Submitted by Ed Miller
I know this is an Irish song, but I’ve always had a fascination with emigrant songs, whether to America or to England and Scotland.
At the Swannanoa Gathering a few years ago, John Doyle and Eamon O’Leary came on stage and said they’d like to introduce a friend who had never sung here before….on came Kevin Burke! Now Kevin is a world famous fiddler; but singing a song he had written? I was very moved by the song and immediately sought out a recording of the show.
By a lovely coincidence, Kevin was playing in Austin when Rich Brotherton and I were recording this CD, and we were delighted he agreed to play on the instrumental breaks.
In search of work, the Irish have moved to Britain for centuries; but after World War II, many thousands came over to work in construction, rebuilding London and other cities badly damaged in the war. Kevin’s parents came to London from Sligo when he was young, and he grew up in the London Irish community (hence his unique accent!); so this song is partly autobiographical and partly an homage to the many characters/musicians he grew up among at London sessions in the 1950s.
Listen to Ed singing “London Town:”
London Town (Kevin Burke)
A bus leavin’ Sligo a long time ago took Michael away from his home;
He’d heard there was work o’er in England, to the Dublin docks he did roam.
On the Holyhead boat there were others like him, from Leitrim and Kerry and Down,
Sons and Daughters from all over Ireland, bound for London town.
He rambled the city in search of the start or even a room for the night,
In his left hand a suitcase of leather and wood, his grandfather’s fiddle in his right;
Through the streets of the bombed-out buildings, past the rubble that Hitler blew down,
This strayaway child from the west of Ireland, alone in London town.
He signed on with a ganger from Dublin the cruelest little tyrant that ever ye met,
Had him sweatin’ in trenches for 12 hours a day, ’twas hard work but all he could get;
He’d take out his fiddle when the work was all done, when the shovels and picks were laid down,
A tune for the broad-backed sons of Ireland come to rebuild London town.
There were 7 day weeks with nary a break, Sligo was left far behind;
Till one of the boys says “pick yerself up, come down the road for a pint.”
When he opened the door, Michael thought he was home, Oh what a glorious sound!
Sons and daughters from all over Ireland playin’ music in London town.
There was Mairtin Byrne from Galway, McCarthy and Casey from Clare,
McGlinchey, the Roger, Roland and Farrell, seemed half of all Ireland was there.
They bid him take out his fiddle and they played till the lights went down,
Raise a glass to the 33rd county boys, right here in London town.
Now many’s the year has passed and gone; but it seems just a fortnight ago,
Those sessions in the White Hart and the Favourite, Fulham Broadway and Holloway Road.
It’s the music that carried the heart and the soul, it’s the same way the whole world round
Whether ye’re livin’ in New York or Donegal, or here in London town
It’s the music that carries the heart and the soul, it’s the same the whole world round,
Whether ye’re livin’ in New York or Donegal, or here in London Town.
Ed Miller, Scottish singer, folklorist, radio host (KDRP.org Sundays 4-5pm CST), tour guide and soccer player, has lived in Austin, Texas for several decades and performs everywhere from house concerts to Highland Games all over the U.S. In summer, he leads folk music-based tours to his homeland.