking about the number of songs written about courting, jilting, marriage and families. The common approach is to see these songs as part of ‘working-class culture’. That might miss something out. These songs are about humans and about reality – the perils and pitfalls of ordinary life in a world where you have very little power. The songs also tell you the rules of survival which you already know.There were songs about ‘toffs’ as figures of fun. Well might they be so, but the aristocratic man (or his imitator) was a ‘master’, employer and potential predator. The ‘young man’ of the house who got the housemaid pregnant was a real threat.
“My Old Man” and “When Father Papered the Parlour” were about the comic trials of daily life. “If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses inbetween” about slum life and the rapid building of London’s outer districts. The joy of “It’s a Bit of a Ruin That Cromwell Knocked About a Bit” is simply that – a joy.
“Those who’ve studied history sing and shout of it
And you can bet your life that isn’t a doubt of it
Outside the Oliver Cromwell last Saturday night
I was one of the ruins Cromwell knocked about a bit.”
And the evil genius of subversive comedy lives on. From Wikipedia:
“Your Baby Has Gone Down The Plughole” (also known as “A Mother’s Lament” and “The Angels’ Reply”) (Writer unknown, but Ian Whitcomb has stated on the Dr. Demento radio show that the song was written by Karl Marx.)
Here’s the first verse and chorus:
“A mother was bathing her baby one night
The youngest of ten, and a tiny young mite
The mother was poor and the baby was thin
Only a skellington covered with skin
The mother turned round for the soap off the rack
She was but a moment, but when she looked back
Her baby was gawn and in anguish she cried
“Oh where is my baby?” The Angels replied,
“Your baby has gone down the plug-hole
Your baby has gone down the plug
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
It should have been washed in a jug
Your baby is ever so happy
He won’t need a bath any more
Your baby has gone down the plug-hole
Not lost but gone before.”
Recorded here by Cream. No, I don’t know either.