Work Life Out To Keep Life In

I heard Martin Carthy play this at Beautiful Days festival in 2017 and was google searching the lyrics before he’d even reached the end. The couplet in the final verse is the heart of the song for me: “If free from union’s freed from dues/Are we free from choice or free to choose?”. There’s something gut wrenching about having to even ask that question.

I also want to mention Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith’s version “The Working Chap” on their 2018 album Many A Thousand. As well as being thoroughly lovely humans, they’ve also made a couple of my favourite folk records of recent years.

Oh the working man as you can see
That is what he was born to be
Married to the working wife
That is what she'll be all her life
Never lived beyond their means
Nor sought assistance from their friends
Yet day and night through thick and thin
They work life out just to keep life in

No matter friends what else befalls
The poor folk they must work or fall
Through frost and snow through sleet and wind
They work life out just to keep life in

Do you see the women who make the gowns
For those in other parts of town
It's a site most sorrowful to see
And I'm sure with me you will agree:
Meagre is our daily pay
To feed and clad a family with
She's overworked, she's tired and thin
She works life out just to keep life in

Oh mischief mine, where do you roam?
When reason called you weren't at home
If you take cheese from off the rat
Is he then free to hunt the cat?
If free from union's free from dues
Are we free from choice or free to choose?
Or free as any bird blown by the wind
To work life out just to keep life in

Trad with additional words by Martin Carthy, arr. T Ashworth