Old Glory Blues

Old Glory Blues from ‘A Coat Worth wearing’ by Neil McSweeney

Sheffield has been home for most of my life. I moved here when I was six and have lived elsewhere only one year in every ten since. Despite this, I still feel disinclined to say I’m from Sheffield. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I consider myself to be here out of choice. Maybe it’s because I was born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and don’t want to leave that out. I suspect it’s partly just an aversion to the clarity and simplicity of it.

There have been many times since our orange Morris Marina made the trip from Rayners Lane that I have felt out of place. I didn’t even understand the question when one of my new classmates asked if I was Wednesday or United. Sketchy cassette-deck recordings of ‘Busy Bee’ and ‘Swanee River’ capture introductions in a North London accent that took a long time to settle and never fully let go.

A native of the East Riding I met described our southernmost patch of the southernmost county of York as ‘only just’ Yorkshire. It’s an attitude echoed by many in Sheffield if asked about the anomalous Hallamshire district I grew up in. And on a scale of one to full blown Hallamite I’d say I’m about a four. So we’re talking pretty homeopathic concentrations of regional identity compared to some.

But if I did identify as native Sheffield, what would that mean? Which story would I hook on to? One of the things that I think informs the character of the city is the interplay between different mindsets: entrepreneurial and artisanal, collectivist and corporate. These have supported both radical and conservative traditions that have each made important contributions to the city’s achievements. I don’t know whether a civic historian would agree with this simplistic analysis (perhaps depends on the historian) but it’s my sense of how it is.

Old Glory Blues is an attempt to get some of that dialogue between different political mindsets into a song. It’s not necessarily set in Sheffield but in my head it takes place sometime around 1800. Mary doesn’t actually say anything on mic but her radical sympathies are implied. Just for my own amusement I imagine her husband to be the holder of a couple of fairly modest patents for some newfangled manufacturing contraption or other. They both, regardless of their intellectual positions, enjoy the comforts afforded by their domestic income and supplied by far-flung plantations and trade routes.

Old Glory Blues

There’s tea in the pot, there’s sugar in the bowl
& half the world’s ours from digging the coal
Glory flies up and flutters away
We all go down in the yellowing clay

Mary I wish you’d let it be
All hangs well in the family
A time of change is a changing sea
It might drown just as easily

Singing hey haw, there’s no riddle
Glory flies up while we go down
In the middle
The good Lord wants a man
To mark his ground

Mary I hear the wind that overcomes
No less clear than the whistle and drum
A rising tide will lift our boat
If we play it loose with the hawser rope

Singing hey haw, there’s no riddle
Glory flies up while we go down
In the middle
The good Lord wants
A man to mark
His ground
But all things in moderation

There’s tea in the pot and sugar in the bowl
& half the world’s ours from digging the coal
Tobacco in the box, cotton on the pole
For the thin red line or the carmagnole
Glory flies up and flutters away
We all go down in the yellowing clay

Singing hey haw, there’s no riddle
Glory flies up while we go down
In the middle
The good Lord wants
A man to mark
His ground
But all things in moderation

a-sheffield-coat

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