I recently came across a traditiional folk ballad called ‘Hard, Hard Times’. It is light-hearted but has a serious social message, so I thought I should share it with the readers of Marine Café Blog. The song is part of the James Madison Carpenter Collection of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. This London-based organisation (https://www.efdss.org/) has been doing a wonderful job of promoting English folk music, dance and related arts.

‘Hard, Hard Times’ talks about dishonesty, greed and hyprocrisy in society at large — the same ills that plague much of the shipping and mannning sectors and bring misery to those who work at sea. Indeed, it reminds me of some maritime folks who are far from being admirable. Listen to the song as performed by Hazel Askew, a singer, musician and workshop leader based in London:

Hard, Hard Times

by Hazel Askew / English Folk Dance and Song Society

Hard, Hard Times

(Collected from Mrs. Katherine Stirling in Alicesville, Alabama, USA)

Come listen my friends and I’ll sing you a song
Concerning hard times and it won’t take me long
When everybody is striving to buy
And cheating each other – I cannot tell why

And it’s hard, hard times

First there’s the merchant, so honest we’re told
Whatever he sells you, my friend, you are sold
Believe what I tell you and don’t be surprised
If what’s worth a dollar will now cost you five

And it’s hard, hard times

Then there’s the lawyer, you plainly will see
He will plead your case for a very large fee
He’ll law you and tell the wrong side is right
And make you believe that a black horse is white

And it’s hard, hard times

And then there’s the doctor, I liked to’ve forgot
I believe to my soul he’s the worst of the lot
He’ll tell you he’ll cure you for half you possess
And when you are buried he’ll take all the rest

And it’s hard, hard times

And last there’s the preacher, the worst of them all
Preaching for money but not for the soul
He rides his circuit some twelve times a year
And if your soul’s lost you’ll be sure he don’t care

And it’s hard, hard times

Nota Bene: The audio recording of ‘Hard, Hard Times’ by Hazel Askew as well as the song lyrics are the intellectual property of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They are published on this website for educational, non-commercial use. For all other uses, permission must be requested from EFDSS (https://www.efdss.org/).

Additional information: There are other versions of the song, including William James Emberley’s ‘Hard, Hard Times’. Emberley adapted an older song to describe the plight of Newfoundland fishermen during the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

~ Barista Uno

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