Wednesday 23 November 2011

Where the Working Boats Went

Imagine effortlessly absorbing the history of the canals by relaxing in a canal-side pub, listening to a couple of folk-singing boaters, complete with waistcoats and flat-caps. This is against a backdrop of projected historical photographs and you are provided with a song sheet so that everyone can sing along with each chorus.

Last Saturday I went to see Life & Times perform their 250-years-of-the-canals show 'Where the Working Boats Went'. The performance was in Cheddington village hall, and I could definitely imagine it being a bit more raucous at a folk festival or a 'spit and sawdust' pub where the audience might sing along more heartily. I think we all enjoyed the broom dance though; a quirky boater's tradition that I'd not heard of! From the Duke of Bridgewater to roses and castles, the 'iced-in' winter of '47 and the revival of the cut as a place for pleasure boating; Barry Goodman and Graeme Meek have got a song for everything.

The canal age began when the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater commissioned his canal in 1759. The waterways became popular for transporting everything from fruit and cheese to turpentine. When the advent of the railways caused the demise of the canals, they were re-invented and rescued as a leisure resource, which is more popular than ever today.

The show is in two 45 minute parts with an interval. Part 1 is set in the early 1870s. Two No.1s meet beside the canal and discuss life on the cut for themselves and their predecessors. Part 2 is set in the late 1950s, about 10 years after the Nationalisation of the waterways. Two boatmen in a canal-side pub consider how life on the canals has changed since their fathers’ day and how it might be in the future.

The music from this show won the FATEA Tradition 09 Award which…“…is presented to the act that have traditional folk at the root of their sound and use it to inspire new songs, tunes and arrangements.”

Graeme Meek and Barry Goodman travel England from Birmingham to Banbury and beyond with their songs and next year their bookings already include Hitchin, Pulloxhill, Beds. Duton Hill Folk Club, Essex, Chadwell Heath, Essex and The Woburn Sands Folk Festival, Bucks.

A full gig list of upcoming shows can be found on their website here

If you can't make it to any of these shows there's a CD available by mail order for £11.

There are still traditional narrowboats working on the waterways to this day, selling fuel to live-aboard boats. A more modern way to work afloat these days is to run a trip boat. Check out this 70ft trip boat as part of a business for sale at Boatshed Grand Union.
Alternatively if you don't want to work afloat you may like to live afloat on a 70ft Cruiser Stern Narrowboat with large accommodation.

More boats to browse at

Disclosure: I wrote this post for Boatshed Grand Union.

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