BCMG gave the world premiere of Birmingham Canal Songs on 10th September 2018.

"For tenor (Nathan Vale), accordion (Andreas Borregaard) and 3 percussionists (BCMG).

The text was specially commissioned from poet Liz Berry and makes use of Black Country Dialect."


I sing a song of Birmingham, of Birmingham-on-Sea1
Where time has thieved the coal and steel, the smoke, the glass and steam.

I sing a song of Birmingham, of Birmingham-on-Sea
Where time has gifted gorse and broom, hedge mustard, bittersweet.

I sing a song of Birmingham, of Birmingham-on-Sea,
Where laplove2 spreads through lonely arms3, Phoenix to Winson Green.

I sing a song of Birmingham, of Birmingham-on-Sea,
Where low beneath a blue bricked bridge, my cuckoo4 calls for me.


Come cuckoos5, come wenches,
in the jack-squalin6 eve,
the parish-lantern7 is rising
in the cut8 at Old Turn
like a dishle9 of cream
and the boats am rocking
so slow slow slow

Come sweethearts, come lads,
in the bob-howling10 dusk,
let your tillers grow idle
and trussen11 yourself
to the singing black cut
where the osses12 am nuzzling
so slow slow slow

Come lovers, come babs,
'long the towpath now hid
with black medick and clover
to lay yourself in, cowslip
and yarrow wild as a bed
where the wind is moaning
so slow slow slow:
come again love, again love,
slower so slow.


When we lie together
in the lapping dark
the old names come tumbling
like lock water
into my mouth:

Foredrove, Baptists End,
Blowers Green, Friday Bridge,
Minerva, Oozells,
Horseley Fields, Gosty Hill.

Oh wait for me there, love,
come again to me there
and I'll hold you
the way the rope holds
the boat to its moor.


Lay your ear to the blue brick
where the tunnel swallows light
and I'll sing you the owd13 words,
the lost words, the ghost words:
Black by day, red by night.
Ice breaker. Spoon Dredger14.
The tattooed anchor of jack squalor's
flight. Fly Boat15. Windlass16.
Coal, steel and spelter, glassblown,
brass. Bed-cupboard. Tranklements.
Little Wench. Ower Bab17.
Horsely Iron. Atlas. Atlantic Clock18.
Fore-end19, bye-boat20, monkey box21.
Engine Arm, Pudding Green.
Withymoor Pit22. Farewell, Enchantment23.
Sow's lughole, silk purse.
A boatman's vessel's his castle
and one day his hearse24.

Text © Copyright 2017 by Liz Berry


1 line taken from a traditional broadside song about the arrival of the canals to Birmingham.
2 bindweed
3 the (now mostly defunct) sections of the canal which led to factories/docks/pits etc were called 'arms'.
4 sweetheart
5 sweethearts
6 swallows or swifts
7 the moon
8 canal
9 cup or saucer
10 large moths
11 trust
12 horses
13 old
14 types of functional canal boats
15 fast boat service running 24 hours per day
16 tool for opening locks
17 working boat names
18 industries based at Gas St. Basin
19 boatman’s term for ‘bow’
20 boat owned by a private owner
21 decorative box in a traditional boatman’s cabin
22 places on the Birmingham Canal Network
23 working boat name
24 direct quote from interview with an old BCN boatman. Deceased boatmen were carried down the cut in their boats to their final resting place