The times they are hard

I sing Peter Bellamy’s “Us poor fellows” at singarounds occasionally; if you want, you can hear me singing it here. It usually goes down pretty well; it feels like a song for our times – which is a bit disconcerting when you consider that the character singing it was hanged for burglary shortly afterwards. On one occasion a friend commented that the song was unusually left-wing for Bellamy, which got me thinking: is it a left-wing song? (I’m pretty sure Bellamy didn’t think it was.) Could it be sung by a right-winger? If not, what would a right-wing song sound like?

Here are the lyrics of the song, if you don’t know it. If you do, you may as well skip to the post immediately below.

Us poor fellows
Peter Bellamy, 1977

O the times they are hard and the wages are poor
None of us poor fellows has money in store
So how can a good man keep the wolf from the door?
Poor fellows, we all will go down.
When work it is scarce, tell me, how can we eat?
How can we afford to buy shoes for our feet?
How can we get clothing to keep off the sleet?
Poor fellows, we might as well drown.

If we could find labour we ne’er would complain
We’d work well for a master his favour to gain
We’d be honest and faithful with never a stain
But, poor fellows, how will we survive?
We could plough the good land, we could fish the salt sea
We could work in the woodland a-felling of trees
But when only the breath of our bodies is free,
Poor fellows, can we stay alive?

Now a man that is single, he’s free of all care
He can soon leave a district if no work be there
There’s no manner of hardship that he cannot bear
Poor fellows, if he is alone;
But a man with a family, his hands they are tied
He must look to their comfort or lose all his pride
He can’t wander away but must stay by their side,
Poor fellow, and maintain his home.

O a man that is willing can’t understand why
He can find no employment, how hard he may try,
And it breaks his poor heart for to see his wife cry
So, poor fellow, he’ll do what he can;
And a man that is desperate and can’t find a job
He will not be contented to sit home and sob:
Be he never so honest, he’ll turn out and rob,
Poor fellow, to prove he’s a man.

If a good man goes robbing, you know it’s a shame
He brings scorn and misfortune on his honest name
But in pitiful straits, tell me, who is to blame?
Poor fellow, you know he must try.
So let’s hope that these hard times will soon pass away
And unto our sweet Saviour we earnestly pray
That this dark cloudy morn brings a glorious day
Poor fellows, some time ere we die.


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