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Cover Story (66): Brexit's empty shelves, missing lorry drivers and Ewan MacColl classic song of the road. Bob Fox, Dubliners or MacColl

Brexit is the poisoned chalice that just keeps on dispensing its noxious social and economic pollutants.

Whichever way you look - exporters, importers, farmers, fishermen, musicians, students, the NI peace process - it causes problems.

And the stock response of government, its toadying supporters and the far right elements (including some of the aforementioned) who wanted an even more damaging break with the EU, is to blame Brussels for Brexit unless Covid or an invented world issue can be deemed responsible.

And yet opinion polls suggest a majority of Brits, or more accurately English voters, would put Boris and his squalid party right back in office in an election called now.

Lorry drivers! A global shortage, Boris stooges insist. Ask anyone who actually knows and the cause of lack of deliveries and empty shelves in the UK is much, much more to do with Brexit. Bob Fox would know. As well as being one of the finest performers in British folk, he holds an HGV licence, a relic of the time he took varied jobs in a break from music. And he offers a marvellous portrayal of the haulier's life, pre-Brexit and mostly pre-motorway.

 

Bob fox  - 1
Bob Fox, courtesy of Roger Liptrot's superb folkimages site

Ewan MacColl's song got so much right in this song, Champion at Keeping Them Rolling, from the transport caffs †o the sheer slog of long-distance treks (not forgetting the contributions of Blondie and Mary to the drivers' creature comforts) ...
Me liquor is diesel oil laced with strong tea
And the old Highway Code was me first ABC
And I cut me eye-teeth on an old AEC
And I'm champion at keeping them rolling
I've sat in the cabin and broiled in the sun
Been snowed up on Shap on the Manchester run
I've crawled through the fog with me twentytwo ton
Of fish that was stinking like blazes

The song is probably as well known by the Dubliners as anyone else.

That band has given me huge pleasure over the years, live and on record, and I like singing along to them when driving. I also enjoy their version of MacColl's song, with Ronnie Drew taking the vocals without feeling it holds a candle to Fox's.

 

And we should never overlook the writer.

MacColl's original, from his 1957 Shuttle & Cage album on Topic, is honest and interesting but - 60+ years on - suffers from the limits of 1950s recording technology.

In other words, Bob Fox all day long. And if his proper career takes a dip, he can always take one of those Tesco bribes and get back behind the wheel.

Comments

Bill Taylor

Once again, Ewan MacColl proves to be a better songwriter than performer. I'd never heard this one before and I like Bob Fox's version very much, including his introductory line about having been a truck driver: "It's almost exactly like what I do now, except I didn't have to sing when I got there." Lovely guitar picking, too.
That said, and given that I've never been a huge fan of the Dubliners, I prefer the way they do the song. The tempo, Ronnie Drew's voice... for me, it all just works better. And that is, of course, nothing against Bob Fox.

Sharyn Dimmick

I don't know why Mr. Fox would introduce jazz chords and a gratuitous chorus generated by repeating the refrain three times per verse. I preferred the Dubliners' version here, which seems more honest (plus, I like the way they work a bit of the feel of Irish music into it).

Colin randall

I love Irish music but can imagine the fuss if an English singer put ‘a bit of a feel of British music’ into a song exclusively about Ireland

Michael Goulding

Never heard this before (not surprising) but I actually don't like Bob Fox's version at all. The way he "jazzes" it up just doesn't suit the song. It needs to be sung plain and simple, because there's not enough about it to do otherwise. Like Bill Taylor, I prefer the way the Dubliners keep the right tempo. I also prefer MacColl's original to Fox's. By the way - my dad was a long-distance lorry driver! He drove the giant, heavy stuff which often needed a police escort to close side-roads and sometimes whole towns, as he trundled past at 10 mph, and saw him away for a week at a time when I was young.

Howard Holdsworrh

I think Bob Fox's version is a wonderful evolution of the song.

Ed Grummitt

I think people who've criticised Bob for "jazzing up" the song (ooh, those naughty guitar chords!) are still stuck in 1965 and applying some of the fatwas that, regrettably, Ewan did.
It's a good song. You can do what you flipping like with it. We even played Bob's version on a car stereo in Portugal, along with fado, natch.

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