Monday, 16 November 2009

Night time in Bermondsey

"It's night time in Bermondsey. The tide is turning now on barges in Bermondsey. The waters laps their bows. And on London Bridge young lovers shiver and gaze at the lamplight in the river ..." sings Nadia Cattouse in Bermondsey. Well, actually she's singing it at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969 for a recording that appeared on her Earth Mother LP. Maybe like me you first came across Nadia's name on The Numero Group's Belize City Boil Up compilation, where it mentions her moving to England and becoming part of the folk scene. Well, Earth Mother is a beautiful record that emerged from that milieu. Songwriting credits include Andy Roberts, Mike Evans, Donald Swann, Sydney Carter, Bob Dylan and Nadia herself. Mysteriously Bermondsey is credited to Unknown, which is fascinating as the local colour is an absolute joy (St Saviour's, Guy's, Southwark Cathedral, barrow boys etc.). Does anyone know any more?

10 comments:

  1. I love Nadia Cattouse and I love this blog!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I first heard this performed by Donald Swann's 'Swann Singers' in the 1960s and at the end during the 'It's Time for Us to Say Goodnight-time in Bermondsey the singers left the stage one by one - brilliant stuff!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! That must have been wonderful. Very jealous.

      Delete
  3. Night time in Bermondsey was the standout song in one of the annual revue shows put on by talented Guy's Hospital students and resident junior staff. It dates to 1960 - 62.
    Likely accreditation to Dr R Sells, Tony Bron (brother of Eleanor) and R Spurrell

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is fascinating to learn. Thanks so much. Now you've got me wondering about what else was in the revues from that team.

      Delete
    2. In that three year period 1960 - 62 essentially the same team produced "Doom at the Top" and if memory serves "Stubble Trouble." LPs of these revues were produced. Info probably available at the Guys Hospital medical school office/archives

      Delete
    3. Many thanks. If this song is anything to go by they would have been great.

      Delete
  4. Night time in Bermondsey


    The song was written as the finale for the 1961 Guy’s Hospital Residents’ Play, Drug Fever, by Roy Meadow who was then a pre-registration, first year, house officer.
    The tradition of a play written and performed by the resident (junior) doctors at Guy’s began in 1901. It soon became more elaborate , to involve more performances, and by 1911 to include musical numbers. The story line parodied the consultants at Guy’s, portraying them plotting against each other and perpetrating mischief.
    In the early years the Residents’ Play was performed at Christmas, but by the 1960’s it was performed each February for four or five consecutive nights in the large auditorium of the medical school Physiology theatre.
    As usual, the creators and performers of the 1961 play included many multi-talented junior doctors, whose subsequent careers included renowned medical pioneers, a plethora of professors, medical school Deans, Presidents of Royal Colleges, editors of international journals, a member of Parliament and of the House of Lords, and an Everest mountaineer.

    Night time in Bermondsey, at the time described as “ one of the best Borough songs ever composed , full of nostalgic sentiment and a haunting tune”
    was used again in subsequent Guy’s shows, and for a period sung at London clubs, and in cabaret. The author does not know how it became known to Nadia Cattouse. She performed it at the 1969 Edinburgh festival where this recording, with the shortened title Bermondsey, was included in her LP Earth Mother. Though Meadow had written lyrics for many songs it was the first time that he had also provided the music, so he was rather disillusioned to find that the LP record label ascribed the song to “unknown”, particularly as other writers named on the label included Bob Dylan, Donald Swan and Sydney Carter.

    The song describes the area around Guy’s in 1960, when the hospital buildings were amongst the highest to the south of London Bridge - neither the Shard nor other post-war developments were blocking the view from its upper floors to the river and the City.
    Borough Market was then a wholesale market very busy at night, with lorries parked inTooley street, as goods were taken to and from the market. In the early morning street traders came to load their barrows with left-over fruit and vegetables. The Cathedral café was a popular ever-open café beneath the railway arches near Southwark cathedral.
    The Pool of London was lined with cranes and there were cargo ships unloading at Hays wharf, with numerous barges moving upstream. The Guy’s students sometimes swam across the river; it had an unpleasant oily taste, and stung the skin.
    Caleb and Diplock were the names of the two childrens’ wards in Hunts House at Guy’s. In those days visiting hours were limited, and parents could not stay with their children at night.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the information. It is such a beautiful song, and it's great to know the background.

      Delete