Sunday, 14 October 2018

all would be well if, if, if—say the green bells of cardiff

By touching coincidence, we are acquainted through the help of the always brilliant Nag on the Lake to the haunting lyrics of the American folksinger and political activist Pete Seeger’s ballad “The Bells of Rhymney,” sourced to Welsh miner turned poet Idris Davies on the same day that the worse mining accident in the history of the UK occurred one hundred and five years prior, the Senghenydd colliery disaster (1913).
Following the structure of the English nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons (Say the bells of Saint Clement’s),” Davies and Seeger count off the communities visited by hardship and loss throughout resource-rich but exploited land. In Glamorgan, Wales, the coal mines referenced above near Caerphilly have their own stanza in the original verse:

They will plunder willy-nilly,
Say the bells of Caerphilly.

After Seeger’s introduction of the sad lament, several other artists produced cover versions of the song—most famously The Byrds but also John Denver, Bob Dylan, Murray Head, The Band, Robyn Hitchcock and Sonny and Cher in 1965.