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singer, songwriter, comedian, author, poet, broadcaster and multi-instrumentalist

All Pig Iron

In memoriam Lonnie Donnegan


How many boys in cold front-rooms,
Their fingers, crippled spiders, stumbling on
Steel strings, brass fretwire, fumbled for three chords:
E, A, B7, scribbling down the words
On Basildon Bond –

I got sheep, I got cows,
I got horses, I got pigs?
’Cos the Rock Island Line is a mighty fine line,
The Rock Island Line is the road to ride…

Cold, front-room dreams,
As before the living-room fire,
Dozing fathers snored to Billy Cotton,
Red sails met the sunset,
And, in steam-filled kitchens, mothers beat
The gravy free of lumps.

Three-chord-trick fantasies. You gave the children of
The suburbs and the post-war slums
Swagger; brought to Burnley’s cobbled streets
And Surbiton’s mock Tudor towers these things:
The mud stink of the Louisiana levee,
Jack o’ Diamonds in the stern wheeler’s saloon;
Sylvie bringing a little water to the baking cotton field;
The old engineer, his hand still on the airbrake,
Scalded to death by the steam.

Brylcreemed, crepe-soled, drainpipe daydreams.
In bare-bulb, damp, church-halls across this wintry land,
Washboards and tea-chests thumped their way
To the Cumberland Gap, and a generation of Lost Johns
Started putting on the style. We built the Coolee Dam,
Fought The Battle of New Orleans,
And ran with young Tom Dooley from the law;
But mostly, we rode the old Rock Island Line.

I fooled you, I fooled you
I got all pig iron, I got all pig iron.
’Cos the Rock Island Line is a mighty fine line,
The Rock Island Line is the road to ride.

Nobody’s children in cold front-rooms,
You gave us songs to sing,
You gave us dreams to dream.


from: Strange Lights over Bexleyheath