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Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland to learn to accompany his
songs on someone’s ipod was
Tom didn’t write his first song
and spending his grammar singing. In Minneapolis he met
a Tom Lewis song? Regardless
until he was 33 years old. He
school years in Gloucester, ethnomusicologist, morris dancer
of technology it seems to me so
feels that the song writing doesn’t
Tom joined the Royal Navy as and box player Bob Walser.
much more material to have the
get easier or harder as the years
an Engineering Apprentice in Just before leaving for the next
songs in a book.”
go by, just a bit slower and the
1959, just a few days after his leg of the tour they sat on the ideas come a little less often
sixteenth birthday. Posted to a kerb outside while Bob showed
Many of Tom’s songs crop up
nowadays unless something
naval training establishment in Tom the Stan Hugill Melodeon
in singarounds the world over
really ‘pushes a button’ to
Scotland in 1960, he soon started method. (‘Put three fingers on
and are often labelled by some
get him going. Tom and Lyn
frequenting THE HOWFF Folk three adjacent buttons. Push
as traditional. My own view is
laughingly refer to the new book
Club in nearby Dunfermline and or pull. Start singing. When
that they do not really mean
as ‘The Pension Plan’ and I ask
was exposed to such luminaries it sounds wrong – change
traditional but real or authentic.
if that implies that Tom is getting
as Willie Scott, Ewan McColl, direction’. Try it – it works!). He
I asked Tom’s opinion of this and
ready to hang up his ukulele.
Archie Fisher and others. For never looked back and assured
the passion came to the surface
the next 23 years Tom juggled me that is still the way he plays
“Absolutely not! I’m as retired as
his naval career with a new found today, though he confesses to I’m ever gonna get. I sincerely
love of singing at folk clubs and occasionally experimenting with
“If you live and work in folk music
hope people will want to invite
festivals. Upon leaving the navy playing both sides of the box at
as we do that must surely be the
me to places, hear me and sing
in 1983 he emigrated to Canada the same time. Melodeon players
ultimate accolade. They mean
with me for a lot of years yet. If
with Lyn and firmly believed that reading this may recoil in horror
that this fits in with all those
anything the songbook is not to
his involvement with folk music but this method has directly
other songs. It fits in. That’s the
pass the torch but to pass the
was over, despite a growing resulted in songs like ‘The African
accolade, isn’t it?”
word.” q
reputation as a singer and writer Trade’ (on the CD ‘Tinker, Tailor,
due in large measure to a cover Soldier, Singer’) so it can’t be all
of ‘The Last Shanty’ by Johnny bad, can it?
Collins and Jim Mageean on
their ‘Make The Rafters Roar’ Mention of ‘The African Trade’
album. Far from leaving folk sparks off a discussion of the Last Shanty
music behind Tom found that passion Tom feels for social
his reputation had crossed the and political issues and the way Words & Music by Tom Lewis
Atlantic and he continued to in which they inform his song (Recorded by Tom Lewis on Surfacing!)
receive requests to perform. writing. Tom is very proud of a
new song called ‘Princes In The
The problem was that the Line’ which deals with his sense M’ father often told me, when I was just a lad,
American folk scene was wedded of injustice at the way in which A sailor’s life was very hard, the food was always bad,
to the idea of the singer/ politicians and industrialists do But now I’ve joined the navy, I’m on board a man-o-war,
songwriter with a guitar and when not send their offspring off to And now I find a sailor ain’t a sailor any more!
Tom stood to perform he was fight in wars. “Good for Prince
often mistaken for the compère Harry doing his bit, but where are Chorus:
or the comedian. When he began Brown’s relatives? Where are Don’t haul on the rope, don’t climb up the mast,
to sing audiences were unsure Bush’s relatives?” If you see a sailing-ship it might be your last,
what to make of him. A friend Get your ‘civvies ready for another run-ashore,
suggested he try the autoharp. When you talk with Tom Lewis A sailor ain’t a sailor, ain’t a sailor any more!
He would come on stage with you accept that a passion for the
the autoharp and sing one or two songs and the singing comes The ‘killick’ of our mess, he says we’ve had it soft,
songs with the instrument. This along for the ride. Whether you It wasn’t like this in his day, when he was up aloft,
would establish his credentials are sitting at the dinner table or We like our bunks and sleeping-bags but what’s a hammock for?
as a musician allowing him to at the bar, speech is punctuated Swinging from the deckhead or lying on the floor?
put down the instrument and with snatches of song,
continue the rest of the show in sometimes complete songs. It They gave us an engine that first went up and down,
his usual unaccompanied style. makes for a lively conversation. Then with more technology the engine went around,
He tried to learn the guitar and We’re good with steam and diesel but what’s a mainyard for?
after a while Lyn was forced to We talked a little more about A stoker ain’t a stoker with a shovel any more!
take him aside to tell him that the new songbook project and
while his guitar playing was I asked about the reasoning They gave us an Aldiss Lamp, we can do it right,
getting better his singing was behind, and timing of the They gave us a radio, we signal day and night,
getting worse! The guitar had publication. The reply was We know our codes and ciphers but what’s a ‘sema’ for?
to go. A reasonable substitute simple and clear. A ‘bunting-tosser’ doesn’t toss the bunting any more!
was found when he acquired
the ukulele (“Four fingers, “When I write a song I want They gave us a radar set to pierce the fog and gloom,
four strings. A match made in people to sing it. It may be the So now the lookout’s sitting in a tiny darkened room,
heaven!” – Tom). But he still ultimate vanity project and I Loran does navigation the Sonar says how deep,
yearned for the sounds he had doubt many will want a copy. In The Jimmy’s three sheets to the wind, the Skipper’s fast asleep.
heard in England. He wanted the some ways it’s a retrograde step
sound of the melodeon. to put something in a book these Two cans of beer a day, that’s your bleeding lot!
days… with everything available But now we gets an extra two because they stopped The Tot,
Tom found his first melodeon on the net… but wouldn’t it be So, we’ll put on our civvy-clothes and find a pub ashore,
in a junk store and determined great if somewhere in the 173000 A sailor’s still a sailor, just like he was before!
The Living Tradition - Page 2
Issue80.indd 29 14/7/08 14:50:32
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