The Tale of The Transports
The Transports Live
Norfolk Chronicle

1977 The Original
- Cast List
- Track List

2004 Peters Friends
- Cast List
- Track List

Track Notes

The first fleet
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The Transports Track Notes

These notes follow the running order of the original album

Track 1

Arranged by Dolly Collins under the direction of Roddy Skeaping, the orchestra performs an introductory medley of the themes to be heard throughout the opera. It represents an instrumental precis of what is to follow and is of course necessary as an “audience calmer” for any live production.

Its other important function is to introduce the distinctive sound of The Transports. There had been other recordings to use this baroque-medieval sound, but none as extensive or as high profile as this major work. The ensemble also performs the variations which provide the segues between the various songs and enhance the opera’s sense of integrity and continuity.

It should be noted that although many of the singers were noted musicians in their own right, none of them plays an instrument on the album. If one looks at folk albums of the era (for example, Silly Sisters, No Roses, Rosie), one finds Martin Carthy and Nic Jones as session musicians.

Track 2, 5, 7, 11 & 19
The Ballad of Henry and Susannah
1977 Peter Bellamy and Dave Swarbrick:
2004 Simon Nicol & Chris Leslie

Acting as something between a Greek chorus and a Shakespearean narrator, Peter performed The Ballad in short sections throughout the original album. Unlike the rest of the album, The Ballad consciously employs traditional tunes of a vehicle for the new lyrics. In doing so, Peter wished to reflect the way in which tunes already familiar were adopted for Broadside ballads on new and contemporary subjects (a tradition which extended into the twentieth century in the work of writers like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.) It was also, of course, the device which first started Peter’s life-long task of setting Kipling’s poems to music: his initial idea was to do detective work and discover which folksong provided the melodic basis for the poems.

Given that Peter has said that the concept of a ballad opera quickly developed from the idea of writing a song based on the historical events, one wonders whether the bones of that initial notion lie within the scattered fragments of the Ballad as it finally appeared.
It has been remarked that Peter actually gave himself both the largest and the worst part in the opera. Unlike other characters, he is deliberately anonymous, performing songs which are readily overshadowed by the more fully realised set pieces.

The new version of the ballad, entire, provides a unique opportunity to discover how well it stands up in its own right. One cannot help but conjecture whether, had their intended duo ever truly come about, Peter and Swarb would have considered this classic collaboration as part of their stage repertoire.

The devise of a linking ballad was co-opted for the TV production of Babbacombe Lee, where it was performed by Martin Carthy.

Track 3
The Father’s Song: Us Poor Fellows
1977 Nic Jones : 2004 David Jones

Setting the whole opera in context, this song explains the “wild career” upon which Henry Cabell’s father was obliged to embark out of desperation.

In an apology more for poverty than the life of crime it causes, the song heaps crisis upon crisis in an overburdening catalogue. The poor cannot save money and when there is no work, there is no food and no clothing. Winter approaches. The situation is aggravated when a man is wed and has to provide for his family.

Songs of “The Honest Labourer” belong to a genre of which Peter was particularly fond, seeing them as a counterbalance to the left-wing, unionised view of music which he felt was a distortion of the tradition. Like so many songs of this genre, hope is never fully abandoned and there is always the promise of deliverance through Faith. (Compare the great Irish famine ballad The Praties They Grow Small on Free Reed’s Swarb! Box Set). The melody contains a reference to the most familiar of those songs, The Hard Times Of Old England. As Peter asked in one of his sleevenotes, ”Who could blame them for putting their wishful thinking into songs?”

Nic Jones was Peter’s choice to sing the ballad on the original album. The Transports was recorded in the same year as Nic’s third solo album and he had already established a reputation as one of the finest folk guitarists: extensive session
work included accompanying Peter on the Merlin’s Isle LP.
The following year, Nic became one of the four members of
folk supergroup Bandoggs, as did Tony Rose who revived the song as the title track of his 1982 album on Dingle’s records. The song was already associated with Tony thanks to his appearance as The Father in various live productions of the opera. More recently David Jones, whose tangential Bellamy connections are explained herein, included the song on his CD From England’s Shore (Minstrel JD213): the album contains several songs associated with Peter Bellamy, including Peter’s setting of Kipling’s We Have Fed Our Seas; it begins with one of the great ballads of Transportation, Jim Jones In Botany Bay.

Versions of this song have also been released by
Cockersdale – Wide Open Skies (Fellside FECD 123)
Splendid Isolation – Debut EP (private release 1998)–
a conscious tribute to Nic Jones
The Yetties – A Little Bit of Dorset (ASV ALA 3001)

Track 4
The Robber’s Song : Abe Carman
1977 A.L.Lloyd : 2004 Joel Griffiths

“I do…find the Hanged Man”
Written in the style of a Gallows Broadside, but certainly not performed that way, this is the self-celebratory confessional of one of Henry’s fellow inmates. In fact there are two sets of lyrics for this song: for later live productions, in some of which Peter himself played the part of dishonest Abe, he gave the song a less jaunty set of lyrics. Martin Carthy notes Peter’s initial reluctance to recast the song, fearing the impetus to do so stemmed from some latent PC pressure of which he was very distrustful. He later reconciled himself to the idea and noted “In the new version he’s transformed from a rogue with a twinkle in his eye to a really mean bastard with a chip on his shoulder.”

Though Abe is an incidental character in the story, he represents a crucial contrast between the vicious professional criminal and hapless amateurs like Henry and Susannah. His (increasingly) unrelenting attitude is an exact opposite to their regretful and at times penitential tone. His fate casts a shadow of warning reminding us what might have and almost did happen to them. He was based on an obscure historical character: ”We know he existed, but we don’t know anything about him except he was a burglar”– Peter Bellamy. He was publicly executed alongside Henry Cabell’s father.

Although the correct title is The Robber’s Song, Peter differentiated between the two versions by naming the latter Abe Carman.
Of all the songs on the set, this is the one which comes closest in spirit to its most famous ballad opera antecedent The Beggar’s Opera, and an air from Act II is briefly quoted in the melody.

The story of the technical problems behind Bert Lloyd’s recording are reiterated elsewhere in this volume. Part of Peter’s reason for selecting Bert to sing this song, aside from his total admiration of him as a performer, was the fact he was associated with a documentary and illustrative approach to folksong. Joel Griffiths adopted the song after Peter’s death, and recorded his version specifically for this set.

Versions of this song have also been released by
Peter Bellamy – Second Wind (EFDSS), reissued on Wake The Vaulted Echoes (FRTCD14)
Martin Carthy (from The Whitby Transports) on the forthcoming Watersons’ Box Set (Topic)

Track 6
The Mother’s Song: The Leaves In The Woodland
1977 June Tabor: 2004 Grace Notes

Having saved the life of her condemned son, but still forced to witness the death of her husband, Henry’s mother reflects on the depths to which she has sunk. The pastoral environment in which she grew up is contrasted with her current plight. The pathetic fallacy has full reign as nature reflects her mood, though Peter leaves room for the sense that all is a matter of viewpoint and interpretation.

As a model for the song, Peter used the 18th century advisory ballad in which we are instructed to learn a lesson from the sufferings and mistakes of others. We do not know the true fate of Henry’s mother, but those who know the details of Peter’s life and death will find sombre irony in the song’s closing verse.

The song contains deliberate echoes of All Things Are Quite Silent, a similar tale of seeking futile hope in the face of hopeless human deprivation. However, like that and other songs from the same genre, Peter’s song does not pull a happy ending out of the hat: here it is very much a realistic case of “life is crap and then you die.”

At the time of recording, June Tabor was just establishing a name for herself on the folk scene: Peter’s casting of a 29 year old in this role was a bold but shrewd move. Norma Waterson, playing her daughter, was eight years her senior! Grace Notes as individual friends and as a group were closely associated with Peter. This is their second recording of a Transports song: they included their version of Black and Bitter Night on their debut CD,

In the Whitby Transports (1992), Norma Waterson who originally sang the part of Susannah took over this role, while her daughter Eliza Carthy played Susannah’s part.

Track 8
I once lived in service
1977 Norma Waterson: 2004 The Witches of Elswick

Enter the heroine. Henry, who might be seen as the central character of this drama, has yet to speak. First we meet his father, then his mother and finally his future bride. At the age of 19, she has been sentenced to death for stealing silverware and linen from her employer. This song recounts the near slavery of her brief life to date, and Peter is clear to state that her motive was purely to fund her escape. She is another victim of circumstance.

She is also a very real young woman, seeking comfort in the pleasures of the flesh: “some fine young lads…for my company to keep” hints at promiscuity.

The song is cast as a singalong ballad and the kind of tricky chorus song in which Peter took particular pleasure in that the refrain is strewn with pitfalls for the casual harmoniser. Like Abe Carman’s song, the tone is semi-comic and one has a real sense that Susannah has reached a crossroads where (if she is allowed to go free), she will have to choose between honest labour and a life of crime.

This is a finely crafted song: note how the very folkie “–O” ending of the second lines (almost a parody of the cliche) is redeemed by the fact it rhymes with the Oh dear me which opens the chorus. The last verse (echoes of ‘Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make’) is particularly subtle – the prisons of the third line are at once prisons of loneliness, prisons of drudgery and prisons of frustration. Confinement in its first line must surely be a pun when one considers Susannah’s imminent fate upon which the story hinges.

Norma Waterson took the role of Susannah on the original recording and performances: 15 years later it was sung by her daughter Eliza Carthy. The Witches of Elswick reshape the song into a tale of four maids adding yet another dimension to its layers of meaning. Their fresh and sometimes irreverent approach to traditional song finds a natural vehicle in Peter’s lyric.

The Witches’ version appears on their debut album Out Of Bed on Fellside (FECD180). Our thanks to Paul Adams and Fellside Records for allowing us to include it.

Versions of this song have also been released by
Hilary Spencer – Afterimage (Strawberry Music SMSCD02)
Claire Lonsdale – Live at The Six Bells (Compilation from Chiddingly, Sussex)
Tinkers Bag – (private recording)
Debby McClatchy – Off To California (Wildebeest)

Track 9
Norwich Gaol
1977 Martin Winsor: 2004 Chris Sugden

Unlike Abe Carman, this inmate is condemned to anonymity. His theatrical commentary is a curious blend of sneering sarcasm and caustic irony. Yet his function in the opera is far more than just to paint a word picture of the horrors of 18th century prison life. Towards the end of the song, he brings in the key background details – the loss of America in the revolution and the choice of a new place of exile – Botany Bay. The final verse captures the mystery of the exotic, as it fires a geographical scattergun to guess the location of this strange land.

Many have remarked on their surprise at Peter’s selection of Martin Winsor to sing the song: his choice, however, fits in well with the practice of casting one character in opera with a person whose performance rests less on vocal prowess than on other performance talents.

Chris Sugden sang this part in the Whitby Transports. Rather than recreating that performance, he approached the song from a different angle for this recording. Like Peter, Chris grew up in and based a good deal of his repertoire on the Norwich area: both were members of Norwich folk club, which was the home for the performance on another of Peter’s long works The Maritime England Suite. Both Chris and Peter were very directly involved in the making of The Kipper Family’s album The Crab Wars which is discussed elsewhere in this volume. He has slightly adapted the lyric for this performance.

Versions of this song have also been released by
John Goodluck – Folk-al Pint (Radio Orwell, ROLP002, 1980)

Sweet Loving Friendship
1977 Norma Waterson / Mike Waterson: 2004 Laura Hockenhull / Pete Morton

The lovers meet and in the opera’s first duet find solace in each other’s companionship. Unlike Susannah’s earlier “strong arm to keep me from cold”, this does not speak of temporary or casual comfort, but of something much deeper and far more sustaining. It is a song of hope but also of yearning. It is also the first appearance of Henry, who seems to step from the shadows cast by The Convict’s Song into the natural spotlight from the “high, high window”. Susannah had lamented confinement but now finds happiness therein.

Potential tragedy is, of course, waiting in the wings.

The original version of the song was performed by brother and sister Mike and Norma Waterson. Our new version is also in part a family affair, Laura is the daughter of Mike and Helen Hockenhull, who respectively produced and played keyboards on the track. She is joined by Pete Morton on voice and guitar; the song was already associated with him as he had played the part of Henry Cabell in several stage productions of the opera.

Versions of this song have also been released by
Rosalie Sorrels – Borderline Heart (Green Linnet GLCD 2119, 1997)

Track 12
The Black and Bitter Night
1977 Mike Waterson : 2004 Damien Barber with John Kirkpatrick, Grace Notes, The Wilsons

Usually regarded as the opera’s centrepiece, this is Henry’s only solo.’“Written for Henry Cabell to sing when, not being clairvoyant, he does not know he is in for a happy ending,” as Peter remarked.

This was Peter’s favourite song from The Transports, the only one he recorded in its original form (aside from the Ballad, of course) and the only one he continued to perform regularly on stage (though he would also sing Green Fields, Abe Carman and Roll Down on occasion.) The song is a cell meditation (in effect an operatic genre in its own right) in which separation and confinement create a downward spiral of desolation and despondency.

Martin Carthy, who feels this song would have become the show’s hit had The Transports been able to reach a wider audience, has made the shrewd observation that Peter’s ability to capture the depths of despair so eloquently reflects “a corner of complete darkness” within his outwardly optimistic character.

In this mix of the original recording we have corrected the curious balance which set Mike Waterson’s voice almost in the background. The new version, recorded especially for this album, features artists who were all close to Peter and who have their own associations with the song. Both Damien Barber and Grace Notes have released versions of it: Damien also performed the part of Henry Cabell in The Whitby Transports; John Kirkpatrick has arranged and orchestrated several of the live productions of the opera.

Versions of this song have also been released by
Peter Bellamy – Second Wind (EFDSS) and Wake The Vaulted Echoes (Free Reed)
Grace Notes–– Red Wine and Promises (Fellside, FECD126, 1993)
Damien Barber – Boxed (1996) reissued on CD (DJC 012)
Cockersdale – Doin’ The Manch (Fellside FECD72, 1988)

Track 13 & 15
The Humane Turnkey
1977 Martin Carthy: 2004 Mal Jardine with Jamie O’Dwyer

Peter often described John Simpson, whose song this is, as the key character in the Transports. (Yes, the pun was intentional!) Susannah has borne a son to Henry. Susannah is taken away to Plymouth to join the female party and there learns that her baby, being male, is not allowed to go on board with her. At this point he was five months old. Simpson, charged with accompanying the female party, takes pity and action.

The first part of the song describes Simpson’s journey to Plymouth, accompanying Susannah, her son and two other prisoners. For this he would have earned the standard fee of half a crown a prisoner. That should have been the end of his responsibilities, but faced with by-the-book petty officialdom, he decided that enough was enough and took matters into his own hands

Part two describes his arrival in London to confront the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, and persuade him personally to over-rule the standing orders. In addition, he contrives to ensure that Henry will also be granted transportation so that the family unit may be reunited in Australia. In those unenlightened times, when the main function of the legal system was retribution and everyone was expected to know his or her place, this involved considerable personal risk for Simpson. Were his actions not well documented and 100% historically accurate, one might be forgiven for thinking that as a character he is an anachronism.

Though successful in both pleas, he concludes in a mood of disillusionment, determined to resign and seek more menial employment.

To both Peter and Martin, the song(s) were affectionately known as The Human Turkey!

The casting of Martin Carthy as the history-changing compassionate cell-master is one of the masterstrokes of The Transports. Throughout his career, despite his position as the foremost singer of traditional song, he too has been prepared to fly in the face of what would have been easy and expected. Mal Jardine is a singer Peter knew through the Keighley folk scene: for this recording, he diverges from the unaccompanied approach for which he is known.

Track 14
The Plymouth Mail
1977 Vic Legg: 2004 John Roberts

Literally, a transitional song, The Plymouth Mail transports John Simpson on his mercy mission to London, and is (to borrow a term from Young Tradition) An Entr’act between his two songs. The sequence, with its flashing catalogue of names (not unlike the travelling device of 1940’s Hollywood movie-makers), is the great setpiece narrative of The Transports: there is actually a great contrast between the amount of vinyl space allocated to the three songs and the actual time they took compared to the rest of the story. Both in terms of the story and in a larger historical context, however, the events described in the Turnkey/Coachman triptych are the most significant in the story: everything else happened to lots of people, what happens here is unique.

In part a travelogue, in some ways it anticipates the songs which would be produced years later as part of Ashley’s Hutchings’ Ridgeriders project. Though there is no detailed narrative link to the characters in the story, as each landmark flashes past in the first half of the verse, the second focuses our attention on the human cargo – passengers with their physical needs and the coachman himself doing his best to ensure speed and safety.

As the gibbets of Hounslow Heath are passed, passengers clutch their bags a little more closely for fear of robbers, a cinematic touch which keeps us in mind of the main story. In fact if these distant gallows were above Hampstead at Tyburn, the passengers would be seeing the last of the line (!) there, as John Austin became the very last person to be publicly executed on Tyburn Tree in this very year.

The song’s catchy (in both senses) chorus sees Vic Legg supported by various male cast members who were around the studio. Lyrically it borrows from the motto of the American postal service. Tim Laycock’s performance, from The Whitby Transports, formed a part of a full-blown stage set-piece’– visual and sound effects, dance and a massive chorus spur on his vocal journey.

Peter may have had other influences beyond the folk tradition when creating the song. Tyburn Tree was one of his favourite songs from The Beggar’s Opera and was included on a video compilation of songs he intended to learn some years later. Peter also once claimed to have been inspired by watching John Ford’s western Stagecoach in creating the song’s atmosphere and rhythmic shifts of focus.

In Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby the Peltiroguses live at “the turning known to all as the place on the turnpike where the Plymouth Mail ran over the donkey”. Another literary antecedent is in Peter Simple (1833) where the hero returns from his voyage and takes the Plymouth Mail as the most rapid and secure way to the bosom of his family.

Track 16
The Green Fields of England
1977 The Watersons: 2004 Coope, Boyes & Simpson

There is a long tradition of embarkation ballads, describing final farewells before emigration. Most of course form part of the Irish tradition. Here, Peter created the original “bound for south Australia” song wherein the parting from loved ones is merely glanced in the first two verses, while the song focuses on leaving one’s native soil.

What is often overlooked in this song is the fact that the verses represent a catalogue of contrasts, reflecting the range of people who were sent off with the First Fleet and the vast variety of crimes they committed. The third verse’s list of places of origin is based on detailed research and Peter Bellamy had real individuals in mind as he wrote it. The scathing and ironic final verse is very typical Bellamy, not least in the way it maximises the impact of a (very mild) swearword by making it so unexpected.
Although the track is credited to The Watersons, Lal Waterson was not available to record the track and for this occasion the group consisted of Mike and Norma Waterson and Peter and Anthea Bellamy.

Three years on from The Transports, Peter would revive the song as an encore duet during his tour of Australia with Shirley Collins. Their live version from Sydney Opera House was eventually released in 2003 on Shirley’s box set retrospective “within sound” (Fledg’ling NEST 5001)

Track 17 (+Track 22, 2004)
Roll Down
1977 Cyril Tawney: 2004 Kimber’s Men ; Peter Bellamy

After months of uncertainty and delay, the convicts finally set sail aboard the first fleet and their voices are lost in the hubbub of work on deck. To sing their shanty, Peter selected the Revival singer most associated with performing sea songs, Cyril Tawney, supported by a chorus drawn from available male cast members.

Given the non-narrative nature of the shanty form, it is remarkable how Peter used it to progress the story. (It should be noted he took the liberty of slightly amending the fleet’s rather zigzag course). As the ship pulls from the harbour in Plymouth, we follow the shantyman’s mind’s eye to the open sea, past Spain and the West Coast of Africa, round the Horn of Africa, into the Southern Ocean and finally hitting land in South Australia. Beyond the conclusion of the transports’ tale, the last two verses bring the crew home, to the ladies of Plymouth.

Peter once remarked that he was proud to have written a convincing “ersatz-trad shanty that almost sneaked the phrase rock’n’roll into the first verse”. He would also be amused by a recent internet debate which began by assuming the song was from “a Broadway musical”. He would no doubt add “It damn well should have been!”

The version of the song by Kimber’s Men appeared on their album See You When The Sun Goes Down (On A Private Label, APL 8), released in aid of the Royal Naval Lifeboat Institution. The sleevenotes on the CD rightly remark “This song is remarkable as it sounds so authentic as a shanty.” They rename it Walk Around Me Brave Boys. Digital Tradition has it as merely Around Me Brave Boys. Peter’s version was the “request..well actually more of a threat” with which he concluded his last American concert at Focal Point in St Louis (August 10, 1991)

Versions of this song have also been released by
James Keelaghan – Timelines (1987)
Warp Four – One Hundred Years Ago (Helvic Music, 1998)
The Cutters – Live aboard the Wawona (1998)
Rocky River Bush Band – Sea Boots and Swags (Private CD, 1999)
Baggyrinkle – Old Swansea Town (Private CD, 2000)
John Roberts – Homeward Bound (Revels Records, 2002)

Track 18
The Still And Silent Ocean
1977 Mike & Norma Waterson: 2004 Steve Tilston with Tom McConville

Just as Henry and Susannah’s meeting was celebrated in a duet, so the opera’s second duet brings the continuance of their personal tale. This was the unexpected happy ending which first attracted Peter to the story. Crossing the Southern Ocean, leaving known and charted seas and lands, sailing under unfamiliar skies, and viewing alien sea creatures, Henry and Susannah sing of hope from despair, future from doom, and most of all forgiveness from ill treatment.

Whereas previous songs had catalogued resentment and abuse, here we have a catalogue that is positive. Forgiveness moves from the general to the specific (Mrs Jackson, Simpson and Lord Sydney). Future (and conformity) is planned – marriage and legitimacy lie ahead.

Peter once remarked that one of the things which most pleased him about The Transports was the fact that the end was a new beginning. As Hollywood discovered the commercial value of the pre-ordained sequel, he once wryly observed –“of course, the Transports does that: Henry and Susannah II – A New Nation.”

Track 20
The Convicts’ Wedding Dance
1977 The Transports’ Orchestra: 2004 Fairport Convention

Though to a modern audience, concluding a piece so reliant on words with an instrumental may seem odd, it is a continuation of a long dramatic tradition. It was the standard conclusion to ancient Greek drama. Like all dramatic performances of the time, Shakespeare’s plays (including the Tragedies) always ended with an ensemble dance. Anyone who has seen Amadeus will be aware of the debate caused by the inclusion of dance in opera. Within the tradition, Mummers’ plays often concluded with a dance element, the Sword Dance Play being a specific subgenre.

Many of the live productions of The Transports have extended the opera’s dance element so that whole sections are enacted in the form of a Masque.

The opera ends as it began, framed by the unadorned sound of its folk-baroque orchestra.

While the original recording was in effect a set piece for the players who perform throughout the album, Fairport Convention’s arrangement of the tune was created by Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders specifically for this set.

Track 21 (2004)
Black Concertina
2004 Tim Moon

When FREE REED launched our Peter Bellamy 3 CD retrospective (Wake The Vaulted Echoes - FRTCD 14) at Bacca Pipes Folk Club, Keighley, guests and club regulars were invited to perform songs associated with Peter. Many of those who performed that night appear on this set.

Singer songwriter Tim Moon scrapped plans to play Tumbling Dice in order to perform this newly written tribute. The impact was amazing and we are pleased to be able to include that performance on this set. For anyone who knew Peter, the details here will bring memories of the man flooding back; for those not lucky enough to have met him, this serves as a belated introduction to the man behind the songs.

The track has previously appeared, in a slightly different form, on the limited edition charity EP No Room (Inside Motion BHLCHAR040, 2002). A studio version appears on Tim’s album Anger and Kiss. (Inside Motion BHL280)